Pride of Place: The Key to Tourism Going Forward
The biggest pain point of sustainable tourism is the first stage in the journey toward tackling it. We’re all individuals with thoughts, feelings and interests – our experience of tourism is so important in terms of defining the direction of sustainable solutions. Improving the visitor experience sustainably involves being in touch with the people living at the location. In the case of our product, visitor flow management encourages the dispersal of tourists at honeypot sites across a wider area, alleviating pressures on the environment and inducing a sustainable visitor economy. An important part of the equation is the human element, the people that create and experience tourism in the area.
Identity of a destination
The distinction between sustainability and pride of place is determined by the interaction of the various elements that comprise both. Different groups work to create the identity of a village, town, city or national park, and so on. These could be DMOs, independent businesses, film and television productions (Like with Derry Girls recently), locals, committees, councils and even tourists themselves. Our sense of ‘place’ is defined by the relationship we and others have with a location. The biggest pain point for allowing the sustainable tourism industry to grow is how these different groups should (or could) collaborate in the process.
A place can be defined as an environmental situation where an individual’s or group's activities, experiences, intentions and meanings are drawn together spatially. Sense of place is a more generalised concept that refers to the relationship that these groups and individuals have with places they may identify or associate with, likewise, this attachment can be facilitated by social relationships and group identity. Nowadays, fewer and fewer people want to be identified as tourists. Instead, younger generations of travellers are looking to seek out experiences that provide a sense of immersion and involvement. These travellers are looking for a sense of local living, essentially wanting to experience the destination as authentically as possible.
An example of place-making is provided by Laquinto, concerning the role of backpackers and types of mobile population whose individual actions, as opposed to higher-ups in the industry, contribute to the making of places. He goes on to say that “places inhabited by backpackers were in constant flux and ‘co-created’ via practices in conjunction with an array of other phenomena.” Interesting right? Maybe it's not just the DMOs that might be responsible for the development of tourist destinations, but the tourists too.
Perceptions of Tourism
On a global scale, tourism is considered an important economic and social activity that contributes around 10.4% to the World’s Gross Domestic Product. Given the significant contribution of tourism, it most definitely influences the lives of the residents at tourist destinations depending on the volume of visitors. However, residents tend to not share similar perceptions of the contribution of tourism in their region/local area. Perceptions vary in terms of how tourism is viewed, particularly in terms of how it has an impact on the socioeconomic status of the area. Within the context of tourism, examination and definition of a resident’s perceptions should involve the opinions of how tourism is experienced and lived. The residents are the most important piece of solving the sustainability issue, whose views and opinions should always come first so tourism can act for their benefit.
Sustainability means ensuring a destination benefits from tourism development without wasting valuable resources. Essentially, it provides a holistic approach that brings benefits to locals, whereas any negative occurrence is not sustainable in the long run. Sustainable or responsible tourism is concerned with an emphasis on preserving local resources. Sustainable tourism must deal with the ethical ways of introducing and developing tourism in a geographical area. Additionally, sustainable solutions are mostly associated with rural areas as a means of gauging tourism developments by ensuring multilayer effects.
The aim of sustainable tourism should be to adjust to the needs of the residents to benefit them economically, socially and environmentally. The inability to shape tourist activities as a vehicle for positive impacts creates irritation, to locals, who consider tourists as enemies and tourism development as unwelcome. Destinations that have a holistic approach to tourism development prioritise residents’ needs instead of visitor needs. In many cases, there is a gap in the way tourism is perceived by locals as the main stakeholders and local government. This gap will only be able to close when local governing bodies communicate with residents and DMOs by setting up policies based on residents’ social, economic and environmental interests as a motivation to preserve the area. Stakeholders are a key aspect of tourism, as well as their unbiased collaboration with residents. By creating strong collaborative networks, a destination can achieve a sense of harmony where all members (and the environment) involved can benefit from tourism.
Collaboration improves the overall coordination of policies and subsequent actions and promotes the backing of economic, environmental and social policies related to tourism. Through this collaboration, dichotomies present in a popular destination can be minimised and create a favourable ground for tourism development in rural areas. The core ingredients that motivate rural areas are usually associated with culture, scenic natural spaces and the difference in how residents live compared to more metropolitan areas. Tourism policy should promote the interests of the people living in these areas, and specifically decrease the development of activities that may deteriorate or destroy the characteristics of the destination.
Presentation of the destination
Place marketing and branding are two of the key demands converted into place awareness, and possibly, into the purchasing of place products: whether it’s the experience of the destination, tourism, migration or the purchasing of food and goods associated with that place. Tourism is deeply connected to the place marketing process not only due to the efforts of the destination and tourism marketing implemented to attract visitors but also because of how it is used for urban revitalisation and redevelopment processes (aka, placemaking), and promotional strategies that emphasise the deliberate social construction of places for consumer activities. However, it should be noted that place marketing takes advantage of the organic elements present in placemaking, becoming key aspects of the image comprising formal campaigns. The danger comes in the form of commoditizing the image of a location in the end, which in turn can create forms of overtourism.
To conclude, our impressions of sustainable tourism are far too often looked at from a distance. To understand the impact of tourism on an area, we need to understand and engage with the communities that experience it on an annual basis. There are proven ways sustainable solutions could work from an academic perspective, but we believe it's more important to get involved in the spaces where tourism happens, to understand why people like (or dislike!) tourism.