McCarthy’s Bar keeps revealing on-the-trail observations that chime with my own concerns about how some places seem to be losing the fight to maintain their character and distinctiveness in the face of tourism and “inward investment”. His book was a “Number One Bestseller” so I may be among many others with similar concerns:
“Now the Irish economy is so driven by tourism, will every special little place end up like this, as they see what’s to be earned by marketing their idiosyncrasies, leaping aboard the Celtic Tiger, and getting the builders in? A successful tourism industry can quickly turn itself into a parody of itself.”
Clearly this is pre-“crisis” (the book is copyrighted 2000), but the same sentiments can be applied to other times and places. Just think about the comments you have perhaps heard in relation to the charm of Havana, Cuban people, other places in Cuba, and what lies in store for them once the country “opens up”.
So why is it that when the money blows through some places–investment (chicken or egg?) or tourist cash (egg or chicken?) that it seems to get spent on making them poorer in terms of charm and interesting detail? Is there some kind of underlying mechanism (“globalisation”?) that makes this inevitable? How can a place–i.e. the people of that place–conserve its charm and distinctiveness without “selling out” to moneyed “others” and the tourism entourage? How should destination managers and promoters best communicate the said idiosyncracies of the place their livelihoods are set to be based on, if at all? Perhaps, in fact, these little sources of charm and distinctiveness should be left to personal discovery and real-world encounters, with communication being equally diffuse thereafter, via post-trip musings via the digital ether and maybe even… in books.
In Titanic Belfast – it didn’t rock my boat travel writer Catherine Mack contrasts beautiful, “real
breathing spaces [that] are part of our living heritage”, with a designed (or contrived) visitor attraction built on tragedy and destination marketing thought:
Reading her piece had me balancing the following:
- investment in the places to date
- investment needed to maintain the differing attractions (thereby benefiting the communities most closely involved)
- the cost to the visitor of visiting (“entrance fee”)
- enjoyment and illumination
- underlying motives–which do we really want to be sustained three or four generations from now?
It’s a close-to-the-heart piece, so perhaps the most pertinent question is… Which of the places she throws into contrast are most likely to fill locals–and maybe even visitors–with pride?
The remarkable CoaST team and people at Tamar Valley bring on sense of place to better appreciate the value of this AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Britain) and hopefully draw appreciative visitors to the area too.
For illumination visit www.coastproject.co.uk/theland/tamarvalleyasenseofplace.
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.