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.
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.
When I was in Australia, over ten years ago now, aboriginal Australia seemed largely absent from the coastal cities of the south and south-east. Not an uncommon sensation for newcomers and visitors, I suspect.
It wasn’t until I visited Darwin and other parts of the Northern Territory that I felt I had arrived in the Australia of my preconceptions, as well as the Australia of certain desires I perhaps held at the time. I had heard accounts of horrific events and read about the chronically dislocating effects of colonial and other incomer changes wrought on the aboriginal people of Australia. I had witnessed a couple of saddening sights first-hand too. But I felt that at least here I was closer to Australia’s soul, where people’s connections with their environment were “real, deep and distinctive”, as in steeped in ancestry and a profound understanding of the land.
Then again, I might have been “place dreaming”. You see I was also aware that those Australians who helped impart all this to me were in fact white descendants of Europeans, particularly a remarkable friend of my parents, the late Lance Brooks. They too had intimate connections with this part of Australia.
Working through Nick Lloyd’s Iberia Nature and Spanish Civil War tours I was able to take some visitors on a rarely-run, long Barcelona walk at the weekend. We ventured through some of the city’s particularly meaning-laden places, as well as other places less well-known, applying a kind of sense of place framework as we went.
A brace of recent articles at the Independent‘s site came together for me this morning to configure a constellation of important issues that I think all of us have to grapple with at some time or other: when voting, when deciding which places we spend time in and which (places and people) we denigrate, when sharing such opinions at the bar or over coffee, and when assimilating the views of others. (Assuming a general desire to move beyond bigotry, I’d be particularly careful when handling the views of some opinion piece writers in the Daily Mail, for example–their precise toxicity is not specified on any label).
Identity and nationhood, “race” and ignorance, nostalgia and the challenges of adapting when “your place” changes; prospects for the young, rough justice for some and impunity for others, etc, etc…
Go ahead and grapple, search the heavens of your intellect, consciousness and conscience, and let me know if you make any sense of this particular constellation.
I have taken my first plunge into blogging here close on the heels of rioting in urban England. Many of the first televised reactions with those affected first and first-hand—the non-rioting residents of some London neighbourhoods—revealed the shocks to many people’s sense of place, particularly in terms of their identifying with the place they live in. One black woman’s plaintive response sticks in my mind: “…but this is England”, as if this kind of thing doesn’t and shouldn’t happen in her place, her home, her England. Issues of belonging lie beneath the surface of what has happened too—“this is our community, and we have come here to get it back on its feet again”.