“Is Barcelona being spoilt by tourists?” This is a question that many Barcelona locals have been asking for some time. In fact, some minds were made up long ago.
It’s been two years since BBC’s Fast-Track came through to gauge the balance of opinion on tourism and everyday life in and around Barcelona’s “Old Town” and other visitor hotspots. Since then, there is perceptibly less grumbling about what, how and why tourism detracts from the city, which says something about public awareness of the economic benefits tourism brings to the city–no one in Spain right now wants to knock a trade that continues to grow and provide jobs.
But the issues surrounding the negative impacts of tourism don’t go away. Do tourism activities and tourist paraphernalia now dominate sense of place in Barcelona’s “historical centre”?
Ensuring residents enjoy liveable places—a liveable city—can often go hand-in-hand with better places to visit. So how can the remaining local charm and local life—those sources of increasing visitor interest (as well as distinct market advantage)—be sustained and nourished so that, further down the line, Barcelona can continue to reap the benefits of visitor arrivals and spend?
These are the issues that I hope will be thoroughly explored at RTD7. I’m also really looking forward to hearing the likes of destination manager and marketers, Pere Duran and Mario Rubert speak on these issues, as well as the very observant human geographer, Jose Antonio Donaire.
Can the RTD7 programme–and the ensuing Declaration–help chart a more sustainable course for a city that continues to prosper from tourism?
A previous post called for conversations on places rather than destinations.
A number of voices and sources can be drawn on to support the case against places that are contrived, often from elsewhere (i.e. destinations), and in favour of places that are enabled to flourish from within (richly textured and distinctive places; places with integrity).
Greg Richards and Julie Wilson, for example, suggest that creating places as products for their marketing as destinations is of limited value, as it can often lead to the serial reproduction of culture (Richards & Wilson, 2005).
Similarly, Chris Murray concludes that “the notion of designing identities for places should be rejected as in the end it leads to disaffection (…) and there is insufficient evidence that it works” (Murray, 2001: 73). He proposes that a more appropriate process is to identify and build on distinctive local cultural resources for successful place branding and marketing.
Anna Pollock’s framework on conscious travel indicates a similar shift from product-led thinking, which sees destinations treated as products, albeit complex ones, by their marketers and some “been-there-done-that” consumers, towards concerning ourselves with “people and place”:
Instead of discounting their primary asset – the Place – [conscious travel advocates] focus on protecting, expressing and celebrating its unique Personality to sustain and increase its value to guests.
After several years of reading and thinking about tourism, I’ve decided I dislike the term “destination”.
I don’t mind “you will reach your final destination by early evening”, i.e. point of arrival. But when applied to villages, towns, cities, islands, parks and other protected areas, peninsulas, and whole countries… urgh!
OK, the word is widely-used because it is useful to us, but therein lies my niggling discomfort with “destinations” in academia and business parlance: it reflects the generally industrial use of places by travel, tourism and associated industries, otherwise described as commodification.
You’ve probably enjoyed visiting many destinations, but ask yourself this, “would I want to live in a destination?”.