Friday, 30 April 2010

"Optimising tourism in beautiful historic heritage towns" presentation for Youghal, Ireland May 13th 2010

Historic Towns Forum have published an introduction to my contribution to their conference in Ireland this week, which sadly has been cancelled. It is in their May newsletter - comments are welcome.
Optimising tourism in ...

Optimising tourism in beautiful historic heritage towns.

The ‘beautiful town’ is the essence of what visitors seek in historic towns and what historic heritage towns seek for themselves. Beauty can therefore be a valid object of policy for an historic town. It should come as no surprise that close on 20 percent of all World Heritage Sites are either actual historic towns or closely related to an historic town. Yet beauty, sometimes needing to be disguised as the ‘B-word’ to quote Simon Jenkins’ recent Guardian opinion piece is sometimes seen, by tabloid-press-terrified politicians, as dangerously elitist.

It is certainly ‘in the eye of the beholder’ but a high proportion of visitors expect to find it, on their own terms, in historic heritage towns When they do, they tell their friends who may then visit in overwhelming numbers. Even cultural tourists can be a nuisance.

How beautiful towns on the Continent have achieved, then coped or tried to cope with ‘success’ as tourist destinations is the subject of this discussion. Defining what we mean by ‘success’ is where we shall develop the theme of optimising rather than maximising. To ‘optimise’ means to achieve the b e s t level and type of tourism for different towns. We shall investigate examples of what is implied by ‘good’, ‘better’ and “best” levels and types of tourism in contrast to maximising any tourism; we shall look at how tourism is measured (in money, in people arriving and/or in nights stayed).

I shall draw on many examples, all of which, except one, I have visited and studied to a greater or lesser extent. We will particularly look at Piran (illustrated)  in Slovenia , La Guardia in Northern Spain, Lucca in Tuscany, den Bosch (s’Hertogenbosch) in the Netherlands and Valletta in Malta (all participants in the ARCHWAY European Interreg IIIc network). Most of the examples are walled towns (http://www.walledtowns.com) but while walls may concentrate both the beauty and the problems of the towns, they usually stand for the more general term ‘gem cities’ as defined in Greg Ashworth’s numerous books papers and lectures. The ‘exception town’ will be discussed for some negative issues but from secondary sources.

We shall travel virtually on the Continent and arrive on foot, cycle public transport and car and look at first impressions of different towns and what makes them attractive when we stay. We shall think about what success in tourism means to people living in the town, people working in the town as well as people visiting.

Sustainable development provides a framework within which to develop policy for more sustainable or less unsustainable tourism The economic, employment creating imperatives, along with the environmental including global warming constraints are undeniable but we shall see how, for historic towns, ‘beauty’ is integral to the critical but often overlooked socio-cultural element of sustainability;