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Idealog - June 2007

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Image: Christian Pilgrimage - timeline

Timeline - Christian Pilgrimage as a Tourism Prototype


Making a journey to a place of personal significance, usually one that has some kind of spiritual importance, is part of every society at every time. Most pilgrimages are undertaken for religious reasons since for most people spirituality is expressed in religious terms and structured through some form of organised religion. Current thought is more liberal. A pilgrimage can be made to the tomb of an artist - Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison and Frederick Chopin spring to mind; or to a place associated with some kind of 'dark tourism' when that place also has a particular personal significance to the traveller. Some people would consider places with sporting connections valid destinations in terms of pilgrimage, or a former home, especially with childhood or other emotional association. The religious destinations alone are numbered by the thousand, even though most religions have only one, or at least very few, primary locations such as Mecca, Varanasi and Jerusalem.

The above timeline gives but a sample of the dates associated with the development of Christian pilgrimage. An exhaustive list might well be impossible: any adherent to Christianity would easily point out dozens of other dates which were often equally or more valid. Those shown are only examples.

Around 850 AD the supposed body of St James was said to have been discovered in north west Spain, in Compostela. The Spanish term Santiago de Compostela quickly became a major destination for pilgrims from throughout Europe who journeyed along the northern coast of the Spain to the cathedral in Santiago. The primary destination for those who were free to travel and could afford it was originally Jersualem, but the battles and skirmishes of the Crusades made it difficult or impossible. Other destinations were often substituted - Rome, Santiago, or more minor ones largely attracting pilgrims from within the same country, such as Walsingham in Norfolk attracting British travellers.

Pilgrimages were often made to cathedrals, abbeys or churches, especially those which claimed to have the relics of some saint or object associated with the death of Christ - a 'piece of the true cross' or the famous Turin burial shroud claimed to carry a miraculous image of Christ's body after it was used to wrap him for the tomb.

Claims were common and often unsupported by any kind of substantial evidence. In 1279 the monastery of St Maximin in Provence announced that it had the body of Mary Magdalene in a sarcophogus. As it happened, the cathedral of Vezelay in Burgundy had long claimed it had the body, but the monks of St Maximin put on a gala ceremony to display the sarcophagus. Pope Boniface VIII decided to grant an indulgence to pilgrims who visited it. Vezelay's claim was soon being rejected.

As Jerusalem became an impractible place for the pilgrim to visit, so Rome gained in importance. As the city of residence of the Pope - at least when there weren't rival Popes set up in opposition in Avignon - there was clear reason for making Rome the destination of choice. During the 13th century the Christian Church instituted a 'cedit points' system towards the forgiveness of sins: a journey to Rome followed by 395 high masses gave a person 92 years' pardon for transgressions committed. To a modern eye used to the tourism industry that looks rather similar to the Air Miles scheme, with God instead of Mammon the cultural focus.

There were other developments along tourism industry lines. A licence was given by the English crown to a 'pilgrim shipper' in 1394 which allowed him to carry pilgrims from Plymouth to La Corunna, a few hours' walk from Santiago. By 1428 925 ships were operating between Britain and Spain carrying pilgrims and often returning with Spanish wine. Before the close of the fifteenth century the pilgrimage infrastructure was well developed in many places. Jerusalem was more accessible again to those who knew how to arrange visits and Venetian agencies could take a person to the Holy Land for 60 gold ducats (a few thousand pounds sterling at today's prices). The package tour had not arrived yet - journeys were necessarily tailor-made - but it was well on its way.

Image: Cincinnati Museums Center

Showcases: Cincinnati Museums Centre


The main Union Terminal railway station in Cincinnati, Ohio, was opened in 1933. Its main building was in the form of a half-dome facing an imposing road access looking like a ceremonial was up to the entrance. Behind the half-dome extended an oblong building above the set of railway tracks which carried busy traffic through this important city. In 1972 the station ceased functioning as a passenger station, roads and airlines having killed off nearly all the services. Some Amtrak trains call here today but use none of the main concourse services in the half-dome. Freight rolls past but uses the rail yards nearby.

Union Terminal was once a showcase for rail transport and the urban achievements of Cincinnati. Its art deco style spoke of a city of culture as well as of industry: a concert hall, theatres and sports stadium downtown were the homes of thriving events. City dwellers could be proud and visitors impressed by the magnificent construction.

In 1990 new uses were found which are proud and impressive in a different way. The former station once again has visitors pouring through its doors, this time to see a set of museums and an Omnimax Cinema. The spectacular concourse (third photo above) echoes to the excited noise of school groups moving between the science, history and natural history museums and the film auditorium, or eating lunches at the many tables set out around the central ticket and information centre. The Omnimax Cinema shows films on its vast curved screen suspended above its audience reclining in armchair seating. The left-hand picture depicts a museum scene with a 1940s Cincinnati family during World War II, with father away fighting in Europe or the Pacific. Visitors to the natural history exhibitions descend through a representation of an ice age glacier to find full-size models of prehistoric animals in ancient forests or grasslands.

Union Terminal is again part of a communication infrastructure and a showcase for the city: this time especially aiming to serve young travellers - time travellers.

Image: The Coming of the Guide Book

Chronology: The Coming of the Guide Book


Early travellers who were not 'on business' - government, military or trading - were mainly pilgrims. Within the Christian world there are records of pilgrims going to Jerusalem late in the fourth century AD at least. They were shown places with biblical associations and some returned with souvenirs such as stones from the hill at Calvary.

Early in the seventh century pilgrims going to Rome were able to buy basic guides - simple block prints showing the route around the main churches. Not until printing with movable type was established in Europe in the late fifteenth century - Gutenberg began commercial work around 1450 in Mainz; Caxton set up in Westminster, London in 1476 - was guide book production feasible, but the market was small, especially as there was only a poor distribution infrastructure. Travellers' guides would only appear much later. In addition, maps and pictures would be very crude compared with what a traveller needed to be useful. It is noteworthy that it was only in 1570, during Europe's great effort to discover other continents, that the first Atlas appeared. Published by Abraham Ortelius and printed by
Christopher Plantin, it contained 53 copperplate maps. Atlases in the early days were productions for wealthy people to have on show in their private libraries, large works of art rather than something to slip into the pocket or even cabin trunk.

In 1699 Joseph Addison set out from England to tour Europe and gather material for a guidebook on its various countries based on the writings of Horace and Virgil. He must have been one of the very first travel writers.

The first English guide book aimed at describing routes to take and what there was to be seen came in 1817-18. It consisted of a two-volume "Tour of Picturesque Rides and Walks with Excursions by Water Thirty Miles Around the Metropolis" and was written and published by John Hassall.

A number of factors came together to create a rapid growth of guide book publishing in the early nineteenth century, which also established some of the key firms in the trade. It was becoming easier to travel - more could afford to do so, the roads were being improved and railways spread after about 1830. The relatively rich had time to travel for leisure and exploring places became a fashion in the wake of the Grand Tour. Steam power, cylinder-printing and typesetting machines were equipping the printing trade far better than before so that large runs of book production were possible, potentially reducing unit costs. Finally, the new railways provided a fast distribution system, not only to bookshops around the country but direct to the rail traveller through station bookshops such as those of W H Smith, whose pioneering news stand was opened on Euston Station in 1848. Passengers wanted something to read, and some wanted books that satisfied their curiosity about the places they saw out of the carriage window.

The great pioneer in guide book publishing was Karl Baedeker, whose books were highly researched and packed with detail, including fine maps on thin, fold-out sheets of paper. In 1829 his first such book was a guide to the town where his press was situated: Koblenz. Britain's main published was John Murray. He produced his first Handbook for Travellers on the Continent in 1836. Murray joined with Karl Baedeker to publish the first Baedeker guide in English, in 1861. It was a book about travelling along the Rhine. France had its great published of detailed guides, too. In the early 1850s Louis Hachette added travel books to his wide range of general publishing. Detail and accuracy were again their hallmark, and later the Hachette company would also enter into joint production with British publishers, this time Muirheads, in 1918 - Muirheads had bought the John Murray imprint earlier.

One other important date: in 1857 the first English book illustratated with photolithographs from nature was published. It was John Pouncey's 'Dorsetshire'.

Image: Visitor interpretation media

Talking to Tourists - Media


Once your visitors are at your destination or attraction there are many ways of communicating with them. Just a few are shown above. The simplest is not shown - it's a piece of plywood with a handle shaped into it, which has a sheet of paper onto some text is printed. Yet no form of communication is that simple. The writing needs to be interesting, accurate and readable, be not too long that people give up reading it, and yet deliver a message that gives the information they need and what you want them to receive. This means it has to fit into a wider communications strategy.

All of these media have to meet those general requirements. Some do so using the human voice or a recording of it - in the appropriate language and at the right level for the audience, old or young, specialist or not, to understand. Some are expensive to produce, others cost very little. Some - human beings and interactive computers - can handle questions. Many can incorporate pictures or video, or else be used in conjunction with another medium that can do so. A few can use sound effects - bird song or the noise of some ancient machine; and they might be able to use the recorded voice of someone who died many years before.

It is tempting to give the job of production to a manager, curator or technician. It must be given to a specialist who knows how the visitor thinks, what they might know already on a particular subject, and who can author the right words along with sourcing the right pictures.

If you aren't sure of the truth of that statement, just think how many computer manuals and online help pages are gobbledegook. It's often the same for visitor media.

Talking to Tourists - Stages of the Visit


If someone wants to influence tourists to behave in a certain way (perhaps being careful visiting a fragile environment) or make a particular judgement on a place (such as to be impressed with a changed urban environment), there are five opprtunities to do so as set out in the previous posting.

At the Finding Out stage - the first - the potential visitor is discovering the existence of the destination, attraction or service for the first time. It might be long before any visit is planned or made, for example in a school lesson which sows the seed of an idea that it would be a place to visit. It might be more immediately, through an advertisement or mention by someone else. The promoter or image-maker can therefore identify the range of contact media which could be used, from educational packs or teachers' familiarisation visits through the advertising media to word of mouth or computer 'viral campaigns'. The first impressions are created and should be of the right kind to attract someone to visit and to begin to assimilate the chosen communication message.

In the Reaching stage the task is to continue to build a positive image by the nature, helpfulness and effectiveness of the media which help visitors to arrive: information on how to get to the destination - signposting, good travel infrastructure and appropriately designed approach environments - and more.

The Visit itself gives the opportunities for a huge range of communication influences: the design of the facility - visual semiotics and so important; the quality of the attraction, destination or service, including both its physical nature and the quality of the staff who work in it. Incidents and more formally-devised events will all form perceptions good or bad. Then there are - as appropriate - the direct communications media - tour guides, guide books, leaflets, hand bats, interpretation panels, wayside exhibits; exhibition areas and displays or introductory visitor centres; audiovisual displays, interactive computers, listening posts (with recorded messages); demonstrations, performances by first-person interpreters or talks by third-person interpreters. The list is constantly being enlarged.

In stage 4 - Leaving - will be the reverse of stage 2 (Reaching) with exit signposting, including 'Come Back Soon' signs or, much better, helpful staff giving visitors a cheery farewell and invitation to return. This stage is often underplanned by managers but should be done well and be sensitive to the needs of departing customers. Good hotels give personal farewells: so should theme parks, museums and events venues, for example.

The final stage, Recalling, is where visitors - perhaps over a lifetime - rehearse their memories and impressions and the judgements based on them, using souvenirs, guide books, photos, postcards and anything else that gives reinforcement to their own memories by having some effective, tangible, reminder. Did the attraction supply booklets, postcards, digital photo cards - even disposable cameras - and other services and goods to help the process - and were they well designed and effective for what they were intended to do?

It doesn't take long to realise that the good manager has to have an influence over every detail to do with the planning, making and recalling of the visit. Think of Disneyland, of the Eden Project, of Venice or the Taj Mahal. Do they get it right or fall short in some respect? How could they improve the experience without reducing the quality of life for local residents, or the working conditions of their own staff?

Image: Talking to Tourists - 1

Talking to Tourists: The Service Journey


A useful analytical tool in management is that of the Service Journey. A tourist trip can be thought of in five stages as shown above, from the initial planning of the journey through its happening to the time after it has taken place when memories are reinforced by souvenirs, photos and guide books re-read.

The first stage is that of choosing the trip to be made, gathering information and planning it. Not only are marketing messages used, but perhaps earlier impressions from friends, school lessons or TV shows.

The visit planned, anticipation becomes fulfillment in the journey to the destination. Road maps, signposting, perhaps another guidebook to read on the plane or train, or even the enquiry desk helper or friendly resident along the way able to give directions, will not only get you there but will build up some of the impressions and judgements about the place and its people.

On arrival there are so many components to the experience of a good or bad visit, which will also create impressions, give hard information and contribute towards the formation of opinions about it. The hotel receptionist, a chatty taxi driver, someone met in a shop: information points, more signposting, the architecture and landscape design, the cleanliness and maintenance levels; how local people behave - friendly or antagonistic and even criminal; the kind of events and entertainment or just the day-by-day sequence of life as it passes by: there are hundreds. Prominent among these is the range of visitor - or 'environmental' - interpretation available, to use the technical term. These might be those guide books yet again, visitor centres, museums, art galleries and gardens, wild life centres, historic houses (showcases all, in the sense referred to in postings on these pages); there are interpretive panels, wayside exhibits, information leaflets and handbats with leaflets glued on to them; audiovisual shows, interactive computers, human tour guides, entertainers whose job it is to interpret local history, culture and natural history. And there are many more ....

Stage four is similar to stage two but connected with the journey home, when the visitors might be sad, fulfilled, tired or relaxed, but full of memories which will depend on their experience and how well the locals managed the destination and everything in it.

Then stage five: recalling, reliving the visit through viewing souvenirs bought, photos and videos shot, postcards and guidebooks bought, memories collected and recalled. It is another long list.

A good visit depends on whichever of these was around to influence the totality of the experience. They can be planned, developed and managed by one master mind or a whole team of managers, working together or against each other as the case might be. Which means in turn that a visitor's impressions and judgements - which affect the relevant issues of sustainability, community care and understanding, depend on how well the perform their tasks managing all of those communication channels listed which help form the perceptions of the tourist.

Image: Talking to Tourists - 2

Tourism's Missing Link


How do we achieve sustainable tourism activity? Protect environments? Achieve peaceful international understanding between hosts and guests? These things can only come about by communicating better ideas, discovering the real nature of people and places, and above all discussing and deciding better ways of dealing with the world.

Tourism can bring people into conflict with destinations. Exploitation and the relentless erosion of other peoples' quality of life can be the result. There is plenty of evidence to be found in reports and writing stretching from "Tourism: Blessing or Blight" by George Young to Leo Hickman's recent "The Final Call".

On the other hand people can discover shared aspirations, understand the experience and views of others and discover and value new environments. Discover? Understand? Share? Value? These are all processes depending on communication - seeing and listening, talking, making decisions. The places, people and animals in the photos above are all to be visited by tourists - they're promoted and explained in parks and museums, public spectacles or particular places. Communication through publicity, guides and performances are used by the hosts to speak to the guests - and some can answer questions on the spot or help to supply further information. The key to sustainability and responsible tourism is communication: not just sales talk which is but a fraction of the total process, but the holistic, interactive stuff which leads to real progress.

You can't manage tourism without it.

It used to be said that there was a single, missing, link in the evolutionary chain between the higher apes and human beings. That was discounted once the complexities of the one leading a branch into the other were understood better.

The relationship between people and the destinations they visit is also complex. But in management terms there is a clear link which holds them together. It is the need for communication at every stage of the tourist experience from planning the trip to remembering it afterwards. If there is a missing link, there is no meeting of people and places.


Marketing Channels


One consequence of the shift of power from producer to consumer that is rapidly being brought about by the internet in tourism activity is the declining usefulness of the idea of marketing channels.

The tour operator used to produce a package and sell it through newspaper and TV advertising or direct mail or other means: the customer bought it. Hotels advertised themselves in the same way. So did tourist attractions, transport services and anything else flogging products.

Now, the canny customer hops onto the web and puts together their own shopping basket according to what they want. Overseas travel especially is made easier by Expedia and Travelocity and the others web services that can make complicated airline itineraries easier to assemble. Then, by offering add-on sales of hotel rooms, restaurants, transport at the destination, admissions to attractions and shows, guide services and information books, the customer can tailor-make his or her own package.

Of course it then requires the producer to persuade the web-service host to include their package, and to make sure it features prominently. In that regard it's just like any merchandiser doing a deal to get tinned baked beans into the best shelf position at ASDA. But the power of the producer is moving away from the complete package and the consumer is getting so confident of exotic travel that more and more they are buying just what they want - or waiting for final purchases until they reach the destination.

More and more products are flying, not off the shop shelf, but out of the postal delivery van. Some, like travel tickets, music, news and magazine articles, actually fly down the phone line onto our computer screens. In most areas of information-handling, from TV programming to educational courses, the power of the customer is increasing. Multichannel TV and multimodular university courses offer wide choices to their users, and that choice increasingly revolves around interactive usage. "Press the red button" to choose your viewing angle on a soccer match. "Choose your optional" modules that will make up your degree - which often means not those which are most educationally useful but those which have dropped exams, include the relative safety of group work, and above all FUN in workshops.

As education has embraced more and more entertainment at the expense of challenge, it is interesting that tourism appears to be moving further away from pure entertainment and leisure towards being educational: discover, appreciate, value, conserve.

And travel to understand.

Image: The Final Call

Leo Hickman: The Final Call


Every now and then there comes along a book that everyone should read - at least anyone remotely connected with tourism or interested in its effects. "The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays" by Leo Hickman is one. That's not to say I agree with its every word. I don't. It's concluding chapter gets some sweeping comments which look as though they are written for effect and not enlightenment. But get the book and read it for yourself.

It consists of a series of case studies (journalistic rather than academic, and all the better for it) ranging from ski slopes damaging mountain ecology in France to the backpackers' impact on Thailand and several more in between. Those of us of a certain age and uncertain relationship to modern times might be horrified to find out how stag parties in Estonia have become the basis of a whole new industry. When we recover, of course, we will recall that sex and sightseeing were the basis of the Grand Tour that gave our industry its very name. But both then and now that mixture could be a lethal poison to many a community: think San Antonio, Bangkok and a good number of Greek island resorts.

Leo Hickman is highly readable and full of detail. There is that paragraph in the last chapter which I think goes way over the top - I could mention many examples to counteract its onesided-ness: [The tourism industry] "is still making some ... extraordinary claims - that, for example, tourism nuretures world peace, love and understanding. There seems to be little evidence to me that tourists and those that serve them engage with each other on a balanced, harmonious footing". For rich visitors in less-developed nations that is true, but huge numbers of people holiday among people equally well off. If Leo Hickman means that all customer service demands being servile to the buyer, I hope he gave up shopping and going down to the local years ago. There are plenty of hosts and guests who meet on a very equal footing - and often reverse the roles to make it work in the opposite direction perfectly well.

Hickman, L (2007) The Final Call: In Search of the True Cost of Our Holidays, London, Transworld Publishers
ISBN 9781903919996

Image: SATuration level

SATuration level


Recent debate about Standard Assessment Tests in UK schools, which measure levels of attainment at three different stages, has centred around the need to know how well pupils are doing and how one school compares with another.

Taking a long view over changing education in school and universities over fifty years (since my own distant pupildom) leaves me feeling that the outcome at university level of this process is depressing. This is a personal view and not necessarily that of my own university or colleagues there.

It's like the old comparison with learning to drive: wanting to be independent and run a car makes the leaner focus on the test which must be passed rather than learning to be a good driver in a wider sense. A whole set of new influences on students make them focus on passing assessments - probably within a modular system - rather than exploring and benefitting from the broader chances of education offered by a university - meeting many different people, absorbing wider cultures and trying out all kinds of new projects. Some students still do it, thank goodness: perhaps all do it at least to a small degree (yes, the pun was intended) but it seems not to be the higher priority any longer. The need to earn money on which to live, the need to meet tuition fees and attempt to husband the student's loan, as well as to meet the pass requirement at each level in order to proceed, have one major effect. That is to do just what is needed to pass and continue and too often little more than that. I hear from colleagues in other universities just what I hear from my own, that students are now known to ask if lectures and workshops are necessary for the assessment exercise, and to cut them if they think not. End of module evaluations by students often contain complaints that sessions did not relate to the exam or course work. Since tutors want to run successful, well regarded modules, and especially if those modules are optionals or electives, those tutors are under some pressure to redesign modules in order to achieve good results. Does this also affect the way in which they mark those assessments? From my experience the answer seems to be no: but will the pressures of competition between courses and between universities lead to it happening?

There are arguments for saying that it is the school SATs which are to blame. The same pressures exist in schools and there are plenty of reports about teachers devoting more and more time to coaching their pupils to succeed in the SATs. After all, that is what SATs are for - to ensure higher standards. But isn't this situation creating a culture of students who are being trained to pass tests rather than to learn how to drive their own lives? I use at least as much of the knowledge and experience gained from the extra opportunities given to me in school, and the equivalent that I was privileged to have time for in university, and I use it every day in my job and my personal pursuits.

I don't think it's still happening that way today, thanks to the pressures imposed by contemporary educational systems.

Image: Halifax Zoo and Amusement Park

Halifax's Edwardian Window on the World


Many towns had some kind of zoo or menagerie decades ago, when fewer questions were raised about keeping exotic animals in captivity and David Attenborough hadn't been invented. They were just another showcase for the world's wonders along with museums, art galleries, botanical gardens and arboretums.

Halifax Zoo existed for only six or seven years from 1909. It was developed on the grounds of the house once owned by a former mayor of Halifax, Alderman J W Davis at Chevinedge. Alongside was laid out the Pleasure Gardens with a miniature railway, cinema and events arena. The cinema was one of the first outside London, if not, according to a claim at the time, the first. It had a hand-cranked projector and showed films made by the Lumiere Brothers and Yorkshire producers like the Riley Brothers and New Century Pictures. An interesting development on the 'window on the world' approach of these early movies was the inclusion in Halifax of Poole's Myriorama. This sat the audience in front of two long, painted, canvases which slowly unrolled to left and right in front of them as if they were travelling through an interesting landscape. Later, Hales' Tours were introduced. In these, imported from the USA via London, placed the audience in a representation of a railway carriage which was being rocked to simulate motion. Film images were projected onto rear-view screens out side the carriage 'windows' showing scenery filmed from real trains in the USA and Britain.

The Zoo was the main attraction for these few years before the first World War began to make it difficult to keep the institution going. There were an elephant, a yak, a camel and other exotic beasts. Muskrats, monkeys and a Russian bear were added. Two African lions, wolves and hyenas and many other creatures were added, taking the total number of animals up to a claimed thousand in number. The acommodation for them was often cramped and their treatment sometimes harsh by today's standards.

The 'Pleasure Grounds' included an open space where there were plans - unfulfilled? - to install an "Indian Village" with thirty natives and nine elephants which had proved popular at the Franco-British Exhibition in London in 1908. A show which did take place was that of Captain Spencer's Airship Company giving balloon ascents. The Captain's daughter made a parachute jump from the balloon in August 1909.

After the Zoo closed in 1916 a few entertainments took place on the site, but in the 1930s housing built in what is now Chevinedge Crescent. Alderman Davis's house, which had stood as part of the complex all through the years of the Zoo's life, was demolished. Only the house which served as the Lodge to his mansion remains.

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