The DCMS has just published its Tourism Recovery Plan. There is a lot in it, with stats and analysis comparing the pre- and ‘post’-pandemic situation, underlining that tourism is one of most important industries and also one of the industries which has suffered the most in the pandemic.
The multi-faceted nature of the tourism industry means that there cannot be a single guiding mind in public policy terms – different parts of the industry are regulated from within different public policy areas, and various bits of the tourism policy brief are a devolved matter for the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. What comes through clearly in the Plan is that a post-pandemic recovery is reliant on good data, sharing of knowledge and greater co-ordination and collaboration across those disparate policy briefs, to enable a good (and green) recovery, rather than just an economic rebound which is looked for seemingly in some of the language of the document.
Sustainability and spreading the beneficial impact of tourism does feature in the report, though the messages and aims here could be more ambitious and inclusive. I recognise this is tricky however – but we need to be balancing that looked-for rebound with growth which is inclusive and provides net positives across a triple bottom line (social, environmental and economic). Communities need to be enhanced by tourism and not blighted – and it would be unfortunate to chase a rebound which leads back to discussions of 2018 and 2019 on over-tourism, environmental degradation, economic inequality and tension between the industry and host communities.
The heritage sector really gets centre billing in the Plan. Through figures presented, commentary and case study, the role of the historic environment (where distinctive built or natural character is a key feature) explicitly and implicitly provides the overarching places, canvas or ‘-scapes’ for what is looked for in Britain as a global and local tourism destination. The heritage sector arguably is positioned in an excellent place as far as the recovery public policy lens goes. The challenge that is going to weigh on us as a sector again is the need to further prioritise, balance competing desires of conservation and development, and keep cool calm conversations at the heart of the shared desire for what a good recovery is for both heritage and tourism together.
Inevitably I have become an avid listener to the new heritage-focused podcast series launched by the Duchess of Rutland, simply entitled, “Duchess” as I have headed out for my daily constitutionals during lockdown.
The first series has ranged far and wide across the UK, focusing on the personal stories of the women behind the running and development of private stately homes and estates – most of whom are united by being part of the British aristocracy with the title Duchesses. As Emma Rutland wryly observes, it is a somewhat elite club!
She has however produced utterly engaging interviews which have been exceedingly open and honest, revealing how the interviewees have married into, inherited, survived and prospered as members of the British establishment. More importantly the interviews go a long way to break down the stereotypes of the private stately home owner in explaining the trials and tribulations of the sleeves-rolled-up approaches needed for maintaining the ongoing survival and flourishing of the estates in local communities and modern society more widely.
The love of peeking behind the curtain will make the series appeal to many, whilst anyone interested more in the ‘management’ of heritage sites will find plenty too, as the stories have provided a wealth of case studies of innovation, social inclusion, community development, tourism experience creation, and reflections on long term stewardship of historic assets in private hands often against the odds.
Journal summary: JHT focuses on exploring the many facets of one of the most notable and widespread types of tourism. Heritage tourism is among the very oldest forms of travel. Activities such as visits to sites of historical importance, including built environments and urban areas, rural and agricultural landscapes, natural regions, locations where historic events occurred and places where interesting and significant living cultures dominate are all forms of heritage tourism. As such, this form of tourism dominates the industry in many parts of the world and involves millions of people.
During the past 20 years, the study of tourism has become highly fragmented and specialised into various theme areas, or concentrations. Within this context, heritage tourism is one of the most commonly investigated forms of tourism, and hundreds of scholars and industry workers are involved in researching its dynamics and concepts. This academic attention has resulted in the publication of hundreds of refereed articles in various scholarly media, yet, until now there has been no journal devoted specifically to heritage tourism; Journal of Heritage Tourism was launched to fill this gap.
JHT seeks to critically examine all aspects of heritage tourism. Some of the topics to be explored within the context of heritage tourism will include colonial heritage, commodification, interpretation, urban renewal, religious tourism, genealogy, patriotism, nostalgia, folklore, power, funding, contested heritage, historic sites, identity, industrial heritage, marketing, conservation, ethnicity, education and indigenous heritage.
In a nod to the shift from the experience to transformative economy in site management and interpretation, Parks Canada has been placing red chairs in scenic locations around its National Parks. These are designed to not only provide a passive viewpoint experience of natural heritage and landscape, but also generate a proactive sense of adventure in the visitor (the transformative bit) who is encouraged to seek out the locations where the benches have been placed.
The programme has been running for around three years, having started in Gros Morne National Park and has featured in social media and advertising across the country, with each Park taking its own approach to promotion. The hashtags #ShareTheChair and #TimeToConnect hook in to the idea of shared outdoor experience and connecting with nature to bring about wider wellbeing.
The chairs themselves have heritage background, built in the Adirondack or Muskoka style, are bright red and carry the Parks Canada organisational logo. The chairs can also be bought from the Parks Canada website (children and adult sizes available).
It is an interesting approach by the organisation, though has attracted some criticism – but as a site intervention of experiential design which incorporates a call to action, heritage, branding, visual stimulus, and landscape interpretation, it is effective. I hope to capture my own red chair moments in the next month and will no doubt participate in #ShareTheChair as I encourage a couple of teenagers to disconnect from their phones for a moment.
In the UK, we have seen smaller scale equivalents at individual sites with National Trust branded deckchairs, and very subtly branded picnic benches at English Heritage sites.