BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: A relatively large number of historic (traditional and old) houses have been restored in Iranian cities in the recent period. Of increasing demand in the era of the experience economy, many are used as cafes, restaurants, galleries, ecolodges, etc. Cultural heritage and urban policies have further provided a general framework and some incentives for the restoration and reuse of these houses. Leveraging a tourism development framework, this paper investigated how authenticity could be achieved in practice in the restoration and reinvention of historic houses.
METHODS: A flexible policy research approach was employed to probe the current framework governing the restoration of historic houses. Another part of the analysis was based on a set of semi-structured interviews and field observations targeting restored historic houses in the city of Shiraz. Specifically, interviews were conducted with owners/operators of the most significant category of reused old houses—those turned into ecolodges—along with visitors.
FINDINGS: Based on the fieldwork results, five general recommendations were provided for owners/operators of restored historic houses/ecolodges toward realizing authenticity: there is a need for pre-planning and employment of adequate knowledge and knowhow to provide authentic experiences to visitors; objective elements should leverage creativity, balance tradition and modernity, and give the establishment its own personality; subjective elements should be reflective of local culture, history, and hospitality; a major aim is to have tourists emotionally engaged with the place and easily interact with people, places, and things; and allowing for co-creation could instill an enduring sense of belonging into visitors.
CONCLUSION: Notwithstanding recommendations for owners/operators of restored historic houses, tourism and urban authorities must focus on the creation of a policy framework that encourages the delivery and management of authenticity. Adopting a stronger socio-cultural approach should help to achieve additional regeneration objectives of local economic development through increased interaction among public-sector agencies, non-governmental institutions, local populations (property-owners or tenants), and investors.
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Tehran Municipality: Tehran Urban Research and Planning Center