Heritageisation of the Sun Corridor: A Heritage Tourism Perspective

By Deepak Chhabra, PhD

The Sun Corridor, as the "New Heartland" of Arizona, has gathered unprecedented momentum in recent decades. It is one of ten megapolitan regions in the country and encompasses a total of four metropolitan areas in Arizona: Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott and Nogales. The primary purpose of the development of this corridor has been to link together cities, towns, villages and counties based on "goods movement, business linkages, cultural commonality and physical environments" (1). Several reports observe growth, recent trends and emerging industries in the region. However, a micro-level blueprint for a synergistic corridor product that can strongly tie the metropolitan areas together in a multi-sector, unified approach and provide opportunities and prosperity to the region and overall state is still lacking. This opinion piece suggests a present-centered heritage corridor paradigm to promote heritage tourism in the region.

Heritage tourism can be broadly defined as "a special interest travel whose aspects range from the examination of physical remains of the past and natural landscapes to the experience of local cultural traditions" (5). Both non-profit and for-profit organizations and the ruling governments across the globe consider it an important vehicle to boost economic development. A mega-region, such as the Sun Corridor, offers tremendous potential to promote synergies among the cultural traditions various communities using shared heritage themes showcased via museums, landscapes, events and activities. Several cases in point exist in the metropolitan areas. For instance, Tucson boasts of being the ‘real Southwest’ and continues to be the home of the Hohokam Indians. The Spanish missionaries have also shaped Tucson’s history. Nogales offers a vibrant culture and continues to retain its rural ambience and ancient traditions. In fact, it embodies a multicultural and a ‘bi-national environment’ through shared language, culture and traditional practices drawn from Mexico and the United States. Prescott is famous for its museums showcasing the history of Navajo medicine and creation of the tribe; it is also home to valuable pieces of Native American art and heritage. Such rich heritage products can be showcased spatially by building a regional heritage trail that renders space, time and cultural connections between and within various communities, offering a rich shared heritage experience to visitors as they move through the corridor.

This is an era of multiculturism and there is an emerging need to build shared sense of belonging and identity in communities. In fact, this need has emerged as a central concept in recent heritage nomenclature; its paradoxical role in the heritage tourism management process cannot be ignored. Extant literature acknowledges that heritage cannot be isolated from the communities within which it rests. It is also important to remember that identities and connections with the past and with heritage are not fixed but evolve based on different ways we are sculpted by public institutions or power brokers; our engagement and situated-ness within the preferred narratives of heritage and palatable slices of past, in fact, mold them (4). Although the inclusion of community perspectives cannot provide all answers, the politics associated with dissonant heritage continue to call for in-depth negotiations between various power brokers and multicultural segments of the local community. Coexistence of negotiated partnerships between the heritage custodians/experts/entrepreneurs committed to the success of the Sun Corridor and its local communities is needed today so that they can be hinged within a unified sense of harmony. This calls for making heritage more relevant to the diverse needs of a contemporary audience. The underlying premise of this need is that heritage is a crucial part of society as it continues to re-root and seek solace from its past; it is not something frozen in memory and it should be used in a constructive manner to facilitate shared sense of identity and civic engagement. A penchant for this venture can buttress efforts to promote present-centered heritageisation in the mega region to engage the visiting audience as well (3).

It is important to create sustainable heritage environments where the heritage of host communities is showcased in an equitable manner. Contemporary trends show that today’s travelers seek connection with the local people in the visited communities and value their role in the history of the place and the manner in which they are presently connected. There is, therefore, an emerging need today to examine the ‘present-centeredness of heritage.’ What is needed is a diverse approach to connect heritage with multiple constituencies such as ethnic groups, the mainstream population, local businesses and tourists. A conceptual framework can encapsulate ability to evaluate a myriad of viewpoints and seek deeper heritage expressions manifested in identity, harmony, sense of belonging and interpretations by suggesting inclusion of personal heritage attributes of ethnic communities and the mainstream culture. It can further embrace assimilation/acculturation influences with varied social and cultural values and harmonize differences through inclusive civic engagement strategies (2). Attention here is directed towards a search for meanings nested in alternative accounts and perspectives beyond political allegiances. This calls for collaborative efforts centered on meeting the needs of the contemporary traveling public seeking ethical consumption of equitable heritage experiences. In this manner, efforts towards sustainable present-centered mega-region heritage corridor offerings can be initiated.


1. Arizona Sun Corridor. America 2050. Retrieved March 21, 2011: http://www.america2050.org/arizona_sun_corridor.html.

2. Chhabra D. (forthcoming) A Present-centered Dissonant Heritage Management Model. Annals of Tourism Research.

3. Harvey D. (2001) Heritage Pasts and Heritage Presents: Temporality, Meaning and the Scope of Heritage Studies. International Journal of Heritage Studies 7: 1-16.

4. Waterton E. (2005) Whose Scene of Place? Reconciling Archaeological Perspectives with Community Values: Cultural Landscapes in England. International Journal of Heritage Studies 11: 309-325.

5. Zeppal H., Hall C. (1992) In Special Interest Tourism, eds Weiler B, Hall C (Belhaven, London), pp.47-68.

Contributor’s Biography

Deepak Chhabra teaches sustainable marketing and management of tourism in the School of Community Resources and Development. She also holds the position of Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability. She has published more than 30 articles in top tier tourism journals. Her research interests include sustainable development and marketing of tourism with special focus on authenticity in heritage tourism, cultural/social/capital and ethical consumption. She also holds expertise in economic impact analyses of various forms of recreation and tourism.