Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why history is important to tourism

In Has Maitland forgotten its past? I wondered about Maitland's knowledge of its own history. I also suggested that Grafton suffered from the same problem. In both cases, local historians and historical societies might attack me, pointing to the work done. Yet I stand by my point in the context of local tourism. 

I accept that I am a bit of a history nut. Yet my experience has been that most tourists like a historical context, some are directly attracted by history. The reason for this is that tourism is not just attractions and events, but more an experience. The more things that add to that experience the better.

The local tourism marketplace is very competitive. Countries compete with countries, states with states, regions with regions, towns or localities with each other. Sometimes this competition adds to visitor numbers and spend. At other times, it diverts both from one place to another.

In NSW there is a particular problem in that overall tourism promotion is poor. There are very particular reasons for this linked to the size and diversity of NSW. I pointed to some of the underlying reasons for this in The fragmentation of NSW. How do you promote something that lacks a definable identity beyond the simple fact of existence?

In Victoria with its smaller territory and greater cohesion, the State Government has adopted a jigsaw approach. NSW is too big and complicated to do this easily. Instead, the Sydney Government has adopted a two brand approach, Brand Sydney and Brand NSW.  

Back in October 2007 in Why I remain New England New Stater 6 - conflicts in NSW tourism branding, I reported on problems that were being experiencing by the NSW Government in managing these two tourism brands, Brand Sydney and Brand NSW. In August 2008 in"Brand Sydney" relaunched - again!, I reported that the Government would relaunch Brand Sydney to overcome failures. Then, a few days ago, I was struck by a story in the Sydney Morning Herald that said in part:  

The status of the delayed Brand Sydney project also remains in limbo and the government has been unable to clarify when it will be finalised.

So in March 2010, the 2008 relaunch of Brand Sydney appears to remain in stasis.

This is not a criticism of the current NSW Government as such. The opposition would face similar structural problems.

The practical effect is that localities, towns and regions within NSW have to rely on their own tourism promotion efforts. State activity may reinforce, it cannot substitute for.

In the brief comments that follow, I am going to leave aside the question of a New England or Northern NSW brand because while I think this to be important, I also think that it will distract. Instead, I am going to focus just on the Hunter. 

There is, I think, a commonly accepted view that adjoining centres such as a Newcastle, a Maitland or a Cessnock are in competition with each other. I think that this is true at only the most superficial level. In simple terms, the stronger the overall Hunter brand and individual town or city brands, the greater the total number of visitors and the higher the individual spend.

To understand this, we need to look at where visitors come from. Here we can break the market into at least five parts:

  • The first is the local marketplace, people travelling within the region. This one is often ignored, yet people within a two hour car drive form a discrete market for attractions, activities and events. This one has to be individually promoted.
  • The second are the weekenders, those generally within a four hour drive. This brings in the big Sydney market, one that the Hunter is already tackling. Here the best results are obtained through a combination of individual and coordinated promotion.
  • The third is the through market, those travelling through on their way to somewhere else. Here the aim is to get them to stop or, if they are stopping, to spend more time money. This one is a bit of a zero sum market, stop in one place and you spend less time in another, yet it is also the market that a lot of centres concentrate on. The zero-sum exception is the traveller market, whether back-packer or gray nomad. 
  • The fourth is the other purposes market, those coming to a point for family, personal or business reasons. The conventions or meeting segment is a special class, for here the focus is getting people there in the first place; you have to sell the location first. Otherwise, the focus is on what people do when they get there.
  • The fifth is the national/international market, getting people to come from a distance to stay. Here you need a very specific sales edge.

I accept that this market subdivision is incomplete and imperfect. However, my core point is that the use of history as a marketing tool needs to be linked to the relevant tourism marketplace and to the place's position in that marketplace. At the very least, history can be used to deepen the visitor experience. In other cases, history can actually be used to draw visitors or to persuade them to stop or to stay for a longer period.     


Le Loup said...

Over the years I have offered our group's services to museums and colonial villages. We were prepared to offer for free an Australian period impression of living history, help identify the many items rusting and spoiling behind the scenes (which I have seen)of period artifacts, put on period skills displays etc. Our offers were not even replied to. It is a great shame that few people care about history. We offered our sevices because we love history, and the everyday living skills, tools and equipment that are a part of that history.
Donations I have made to museums are not even on display, they have joined the jumble of items in back rooms. In one place all the donations were piled out the back with no cover to rust and spoil. Can you imagine what it is like for someone like me to see such waste.
Why people do not want to improve on their historical impression I have no idea, especially when it is being offered for free.
Regards, Keith.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, LL. That's all a bit depressing.

David said...

I wish anyone trying to get Cessnock council or community interested in local history good luck. Several years ago, when my wife and I had a tourist business on the main street, we put in the time and money ourselves to design and print a Cessnock History Walk brochure (online version is at Even with the completed product selling successfully from our store we were unable to interest the Chamber of Commerce or council in assisting us with wider distribution.

The local Cessnock library agreed to purchase some brochures at near cost and sell them on to the public at a small markup to cover their costs. Every time we went into the library after that they would have sold out the small amount of stock they were prepared to buy at a time and not contacted us to order more. Also, being council, payment to us was in arrears and slow.

I would still like to see our brochure giving local tourists something to do in Cessnock before disappearing to the vineyards but since I no longer have a business in town myself there is little incentive to continue banging my head against the local apathy.

Peter Firminger said...

Hi Jim,

Tourism is a touchy subject in an historic place. To try and get past some of the resistance I am separating Tourists from Visitors and I think it's an important part of the process to identify the separate needs of the two groups. I wrote a bit about it in an article about (Cessnock Council) Planning and it is at this time, pretty much an unfinished thought.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi David and Peter. I have been away. Will respond shortly.