Negotiating your expectations of authenticity

Think through your past travels, the places you’ve visited and the impressions you came away with. And then contrast this with the way your views on how your own hometown have changed over the years. Do you apply the same criteria? Did you encounter authenticity? Can you locate authenticity?

Pico Ayer, in his New York Times piece, argues…

Today, we crave ‘‘realness’’ as never before, and in response, the travel industry is trying even harder to provide it…  This increasingly fevered quest for the authentic can in truth be a mug’s game.

As visitors, and particularly as expectant holidaymakers, perhaps it helps to bear in mind that…

Our notion of places — which is to say the romances and images we project onto them — are always less current and subtle than the places themselves.

That link again – Can a Trip Ever Be ‘Authentic’?


Representing place

Barcelona map exaggerating its main roads

Barcelona map exaggerating its main roads

“The land itself, of course, has no desires as to how it should be represented.  It is indifferent to its pictures and picturers. But maps organise information about a landscape in a profoundly influential way.” (Robert Macfarlane, in The Wild Places)

It struck me that guide books, canned tours and signed tourist itineraries could be considered similarly.  Echoing Robert MacFarlane’s words, they “carry out a triage of [a place, not destination‘s] aspects, selecting and ranking those aspects in an order of importance, and so they create forceful biases in the ways a [place, not destination] is perceived and treated”.

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Real versus contrived places

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:

Titanic Belfast Visitor Attraction

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?


Cultivating connections between the young and “old land”

News from Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales (Australia), of an initiative that will actively seek to cultivate sense of place, particularly among the young.  Run as a World Responsible Tourism Day activity, it will seek to foster connectiveness to nature using Aboriginal belief systems.

Organiser, Christopher Warren, writes “research confirms that individuals who have pro-environmental values also hold a strong connectivity to nature, and are frequently positive thinkers. Methods [therefore] need to be found to build connectivity to nature which in turn can influence pro-environmental social practice and behaviour”.

To achieve this highly intangible yet very valuable prize, Chris and his colleagues at a local school and in an aboriginal community will try “to determine if elements of traditional environmental care can be transferred to school children [to] successfully build pro-environmental values through connection”.

The 2012 World Responsible Tourism Day marks just the start of this very local action–the activity will run for at least a year and seek to engage youngsters through workbooks, encounters, reflections and story-writing.  To find out how this progresses, and perhaps contribute your ideas and moral support, follow Chris and colleagues here.


Te Awa Tupua

News of an astonishing agreement that recognises the status of a river in New Zealand as Te Awa Tupua, i.e. “an integrated, living whole”.  New Zealand’s Minister for Treaty for Waitangi Negotiations, Christopher Finlayson stated:

Under the settlement, the river is regarded as a protected entity, under an arrangement in which representatives from both the iwi and the national government will serve as legal custodians towards the Whanganui’s best interests.

Adding:

Whanganui iwi also recognise the value others place on the river and wanted to ensure that all stakeholders and the river community as a whole are actively engaged in developing the long-term future of the river and ensuring its wellbeing.

File:Whanganui River.jpg

The Whanganui River on the North Island of New Zealand

(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0)
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From rural idyll to urban chaos

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…

Why Chavs were the riots scapegoats

Why is the rural idyll I call home voting for Marine Le Pen?

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.


Places, not destinations

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?”.

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Going unseen places

One of the highlights of last week’s World Responsible Tourism program for me was finding out about Unseen Tours (London’s Street Voices), which received a hefty whack of recognition by winning Best Tour Operator for Local Experiences and Joint Overall Winner at the Responsible Tourism Awards 2011 (the latter shared with Robin Pope Safaris).

Here’s the proposition.  If you “want to challenge your view of what it means to be a person living in London”  then Unseen Tours offers “historical but also unexplored glimpses of the city, as perceived through the lens of homelessness”:

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