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A Showcase in Tourism: A landscape feature which communicates something, rather than one which has merely utilitarian value

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Showcases: Introduction

Tourist attractions attract visitors.  The tourist industries depend on attractions and so the market for each attraction has to be the subject of a great deal of analysis. Much money is spent on promoting them and much money can be made as profit from the visitors arriving as a result.

I want to take the reverse view of the things that attract visitors. I want to relate the attractions to the people who created them. At the same time I want to look at a different kind of transaction between that takes place between the producers of attractions and the folk who go to see them. Making money is important, of course, but selling admission tickets is not the only transaction that takes place. There is a communications element to every attraction. The attractions speak to the visitor. That means, really, that the producers of the attraction say something to visitors who form an audience who see and hear messages chosen by the producers. Obvious commercial messages are of the “you will enjoy our attraction better than our competitor’s attraction” and the “what we have for you is the best value on the market” kind.

It is a complex matter, unlike the simple exchange of cash for tickets. The message communicated varies according to just which part of, or person at, the attraction is initiating the communication. It will be interpreted (that is, the meaning and significance of the message will be ‘decoded’) differently according to the individual receiving it – and the way that happens can vary from one moment to another, and even more so a few days after the visit with time to reflect upon it. This is the realm of the communications theorist and the student of semiotics. It is beyond the scope of this set of postings to go into much detail here, but a later page will explore some of the concepts and principles involved. It’s a fascinating, but underplayed, part of the tourist experience, and in my eyes too little considered in training people for work in tourism management where the making of money is the main focus.

Besides being a different kind of way of looking at the attractions in tourism it is also of a very different order. This is because almost anything can attract visitors. A beautiful view of a coastline, a field of rare flowers or an ordinary street in an ordinary town can each draw people to see them. These were almost certainly not created deliberately as tourist attractions. There was no-one setting forth to dish out messages to tourists. No-one stands behind the waves breaking on a sandy beach having devised the whole thing as a communication with visitors (and I am leaving to one side any thoughts about Mother Nature or a religious creator here). And yet....

And yet, the sun, sand and sea of tourism combine in having something to say to the people viewing them. People react to the situation that a beach provides in line with the occasion on which it is being encountered. Feelings of pleasure, fun, relaxation, happiness, love, exhilaration, inspiration ... OK, all kind of feelings and emotions, and those are some of the positive ones, emerge from the experience. What about disappointment, dislike, unhappiness, and even, fear? A young couple arrive on a beach to enjoy part of their holiday. Positive feelings result. But what happens if they quarrel, break up, go their separate ways? What will that day on the beach mean to them then?

This raises another very interesting point. While a beach scene might have been the product of geology, geography and climate, it will also, if only in the tiniest way, be the product of history. And history is a record of human influences. Is the beach owned, managed, made available easily or only with difficulty – in other words, are there transport links, signposts, pathways and amenities made available? Is the sand cleaned and the sea water kept free of contaminants or left to the mercy of litter and pollution? There is hardly a place on this planet that is not in some way shaped by human activity. Even the empty quarter of a desert or the slopes of a mountain range will have been affected by changes in the atmosphere, and even the weather, brought about by some human agency. The very fact that people can now access any point on this Earth, because of the growth of transportation, has had an effect on all of the so-called ‘untouched’ landscapes. Are we sure that the deepest ocean abyss has not been changed in some way by human activity?

I want to discuss ideas about places which communicate something to their visitors. I will concentrate on those that have been created by someone in order to fulfil two functions – utility and influence, and I will develop the idea of the Showcase. The creativeness might be limited more towards the management of a place – an otherwise naturally-occurring beach being a good example. We can talk of a natural showcase which is not the product of human hand but which still ‘says something’ to visitors. A remote mountain valley could be an example. Some spectacular waterfalls might be another. A desert landscape might be a third. And because all of these have to be made accessible, are probably promoted in terms which begin to create opinions in the soon-to-be-visitor’s minds, even they can be included in the discussion. I will continue in the next postings to examine what I mean by the idea of the Showcase.


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Showcases 2

I divide the ‘showcases’ into four categories in the two-by-two matrix shown. Some showcases are permanent and others temporary, while both are deliberately designed to put across a message, make an impression etc. A medieval castle was permanent and was designed to impress and send a message about political power in the land. A modern shopping mall is also designed to be impressive, but also to be attractive to as many shoppers as can be drawn in. Funfairs travel the country and pitch themselves for several days at a time in different locations. They, too, are designed to be exciting and attractive through their bright colours, the motion of their rides, the noises and music they use, bright lights at night and smell of food being sold. Many exhibitions are temporary, in art galleries, museums and convention centres – even if the buildings they are in are permanent. The exhibition is short-lived but the building is always there as a showcase.

So the ‘by design’ groups include ‘permanent’ and ‘temporary’ sub-groups.

Others were not created as such but have become showcases in their own right over time. Think of the places that attract people. Many villages and towns grew in stages. They served their local population without in their early days drawing people in from great distances. They might have had buildings that individually were made to impress as shops or the houses of prominent people who were supplying necessary services, but as a totality they were not being used by travellers from afar, not until they were recognised as regional or national centres for their commercial, professional or civic functions – or, for people who would be termed tourists, as places with aesthetic and cultural qualities. In India there are open air laundries where dozens of men soak dirty clothing in rows of water-filled clay-walled tanks. They then beat the cloth down onto the wall of the tank in order to drive out the dirt and the water. Whole communities depend on them. Industrial services such as many hotels and transport services rely on them to wash workers’ clothing, bed sheets, towels and other fabrics. Although not set up in any way to attract visitors such as tourists many of them now do, giving particular entertainment and spectacle – and a good dose of cultural education – to the onlookers.

Cultural events attract tourists. Village weddings, funerals, religious processions, sporting events, trade gatherings and other activities can fascinate visitors with an eye to finding out more about ordinary ways of life in destination which practice these kinds of things. Out come the cameras. Letters are written, journals kept, to record impressions. Destination communities may find ways of earning money from visitors. They might begin to lay on special facilities for the convenience and further entertainment of the tourists. Subtle changes are made over time – but they always were ands always will be as a later posting will discuss. Showcases are dynamic phenomena.

From the above description it becomes obvious that the groupings are indicative, with plenty of examples of overlaps within each category. What is important is not to rigidly pigeon-hole any given example, but to acknowledge the varying origins that they might have. These might change over time. Places and activities become showcases.


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Showcases 3

The graphic above shows each sub-division with four categories within each of them. Four for each one is a neat quantity and should only be taken as indicative of how they could be divided up. The four sub-categories themselves (designed and accepted plotted against permanent and temporary) are, I think, a good way of acknowledging the main variations which are implied by the idea of ‘showcases’ as applied to destinations. You could have a typology in which showcases are divided first of all into ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’. This might highlight some of the production and management considerations for each of them, but I don’t think that it adds much of substance to the analysis.


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Showcases 4

Any showcase example can be tracked over time to see how it changes. There will be many reasons for change – the effect of the environment, and management, cultural and technological influences are just some.

It is also possible to see how the more abstract concept of a case’s reason for existing, and occupying any particular form, changes over time. In other words, using the example above of Government, different showcases set up in later periods but which all aim to carry out the aims of government at some level will be of very different kinds. They may be examples that represent other times and places. Above are examples that range from Greece over two thousand years ago to present day Britain. The oldest is the city of Athens that was in early days ruled – at least partly – by the exercise of the democratic rights that the city introduced. Citizens could meet on the hill known as the Pnyx to speak in the open air to their fellow citizens and a vote taken on adopting subsequent courses of action. An elected Council of 500 would carry out the day to day management. In ancient Rome in the time of the Republic a similar system existed. Formal government matters would be debated in the Comitium, a part of the more general meeting and assembly space known as the Forum. Both the Pnyx Hill and the Forum/Comitium are today part of the massively popular tourist cities of Athens and Rome. The Pnyx is just to one side of the Acropolis and Agora that are the focus of most visits, but it is there to be studied nonetheless. It may be that most visitors think the Acropolis and its temples were the homes of Greek democracy: they were connected but generally of religious rather than secular significance.

The other examples above take the story into the United Kingdom. The medieval country – at that time we might think mainly about England – was ruled by the powers of the monarchy and the church, exemplified by the system of castles and cathedrals. At more local levels and further away from London the manor house and church were the seats of power. The king delegated powers to nobles and it was these men who would build many of the great houses like Chatsworth or Arundel from which to run their lands. Later great estates of a more commercial nature also exerted power. Wallington in Northumberland was owned successively by the Fenwicks, Blacketts and then the Trevelyans. During the nineteenth century local government was established in a shape that is recognisably related to the modern form. Town and city halls were built, usually employing some style of architecture that would be impressive and remind their communities of the importance and power that was now exercised by elected representatives.

Anyone wanting to understand more about the development of government in these countries and through the centuries can use such showcases to study part of the relevant story. And they might like to recall that in visiting these places they are following in the footsteps of previous generations who had to have dealings with those who wielded power and influence.


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Showcases 5

The previous posting (see above) described showcases which illustrate how an abstract concept – government – changed over time. There is variation within any particular place as well. Any city is full of things that have been designed as showcases as well as those that have just become accepted as them. Towns and villages may have fewer in comparison to cities, but they’re still there. A shop is a showcase. A religious centre is a showcase – even if they do vary in their ‘showiness’ from a plain meeting room to a highly-decorated building. Rural areas generally devoid of buildings will still have at least some showcases. No human hands built the Niagara Falls or Grand Canyon and yet millions of people have seen them as showcases for nature. There has been human intervention for both in the construction of walkways and viewing points. Visitor interpretation through exhibition centres and information panels, signposting and rest facilities, have been added. Go to an Alpine valley or desert oasis, or for that matter an Arctic snowscape or Saharan dunescape and nature is being showcased in the mind of the observer.

Showcases can be created by people as deliberate statements intended to convey messages about power, cultural beliefs or commercial services. They are also decided by the visitor who arrives in a place and perceives something about it – a sense of place, of history, of its form or function, all qualities which make an impression, whether good or bad. Can anything be a showcase? Yes – if it succeeds in conveying a message to the observer. So if anything can be a showcase why is the concept useful? Because we have to understand the qualities that places have. We need to work out why they communicate something to us. And we need to decide what our responses might be – to observe and move on perhaps, to learn something which informs better our future perceptions of places, or – crucially – something about how we manage these places and our impact upon them.

All of the examples in the graphic above are from around Halifax in West Yorkshire. No glaciers or desert dunes here! But they are showcases for visitors and residents alike all the same. The lamb in a field is part of what we see as a showcase of Pennine farming. I'm sure the farmer was just feeding his flock ready for market, not putting on an agricultural show. The old-style street light is by modern electricity rather than gas but has been introduced in a conservation area to replace the earlier concrete lamp standards. The conservation area is a showcase of Victorian paternalistic housing of good design quality. In a local park an excellent display of drystone walling has been set up to showcase local styles.

The man at the car wash? A showcase? Well, yes, since the company who provided it was advertising its services to capture some business. What a pity that someone spelled the word 'Millennium' wrongly. Not a good way to show off its quality. After several months it got replaced.


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Showcases 6

A place (or in tourism terms a destination) has a mix of showcases. Each mix is unique. Many towns have commercial showcases which are virtually identical to those in a hundred other towns. McDonalds, Tesco, IKEA and Pronuptia are examples of retailers with internationally-recognised store images. People might think that means they are identical. They are not: indeed, each one is unique. Of course they have their standard logos and colour schemes. On the other hand they vary in architecture, surroundings and details. The McDonalds in Bridge Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon could have been a dozen other outlets if it were not for its name-panel above the entrance. The one in Halifax is in a building converted from a former Burton’s Tailors with a very distinctive architecture. Near the Trevi Fountains in Rome it’s in a large, classical style block. Beijing has garish stores much more like the USA originals. Yet in New York the outlet on the Bowery in China Town looks like what we might expect to see in Beijing. What helps to ensure every destination’s showcase mix is unique is the historical geography of the place. At the scale of a square kilometre or two the elements identical with others elsewhere are just miniscule details. While a passing tourist might find places to be similar to others they have seen, a discerning tourist will notice the differences as well as the similarities. The tourist who really gets the most out of the visit will be the one who understands how their experience fits in to the wider picture of the world at large. In other words, how each piece of the jigsaw fits in to the wider framework.

There are variations according to the place and there are variations over time. Sainsbury’s stores in the UK used to be labelled ‘J Sainsbury’ at the end of the nineteenth century. A hundred years later they had ‘SAINSBURY’S’ as their established logo. Then they became ‘Sainsbury’s’ as they are today. Those changes are tiny details perhaps, but they were made because the company thought they were essential to the commercial future of their operations. Likewise they moved from the early high street shops to out of town retail sheds, and both their shops and their sheds went through changes according to what was thought to be the appropriate architectural fashion when each was built. Think of every kind of man-made construction you can – houses, hotels, factories, transport centres, offices, town halls, law courts, religious centres and more – and the changes over time even in just one place will be easy to trace. It is what helps to make history-tourism such good fun for the millions of enthusiasts who visit heritage properties every year. And it is what had made the rural landscape with its villages and country scenery so attractive, and the coastal towns and villages so enormously popular. People may want a beach with a bar and a bistro nearby and have little or no interest in the history of the place, but it is the history that has created their resort and attracted them to it. Some of those beach-dwellers may have been going back to their favourite resort for decades because they like what it has and they can rely on it being there for them. Yet even they are bound to have seen that many small changes have been occurring as social, cultural, economic and technological changes have been under way. The metal buckets and spades used by children fifty years ago to build sandcastles have been replaced by plastic ones. Watney’s Red Barrel, once the beer of choice in many a Spanish-Mediterranean resort, has been replaced by others as tastes have changed. The Euro has come in as local currencies have gone out.

Is there any place in the world where things have not changed in some respect over the years? I doubt it, apart from perhaps in tiny villages in remote mountain regions or tropical jungles. And even in those I suspect change has come about in some shape or form, however slight. For every place that is accessible to visitors changes will have taken place, often thanks to the needs, the demands even, of the tourists, and the needs and aspirations of the residents. For me it raises questions about concepts such as ‘authenticity’ which are often at the forefront of debates on tourism as well as core qualities being promoted by operators and sought after by visitors. Authenticity is a very nebulous concept and arguably something to be treated with a great deal of scepticism. It can be a damaging ideal as well as a source of pride and quality.

In the graphic above the relationship between the mix of showcases within a place and the changes they inevitably undergo over time is explored. The influences that are brought to bear on them produce changes which result in those showcases taking on different forms as time progresses. If, as often said, the only constant in life is change, then the things which attract visitors to places inevitably undergo change themselves.


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Showcases 7

What was the authentic life in the Old West of the United States? It’s a question which could be applied to any time in the past or, in the present tense, any distant place in the world of today. That jigsaw analogy is relevant again. We can only find some of the pieces. If we think of the question applied to places in today’s world at least it’s possible to travel and see for ourselves. And yet even then, only some of the answers can be found depending on where we look and who we speak to. It also takes years to get anywhere near an understanding of a place. I have lived in Halifax for over 30 years, might know it more than some, but am still limited by practicalities and the viewpoints of an outsider. Trying to imagine what ‘authentic life’ really was at some point in the past is far harder. It will always be – what we imagine it to have been.

In the example shown above are some parts of the jigsaw that we can find about life in the Old West. Whoa! – hold your trail-riding horses for a moment. That title is dodgy. It’s a popular culture title from dime novels and Hollywood cinema. It usually means the nineteenth century – but the life it picks up on stretched into the twentieth century and in some ways right in to the present one. Does it refer to the prairies beyond the Mississippi, the mountain chains of the Rockies or the coast beyond, or all three in equal measure? Does it include the early nineteenth century Spanish missionary-based settlements of what is now California? The European towns and farms alone, or those and the extremely diverse North American native settlements as well? Every religion, every form of economic and social life? For most people it probably conjures up images of a cowboy on a horse, a hard-living, steak-eating, gun-toting kind of a feller. Which is much too narrow a definition because even he could only exist in a far more complex land and society than that, so to think of that sort of man implies the necessary existence of a lot more besides. So all of those earlier suggestions about the landscape, the Spanish and the native North Americans must all come under the heading of ‘Old West’ if we are going to use it at all. OK, folks, step back in time into the Old West.....

Which can’t be done, no matter what some lazy tourist attractions claim. It’s a cliché and lays them wide open to attack for being superficial promoters. It invites the more knowledgeable visitors to start listing the things that the attraction has not got right in terms of historic presentation – the negative qualities as people see them – dirt, smells, symptoms of disease, polluted air, muddy pathways and mangy animals creating chaos just for starters.

There are a few examples above of the evidence that we have got to help us envisage the life of the Old West. The Painted Rock designs shown top left were made by the Chumash people in the area now known as Santa Barbara County, California. The photo bottom left shows the approach to the cave. The painting may be from around 1800 but it is possibly from several centuries older. It is part of the tragedy of the North American native people that their culture was, as so often with indigenous people, deliberately erased from the European-settled landscapes. There are too few places where modern travellers can go to see original remains or even modern close representations of it. So the question of whether this example is a good indicator of some of the life of the western United States of America in the nineteenth century is difficult to answer. It might show some part of the traditions that those people had in some places at some of the times – no more.

We are more familiar with the white western stories. The posters for characters like the Lone Ranger of television fame in the 1950s or the radio and TV shows and films of Gene Autry, the ‘Singing Cowboy’ of the same period are well known to an older generation. Both stamped that generation with certain preconceptions of the cowboy that owed much to the demands of the mass media but also a lot to European traditions such as chivalry and refined, romantic narratives. The gap between those ideals and the true grittiness of western life was a canyon-wide. Closer to real life, yet still with a story contrived to represent certain characters and values, is the remake of the western movie True Grit, seen here with Hailee Steinfeld in one of the leading roles. Anyone wanting to see a ‘real’ place where the white settlers might have lived could go to one of the ‘ghost towns’ such as Virginia City in Nevada (second picture from the left). The centre of silver mining of the famous Comstock Lode that was struck in 1859, Virginia City has a Historic District from that era as well as being the county town today of Storey County, Nevada with about a thousand residents. There are derelict houses and mine workings, abandoned railroad cars and public buildings in the Historic District and Boot Hill, the burial ground for the old town, lies up the hill. The present-day city has a main street with raised sidewalks under wooden arcading. Automobiles and motor bikes park alongside. Here, the shops and service centres face the street just as they did in the nineteenth century. But just as the main street here has elements of the old ways of life, the Historic District contains remains that are much more recent than the glory days of the 1860s – rusting pick-ups and twentieth century machinery, for instance. It takes some careful mental sifting of what is on view to identify the older town and how it might have looked in its heyday. As the photo shows, much later features creep in to the silver-rush scene.

To get another take on the Old West the hungry traveller can call at Cold Springs Tavern. This is a tiny set of timber buildings by the old stagecoach road that snakes over a mountain in Santa Barbara County, California. While Virginia City was booming, the Tavern was serving folk making journeys by horse or stagecoach. It still serves meals to those who turn off State Route 154 just ahead of the soaring arch of the Cold Springs Canyon Bridge across the valley. There is some parking on the edge of the old road. Entering the Tavern, it takes a little time to adjust to the darker scene indoors, for the buildings are shaded by forest behind and the lighting inside is sparing. It has a strong sense of earlier days: steaks are still on the menu though burgers and salads feature prominently, too.

Cold Springs Tavern is not far from the stadium for the Santa Barbara Rodeo shown bottom right. It’s a modern event (the photo was taken in 2009). Bronco riding, racing round barrels and cutting out some steers from the larger herd were all part of life decades ago. They are shown in competitions today when the rodeo takes place. A stockyard holds the cattle and horses awaiting their turn in the ring. Food is served, Stetsons and harness gear sold. Tough guys strapped up with leather body protection ease themselves onto a bull that doesn’t fancy giving anyone a ride. On being released from its containing pen it takes only so many seconds to get rid of the rider. It wasn’t a necessary part of cattle-ranching but it was one of a series of bull-sports indulged in by Mexican farmers from the sixteenth century, so it is more authentic than might have been thought. On the other hand, wrestling a steer to the ground by a man who has chased it on a horse was only a rodeo sport from about 1930. To brand a steer required it to be roped and tipped onto its side, which is not quite wrestling it down but not so far different. So what part is authentic and what is not? And do we mean authentic to the cowboy life of the 1850s or the 1930s – or today, when cattle have still to be branded and castrated to turn them into beef steers up on the hills?

So here are a few jigsaw pieces. Turn up some more from whatever source you may have and see if you can build a bigger picture of the Old West. Is it authentic? Well, bits of it are. But other bits are not, and are mixed in somewhere or other. Perhaps the only thing that is authentic in any given situation is the mish-mash of different elements. Looking back to the Changes over Time graphic (previous posting) the influences of technological, cultural, economic change and so on actually guarantee that nothing can be fully authentic and that everything has to change most of the time. This, of course, may be just how the folks involved, in the long term at least, want it.


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Showcases 8

‘Microcosms’ is the latest posting in the series on Showcase Theory in Tourism. The graphic here, above, is a work in progress. Come back to it tomorrow and it might have been expanded a little – or even corrected.

The discussion so far has been about types of showcases. One posting showed how they change over time under the influence of external and internal events. Historians often consider them in isolation from each other. They write about the growth of museums, world exhibitions, theme parks, botanical gardens, zoos and so on as separate strands. There are good practical reasons for doing that as expert knowledge and the detailed study of each of these developments demand concentrated attention. However, they also influenced each other in borrowing ideas or suggesting new approaches. More recent writing has begun to look at these processes, especially in seeing how such attractions – showcases – are tending to converge on each other in their purpose and design. The critic Robert Hewison (1987) in particular railed against museums moving towards being honey pots for commercial exploitation. Ken Hudson (1987) and Sten Rentzhog (2007) traced the growth of museums, in part, back to mid-nineteenth century world expositions. Marling (1997) and Lukas (2008) have shown how theme parks owe much to the early pleasure gardens, expos and urban funfairs.

A useful sub-division of the showcases concept when examining how people discover their world through visiting places is what might be termed the Microcosm. The word means ‘world in miniature’ and often that is what museums, theme parks and world expositions set out to show. It can also be applied to some – probably only some – botanical gardens like the Eden Project in Cornwall or some aspects of the national collections in places like Kew (London), Washington DC, Paris and so on. It is more difficult for botanical gardens to show sets of regions within their displays since capital costs force there to be perhaps only one or two large-scale glasshouses in each collection, one for rainforests and another for arid zones, for example. Zoos are to some extent microcosms, though again practicality might limit just how well they can show the world region by region. On the other hand, out-and-out fun attractions can also exhibit worlds in miniature – literally, in the case of Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg which prides itself on being the world’s biggest model railway system – and its sheer scale of operations and displays justifies both claims: size and ability to represent places.

The graphic only indicates some of the most important relationships between exemplars in three strands – museums, expositions and theme parks, with some influences feeding in from the growth of landscape gardens. It doesn’t show the part played by the media at each stage – books, journals, newspapers, radio, TV and films, or pick out cultural movement in art and society. What I hope it does do is offer some finger-posts to some of the key developments and their interconnectedness. Looking at theme parks as brash modern ways of making a fast buck, and museums as lately descending into money-spinning activities, is to lose sight of what the total picture has been over the last two to three hundred years.

The authors mentioned have their work detail in the general bibliography to this website - see the list on the left. Further details about the places mentioned can be found elsewhere on the web and in some of the excellent general books on each subject.

Image: Books recommended



Image: The Past Fails the Future?

Showcases 9: The Past Fails the Future?

It is understandable that tourist destinations promote what they have. Of course. They couldn’t promote what they haven’t got.

Oh yes they can – and they should.

Let’s start with all the things that make a destination attractive. Things like the weather (they hope), the scenery, the shopping, cultural life, sporting events, restaurants and bars, the friendly people (they hope), the good tourist services of transport, hotels, low prices (maybe) and lots of others. All are part of the product and the product mix, one way or another, is rooted in the past. The heritage of a place is what people go to see. Even if it’s a soccer match between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid attracting fans who wouldn’t think of stepping into a museum, it’s still an event deeply rooted in the cultural life of both cities. Shopping for bargains in a Damascus souk or a Milan fashion store are both activities hunting through treasure houses of their cultural heritage.

Heritage, however, is largely about the presentation of History with a capital H. Tourists flock to historic towns and houses, museums and art galleries, classic theatre shows and traditional events. Traditions are promoted in rural villages as well as city centres. Look at our past, these places pronounce, that made us famous and interesting and proud to be who we are. Come and admire, come and enjoy, and if you really take to us, come and live amongst us, set up your home, find a job in our communities and discover the good life. Places push themselves in front of the public for good economic reasons and the sense of passing on an interest in, and enjoyment of, a sense of the past. Successful presentations can raise the sense of pride and bring money in to the economy on a large scale, often with spending spread down to grass roots level.

But that ought not to be the end of it, as it seems to be in nearly every place from Athens to Zanzibar. Everyone knows something about Athens as it was - cradle of democracy and that kind of thing; and of Athens as it is – plagued by pollution, heavy traffic and a dodgy economy. What about Athens of the future? Better? Worse? The Greeks would love to know and so would the Hellenophiles who wish it a prosperous future. The good people of Zanzibar and those outsiders who cherish the islands forming it would want to know what the future holds for them. Isn’t the same true of every place in the world?

Just what the next decades hold for each and every community depends on many internal and external influences. Taking decisions about what policies governments and managers should adopt is dependent on knowing what those influences are and what the outcomes would be of adopting each possible policy in the future. That is a matter for education, discussions in the mass media and in the debating chambers and board rooms at various levels. Now you may take the view that some dictator, oligarchy or ruling class should worry about such things and take decisions without reference to the wider community. On the other hand democracy in one form or another necessitates everyone to have, at worst, a vote at regular intervals to throw out or vote in the folks who run things on their behalf. At best, everyone should be well informed about situations and options and be able to debate and vote for the policies of their choice. It also means that outsiders, with no right to wield a political vote, but whose activities through investment, spending or cultural involvement can affect the quality of a community’s life, should also understand the context of what they are doing and how they might affect the outcomes. And that includes tourists.

Tourists spend money. They can boost economies. They can encourage artistic events, social changes and the awareness of the place by outsiders. Tourists can carry in different cultural ideas, affecting the ways of life of the resident communities in many different ways. They can cause problems for people who do not want the changes tourists might bring. Generation gaps can be levered open between older people who want less change and younger people who demand more through what they discover at first hand from the visitors. Environments can be improved by tourist-related spending and damaged by tourist-related projects and activities. Priorities can be skewed in order to develop what tourists demand rather than what residents need. Crime can rise, diseases spread, antisocial activities begun – but also tourist spending can fund positive approaches to dealing with such potential problems and tourist ideas can be adopted when residents see something worth using to the general advantage. Is this pie in the sky or a custard pie in the face of the host community? In other words, is it considered impossible to develop strategies that can accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative? The hard fact is that unless beneficial strategies are adopted the host community and its home environment will be badly damaged. There are plenty of examples of that around the world, especially in lesser-developed countries which have far less ability to control what is happening to them.

What I am arguing for is good communications within destinations with the information, explanations and alternative opinions well aired so that the hosts can take effective, positive decisions and the guests can support the destination in its aspirations for the highest quality of life that they can reach. Education and the mass media have obvious parts to play. If they’re well organised they will be already playing it. If not they might be contributing to divisions and damage in every sector.

What about tourism? Well, all of those showcases described in the opening paragraphs of this posting and illustrated in the graphic above are busy informing and interpreting the past. It’s a start, but having understood the past and come to some conclusions about the lessons to be learnt, what about the future? Some tourist attractions already do it. Zoos and botanical gardens highlight the threats to the many species under threat. Countryside centres try to alert visitors to the problems of congestion, erosion and pollution. Trade and public exhibitions make people aware of current and future developments. They might be, to some people, propaganda exercises threatening someone’s quality of life in order to enhance that of a few, but the answer to that problem is for more, better exhibitions, not fewer, or for media and education providers to highlight and debate the options. In the graphic above two photos show examples of attractions which have talked about future choices. They are shown across the dashed pink line which represents the present day as they have been raising issues about the future. The top picture was of a Building A Better Britain Exhibition at the Design Centre in Islington, North London, in the late 1980s. The exhibition was organised by the Civic Trust and acted as a showcase for ideas about improving urban centres. What a pity that there is, as far as I know, no modern equivalent. The lower example is of one of my great favourites, the highly impressive and successful Eden Project which raises awareness about plant life around the globe and what is happening to it now – and in the future.

There are showcase attractions which discuss the environment and conservation. There should be more, and there should also be more galleries and displays in heritage centres which say to visitors ‘this is how we got here – this is our inheritance – what do you think we should do with it?’ Present the choices and the likely outcomes of choosing each policy, and ask people to state their own choice. Fill in a voting slip. Push a voting button attached to a computer. Ask people if they are a visitor or a resident. Pass the voting figures – and perhaps some written-out opinions – to local government, parliament, relevant government agencies. Publicise the results in the media. Get school children and university students discussing and debating the results. After all, they would be debating their own futures.

Which is why I said at the start of this piece why places should promote what they have not got .... yet: their own future, assured. The past must not be allowed to fail the future.


Image: The Mareorama at the Paris Exposition Universelle 1900

Showcases 10: The Mareoama

At the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 visitors could take a trip from France to Japan without leaving the city.

To do so they entered a five-storey building near the Eiffel Tower – itself a reminder of the previous exposition in 1889. The space inside was occupied by a large steam ship mounted on steel supports which could make it pitch and roll as if at sea. The ‘travellers’ stood or sat on the open deck of their liner, shielded from the imaginary Mediterranean sun by a canvas canopy – as shown in the postcard view seen above. Crew members bustled about their business and were on hand to help out in case anyone felt seasick. As the ship moved the passengers looked out to each side and saw the port of Marseilles slipping behind them. The open sea approached. Algeria, Italy and Turkey were each seen in turn (it was a superbly fast voyage!). Then the Suez Canal (built by French engineers) was passed through. The Indian Ocean with Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then the islands of South East Asia came and went. At last the ship made port in Yokohama.

The Scientific American engraving above right shows the 70m ‘ship’ on its mount, and the scenery can be glimpsed to either side. Huge canvas rolls, 750m by 13m, mounted vertically, unwound slowly from in front of the ship, passed one to each side and were rolled up out of sight to the stern. The organiser of the spectacle was Hugo d’Alesi, a painter of advertising posters. D’Alesi has spent a year travelling from Marseilles to Japan and back, sketching scenes along the way. He then had a small army of painters produce a continuous view on each canvas according to a design that he laid out. This took eight months. He called the show the ‘Mareorama’.

As the supposed voyage progressed the vessel pitched and rolled thanks to the machinery supporting it. Smoke poured from the funnel. Seaweed and tar provided appropriate smells. Fans gave a breeze. Lighting shone bright for daytime effect and dimly for night, and could give flashes to simulate lightning while theatrical thunder was heard. There was the noise of the ship’s propeller and siren.

This was a development combining huge panoramic paintings with theatrical special effects. From the late eighteenth century visitors had entered purpose-built theatre to stand at the centre of a circular room admiring fixed panoramic depictions of the view from tall buildings such as London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, or the scene of great battles of recent memory. Some of these panoramas had carefully-arranged objects in front of them on the floor, like cannon or correctly scaled buildings rolling canvas backdrops across a stage was a common stage device for showing travel or changing scenes. A stage show in England had presented the story of a voyage along the country’s east coast to Scotland in the 1820s. Others later on placed their audience onto a supposed ship and rolled past them two canvases, one to ‘port’, one to ‘starboard’. Hugo d’Alesi’s show was to be the last great development of the idea, giving the audience access as if on board a ship, then using effects to engage four of an audience’s senses to create the travel illusion. But the early forms of cinema were arriving and captured the imagination as well as the market at lower cost and in far more centres. The Mareorama would be the last of the line. In America, however, the two forms of show were for a while combined when a man called Hale set up a railroad carriage on rockable supports and shone film onto screens behind the carriage windows. The film had been shot by a cameraman standing on the front of a travelling locomotive. ‘Hales Tours’ appeared in the USA and Europe for a time.

Coming together in the Mareorama were elements of the art gallery, the theatre and the museum in order to present an illusion through sight, sound, movement and aromas. Expositions, museums and theme parks would all make techniques like these part of their stock in trade. Travelling the globe or hurtling into space would be popular subjects for this kind of show for ever more.

To find more information, look at
Coe, Brian (1981) The History of Movie Photography, London, Ash and Grant
Comment, Bernard (1999) The Panorama, London, Reaktion Books
Wikipedia – article on The Mareorama


Image: Showcases - sensations

Showcases 10: Sensations

It doesn’t need much to remind us of the ways in which places are seen. The power of sight is of primary importance in navigating to and around any kind of destination. Our enjoyment and utilisation of places depends on it. From countryside flowers to city vistas we understand the world as it is through seeing it. The management of views by owners and visitors directly relates to our perceptions of the quality of life in those places. Adding something informative through information panels or exhibitions can highlight details and add depth to the satisfaction brought by knowledge. Perhaps one of the most important considerations is to do with those people who cannot utilise sight because either they are blind or, more commonly, they have impaired vision. Good destinations think of them. Walking is made easier by improving uneven footpaths for instance. Viewpoints in exposed places might be given areas sheltered by glass to cut down on the cold winds that make the eyes water. Information might be given in larger typefaces and Braille.

Sound is important. To many people the cry of gulls at the seaside is one of the powerful evocations of the coast. A fairground organ, a cascading waterfall and the delighted cries of children can be lively sounds bringing pleasant associations. They can also be simple, strong reminders of visits long after they were first heard by being encountered again in, for example, radio broadcasts. The Caribbean steel band in the photo was discovered playing close to the Louvre in Paris one beautiful evening. The distinctive music played, full of rhythm and steel tones brought together a crowd of strangers who smiled and tapped their feet in shared appreciation of not only the music but of the togetherness that the event inspired. Quite different but equally a shared experience full of discoveries was the talk given by a guide at the Eden Project about the Titan Arum in the Rainforest Biome. It is spectacular to see, fascinating to hear about – and able to give off a stink like a rotting corpse.

And stinks – well, smells and aromas – are a third sensation. The fish on a Mediterranean market stall and the pig in a farm museum can supply some distinctive smells. For me, the smell of new-mown grass brings back a memory from the summer of 1954, sitting in a junior school classroom on a warm day, the windows open and the noise of a lawnmower trundling by. Junior education was coming to an end.....

Smells can be managed – or ignored. They can be erased or created. Victorian streets can be replicated in open air museums with sights and sounds – and smells. Usually the smells will not be present because modern hygiene demands standards that stop them forming. So-called living museums can bake bread, run oily steam engines and raise pigs, each causing a smell which modern noses reject or accept with delight. Aromas in these rebuilt houses and work places have to be micro-managed for best effect. Hot oil from a steam engine is an easy, distinctive sensation to supply. The pigs will – well, do their bit quite naturally. But the mustiness of an outside lavatory or the whiff of a shop selling cheese is trickier. Museums can use simple little devices which use an electrically-heated wire to vaporise a slowly dripping, special oil which spreads a smell-on-demand. In the illustration is show one sold by Dale Air. It’s called the Vortex and can reproduce any of a range of smells from a prisoner of war camp to a Christmas pudding. Football enthusiasts could buy one full of changing room odours for use at home. Though on second thoughts many of them probably wouldn’t need to buy anything extra.....

The tactile sense, the sense of touch, might be used too little. It is present all the time on any visit through the feel of the surface being walked over – smoothed out by the soles of footwear. Rough gravel, soft grass, squidgy mud and a splashy puddle are all part of the sense of place (and the sense of time in historic places). They may be too common to take much notice of. That sharp stone you trip over will be another matter. Changing angles of slope and loose pebbles that slide around as you try to climb a stony beach are more noticeable. Then brass door handles, smooth wooden rails or rough tree bark, grass, wool, hot or cold surfaces – each contributes and each of them can be craftily placed so that visitors do encounter them. Those boxes with a little opening and an invitation to identify by feel what is inside can be exciting and instructive for little children. I did hear of a grown-up party game version with a box containing a left-over chicken carcass. It was next to another with tomato ketchup smeared over a length of sausage. The organiser had told a tale of a gruesome murder and left the assembled merrymakers to come to their own conclusion. That might work well in a Chamber of Horrors.

Marcel Proust’s story about “the taste ... of the little piece of Madeleine” bringing back memories of childhood has become famous as an illustration of the enormous influence that tasting has. The salty tang of the sea on the lips may be one of the few discovered by sheer chance. Adults will concentrate on food and drink for their tasting. Cubes of cheese in a creamery, or broken bread in a bakery, work on the small, highly controlled scale that we can accept, as does a tiny paper cupful of some drink. My wife and I treasure the taste of good clam chowder as a memory of California and – if really good – of paella as a recall of a street cafe in Barcelona. Actually, come to think of it, that’s the very dish in the photo. Another souvenir. There are plenty of negative tastes that impact on tourists: try the local tap water in your hotel just to prove the point most times.



Image: Showcases - Communiation Comparisons

Showcases 11: – Comparing Communications

Different communications media have different advantages – and disadvantages – depending on how they are to be used and what resources can be found to produce them. They can be assessed from the point of view of the manager wanting to communicate with the visitor, or from that of the visitor as a means of finding out about what they are examining. As a manager needing to say something to large numbers of visitors the choice of media will be decided according to one set of priorities. As a visitor wanting to find out things of particular interest to themselves there will be another set of priorities. A manager’s starting point is the knowledge that the audience of visitors is large, very varied in its interests and of a multiplicity of requirements. Efficient ways of communicating with a mass audience must be the primary choice with the ‘wow factor’ of entertainment coming a very close second. Answering queries may or may not be important and come third as a consideration. The visitor may see it the other way round: they may have dozens of questions to ask while enjoying a fun day out and not being interested primarily in the broad story. Many varieties and variations of tourist media exist, one whole group suitable for pre-visit communication, another on-visit and a third post-visit. There are considerable overlaps between these groups and innovations are constantly appearing.

I want to bring out some quite basic properties of some of them. These come under four headings:

1) The number of sensory stimuli each one engages in the visitor
2) Whether the story they tell – the narrative – is fixed or flexible, allowing visitors to choose
3) The degree to which visitors can search them for particular information
4) The extent to which the medium is interactive – allows asking questions verbally or by keying them in

The graphic shows some examples – a guide book, a lecture, a home movie (a video tape would be similar – but not a DVD), a mobile phone, a computer and a guide in an open air museum. Let’s acknowledge the overlap of uses – an open museum might use any of the ones above and a few more, too – exhibitions and street theatre for example. Really speaking the last photo stands for tourist attractions in general where every kind of communications medium might be in use – I can’t think of any single photo in my albums that would show the lot.

It is only the tourist attraction that engages all five senses. ‘Taste’ might not really be in use apart from in a refreshment facility, and that might be nothing to do with the subject of the attraction. But actual destinations beat all mass media hollow for offering sensory experiences of the most powerful kind. Being in a place rather than encountering it in print or through electronic media is a million times more effective. It’s not to say that standing on a beach, a town square, rural location, sports field or exhibition gallery supplies the detailed, searchable information that a guide book or computer can. But you could have your guide book in hand in any of those places and interrogate a pocket computer in them as well. And they can’t give you the ability to chat to a passer-by or share a pint with a friendly resident (ah, taste makes its mark: can’t do that on an iPad, Steve Jobs!).


Image: Showcases as a Mass Medium

Showcases 12: Tourism Showcases as Mass Media

Understanding tourism as an educative activity is made much more meaningful by making comparisons with the mass media. Of course, the range of communications at work within tourism means the use many forms of mass media. A museum might have a guide book, interpretive panels, demonstrators and enquiry staff, audio-visual aids and more. It might employ visitor-friendly computer terminals with interactive features and these could well include multimedia. The museum will have over-arching features which can define it as a single mass medium because it has a production team, a set purpose and a defined audience. This is made clear by the use of some long-established analytical tools that we can call Lasswell/Braddock Statements.

Harold Lasswell set out his ideas about describing acts of communication in an article in 1948. It appeared in “The Communication of Ideas” that year in a book published by Harper and Brothers in New York. More detail can be found in McQuail and Windahl (1993) listed in the bibliography page shown in the panel here to the left. Lasswell, a political scientist, said that communication could be understood best by asking the series of questions shown in the graphic panel above – “Who - says what - in which channel – to whom – with what effect?” Ten years later Richard Braddock extended the Lasswell questions, adding two more about the circumstances and effects of the communication. McQuail and Windahl point out the usefulness of this quite simple analysis, though they also note that it was designed with reference to studies of political propaganda and persuasion, a deliberate act by someone (“who”) to influence people (the “whom” element). There is no consideration of the ways in which the audience, or customers in a different context, might influence the persuader through the act of giving feedback.

Nevertheless it is useful as a starting point. And it can be used to analyse tourist attractions such as the museum attraction mentioned above. Following the example in the graphic we can describe a museum curator as having certain aims in mind in communicating something about objects in his or her care to a set of visitors. There will be a story of some sort to tell. A channel of communication will be chosen – primarily the exhibition put on, though again it needs to be noted that there are almost certain to be more than one channel in use within the exhibition, interpretation media of different kinds. There is a defined audience – basically those who are interested or can be persuaded to take an interest – though this, too, can be subdivided into children and adults, specialists or general visitors and so on. There will be effects capable of identification. The museum exhibition can be understood using the Lasswell/Braddock questions to produce answering statements.

But it is important to go further, as the next posting will show.


Image: Showcases - McNelly - Newsflow 1959

Showcase 13: McNelly’s 1959 Theory on Newsflow

A paper in Journalism Quarterly in 1959 by J T McNelly advanced some interesting ideas. It seems to me they are useful in moving towards an understanding of how a tourist attraction can be considered a mass medium. McNelly was writing to further a debate about ‘gatekeepers’ by theorising the stages by which newspaper staff handle news stories. The gatekeeper idea is an extremely simple and attractive concept. This means that many people still use it today in its original form, but it also means that for the same reason it holds back a better understanding of what it is being applied to.

The basic idea came from Kurt Lewin (1947) in describing the stages in decision-making for the placing of food products on to sale in supermarkets. D M White (1950) picked up on a comparison that Lewin made briefly to news gathering. White wrote that news stories were gathered by reporters but were often rejected by editors who only ‘opened a gate’ in the editing process to allow very few to reach the printed page. McNelly was one of a number of researchers who thought this was too simplistic a view. His 1959 paper depicted a chain of stages in the handling of stories from the event to the reading about them in a newspaper. At each stage there was someone who not only decided whether to pass on the story or reject it, but who also would probably rewrite the story according to what they considered its importance to be. This meant that the gatekeeper concept was too simplistic: it was not a matter of ‘opening or closing a gate’ as if to let a farmyard animal through into a field. It was more a matter of accepting or rejecting a story and then remoulding it before passing it along to the next news bureau chief or editor. If McNelly’s view is accepted the gatekeeper idea is dead. It needs to be replaced by a different idea – that of the editor, which is just how the world of journalism sees the process. It is ideal for examinations of all information handling, although it will itself begin to look over-simple in certain circumstances.

McNelly also introduced another important element – that of feedback. This highly important idea rightly dominates many areas of information studies. In a world where information is the fuel by which society is being driven it is impossible to escape it. It’s enough here to say that any society in which the feedback from a community to its leaders is ignored is not a democratic society. Feedback is essentially a matter of deciding whether an action is judged successful or not. In tourism, customer feedback shapes the way in which a tour operator proceeds. In tourist attraction development it shapes the very way the attraction is planned, operated and modified. McNelly’s work on the newspaper industry, though dated because of changes in the organisation of news gathering over half a century, helps us to see the handling and shaping of information as dependent on a number of stages. These involve many people who are stationed at places along the delivery channel. However, as I hope to show, the channel concept is another idea that is somewhat misleading. Information does not start from person A, move to person B, then C and on to D, E, F and so on. That would be a dictatorial sequence, a description of the production of propaganda or, in product terms, an attitude of take-it-or-leave-it-because-there-is-nothing-else.

J T McNelly’s flow sequence is shown above. A foreign agency correspondent would send a report on an event to a regional bureau editor. That person would either spike it, to use the newspaper term, or send it on, perhaps having edited the story a little – perhaps for length, emphasis or style. The story would be passed along a chain of people with a possibility of rejection or further editing at each stage until it finally might appear in the printed newspaper. McNelly showed the reader at the end of the chain then passing the story on verbally to other people as often happens – quite possibly only giving a summary of what it said, or even modifying it unconsciously or otherwise. The version received by someone at the end of the chain might then be quite different from the one sent by the reporter at the very start. In McNelly’s eyes it was essential to remember that at every stage the views of each person along the chain was at some point and in some form made known to the one who passed the story to them. Each editor was in touch with the one supplying news stories to them in order to stipulate the kind of material they wanted to receive – the subject, style, detail and so forth. The reader would buy the newspaper or not but also might write a letter to the editor expressing their opinion on the coverage of the paper. Many readers, opinion-makers in their own communities, might well know the editor and make clear how they viewed the reporting. So feedback along the chain would modify how editors and reporters were doing their work.

The next stage will be to try applying McNelly’s approach to the development of a tourist attraction such as a museum.

Lewin, K (1947) ‘Channels of Group Life’, in ‘Human Relations’ 1:143-153
McNelly, J T (1959) ‘Intermediary Communicators in the International Flow of News’, in ‘Journalism Quarterly’ 36: 23-6
White, D M (1950) ‘The Gatekeepers: A Case Study in the Selection of News’, in ‘Journalism Quarterly’ 27:383-90
See also McQuail and Windahl (1993) already cited.


Image: McNelly - Newsflow Theory 1959 applied to a Museum

Showcases 14: McNelly’s Theory Applied to a Museum

Here is the Newsflow Theory of J T McNelly adapted to explore its relevance to the creation of a museum display. Again it is a fixed chain of a process starting with the curator who must care for objects in a collection and ending with – not a reader but a visitor to the completed museum gallery. The curator is also likely to be the person with most specific knowledge about the collection. He or she can specify the basic ‘story’ to be told about the significance of the object or collection of them and what they mean for present day viewers. However someone has to think about the museum from the visitors’ points of view – what they want to see, how they are likely to move around and therefore see the displays in which order. The spatial patterns referred to in previous postings in this series illustrate some of the possible variety. In fact in many museums the curators are also the people who decide visitor flows and patterns, but many museums today will have someone with special experience and knowledge that is in charge of this area of work. That person will consult with the curator about what the story line will be and use their knowledge where appropriate to suggest that the curator’s specialist story should be told slightly differently to suit the kind of visitors who arrive.

In this example the story these two people agree is then passed to a more general historian who can help set the narrative about the Greek statuette, movie camera, floral illustration or whatever else into a broader historical context. This person might well be an outside adviser. Having then roughed out the new blend of storyline the scriptwriter takes over to polish up a final agreed copy. Note that feedback is needed at every stage to allow each specialist to modify their thoughts. The copy is passed to a designer who creates the display information and oversees its production by contractors or possibly in-house staff. The finished gallery with its visitor interpretation of the meaning and significance of the objects on show is seen by the visitors. They will pass on information about the displays to others who may be interested.

The strength of this use of the McNelly theory to analyse a museum as an example of a tourist attraction should be in showing two things. The first is that, as with newspaper reporting, the creation of a museum display with objects and interpretive information depends on ideas that have to be modified and decided by a set of specialist people. Someone decides what is to be shown and just what is to be said to the visiting public about each item on show. One set of people might produce a very different narrative than another. The way in which the Historic Royal Palaces organisation that cares for the Crown Jewels describes them in the Tower of London is likely to be very different from the way someone else would do it. Imagine what storyline would be chosen by the museum staff of a country like communist Cuba, for example. If the interpretation was going to be aimed solely at children from a British inner city it would have to be done in a very particular way to make it understandable. In each case the aim would be to plan for different outcomes, to tell a story from quite different viewpoints. One would be to do with traditional British pride in the history of the kingdom and its achievements. Another would be about exploitation and the power wielded by a few people over the rest of the population, linked with stories of colonialism around the globe. The third might be about either, but would need to speak in simpler terms that children could be expected to understand and relate to, quite possibly a difficult thing to achieve. In other words, the selective display of items in what a museum happens to have in its collections and the explanation of what those things mean to people viewing them is not an objective process in which there is only one narrative to be followed. It is subjective, influenced in its decision-making by ownership and the power to take decisions. The results are never entirely predictable or controllable, but are still planned for as best the museum staff can.

Who says what, to whom, through which means and with what result – some of the Lasswell/Braddock tests, work for not only museums but theme parks, countryside centres and all other tourist showcases. The McNelly approach can be seen to have a relevance to working out the chain of decisions about a museum – and it can also be applied to those other showcases, too. Try it – even try it for a city space favoured by visitors such as Trafalgar Square in London, or Times Square in New York, or Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Someone – however complicated it is to work out exactly who over a long period of time – has created an urban space which leaves certain ideas about places in the visitors’ minds. Try it for locations well away from cities – the Grand Canyon, the area of Mount Everest or an oasis in the Sahara desert. The visitor might come upon these locations well away from anything like a visitor centre or set of interpretation panels. But they will still interpret what they see in their own minds according to what they were taught in school, saw on TV or read about in a travel brochure. Who controls the messages that those media carry? It is those messages that influence the judgements of visitors to these scenes. And some of them have visitor centres, museums, guide books, human guides and interpretation panels that set out to persuade people to see them in a particular way. The tourist experience is heavily mediated by the tourist industry and its trappings.

But having said that McNelly’s 1959 Newsflow Theory helps us come to that conclusion, it will now be time to acknowledge that it is very limited as an analytical tool of how tourist attractions are really created.


Image: Mauch Chunk Switchback Railroad

Showcase Backgrounds: The Rail Road Tourist Trail

Any 21st-century theme park that does not have some kind of transport attraction is an unusual theme park – and might be heading for failure. Even zoos, botanical gardens and a number of museums have them. Many are railways but boats are very common – water-splash rides have been giving fun for over a century. And after all, funfairs have used horse-riding carousels and kiddies’ roundabouts for even longer. Being swept around, up and down and in and out gave an experience of being absorbed into something exciting, being taken over by some outside force.

A ride in a farm cart was probably the first taste of transportation that children got. Riding a horse was something needing some skill and a bit more courage. Some had to control the horses and lead the carts. There was another white knuckle ride when snow lay all around – the sleigh. In Russia where snow was frequent a horse-drawn carriage with runners, not wheels, was common. Sliding down hill at speed on a smaller version powered only by gravity was an obvious pastime, and not only in Russia. There, however, rich landowners found they could have their own sledge run without the problem of getting out to a suitable rural hill slope by building a high wooden slope in the city. From the sixteenth century these were in use with the winter ice covering them making a fine surface on which to speed downhill. Towers gave access to the top of the slope. Then in the early nineteenth century French soldiers returning from the failed invasion of Russia in 1812 are said to have returned home with stories of seeing ‘Russian Mountains’. In 1817 two commercial versions were constructed in Paris, one in Belleville called Les Montagnes Russes and other in the Beaujon Gardens named Les Pomandes Aeriennes. These were not ice-runs but consisted of wheeled wagons running down between wooden guide rails. The axles projected to either side into horizontal slots which locked the wagon to the running surface. These rides were built large and ornately, making them attractive as well as exciting to ride.

Wagons had been used for centuries in mining areas to move heavy loads. Some moved along planks of wood, others were guided along wooden flanged rails. They often used gravity to move downhill towards rivers where barges were to be loaded, being hauled back uphill by horses. Perhaps visitors to the mines were allowed to ride the wagons for fun. In Pennsylvania in the USA a very long system of wagon ways collected coal from mines in Carbon County and delivered it nine miles away to the Lehigh Canal in Mauch Chunk (which is no longer known by its Native American name but is today called Jim Thorpe). The system was built in 1827 by Josiah White and Erskine Hazard. The coal came from Summit Hill. Between the mines and the canal the route for the single-track wagon way descended for the whole nine miles at a rate of just under one hundred feet every mile. The wagons were linked in trains of up to 14 at a time. On the rear wagon sat a brakesman who hauled on a lever to slow down the whole set if it began to go too fast. Mules were used to haul the empty vehicles the nine miles back to summit hill, which took at least three hours compared with the downward journey of 30 minutes. By 1844 the booming demand for coal led to the owners building a second track to give uninterrupted journeys back to the coal mines. It meandered along a short distance from the downhill track and in fact crossed over it for a way before crossing back. The crossings were achieved using low bridges (see picture 5 above) to avoid delays and the chance of collisions. At two locations were stationary steam engines which used ropes to draw the wagons uphill, a special method of attaching the ropes to the wagons being employed.

From very early days tourists were allowed to ride on certain sets of wagons, the nine-mile run down being a great attraction. The line became known colloquially as the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railroad. When, in 1872, a new line gave standard-gauge service to the collieries the old wagon way was no longer needed – and it became a full time, popular and thrilling tourist attraction. Advertising brought in visitors, timetables were issued and tickets sold. According to one account (Bennett, 1999) in 1874 the Switchback Railroad was the second biggest attraction in the USA after the Niagara Falls, with over 35,000 visitors enjoying the exhilarating ride and beautiful mountain views. It was only in 1932 that the railroad closed, a victim to the depression following the Wall St Crash of 1929.

So what is the link with theme parks? One of the tourists who rode on the Mauch Chunk line in the 1870s was La Marcus Adna Thompson, a prolific inventor and business man who set up, amongst other things, the Eagle Knitting Company in Elkhart, Indiana. Thompson realised that switchback railways that contained steep climbs and drops along their route could become a good proposition for fairgrounds and parks. In 1884 one was built to his specification at Coney Island, New York, where it was an immediate success and much imitated later around the world. He designed others himself for places like Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the UK. His London Office built ‘Scenic Railways’ for many parks in which the ride was made fun but also scenery, painted on backdrops alongside the tracks, did for the passengers what the Pennsylvania railroad was doing for real – letting them ride in their imaginations through mountainous country that they might otherwise never have seen.

For a detailed account of switchbacks and rollers coasters see David Bennett's book listed in the Bibliography - click on the page in the left hand panel.


Image: Showcases - Urban and Rural

Showcases: Urban and Rural Centres

Towns and villages are heavily used by local people but are also the busiest tourist attractions. While thousands of people might visit theme parks and museums each day, tens of thousands use urban and rural centres on excursions from further afield or as overnight-stay tourists. Shopping, eating and drinking, going to the cinema and theatre or joining crowds at sports grounds are still the great visitor activities. But even business people are tourists, users of conference centres, hotels and places of entertainment on top of their use of offices, shops and factories. The bread and butter trade for big city hotels is the business person, not the leisure tourist. As well as those, workers who commute daily into town, sometimes from many miles away, will often spend money in shops and use entertainment facilities during their lunch breaks or during evening extensions to their stays. At the other end of the scale small villages, prone to lose people to the city in the day time, will welcome visitors during the week and especially at weekends. Non-working adults, some with pre-school children, will take time in countryside places. Hikers and cyclists as well as car-using trippers spend money in shops and cafes. At weekends and especially on national holidays some popular places are heavily used, bringing in money and leaving with happy memories but at the same time putting stress on transport links, filling litter bins (or just leaving their detritus unbinned) and leaving other people feeling stressed and worn out.

The visitors go away with their memories. Let’s hope that they are happy, positive thoughts – but too often they might not be. On busy days the overcrowded car parks, the queues in cafes and crowding in pubs might be accepted as a price to pay for a day out on a summer weekend. Those who visit as part of their daily working lives, those commuters and business callers, are likely to start at a disadvantage in that work brings stress even when it is rewarding. All of them – the leisurely and the workers – will also notice the attractive and the unattractive surroundings. So the architectural quality – good design, skilful building and careful maintenance – creates strong impressions. The soft landscaping – trees, shrubs and flowers, open grass areas, flowing rivers and placid ponds – add to the sense of beauty as well as being elements capable of bringing calm and contentment. Sure, it depends on the nature of the visitor and the events of the day. Glorious flower beds have to be emptied and replanted at times. Walking surfaces have to be blocked for repairs. In addition to those accepted activities are the less acceptable – litter bins tipped out across a street or harassment by hawkers. Add in the results of pockets being picked or accidents in the street and visits become distinctly less pleasant. All these things create impressions and a really successful place will manage them all – if it can. Street wardens and quick responses by maintenance crews are expensive. Yet in the highly competitive world of work and leisure that is the modern reality the high performers rake in the benefits, leaving others behind. What, post-World War II, became known as urban regeneration projects, have taken on those facts of life as central parts of their strategic plans. Effectively, urban and rural centres are shaped by production staff repairing, renewing and developing them in order to impress the visitors on whom community life depends. These places are showcases as much as the ‘formal’ tourist attractions that they might contain. Their scale and order is of a different kind but they do communicate their qualities to a very much larger audience, especially as over the years the broadcast and print media spread their image worldwide. Who builds them, how they build them and for which audience are questions that Lasswell and Braddock (see previous postings) and every clued-up manager around would recognise as necessary for shaping successful policies.

The examples above are very appropriate. Horsmonden is in a prosperous part of Kent east of Tunbridge Wells in the UK. The traditional village green is surrounded by traditional houses, shops and pubs. A famers’ market is held every Friday. The place is clean, the grass neatly mown and things are well maintained. It speaks of traditional ways within the Garden of England, of hops and hedgerows, of a long and proud history and all those things that tourists expect to find in south east England. The second example, Goathland in North Yorkshire, is tradition piled on top of tradition. That is to say it retains its character of a moorland village, more open to the elements and distant views than Horsmonden, tucked away down in Kent. It is grittier, a touch wilder and yet warmly welcoming. Being away from big cities and still some a distance from Whitby and Scarborough on the coast, Goathland has a sense of independence. The open moors have long attracted visitors, many of whom arrived by coach or via the steam railway between Pickering and Grosmont which is now a major attraction. The waterfall known as Mallyan Spout close by nestles in a valley that contrasts with the moorlands. Goathland’s fame nowadays is based on the media – television, and the popular series set in the 1960s of Heartbeat based on the life revolving around the village policeman. All kinds of people are therefore active in creating and maintaining the village image. Finally Palma de Mallorca is here an example of the big city, tourist attractive while important as the administrative and commercial centre of the Balearics. Bigger in scale, with much on offer, well known worldwide and therefore with plenty of challenges to be met to keep up its reputation as one of the Mediterranean’s most successful resorts.


Image: Selective Itineraries

Showcases: Selective Itineraries

That US Republican Sarah Palin has been trying to bolster up her image as a world-savvy politician. Famous for her revealing remarks about understanding Russia because the country could be seen from Alaska, she has just got back from visits to India and Israel. Don’t get excited: she did not tour the slums of Mumbai or cross into Palestine, and certainly didn’t listen to anything like a lively political debate in either place. In India she gave a lecture for a fee speculated as around $100,000 to a conference of opinion formers. In Israel she met the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and prayed at the Wailing Wall with a Star of David hanging from her neck. Her party approached the Israeli army crossing point into occupied Palestinian territory but turned back without entering the area. Sarah Palin is playing a will-she-won’t-she game over announcing a possible candidacy for the US Presidential race in 2012. Some commentators, like John Doyle of Canada’s ‘Globe and Mail’ newspaper believe she has already lost her momentum because of disastrous performances on television, saying “The Palin buzz has gone. Sarah Palin is over, so over. Doyle cited “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”, a reality-TV series that magnified the politician’s rich, narrow-minded egotism, and a Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed her voter ratings collapsing since last October. Hence the latest – but generally rare – trip to news-worthy world centres – without much effort to learn, just to proclaim her own views and pretend that she now knows about some world issues. To me, it’s like those clean-cut young lads that we see in Britain wandering looking miserable around housing areas. The ones who come over from Salt Lake City to knock on doors, tell us we have got it wrong, and suggest we ought to get hooked up with the Mormon Church are a case in point. What a waste of an opportunity! They should be going abroad to learn, not to teach. For them and for Mrs P travel does not broaden the mind but constricts it further. The Mormons go back thinking the world is even more in need of their philosophy than ever, and Sarah Palin goes back thinking that she now knows India and Israel.

Of course, we all have a tendency to do the same. We select the places to explore based on our own preconceived ideas about what is good or bad. If we take a holiday abroad the chances are it will be spent on a beach and in the nearby bar without venturing further to see the non-tourist places. And why not? A holiday is a holiday – relaxation, sunshine, good food and drink with friendly people is a fine way to recharge our batteries. It’s when we start claiming to know a country because we have seen its resorts that unreality steps in. Seeing how the locals behave towards us in tourist destinations and hopefully hearing some of their opinions is in no way representative of the people further away in non-tourist villages or cities. My own good fortune in being able to spend just a few days in Cuba brought home the point to me. Attending a conference and yes, giving a lecture (not for $100,000 I might add), got me to the country. Along with fellow participants it was important to get out of the hotel into Havana – old and new – and deep into the countryside for at least a brief glimpse of the un-tourist side to life there. We could find the sort of places shown above – a scrap-yard behind the National Capitol building, a down-and-out sleeping in a city square, an exuberant dance show in a traditional cafe-bar, and a fine open air restaurant in Old Havana. How we interpret the meaning and significance of each depends on ourselves and our own experiences and viewpoints.

Just making one or two visits to places doesn’t qualify anybody as an expert. And who chose those places? Some tourist operator bent on showing us the good side? Some awkward motive within us determined to dig out the worst? What do we tell the folks back home about the places we saw? Who shaped our itinerary, why and how, by selecting certain visits and events over others is something Mr McNelly had useful pointers to explaining – previous postings in this ‘Showcases’ sequence set out how. The next posting will develop the ideas further.


Image: The Mind of Traveller

The Mind of the Traveller: Broader or Narrower?

When the UK Labour Party took control in 1997 Michael Portillo lost his former Parliamentary seat of Enfield Southgate. The swing to Labour was large. Having been a strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher, the Tory leader up to 1990 and a potential new Conservative Party leader, his defeat became symbolic of the switch to Labour. Since then Michael Portillo has reinvented himself as a media performer – and has modified his previously strongly right-wing views, finally leaving both parliament and the Conservative Party. He presented a TV series about Spain (his father’s country of birth) and a series of TV dinner parties for BBC4 with invited guests. A notable week in his life was spent as a stand-in ‘mum’ to a family living on benefit payments in Wallasey, the resulting TV programme revealing him as a warm and understanding personality.

The Wallasey episode may well have been an eye-opener. More recently it seems that another pair of TV series may have helped shift his viewpoints. These were tourism trips by train to parts of England, Wales and Scotland. Most were via branch lines and apparently used second-class tickets – the mix of public transport and the visits that he made to workplaces and country scenes along the route were well away from the champagne style of some tourist journeys. At night he found interesting accommodation in small hotels, certainly not motor lodges or (usually) B&Bs, but again reasonably within the reach of the general leisure traveller. Portillo interviewed many managers, workers and other people that he met on the trains, displaying a genial informality and being very much the listener rather than a talker. Having visited textile mills, foundries, bakeries, transport projects and farms – amongst other places – he clearly enjoyed discovering a lot about life in Britain that had been unfamiliar to him before. He made what sounded like a telling remark in one of the shows. If he had made these journeys before going in to parliament his political stance, he implied, might have been very different.

Travel, it appeared, had certainly broadened his mind.

Travel can just as easily narrow peoples’ attitudes by reinforcing attitudes already held. Choosing to go somewhere to witness scenes that confirm your views rather than challenging them, or at least demanding that you revise them in the face of new evidence, does not lead to enlightenment. The impact of travel does depend on many factors – such as who you are, where you go, who you meet and what happens while you are there, to name just a few. Most national stereotypes might have some grains of truth in them, but they are usually misleading, the result of attitudes formed in previous days under different social conditions – war, economic stress or misleading media reporting. Are citizens of the USA boastful, those of France condescending, of Germany humourless and of Britain snobbish? The answer is always, basically, no. Some people in those countries may be like that. Some may react in those ways to visitors who have taken a particular attitude to them in the first place. Some of them might give a first impression in line with the stereotypical view – but that is by no means the same as being that way through and through.

Travel opens up direct contact with different cultures. Britain as an imperial power and one fighting on the back foot during the Second World War used to have a condescending view of the cultures to be found ‘abroad’. Those who crossed the Channel often did so on condition they could get cups of tea and English breakfasts wherever they went – as someone has said, when overseas they wanted to find a version of Britain with sunshine when they got there. So many of those travellers selected itineraries chosen for them by tour operators who could deliver – indeed, set up – resorts that appeared as English as possible.

And then came the Beatles. When they discovered India, its music and ways of life, young Brits with money and a sense of adventure took up plane seats to find out for themselves what the country held for them. Others were going west to Canada and the USA – not so different from Britain but still eye-openers that made those young Brits look differently at their own ways of life. It was like seeing two Grand Tours, one to the west and the other to the east. Today the gap-year Grand Tourers go beyond India to South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Are their minds broadened? Or are they narrowed, in the sense that they are just following the fashion, back-packing between hostels, working in bars and doing a few temple tours and bungee jumps in between?

Being selective about where to travel is inevitable. Nobody really has the money or freedom to spend their life visiting every place on the planet. And even if they had they will select where to go next out of a mental short-list of what sounds like the next set of fun places to explore. We hold mental maps of where it’s good to be and where it is not. We visit places that benefit us one way or another. On the one hand the tourist industries shape our choices as much as they can and then we make our own decisions according to what we want to get out of a visit. I don’t think it possible to make an ‘objective’ choice free of preconceptions and persuasion. Even those people who claim academic rigour, the university researchers, are prone to do work that somebody is paying them for or which they feel will help them make out a case that supports their preconceived line of argument. I knew a university researcher who carried out surveys of staff attitudes to working life in Dublin hotels because the researcher knew that the staff involved were strong union members and would reply in a particular way. As a member of a very left-wing political party the researcher wanted results backing up their own outlook on life.

We travel to see what we want to see.


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