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Back to Basics: Presentation given at the Cuba EduTourism Conference

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A second presentation has been added, extending the ideas on this page: CLICK HERE

Image: Alan Machin - Cuba

.These are the slides from my presentation to the Cuba Conference. Notes have been added to each slide in lieu of the spoken presentation that I gave in Havana. The actual presentation used 46 slides. Here I have posted 40 slides.

The notes here expand on what I said in my presentation, which lasted for one hour.

Please do not reproduce or use these slides in any medium, without my written permission.

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[Thanks for the invitation to speak - looking forward to meeting everyone and excited about being in Cuba]

Why ‘Back to Basics’?

- because tourism is too often seen as damagingly hedonistic, exploiting less-developed countries or
wallowing in nostalgia for some past golden age

- but almost all forms of tourism began with educational aims and it is that perception and reality
that we need to get back to: travelling to understand our world and its people better

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As usual – I’m probably trying to get too much in,
but I’m trying to present a historical perspective
and move towards new theory which will be a basis for good practice

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I spent 19 years in education - two full-time in secondary teaching, 17 in higher education.

I also spent 18 years in not-for-profit, public and private sector tourism, in marketing, visitor
interpretation and public relations, including a public sector regeneration project. During that time
I also taught adult education courses of various kinds including special interest weekends for a commercial
company. Another year was taken up working as senior executive for a leading design company.

Although my most recent years – 17 in all – were as a university teacher, I never felt like a traditional
academic doing research but as a teacher, an enabler, perhaps even a
persuader attempting to inspire future managers of tourism.

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Now in retirement I want to contribute ideas to as wide an audience as possible, primarily through my web site

And I am writing a book about ‘Tourism As Education’.

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The origins of tourism were virtually always educational, the possible exception being ‘spa and
coast’ tourism aimed at health and socialising. Yet I suspect that even that had, for the better-
off people who used the spas, a motivation based on we would call intelligence gathering for status
and profit, with a strong element of learning about people and places thrown in.

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A detailed analysis of the history of tourism would show just how much of it was connected with educational aims of one kind or another. This very brief summary of some of the more recent dates indicates the variety but by no means all of the enterprise and innovation. It is again from a UK/European perspective. Other viewpoints would, I believe, show similar patterns.

More detail is shown on my web page given below:

Click here for a more detailed chronology

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As world tourism has grown in the last sixty years, leisure tourism – sun, sand and sea – has become much more dominant. Even so, there remains always a mix of entertainment and what we might call ‘informal education’ in every tourist trip. It's impossible to identify 'entertainment' elements and 'educational' elements because those are usually just different aspects of the same experiences.

People are always changed by travelling – even if only a little and not always for the better. The changes may only be additions of little bits of experience - a new view, a small incident during the journey or at the destination. Encounters with people and places add to the accumulation of knowledge, however slightly.

Travel can broaden the mind – but it also has the potential to reinforce prejudices and create misunderstandings. We can all examine our own experiences and if honest can identify what we learnt – and perhaps what we misunderstood - for whatever reason

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Even travel which is narrowly aimed at particular activities like business visits will produce plenty of associated experiences that we can term ‘learning’. Like going to a conference in a country new to the participant, for example. Being in Cuba for the first time produces a wealth of new information, refinements of knowledge and opinions matured over time.

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This is my key viewpoint. It is the way I view tourism.

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Here are some examples of how travel can refine knowledge. I don't remember who said it - the quote came from a TV programme in Britain a few years ago. An American tourist saw Stonehenge and found out the reality was not what they had in their imagination. At some point they had perhaps seen a movie which depicted Stonehenge, or something like it, in a dramatic cliff-top location. There is the reality of the monument itself. There are the images in the mind based on versions of reality and the fictions of the media. Mental images can get made more fanciful. And then there is the reality of the setting, which can change the whole perspective quite radically.

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Altering perceptions by the use of tourism - the deliberate promotion of more positive opinions and judgments through the use of tourism.

A favourite book of mine from the early 1950s was "Explorers on the Wall" by Garry Hogg. I re-read it a year or so back. Four children in the 1930s plus their genial uncle make a trip from Hampshire to explore Hadrian's Wall. The above is how one of them records seeing two West Yorkshire towns, They would be dark and smoky mill towns, close-packed with houses next to the factories where cloth was made.

Though not a Yorkshire man I have lived in Halifax for over thirty years. During the late 1970s and through the 80s I was Tourism Officer. It was part of my job to promote what the new reality was following the Clean Air legislation and the stone-washing campaigns that altered the appearance so drastically. A new tourism economy was partly compensating for heavy losses in the textile and engineering businesses. Deeply-ingrained popular images of the region were being wiped out. It was being seen as an attractive place to visit - and to live.

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My daughter and I made a trip through Belfast on using a taxi tour. William, our driver, showed us the city centre and where the Titanic was built. There was a basis of a new tourist industry in Belfast in the wake of the peace process following decades of sectarian strife and nationalist agitation. William took us to a Protestant housing estate where the political wall paintings proclaimed Ulster as British and proud of it. Then we went through a gate in the high security fence separating those houses from Catholic communities on the other side. There were burn marks on the wall where every now and then a fire bomb had been lobbed over, an expression of hate and fear. At 9pm the gate would be locked. "Over here" said our guide "I'm Liam - the Gaelic form of William".

On this side, close against the wall, we saw a memorial enclosure to nationalists killed during the Troubles, as those days have been long been described by that understated expression. Another plaque was placed on the side of a house facing the wall with more names. The blame for the deaths was placed not only upon the 'Proddies' on the other side of the divide but upon British soldiers sent by the UK government to quell the troubles from the early 1970s onwards.

Liam - William - explained that after the 1997 Good Friday Agreement began to bring about a more peaceful co-existance, with ultimately a Northern Irish government made up of people from both sides, tourism became to be used as a political tool. The Catholic communities welcomed visitors. They showed them their memorials and their own wall paintings, including the one to Bobby Sands who starved himself to death in protest at British rule over what he saw as a rightfully-Irish country. At first the Protestant communities were unsure about visits to such housing estates, but came to see the usefulness of getting their version of the story over to the visitors who were now coming from all over the world.

It made a sharp reminder of the importance of politics within the tourism process. Places are not only on show for what they have been, but also for what they can be made to become.

Cuba can be an excellent example.

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Some examples of past and present political representations of what countries are about and how they relate to the rest of the world: China, the Soviet Union and the USA on the top row.

Below, obscenities of 9/11, of the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, and of the recent flood disaster in Pakistan. Whether caused by human agencies or natural, such events are all unacceptable horrors. They also deepen negative perceptions about those involved which are often far from sensible judgments of the reality.

Tourism is a way of seeing for ourselves what the truth really is. It alone allows us to see for ourselves without the intervention of mass media persuasions of one kind or another. Even formal education systems depend upon the mediation of text books and teachers which can only be partial representations of what our world is like.

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The next six slides give examples of very different tourist-based ways of promoting ideas - social, economic, cultural - and political.

The Quaker Cadbury family creation of Bournville as a philanthropic community based around their chocolate factory was promoted to visitors from the late nineteenth century. Factory tours from the 1890s have shown off their quality of production and the quality of life within their village. Now a major attraction, Cadbury World, sells chocolates and social ideas in one tasty package.

Exhibitions such as the one shown have been used around the world to promote national and international values of one kind or another.

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Berlin in the late 1930s as a peaceful, cultured and friendly place. Omitted mention of Jews.

New York as the centre of enterprise and capitalist success. The Futurama exhibit sold General Motors' cars and gave a picture of cities of the future. It also happened to introduce a continuous people-moving system of chairs on a conveyor letting spectators view a huge model of that future world in comfort - and managed their movements efficiently and quickly.

The Moscow guide proclaimed it as a centre of social enterprise and communist success. The All-Soviet Exhibition concentrated on achievements in agriculture and space exploration.

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Disneyland: the American Dream or an American nightmare? Or just a well-managed, popular tourist attraction. Karal Anne Marling called it "The Architecture of Reassurance" and the subject of forty years of over-statement.

Marling, K A (1997) Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance, Montreal, Flammarion/CCA

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A Disney dream that hit the buffers: it would have been a Disney view of American history. Folks in Virgina had other ideas about it.

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With a varied and distinctive mix in its history - native peoples, French and English elements among many others - Canada is also sometimes seen outside as a part of the USA which did not break away from its European roots. The question of how it presents its distinctiveness to visitors might be answered partially by the relatively new Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

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Cuba has its own special visitor attractions. The Castillo de la Fuerza is of very high standard. The Cathedral might not be considered a tourist attraction in origin - but arguably it always was, as well as being an attraction to local people for worship and events. The Museo Giron has one of Cuba's most important stories to tell, but does it badly. It is 'book on the wall' and only in Spanish, lacking in objects in its indoor displays and without much flare in its story-telling ability. The engine from a US plane downed during the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 should be the centrepiece, but is tucked away outside, at the back of the museum where it could be missed.

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I call the sort of attractions shown in the previous slides 'Showcases'. In a way it's an obvious term. My examples are largely connected with history and are museum-type places. But botanical gardens, zoological collection, natural history collections, buildings and natural landscapes can all be showcases. The usefulness of the term is that it reminds us that someone has created a place, maintains and operates it, in order to impress visitors. There are persuasive and promotional elements to such showcases. And they are forms of mass media, designed by groups of people who employ communication methods and write, design and edit their creations to the wishes of someone in control - just like newspapers or the broadcast media. It's a point that I come back to in this presentation.

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If we are to understand and manage the tourist experience: if the tourist is to exploit the full potential of travelling, then the stages and processes of the tourist experience have to be examined.

The concept of the service journey is associated with customer service management, though I believe it has origins in other fields. There are three distinct stages to the tourist experience - the service journey. You may think this means the journey out, the visit itself and then the journey back. I define them much wider. The actual visit is not the only component.

The first stage is that which contains all of the factors and stages which produced the decision to make a journey to a particular place. This might begin many years before the journey is undertaken. Somewhere, somehow, the seeds of the idea of visiting are sown. It might be through hearing about a place from other people or seeing and hearing mentions in the media. A friend recently went to Jordan to see the remains at Petra, half a century after first hearing about them in school. The perceptions of places can be formed long before visits are made and they will have been shaped by other peoples' values, whether through chance mention or deliberate publicity. It is here that the process of fulfillment begins which is concluded by the visit and the reflection upon it afterwards. Will the traveller be delighted or disappointed? Any skillful destination manager will not only do their utmost to influence the potential customer through the direct media. They will try to affect the channels of communication which have long-term workings such as broadcast and online media mentions which have been initiated by other people. They will try to feed ideas into the minds of teachers and lecturers who are helping to shape the preconceptions their pupils and students. This is all part of the preparatory stage.

Stage two of the service journey is the familiar one of the visit itself. I will return to this in a moment.

Stage three is often forgotten. The experience of a visit will be recalled over a long period - possibly a lifetime in the case out an outstandingly good - or outstandingly bad - experience. As time goes by memories decay and fade away. The returned traveller will make use of their records of the visit to help relieve their experience, to check up on details half forgotten. Photographs, videos, guide books and postcards purchased at the destination or elsewhere will be brought out and studied. Destination managers need to ensure that either they, or somebody else, produces good material of this kind. They need to do their best to help the tourist get good photos and guide books by making sure someone, if not themselves, supplies them, hints at places to take pictures and gives some appropriate follow-up service answering inquiries. A commercial attraction or service may have a more limited role to play than a public sector organisation or not-for-profit body. In the case of Cuba, for example, much more is at stake than the making of profit. The reputation and well-being of the whole country has to be secured.

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This is more familiar ground. These are the ways in which communication takes place during that decision-making stage. As discussed with the previous slide this might involve forms of communication a long time previous to the make concentration of media-use as the hard decisions are taken. The marketing people make their sales pitches. The traveller finds out what they need to know. Sales are made, contracts closed. In the mind of the visitor the perceptions are focusing closely on what is to come, what to expect - and it might well be that here is being created an element of over-expectation. Most people know they want a great deal out of a visit but cannot have it all. Children will not be able to think that way. Can they be helped to cope with disappointments? Or can the ground be laid for the all-important desire on everyone's behalf to want to go back again on a future occasion?

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Traveller and destination manager are responsible in different degrees for the information that helps get the visitor to where they want to go - and to deliver them there in the right state of mind, eager for the experience. A package tour might handle everything so that the customers have the minimum to do. Independent travellers need their maps, signposting and so on, to fulfill this part of the journey. For everyone interested in getting the messages home about the nature of the destination there are plenty of opportunities here to keep things moving, especially as the visitor begins to enter the chosen destination area.

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How does the destination speak to the visitor? What languages are in use? Who is creating the perceptions in the mind of the visitor what might last a lifetime? Are they positive and beneficial or negative and damaging?

It is not just the people who the visitor encounters at their hotel or on the street or wherever. The appearance of the place - the surroundings, the architecture, open spaces and everything within it - create powerful impressions. These have to be managed by the destination. They also will be explored by the visitor to a greater or lesser degree. Again, the commercial people will have some influence over the broader situation. The community managers - politicians, managers and others will have much more.

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This is the slide focusing on the people mentioned in the previous note. They are just some of those who help shape the outcome of a tourist visit - successfully or otherwise.

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Talking to Tourists - and letting them sometimes ask questions and answer back. Visitor interpretation through on-site media such as these is crucial if we are to achieve sustainability, quality tourism or any other form of positive management of the activity. Yet I have seen some managerial training course at university level cut out modules devoted to teaching about their use in favour of topics like marketing communications. I'm all for making marketing modules better, but not at the expense of those modules that underpin all of the more positive forms of tourism management. And I suspect many commercial organisations don't understand what the subject is about. Cuba can make advantageous use of these media - they needn't all be expensive and the country has important things to say.

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Reflection is not just about the place visited. It's about the way in which people are treated by those at the place. It is about the ways in which people at that destination live and use their surroundings. Impressions can be long lasting. First impressions are often the longest lasting.

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This hour-long presentation was not the place to go in to detail about the more theoretical aspects. These topics can be discussed in other places and will be examined later on other pages of this web site.

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It is salutary to compare how different people react to a place - like Prague, for example. No matter how narrowly-defined and targetted the message from the destination managers and residents is, the effects of the messages depend to a large extent on the audience that they are reaching. We interpret messages in different ways according to our own experiences and viewpoints. There are always multiple messages - not only from guide books to take one example but from the appearance of the place. Older people will usually make judgments that are different from younger people. Children will react differently from their elders. Our own political stance will colour our perception.

I chose Prague for the illustrative slide. Havana will provoke even stronger reactions to most visitors because of its history, its culture and above all its political system.

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Each step, each component, in a communications process affects the message. So each step and component of the communication with visitors shapes the outcome differently - and it isn't just about tour guides and tourists. There are more active components than that.


A hotel group promotes a resort to wealthy visitors from highly-developed countries, with a view to expanding its business and building customer satisfaction, using TV advertising and glossy brochures distributed through travel agencies........

A government agency commissions an author to write a guidebook illustrated with pictures chosen by a committee to present a destination in the best possible light to business visitors from a distant country with a view to developing economic and cultural links with them, at a time when world conditions are changing fast and the destination's leaders are going through a period of change......

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Tourist attractions such as national parks, museums, theme parks, performing art centres (OK, all attractions) are designed by someone to communicate particular messages - different at different times, maybe - with a range of audiences. Their communications are written, edited, put across and interpreted just as any other kind of mass media. One person, or more likely a tight group of people, communicate with a potentially infinitely-sized audience. Which is the definition of a mass medium.

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The diagram above attempts to relate the main components of the activity of communicating with any given group of visitors. On the left are the potential visitors to a destination whose people are represented on the right, both by half-rings. The red frames cover to the left those folk who have been identified as the potential visitors and to the right the destination residents who they are likely to come into contact with.

Between these two the pale blue shape stands for the space between them which must be crossed by forms of communication and also by the visitors as they travel to the destination.

Communications between the two falls into three stages. First is the Persuasion phase during which potential visitors are converted into real buyers. Then during the Preparation phase they have to plan the details of the journey, their accommodation, itinerary and activities at the destination. The third phase is Performance: the visitors travel to the destination and carry out everything that they want to do while there. Each of these stages demands particular forms of communication appropriate to the activities in that phase - booking, reading up, planning and deciding, and above all interfacing with people at the destination before and then during the visit. It is likely that there will be numerous communication streams and channels in use during these different phases - the internet, phone, printed word, broadcast media, personal contact and so on. The previous slides have referred to examples of these and their multiplicity.

The next slide gives more detail.

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And here are the three phases or stages referred to in the previous case with some more detail added.

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We talk of successful, sustainable, responsible tourism. I am advancing the view that without an effective and integrated communications strategy to bind together and deliver all three they cannot be achieved.

Many destinations managers will claim that they know this and deliver what is needed. Maybe, but personal experience suggests that they often do not. They scan lack both effectiveness and successful integration.

The reason is often lack of awareness and professional training. I believe strongly that no tourism management course that lacks good, adequate training within the above topic areas is failing to deliver what is required. Too often these are 'covered' within broad-based teaching modules which lack range and depth. They often pay lip service to strong educational practice by so-called 'teaching' which gives one or two lectures and leaves the student to find out the rest for themselves. This is a woeful trend which is often forced upon tutors whose class-contact time has probably halved in the last decade, 'teaching' two or three times as many students, often with class members who are far less able to drive their own education forward at the necessary level and commitment. In addition, the so-called future job focus of courses has often narrowed down to subjects based on commercial industrial practice and the earning of higher salaries. Knowledge of the careers entered by ex-students makes it clear that they go - have always gone - in many directions, often out of tourism altogether. Many go to work in less-developed countries where different systems and approaches are employed. Many wish to support communities in these locations. To do so demands the preparation that the subjects shown above can provide.

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These appear to me to be essential requirements of any Tourism Management course worth its salt.

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