Collaborative Management and Planning of Urban Heritage Tourism: Public Sector Perspective



‘This paper investigates collaborative management and planning among public organisations involved in urban heritage tourism. An exploratory case study has been applied, capturing urban heritage tourism development in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The findings demonstrate a shared desire for further collaboration between the key public bodies involved, with limited existing and previous collaboration, beyond work that is the result of existing hierarchies. Collaboration is at an early stage, and many looked to the Local Authority to provide leadership in driving new initiatives. The private sector has a limited but increasing role in this. There are differing views on the focus of heritage tourism development – some suggesting a regional, others a city focus.’ Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


Heritage tourism is among the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry (Ashworth & Tunbridge, 2000; Timothy, 2011). It is often seen by local authorities, ministries of tourism and other public management organisations to bring economic benefits and competitive advantage to local destinations in light of the increasing competition among heritage cities (Green, 2001; Timothy, 2011). Strong heritage tourism strategies with a clear collaborative element are considered fundamental in today's turbulent operational environment (Schianetz et al., 2009). Accordingly, an investigation of the way in which processes of collaborative planning are managed in practice is crucial (Hall, 2004). As the majority of published research focuses on private stakeholder alliances, there is a need for further enquiry into collaborative practices among public-sector organisations (Bramwell & Lane, 2000). The role of public stakeholders is central to heritage tourism development (Scheyvens, 2011). This is particularly the case in post-communist countries, where public-sector stakeholders are largely involved in destination management (Hall, 2004; Hall & Roberts, 2004). This paper discusses the results of an exploratory case study (Flyvbjerg, 2011) examining the collaborative management and planning practices among public organisations involved in urban heritage tourism in the city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria.


Plovdiv is one of the oldest living urban areas in Europe – the beginning of its history dates back to four thousand years BC with some of the town heritage dating as far back as seven thousand years BC (Detev, 2012). The unique location of Plovdiv, at significant ancient crossroads, has reflected strong political, religious and cultural influences from Western and Eastern Civilisations (Genchev, 2007). These include Thracian, Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine cultures (Genchev, 2007; Plovdiv Local Authority Tourist Centre, 2011). In more recent history, during the Bulgarian Revival in the 18th century, following the end of the Turkish rule, Plovdiv became an important economic centre where the wealthy traders from Plovdiv built beautiful and richly ornamented houses (Pizhev, 2003; Genchev, 2007). Some of the most prominent buildings from this period have been conserved and restored as part of a heritage site known as Old Plovdiv (Pizhev, 2003). The site is one of the most famous landmarks in the area. It is located within the heart of the city of Plovdiv. Reflecting its rich history, the city hosts a variety of museums, such as the Ethnographic Museum, the Historical Museum, the Museum of Natural Science and the Archaeological Museum (Pizhev, 2003). Cultural diversity also shapes the historic landscape of Plovdiv as churches, mosques and temples function as a home of faith and reflection of the peaceful coexistence of different religions (Genchev, 2007).

Today's historic towns are not static sets of physical heritage monuments (UNESCO, 2013), and that certainly is the case of the Old Plovdiv. The city has a vibrant community of residents who have established their homes and craft shops there over the centuries. A number of art events, such as the Night of Museums and Galleries take place there. The Old Plovdiv heritage site hosts re-enactments of historic events using its fully conserved Roman amphitheatre (located within the Old Plovdiv heritage site), such as the Celebrations of the Old Town and Old Plovdiv Throughout the Centuries. It also boasts a 30 000 spectator Roman stadium situated in the central shopping area of the city. It is reported to have been used for gladiator fights in the second century AD, now being an arena of various cultural events. Prominent events hosted by the Roman amphitheatre and stadium feature the Verdi Festival and the National Folklore Festival, as well as various jazz and classical music events throughout the year. The presence of heritage and a vibrant cultural environment that engages both locals and visitors suggests an approach that adds a dynamic dimension to the tourism experience. It is within this context that this paper examines public-sector perspectives on collaborative management and planning practices in urban heritage tourism.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework applied to this study is Timothy and Tosun's (2003) participatory, incremental and collaborative (PIC) planning model. This is a three-part framework for undertaking systematic and sustainable planning in tourism destinations with an emphasis on local development. It is particularly suitable for heritage tourism destinations seeking to involve local participation and examine attitudes of key stakeholders towards building alliances in urban heritage tourism (Timothy, 2011). The PIC model involves three steps: participatory, suggesting the involvement of host communities, incremental, implying gradual implementation of development goals, and cooperation/collaboration that captures joint efforts between the central government, destination businesses and public structures across different administrative levels. Collaborative or cooperative planning brings under the spotlight the role of stakeholder alliances and collaboration in building an economically sustainable environment for heritage tourism development (Timothy, 2011).

The collaborative aspect of the PIC model (Timothy and Tosun, 2003) is a focal point of this study, specifically, exploring the level of stakeholder involvement in collaborative management and planning initiatives against the five directions of organisational partnerships identified in the model:

  1. Cooperation between public agencies;
  2. Collaboration between different government levels (levels of administration);
  3. Public and private cooperation (government agencies and private organisations);
  4. Collaboration between private-sector organisations; and
  5. Cooperation across political boundaries.


The study involved two phases of data collection. Using secondary data sources, Phase 1 of this research investigated local heritage-related policies, namely the Strategy and Plan for Tourism Development in the Plovdiv Region 2009–2013, along with the Strategic Framework for Tourism Development in the Old Plovdiv. Both documents were publicly available online. These documents were examined to surface cross-organisational relationships, funding mechanisms, key areas of work and existing and intended collaborative practices among the investigated bodies. The results from this examination informed the second (interview) phase and provided a context for the analysis of empirical data under Phase 2.

Phase 2 included expert semi-structured interviews (Flick, 2009). The purpose of these was to capture the level of involvement and propensity towards collaboration. The key stakeholders examined here reflect van Gelder's (2011) description of key stakeholders. They represent individuals and organisations that can significantly contribute to shaping the future of urban areas through policies, actions, behaviour and communication. A sample of seven senior managers and experts representing each of the key seven organisations involved in urban heritage tourism in the Old Plovdiv was interviewed (refer to Table 1 below). The interviews took place in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in the first two weeks of March, 2012.

Table 1. Heritage tourism network actors in Plovdiv
Key actorsSource of funding
Plovdiv Local Authority, Tourism Unit responsible for Culture, Education, Tourism, Innovations, Development, and European PoliticsEU/State/Local Authority
Plovdiv's Destination Marketing OrganisationEU/Local Authority
Tourism CouncilLocal Authority/Private
Plovdiv Heritage InstituteState/Local Authority
Plovdiv 2019State/Local Authority
Plovdiv AirportLocal Authority
University of Agriculture and Regional DevelopmentState/Private

During the process of data collection, a Round Table for Local Heritage Tourism Development, hosted by the Tourism Deputy Mayor and attended by representatives of all tourism bodies, took place in Plovdiv. There, a proposal for regional tourism development (titled Via Diagonalis) with an emphasis on cultural and heritage tourism was presented by the Local Authority. Upon an invitation from the research participants, the round table became an additional opportunity for data collection for this study. Five discussions that contributed to the primary data collection were recorded at this forum. Discussions provided valuable insights of issues addressing collaborative action among local tourism bodies and setting up alliance initiatives in light of the proposed development.

Interview and round table discussions were transcribed verbatim; however, fragments of text irrelevant to the aim and objectives of this research project (when participants went off topic) were omitted. Due to the nature of the research, and as described by Gibbs (2007), it was found that as the study looks at policies, organisations and evaluation, the salient factual content of what respondents have said is sufficient for analysis of collected qualitative data.

Thematic analysis, which is a form of qualitative coding analysis, was applied. It assisted in developing deeper-level themes than simply surface-level codes (Bryman, 2012) and allowed the researcher to spend considerable time with the data, exploring what themes actually emerge, rather than reflecting the researcher's own beliefs (Fielding & Warnes. 2009; Matthew & Sutton, 2011). The NVivo9 software tool for qualitative data analysis was used to assist with the process of qualitative analysis. The software package is practical in terms of organising large amounts of data and development of consistent coding schemes (Veal, 2006).


Public-sector structure and strategic synergies

A list of the tourism public-sector organisations, their purpose and funding source is included in Table 1 where a senior-level representative from each was interviewed for this research. The table shows that the funding sources of the identified stakeholders are not uniform and suggests that stakeholders may face conflicting priorities should the expectations of the funding bodies vary.

Review of secondary data identified the following hierarchical relationship between key public bodies and agencies investigated in this project (refer to Figure 1 below):

  • Plovdiv Local Authority and its Tourism Unit exercise all functions relating to the management, planning, regulations and funding of tourism-related activities. Importantly, one of the Authority's key responsibilities is to co-ordinate initiatives between the various public organisations and bodies outlined below. The Tourism Unit is led by the Tourism Deputy Mayor. The Mayor is the only individual within the stakeholder network (Figure 1) being elected on his post, in contrast to the remaining participants who have all been appointed.
  • Plovdiv's Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) is a publicly funded body responsible for the marketing and promotion of the destination. The Executive Director of Plovdiv's DMO is appointed by the Tourism Deputy Mayor and its Tourism Unit. The DMO is also responsible for the Tourist Information Centre (TIC). TIC reports to Plovdiv's DMO and is responsible for promoting basic and additional tourist services, attractions, events and venues in Plovdiv.
  • The Tourism Council is a not-for-profit association, which supports the development of tourism on both local and regional levels. The Council facilitates partnerships between public and private organisations with a stake in the local tourism and visitor economy. It co-ordinates the interests of and activities between both sectors. The Tourism Council Deputy Chairman is appointed by the Council board. The board consists of representatives of public bodies and destination businesses. For example, the Deputy Chairman is also the owner and General Manager of one of the largest hotels in the city of Plovdiv.
  • Plovdiv Heritage Institute reports to the Local Authority and its Tourism Unit. The institute is accountable for the management and use of the physical heritage – state properties in the architectural site of Old Plovdiv. The Executive Director is appointed by the Tourism Deputy Mayor.
  • Plovdiv 2019 Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation, which reports to the Tourism Deputy Mayor. It has been established and largely controlled by the Local Authority. Plovdiv 2019's key objective is bidding for Plovdiv to become the European Capital of Culture for 2019. The body also assists in collaborative activities between a diverse mix of cultural partners supporting the bid and the Local Authority. The Executive Director of Plovdiv 2019 is also appointed by the Tourism Deputy Mayor.
  • Plovdiv Airport is a state-owned, international airport. It is funded by the wider regional authority that captures Plovdiv and the surrounding areas. It is located 8 miles away from the Old Plovdiv heritage site. The main traffic of the Airport is charter flights from and to the UK, Ireland, Germany and Russia. The Executive Director of the Airport is also appointed by and reports to the Mayor of Plovdiv Local Authority.
  • University of Agriculture and Regional Development (UARD) contributes actively to the development of alternative and niche tourism, both in Plovdiv and the surrounding areas. It is independent of the Plovdiv Local Authority and other public tourism bodies. Representatives from the University are, at times, involved in an advisory capacity in the development of new initiatives and strategies.
Figure 1.

Network of stakeholders.

Elected bodies (national and regional) have different electoral cycles. Hence, elected regional and local public bodies may have different strategic (and political) priorities and objectives. Newly elected officials may then recruit new public servants to head public bodies. In the case of Plovdiv, the following were appointed by the current (at the time of the interviews) Mayor: the Executive Director of Plovdiv 2019 Foundation and the Plovdiv Heritage Institute Executive Director. Others were appointed by previously elected officials: the Manager of Plovdiv Airport and the DMO Executive Director and Tourist Information Centre Manager.

Phase 1 of this study (review of existing strategies) suggested that the organisations listed above operate rather autonomously. There is no clear collaborative pattern with regard to planning and management. Despite the fact that the Local Authority developed both the Strategy and Plan for Tourism Development in the Plovdiv Region 2009–2013 and the Strategic Framework for Tourism Development in the Old Plovdiv, no cross-reference was identified in these documents. The review of secondary data uncovered only one cross-organisational collaborative initiative – that of Plovdiv Local Authority and Plovdiv Heritage Institute incorporating initiatives for sustainable tourism development in the Old Plovdiv.

Strategic documents can often become quickly outdated or may not fully reflect existing working practices. The purpose of Phase 2 of this study was then to capture what the key actors in the public sector experienced in terms of collaborative practices and to examine their predisposition and views towards collaborative practices. The findings are presented below and grouped according to the five directions of organisational partnerships (collaboration/cooperation part) of Timothy and Tosun's (2003) PIC framework.

Cooperative practices and initiatives between public agencies

With the exception of the hierarchical links introduced in the section above, the primary data collection indicated a lack of structured opportunities for communication and coordination of activity. There was an expressed need for dialogue and collaboration between the relevant organisations and agencies:

There is a need for more local conferences and discussions on tourism. At last, but not least, there is a lack of constructive dialogue among public bodies.

(Interview: Plovdiv's DMO)

The Round Table for Local Heritage Tourism Development was an apparent attempt to address this. All participants at the Round Table discussions welcomed this initiative to provide such initial opportunities for collaboration and communication. There was an expressed desire for collaboration during these discussions. This shared commitment to collaborative partnership was also emphasised by participants during the interview stage.

The UARD professor noted the importance of co-ordination among Local Authority bodies in relation to both “tourism development strategies”, as well as ‘… a tool for problem solving on a local level’. The Local Authority saw partnerships as important, with a focus specifically on marketing and collaboration with the Plovdiv Heritage Institute and the local DMO:

Partnerships on a public level is a huge topic and exactly one of the issues that we have been discussing in light of the Local Authority's administration reforms at the moment. How do we support both the Destination Marketing Organisation and Plovdiv Heritage Institute to become more efficient in their work is also on the agenda. So, we plan to include the marketing activities, as well as the management of tourist information centres as part of the local DMO's functions. The support of physical heritage, art and cultural events in the Old Plovdiv will be under the remit of Plovdiv Heritage Institute.

(Round table: Plovdiv Local Authority)

This suggests a focus on collaboration and particularly marketing activities within existing hierarchical structures of the Local Authority. Other proposals focused on collaboration in developing new cultural and heritage products. All public bodies stressed the importance of product packaging and branding of various local cultural and heritage products.

There is one clear existing shared common agenda – bidding to become the European Capital of Culture in 2019. It presents an opportunity and indeed requires collaboration and joined up thinking among all stakeholders. Plovdiv 2019 Foundation was formed to pursue the enactment of this proposal. The Tourist Information Centre of Plovdiv tends to co-operate with Plovdiv 2019 when it comes to initiatives related to the European Capital of Culture Programme. However, the view of the Plovdiv 2019 interviewee was that although the foundation communicates with the Local Authority and DMO, this communication was one-way. He felt that there is a lack of communication flow from the Local Authority and DMO towards the Foundation. This was a particular concern as he felt this had led to a lack of shared understanding of current practices and future priorities. He saw this as an area where a concerted effort was needed:

In order to complete such strategy or agenda, we have to perform an in depth analysis of past practices so we would be able to see the current situation in Plovdiv. Then, we would be able to collaborate with representatives from the Local Authority and DMO … hard work is needed and all public bodies involved in heritage tourism should collaborate in such a project.

(Interview: Plovdiv 2019)

The 2019 agenda provides a platform for collaboration that may then lead to establishing communication channels and firm collaborative practices that benefit other areas of work. The data collection suggested differences in views across the stakeholders on how this initiative should be approached. There was as yet no established working collaboration(s) in this area. Further research may be needed to capture the on-going development of this agenda. The Executive Director of the local DMO also expressed concern of a lack of collaboration and shared focus among the key bodies:

Well, I have the impression that a lot of people work for Plovdiv, but there is no common thinking and teamwork, so therefore, a lack of focusing on one target is evident.

(Interview: Plovdiv's DMO)

The concern over the lack of a shared vision was also evident from the secondary data analysis and consistent with insights provided by other interviewees from the Tourism Council and Plovdiv Heritage Institute. An attempt to have a shared understanding of existing practices and future direction of heritage tourism in Plovdiv was the focus of the round table discussions. Although some further round table events have been held since the data collection, it is yet unclear if this gathering will become a regular occurrence or if a structured opportunity for communication and collaboration will result from this.

The primary data collection indicated a disagreement on whether the focus of tourism development should be regional or Plovdiv-centric. A vision for regional tourism development with an emphasis on cultural and heritage tourism was proposed by the Tourism Deputy Mayor and the Local Authority during the round table discussion. This collaboration at product development level saw Old Plovdiv as part of a heritage trail named Via Diagonalis. The trail was to capture an extensive area in the South-East Region of Bulgaria offering a plethora of historic layers. These link to areas of religious tourism, such as Thracian temples and churches and Roman remains. It may be seen as an extension to the existing heritage tourism product base of the urban setting under investigation. This was not met with a uniform support. When discussing the adoption of a shared focus for tourism development in Plovdiv, EU funding opportunities appeared to influence the thinking of the key stakeholders. For Plovdiv's DMO and the Tourism Council, this was not seen as a viable solution for attracting national or international funding (through EU development programmes). The Tourism Council Deputy Chairman saw the focus on local rather than regional scale to be of higher importance for the development of the city of Plovdiv:

We cannot place Plovdiv on a way – Via Diagonalis. We should accentuate the local. I would place an emphasis on the concept ‘Plovdiv – oldest living city in Europe’ or ‘Plovdiv – centre of the Thracian heritage’.

(Round table: the Tourism Council)

Within Plovdiv itself, the existence of a clearly defined Old Plovdiv brings a different dimension to public alliances. The Tourism Council's interviewee, for example, focussed on the need for closer co-operation and co-ordination between the heritage and the contemporary town surrounding it: ‘So, both places are interconnected and interdependent’. He saw that both areas can benefit from mutual promotional and marketing practices. Here, again, the tension between Plovdiv and regional-centric focus was apparent. Public bodies, such as Plovdiv Local Authority and UARD, however, preferred to look beyond the boundaries of the city of Plovdiv, at cross-border alliance initiatives of Old Plovdiv and neighbouring local administrations within the South-Central Region of Bulgaria. As the professor at UARD contended, ‘Connecting Old Plovdiv and the contemporary urban area should not be our key priority’. Instead, with an emphasis on the Via Diagonalis proposal, he stressed the importance of co-operation with other Local Authorities within the South-Central Region of Bulgaria:

I think Old Plovdiv can be linked to cultural and heritage sites from peripheral areas. Plovdiv area should collaborate with other town and rural areas in the South-Central Region of Bulgaria … the South-Central Region can benefit from mutual tourism initiatives through developing alternative tourism niches, such as cultural heritage tourism and exploration of the extensive Thracian heritage within the Region.

(Interview: UARD)

During the round table, the Local Authority of Plovdiv and UARD shared similar views on how Old Plovdiv is linked to other areas (either the contemporary Plovdiv or peripheral areas): ‘[T]he Authority should focus on partnering with peripheral authorities from the Region and benefit from it’. For the Tourism Council, Plovdiv's DMO and Plovdiv 2019 Foundation, however, the focus was on linking Old Plovdiv to the contemporary urban area of Plovdiv.

A shared common direction is required if collaborative practices are to be established. There appeared to be some disagreement about the activities that would most clearly benefit the development of tourism in Plovdiv. This may well be explained by the natural Plovdiv-centric focus of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation, Tourism Council, local DMO and Tourist Information Centre, as this is within their area of influence and responsibility. These discussions also suggest that there is of yet no clear consensus on collaborating across regional boundaries (the fifth element of the collaborative aspect of the PIC model).

Public alliances on different levels of administration

The PIC model's second direction of organisational partnerships points out the linkages between different levels of administration – national, regional and local. The inherent structure of the relationships between these organisations (including finding how budgets and areas of responsibilities are distributed) provides additional complexities not often easy to navigate. Local Authorities and related organisations may hold some control over the management of historic sites. Funding to support heritage structures is, however, provided by other stakeholders – through central government structures such as the Ministry of Culture. As a result, the central government has a considerable influence over the tourism development and physical heritage conservation of Old Plovdiv. For example, the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Culture impact local heritage tourism development and collaborative practices through the use of EU development funds (which often requires collaboration between different stakeholders). In such cases, local–national links between Plovdiv Local Authority and national bodies are important in terms of financing projects in the area of Plovdiv. It was felt that the Local Authority and its Tourism Unit need to strengthen its work in securing these funds, through emphasising local–national public partnerships:

The Local Authority may not always be able to finance projects. So I think one of the key issues here is the lack of attracting capital through the European Union funds for development … partnerships are central to this.

(Interview: Plovdiv Airport)

Again, the round table discussions appear to be a first step in consulting with the other agencies involved and in initiating open dialogue, even if there is not yet evidence of a direct impact of this consultation on the strategic plans of the Local Authority. As the decision-making process is primarily undertaken by the Local Authority itself, the voice of other organisations appeared to have less impact over planning and strategy implementation. The latter then suggests that decision-making takes place at the Local Authority level with the implementation being driven by the other tourism bodies within the hierarchy. This analysis also indicates that there is a lack of active collaboration among the public bodies beyond and across hierarchical structures, but some initial steps are being made to create opportunities for discussion and collaboration.

Public–private and inter–private co-operation: public perspective

The key decision-making and driving power in heritage tourism in Plovdiv stays with the public sector. This is largely the result of the post-communist structures of the way national and regional government is organised (e.g. Plovdiv Airport is still a publicly-owned business). One successful public–private alliance was identified between Plovdiv Airport and the airline carrier Ryanair. Such collaborative practices were seen to potentially bring benefits to Plovdiv in terms of promotion and marketing. There appeared to be an increasing recognition among local public stakeholders that public–private alliances may become a catalyst for development through the use of private economic resources. The benefits of such partnerships were seen in economic terms.

There was some agreement on the important financial benefit of growing public–private partnerships, and indeed, the majority of investigated public bodies strongly supported the idea of mixed partnerships. They also saw this as an opportunity to bring different perspectives and indeed creativity to this:

Such partnerships could be more creative, not only because of the resources that private parties hold.

(Interview: UARD)

However, to date, these were seen as relatively unexplored:

At places where local administrative structures do not have sufficient economic resources, funding may be provided through public–private partnerships. In this case, I have to say that such public–private alliances are not explored and developed at all.

(Interview: Plovdiv Airport)

With the exception of the Tourism Council itself, public–private alliances in Plovdiv are in an early stage of development. One of the Council's key priorities is to facilitate and encourage partnerships between public and private parties. The Tourism Council interviewee felt that the Local Authority does not support the idea and noted that in his opinion, there is no current strategy to boost partnerships between private and public bodies in Plovdiv:

At the moment, the Local Authority does not see the private sector as a partner … Generally speaking, tourism is a product which consists of mainly publicly owned attractions. However, we have to find a way to further develop it through public–private partnerships. Tourism-related private organisations can work in favour of the public.

(Interview: the Tourism Council)

Apart from the Tourism Council, which is interested in such partnerships and represents local businesses, no private-sector representatives attended the round table. When the need or a lack of strategy for engaging with the private sector was discussed, there was a clear view that this should come from the Local Authority of Plovdiv and its Tourism Unit, acknowledging its primacy, hierarchical standing and importance in the tourism network of public bodies.

Influences of Power

The results show that there is a desire for a joined-up approach to management and planning by the key stakeholders and that steps are being made in this direction. The influence of these stakeholders over the Old Plovdiv's administration has been captured on Figure 2 below. The closer to the top a network stakeholder is, the higher its influence over management and planning. The size of shapes, on the other hand, captures stakeholders' projected capacity to influence urban heritage tourism development. In other words, the bigger the shape, the higher the impacts that a single network stakeholder can deliver.

Figure 2.

Influence of network actors over management and planning.

The Local Authority has the greatest influence over management and planning practices of local heritage tourism (refer to Figure 2 below). In contrast, other public organisations and agencies related to cultural and heritage tourism development and promotion have limited influence. Organisations, such as Plovdiv 2019, the Heritage Institute of Plovdiv and the Tourist Information Centre, have a moderate impact over shaping management and planning of urban heritage tourism (Figure 2). Important exceptions are Plovdiv Airport and the Tourism Council. Despite currently having rather marginal influence over decision-making processes as suggested by their current position, the future capacity of these organisations to deliver and act as drivers of heritage development is much higher. Regardless of its current position, the Airport's future capacity to become a proactive stakeholder within the investigated network is strong.


Drawing on the collaborative direction of Timothy and Tosun's PIC planning model, this paper discussed the collaborative management and planning practices among public organisations involved in urban heritage tourism in the city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The findings suggest that within a post-communist setting, where public organisations still maintain primacy, there are unique challenges to establishing collaborative partnerships and facilitating opportunities for private-sector engagement.

The Local Authority is the most influential stakeholder as far as heritage tourism development is concerned, and thus, the expectation has fallen onto it to establish and support collaborative networks within the area. Other public heritage organisations have limited influence over decision-making processes and the execution of heritage development agendas. A proactive approach to partnerships and understanding the range of stakeholders in a heritage destination are crucial (Houghton & Stevens, 2011). The findings showed instances of collaboration within hierarchical structures and proactive initial steps by the Local Authority in open discussions and establishing collaborative frameworks (via the round table forum).

There is recognition that there is no clear consensus on strategy. Currently, there are different visions of how heritage tourism should be developed. This is particularly apparent where collaborative working and cross-border co-operation are concerned (both between the Old Plovdiv and Plovdiv itself and also between Plovdiv and the South-Central Region). However, there is also a shared view that such consensus is needed. The round table initiative, for example, provided a forum for discussing and agreeing upon a shared strategy. Future research may be needed to examine if this provides an avenue for change and collaboration in the future.

Where a clear, shared direction is established (such as bidding to become the European Capital of Culture in 2019), this provides an opportunity for setting up working collaborative practices and addressing the challenges presented by the inherent (post-communist) power imbalance towards regional public sector authorities and central government. However, indications from this study are that the lack of previously established collaborative practices, working channels and modes of communication can be a hindrance. Within Plovdiv, some of the public bodies' functions overlap, whereas others are blurred. The absence of an on-going active communication (with the exception of the round table initiative) and dialogue may be an obstacle when key stakeholders are to contribute. Although, the number of private stakeholders is increasing and offers an additional dimension to establishing collaborative practices, their current influence is limited. There is an emergence of bodies such as the Tourism Council where collaboration between public bodies and private businesses is becoming more important and prominent. The network stakeholders support the increasing role and positive impacts of public–private alliances in Plovdiv, however, the current structure of tourism partnerships provides limited opportunities for such collaboration. This is a clear area for further development for the region. The private-sector engagement may also warrant further research specifically examining the level and nature of influence and involvement of the private sector.

The challenges outlined above in this case study are not unique to Plovdiv. This is especially so in tourism where a large number of parties involved in the decision-making process are present (Hall, 2005). Hence, the task of the state with respect to the co-ordination of destinations activity tends to be more difficult. Conflicts can escalate not only among different government roles and forms of regulation but also among stakeholders supporting diverse standpoints (McKercher & du Cros, 2002; Cooper & Hall, 2008). Planting the seeds of constructive dialogue among high-impact stakeholders involved in heritage tourism alliances is then crucial (Bramwell & Lane, 2000; Timothy & Boyd, 2003). Indeed, the need for co-ordinated tourism development strategies has arguably increased in recent years (Cooper & Hall, 2008). Collaboration and partnerships between public bodies can be complex due to various communication barriers, in addition to obstacles of interorganisational nature, such as clearly defined operational agenda for organisations. The role of public stakeholders is vital for prospective heritage tourism development (Hall, 2008; Scheyvens, 2011). Co-ordination is needed both within and between the different levels of government, so effective tourism strategies are developed (Hall, 2005). The findings of this study suggest a need for more clear co-ordination of activities and that steps are being taken in this respect by the Local Authority, including establishing for a constructive dialogue and working towards nurturing heritage tourism alliances.

Joined-up approach to management and planning vis-à-vis participation of all key heritage tourism stakeholders representing the public sector in a destination is a stepping stone towards embedding coordinative mechanisms and collaborative practices in the heritage town (Evans, 2000). The process of involvement itself is, however, not sufficient. There is often a need of implementing active management and planning urban tourism strategies (Green, 2001; Timothy, 2011). The different strategies within Plovdiv would also need to be aligned. Drawing on the above discussion, it is clear that widening and stronger participation of all network actors is imperative. A shared strategy for Plovdiv can become of key importance as an enabler for continued collaboration.


A number of authors (McKercher & du Cros, 2002; Hall, 2008; Houghton & Stevens, 2011; Timothy, 2011; van Gelder, 2011) advocate establishing working collaborative practices in order to successfully manage urban heritage tourism. This need is well acknowledged by the key stakeholders in Plovdiv, and there is a shared understanding of the challenges facing heritage tourism in the city. There is of yet no agreed strategy of how these can be addressed; however, the steps made to reach such an understanding are encouraging.

Although at operational and local strategic level, the primacy of the Local Authority is clear, this is not to overlook that the funding to support heritage structures is provided by high-state stakeholders, such as governmental bodies, but equally – through the involvement of private entrepreneurs and developers. So, the need for furthering engagement and collaboration exists across all five levels of the PIC model's co-operation/collaboration dimension. Co-operation bounded by the Local Authority and national bodies can be beneficial to the locality as it can economically boost the development of cultural and heritage tourism in Plovdiv through EU funding. Currently, within Plovdiv, it appears that the establishment of both inter-private and public-private partnerships is highly desirable but also clearly dependable on the public sector.

UNESCO's (2013) Historic Urban Landscape Approach advocates that building strategic alliances between public authorities managing towns and entrepreneurs and other private parties is at the forefront of successful urban heritage conservation and development. Public-sector intervention is fundamental to sustaining urban heritage values in turbulent times (MacDonald, 2011). Plovdiv is facing multiple challenges to establishing strong bonds between the local government, businesses and communities, these are currently being addressed but not yet fully resolved.

This research was limited to the collaborative section of the PIC model and public-sector-bound collaborative practices. It is thus not to be seen as a representation of all existing heritage tourism stakeholders in Plovdiv. The scope was limited to key public bodies and organisations, which are either involved in or affected by heritage tourism development in Plovdiv. However, one of the key reasons that the presence of the private sector in this investigation was only marginal is that its role in shaping heritage tourism is minor at this stage of local tourism development. This is not, however, to underemphasise the implications of private-sector involvement in the management and planning of the historic town. In this sense, UNESCO (2013) contended that building strategic and dynamic alliances between prominent actors in the urban scene, in this case, public authorities and private organisations, is central to the conservation and development of urban heritage destinations.

Future research should address the application of the three dimensions (full framework) of Timothy and Tosun's PIC model to destinations that represent post-communist settings in Eastern Europe. The way in which co-ordinative mechanisms are being applied among public bodies involved in heritage tourism in the context of Plovdiv, as well as in other developing urban heritage destinations in Eastern Europe, is another avenue for further research deserving greater attention from both the academia and tourism practitioners.

The urban heritage town is a living place capturing both tangible and intangible qualities of the environment (UNESCO, 2013). Thus, heritage should be seen as more than a representation of the ancient architecture and historic buildings of the Old Plovdiv. Its physical dimension should be enhanced with the hidden cultural traits and qualities of a place. These are often expressed through events and festivals, traditional arts and crafts, music and literature. An indication of Plovdiv's vibrant cultural environment was offered in the Introduction of this paper. Yet, very little of what was discussed by the study's participants appeared to concern the living culture of Old Plovdiv. There has not been a consolidated attempt to acknowledge intangible characteristics of the environment, such as events as a tool for heritage development where destination management looks beyond historic buildings into actual experiences. The focus of discussions was mainly around packaging and marketing of local tourism products. Yet, in addition to providing economic advantages, urban heritage should also be seen as a social and cultural asset playing a key role in the development of historic towns and host communities (Newby, 1994; UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 2003; UNESCO, 2013) and indeed enriching the visitor experience. This requires management approach that is both sustainable and forward thinking (English Heritage, 2008). Therefore, the development of urban heritage tourism within Plovdiv will require not only establishing a stronger communication and collaborative mechanism but also reaching a shared strategic view of the direction of travel. It may also require a more fundamental reconsideration of what heritage tourism means and how it can be developed (and brought to life) for the benefit of both local residents and visitors.