Saturday, April 03, 2010

Why history is important to tourism revisited

Continuing my update on past posts, Why history is important to tourism (13 March 2010) drew some interesting if depressing comments. 

Le Loup referred both to lack of interest in offerings - in this case living history displays - as well as the way in which donations of artifacts he had made had been left moldering. He concluded:  

Why people do not want to improve on their historical impression I have no idea, especially when it is being offered for free.

David referred to the experience of he and his wife in trying to first develop and then promote a Cessnock historical walks brochure. He concluded:

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 wrote:

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.

You see what I mean when I say that the comments were both interesting and depressing?

I really can emphasize with these three experiences, because I have been through it all myself.

I suppose the first point is that change and improvement come about in part by accident, more because a small number of people persevere against all odds. Those of us who are committed cannot be sure that what we will achieve what we set out to do, indeed most of us are likely to suffer failure in whole or part. What we can be sure off, however, is that when we look at the totality of community activity, the successes come because of people like us.

The second point is that success often comes in unexpected ways, with often small things having long term effects in ways that we cannot foresee.

To illustrate with an example from my own experience, many years ago and in a very in a different world I recruited a 19 year old Canberran to the Young Country Party and introduced him to his wife to be, an Armidale girl. Many more years later than I care to count, Peter Bailey became a dedicated campaigner for country development and the founder of Country Week.

I did not get Country Party pre-selection for Eden-Monaro, a personal failure. However, my own endeavours then had a longer term payback for the causes I was interested in in a way that I could never have have foreseen. I tried to write about this a little in  Saturday Morning Musings - the importance of the small.

The third point is a practical as well as perceptual one. All local communities have their own dynamics and tend to be inward looking. Often, they fail to recognise just what might be important to outsiders. They may take pride, rightly, in a local park, yet fail to recognise that the park is irrelevant to those beyond the community.

I say rightly, because if you have worked for something and it adds to the community you have every reason to be proud. I say irrelevant, to the outsider because there are lots of parks. What is is that makes your park different?

Too often, the problem is further complicated by the desire of those who are satisfied with the status quo, who do not want changes that they might dislike, to oppose actively or passively. This bears upon the problem that Peter referred too.

I can completely understand those who are resistant to change. However, there are two problems.

The first is that change happens whether we like it or not. If we always oppose change, we condemn ourselves to reactive responses. We actually give away control. The issue is how the community manages change, how it takes a degree of charge.

The example I often use to illustrate this is Armidale in the 1970s and early 1980s. Then the city's growth seemed assured. Those who liked Armidale's life style and did not want to see it change opposed growth suggestions. Little did they know that structural changes already underway and especially in education would sap Armidale's growth to the point that the city's population would go into decline, that the very survival of the University would be brought into question.

The issues in Armidale's case that they should have addressed were what happened if things did go wrong, what did they want for the future.

If you read Peter's piece on Cessnock City Council planning, you will see that he is trying to address these types of issues by focusing on the role that visitors can play in helping support the infrastructure on which community life depends, by distinguishing between tourists and visitors. Now, as it happens, I disagree with the way he has defined things, that's simply a technical issue, but the principle is there.

Again, if you look at Wollombi in the context of Cessnock Council and its LEP, you can get a feel for the way in which the future of the Valley may simply be redefined independent of what locals think.

I think my key point about the importance of tourism apart from the additions it can make to the texture of local life, and that's important if managed properly, is that it it is another lever that can be used to give a degree of local or regional control.           

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