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Earlier front-page blog postings - January 2010 onwards

Earliest at the top.

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Unresolved

04.01.10

I made my usual New Year Resolution which was - not to make any New Year Resolutions. Like all of its predecessors it lasted ten minutes. I made a new New Year Resolution.

I Solemnly Resolve to use the term 'tourism industries' rather than the singular 'industry'. I don't believe there is a single tourism industry, loved though that phrase is by commentators (yes, in the past by me, too). It's rather like referring to 'the food industry' when what is meant encompasses everything from making tinned steak and kidney pies to cooking mealies in conditions of near-starvation in Africa. Tourism is too big, too varied. It spans commercial and not-for-profit operations, family days out and international sports gatherings. Conferences and hostel hiking come under .... well, not one banner but many. Tourism is a whole set of industries and a lot of non-industries as well.
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Another day, another politician.

c03.01.10

So UK-prime ministerial hopeful David Cameron wants to make the teaching profession “brazenly elitist” by paying of the tuition debts of maths and science graduates with upper second or first class degrees while removing financial inducements for those with third-class awards. Paying the debts of one group off might be a good idea, but it is clear that here is another politician who thinks being a good teacher depends on being academically good at the age of 21 or 22.

When I think through the schools I attended or have worked with since, and the universities I have similarly known well, it’s easy to see that high degree awards are no guarantee of teaching ability. In my own secondary school the main maths teacher in the 1950s was notoriously bad as a teacher, yet he was well qualified in terms of mathematical knowledge. The physics and chemistry teachers were quite good, but the biology master was brilliant because he was understanding, approachable and knew how to explain theories and practices. What a pity I never did biology!

At university level the standard of teaching is even more varied. The post-graduate diplomas that lecturers are usually (but by no means always, even today) supposed to take are largely to do with course planning, assessment and general paperwork of the kind which is choking universities to death. Some tutors are skilled explainers who inspire ideas and encourage understanding. They can manage a class, command attention and make people laugh. They are able to manage their modules, classroom activities and support-activity time. The best have vision and can deliver its fulfilment. The worst ones – sometimes those with good degrees and postgraduate qualifications plus a string of other letters after their names – have no vision, little ability and will devise and manage teaching which serves themselves are their own interests rather than those of the students. I well remember as a student the number of lecturers who read the same lecture from the same written script year after year. How boring and unhelpful that was! When one tutor took a friendly, improvised line and almost talked with the class in an entertaining way he finished up with that rare result – a round of spontaneous applause by way of thanks. Step forward, geography tutor Mike Bridges!

Those days of the one-way delivery of a few thousand words per lecture seem long gone. Over twenty years from around 1990 chalk boards gave way to overhead projected acetates and they were wiped out by PowerPoint. More lecturers seem to know how to use helpful visual aids properly, too. But from what I have seen it is often the lecturer with the higher academic qualifications who delivers the least satisfactory, least effective teaching. Those with a decade or so of successful industrial experience (a year or two of industrial mediocrity is not enough by miles) do far better because they understand people in general far better.

At neither school nor university level will the good teachers be marked out best by first or upper second class degrees. Like those teachers in adverts running right now on TV and in the print media, the teachers who make the learners go “Wow!” are the ones who are trusted, who care and who inspire.
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Tourism is about Communication

07.01.10

Tourism is about communication. It’s about creating images in order to sell destinations. It’s about carrying memories away with us after visiting special places. Tourism is about seeing and understanding, experiencing and enjoying. Good tourism management is about promoting places, enabling visits, serving customers, explaining landscapes and cultures, persuading sensitivity, care and appreciation of environments and communities.

Tourism is about communicating in all these things. Tourism has to be driven and well managed by developing effective, integrated communications strategies.

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TV and Tourism: The Diaries of Anne Lister

08.01.10

Before returning to this month's main theme of tourist photography, here's a kind of photography and tourism note.

The BBC is to screen "The Diaries of Anne Lister" in the spring of this year. Anne Lister lived from 1791-1840 at her home of Shibden Hall in Halifax. She was a tenacious business woman, traveller and diarist besides managing the improvement of her late-medieval house, set in attractive grounds. The Lister family was also notable for the last of the line, John Lister, who was a very early pioneer of preserving buildings threatened by late-nineteenth century rebuilding. He moved some from the centre of rapidly expanding Halifax to parkland around the Hall. In due course it became a public park and Shibden Hall an early folk museum. This point is important here because Anne Lister's story could be partly filmed in the Hall, and because the film will be a boost to the visitor numbers later this year.

That is particularly because Anne Lister was a lesbian. Known locally as Gentleman Jack, dressing as a man and having at least three notable female lovers during her life, Anne Lister has been called "the first modern lesbian". She went through a form of marriage with her heiress lover and travel companion, Anne Walker. While in the Pyrenees Anne became the first woman to climb Mont Perdu and on a later visit in the area climbed the Vignemale. She was exploring Kutaisi in Georgia near the Black Sea in 1840 when she was struck with fever and died. Anne Walker had her body brought home for burial in a church near to Shibden Hall.

The saying that tourism is about the 'four Ss' - sun, sand, sea and sex - is well known. There has been a revolution in attitudes to the fourth S - sex - in the last thirty years. Some may say that it began in the 1960s, others the late '50s, but when working in the industry from the early 70s onwards it looked more to me like the real changes were during the 1980s for heterosexuals and not until the end of the last century, or even later, for homosexual partners. While older generations may have more conservative views and cultural norms have their influence it is apparent that younger generations are far more open minded and relaxed in attitude. It will not be long before terms like 'gay' and 'lesbian' with their associated preconceptions will fade away. People will have life partners according to their own choices. And after all, the nature of those partnerships is expressed through a multitude of life styles just as they always have been between males and females.

When Anne Lister kept her diaries - which run to millions of words - she had to use a secret code for a quarter or so of the entries in which she recorded her love life. It was not acceptable to do otherwise. Not until the 1930s were these decoded. When I worked for Calderdale as Tourism Officer between 1978 and 1985, with Shibden Hall a prime attraction within the district, Anne Lister was known about but only in general terms. Only specialist historians really talked about her story. From this year onwards that will inevitably change. Lister's life will have been opened to all. It will be seen in the context of civil partnerships, open same-sex relationships and a much freer attitude in general towards expressions of affection between people of the same sex. And it will illustrate once again just how influential TV and films are in creating tourism growth as people go to visit the house where Anne Lister lived.
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Just the Ticket (Many Times)

22.01.10

We only wanted to go from Halifax to Manchester Central (the exhibition venue) by train. The Caravan and Camping Show was being held there. Being – er - citizens of a certain seniority we qualify for tickets of a certain lower price. Two of us could go there and back for 10.70 by train plus 3.20 on the Manchester tram ‘Metrolink’. To do it required booking us to the Lancashire border just beyond Walsden and then from there to Manchester Victoria. And all the way back again.

Doesn’t it seem overcomplicated and a waste of a sapling or two to issue twelve tickets?
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Tourism Question Time in Leeds

1

Something is missing.

What would most students say are the most important words in tourism management? My guess would be – ‘marketing’ and ‘sustainability’. Where is the dominant weight of activity amongst the men (and women) in suits within the tourism industries? Marketing.

The half-day discussion at Leeds Met this week showed it. Questions revolved around the measures of success – in quantitative terms – ie visitor numbers resulting from good or not-so-good marketing. Oh, and seeing the men on the panel was a reminder that those other people, the (and women) were noticeable by their absence, at least from the panel. There were plenty in the audience and I also guess most of those were in marketing jobs. It was different for the preceding book launch of ‘Managing Regional Tourism: A Case Study of Yorkshire” in which more women were involved through their chapter contributions. Even so, these revolved around business, employment and rates of pay. All of which are undeniably important – but are these the only concerns?

‘Sustainability’ is one of the current buzzwords in tourism. It’s been creeping up the agenda ever since the late 1960s when environmental concerns raised their heads. Since then we have found other harbingers of doom – global warming (nasty tourist transport contributes!), inauthentic cultures (heritage industry!) and the erosion of community life (second homes! The tea shop economy!). All of these issues have begun to coalesce into the mega-questions labelled ‘sustainability’.

So what is missing? I think it is the discussion and especially the teaching of tourism managers to be of how marketing is handled in order to deal with all those sustainability issues. It’s all very well for the marketing folk to say they make sure their strategies are as green as green could be. Good for them. Fine. It’s equally very well for the environmentalists to say they redouble their efforts daily in the name of applying pressure to turn everyone greener. Great work, guys! But where do all of these initiatives meet and get coordinated? Where do they result in the agreements or compromises that shape the future? In political decisions, new structures, strategic frameworks – the how-we-are-going-to-get-there policies at local, national and international level. We are talking politics.

On the panel at the Leeds Met Q&A session was a politician. There were also people representing organisations that debate policies. But the thrust of the discussions was about visitor numbers, economic well-being and rates of pay in hotels and restaurants. We all want to see great increases in all of those things. Yet it’s obvious that those aims could be fulfilled more easily if all our efforts went into achieving them and to hell with environmental, social and cultural concerns. None of the people at the meeting would for a moment advocate that. The question about how communities around the world decide their policies needs a long term answer. It is to do with being able to set up the controls, decision-making processes and sensible strategies that are required. And that is related to levels of understanding. The need is for training; training about policy making – about politics at levels from villages to global communities.

How many of the multiplicity of higher education courses round the world that exist do include modules about political processes? I know that Leeds Met doesn’t though it still hangs in their Tourism Planning course, if only by a thread. What about the other courses? I don’t know. You tell me. I’m not thinking about modules which happen to make some reference to policy-making. I’m talking about modules which make a thorough, well structured examination of government approaches (local as well as national), political processes and how to get stuck in to them, and case studies of the resulting outcomes.

Because it’s no use paying lip-service to the need to manage tourism better – time is running out in terms of the environment and societies. Our holidays free of care are reaching their very last days.

[26.02.10]

Tourism Question Time in Leeds

2

Is it a bad thing if Tourism Management graduates don't go into one of the tourism industries? And should they enter a tourism job within their region? These were two of the points made at a half-day conference staged jointly by Leeds Metropolitan University and the Yorkshire branch of the Tourism society today (24.02.10). A speaker said these were causes for concern.

I find this a very narrow view both of what university education is about and what tourism is. When I did my theoretical training in tourism thirty years ago the two main providers of tourism training at university level were Surrey and Salford. I believe that half the graduates completing their courses did not go in to tourism. It has been similar with Leeds Met, although sometimes a slightly smaller percentage.

Isn't a university a place to develop an understanding of what the world is about and what jobs there are on offer? I'm not at all surprised - or concerned - that graduates and diploma holders change direction. Good for them. And many non-tourism students will enter the industries with excellent ideas and knowledge. Tourism graduates may go elsewhere for a few years and then enter the industry with a broader knowledge.

Tourism is an international activity. By its very nature it demands world knowledge and offers worldwide opportunities. A good proportion of Leeds Met award-holders should work elsewhere, and I'm tempted to say as far away as possible! I mean that for positive reasons as they should get experience of different cultures and situations. A lot will return. A lot of people trained in other regions and countries will come into the Yorkshire region with their knowledge made available. A good thing, too.

There is another point. A degree or diploma course in tourism clearly helps successful students enter a very wide range of occupations. Few Leeds Met students have failed to do obtain a good job very quickly indeed. It makes sense to think of these courses as being ways of preparing for working life in a particularly effective manner. It is like taking a business course with a strong element of social and environmental components embedded within it. Good, across-the-board, tourism management demands an amazingly wide range of skills and knowledge to sustain it. The modules comprised in the course set the foundations for very good appreciation of what life is all about.

Let's not be narrow-minded. Let's remember the importance, the very essential importance, of global understanding and experience.

(24.02.10)

Tourism Question Time in Leeds

3

Following a question on the veracity and usefulness of statistics in tourism there was a lively debate. Some speakers said that good statistics were essential to measure performance. Another said that in business they didn’t mean as much as profit and loss levels or cash flows. Someone else complained that there was too much dressing-up of visitor number figures by public relations materials. There was a comment made that changes in the ways that figures were gathered in meant that comparisons over time could be difficult.

My own question in the midst of this followed on a rumour I had heard. This was that since the old Yorkshire Tourist Board became ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’, moved to Leeds from York and installed a new Director and staff structure, the visitor analysis reporting had undergone a change. It used to be that visitor statistics were gathered in from members, collated and circulated back to them. The rumour was that there was a new directive that only increases would be reported. This would, of course, mean a manipulation of the reporting in order to satisfy public relations aims, not performance monitoring.

This was not confirmed nor denied. Perhaps those present were the wrong people to be asking, though at least one, Peter Myers, is the Chief Executive Officer for the West Yorkshire Partnership, a component of Welcome to Yorkshire. The handling of statistics is important in any area of activity. There are plenty of concerns about running hospitals, local authorities, and educational institutions (including universities) with too great a focus on fulfilling targets and beating other people in league tables. It is to be hoped the new regional tourism organisation hasn’t put PR before objective performance reviews.

(25.02.10)

MEANWHILE
and this has nothing to do with the above comments ....


Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb has gained EU Protected Area Status ...

I really feel that anything involving being forced in sheds is on the dark side. This sort of thing is growing. It really leaves us in a stew. Society might crumble. Well, I suppose we might get a-custard to it ......

I tried out part of the new Google/YouTube venture yesterday: a virtual train ride on the Trans-Siberian Express. That's the 6-day, 9,200km train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok, the longest rail journey in the world (except when Virgin Rail is having a really bad time). Have a go at YouTube or hunt out a link from, say, the Daily Telegraph web site (couldn't find one on the Guardian ditto).

I didn't watch too much, getting to the edge of Moscow plus a few bits of the far east on my bit of virtual railroading. I have to say my first impression is that it's a lost opportunity. There used to be films called Ghost Rides based on film cameras mounted on the front of locomotives. The first were made over a century ago. Some poor soul was strapped onto the buffer bar of a steam loco and recorded the forward view until the film gave out - just a few minutes' worth of a shot at most. The Trans-Sib version includes the whole journey and of course in colour, with plenty of clickety-clack, dumbedy-dum if you decide not to listen to the accompanying balalaika music or Russian novel. But it was made with an angled camera looking out of a side window (sometimes the right, often the left), just part of the view available to an ordinary comrade - sorry - Euro-paying customer. There is no variety until you use one of the off-train virtual tours, at least, not that I could see. So the field of view is worse than the passsenger's real experience which would include more through this window, something through the one across the carriage, and some light relief of the activity inside the train. And given that the epic route is, I'm told, very often totally boring, its the friendly Russian people and fellow tourists who provide much of the fun. It is useful to have a second window with a zoom-able, pan-able map and a facility to jump between choice bits of the route.

It's a great pity that the camera wasn't mounted up front in the driver's cab with a wide forward view. The Microsoft Locomotive rides do better even though they are only relatively crude representations of the reality. In this virtual tour things close by rush past pretty quickly and its literally a one-sided view of the great continent that the line crosses. And I hope that for those folk who are thinking of making the real journey it doesn't create an impression of boredom. They ought to look at other YouTube videos shot by camera-panning travellers.

At least it's free and I will test out some more of the interesting bits - passing Lake Baikal and crossing the great river valleys - to see how they look. I must travel virtually some more in order to virtually understand better.

(18.02.10)

Top Quality Television

Good to welcome the return of a Simon Reeve travels series on BBC2. This new set of programmes follows his travels (approximately) along the Tropic of Cancer. His previous journeys tracked the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn further south. Will the Arctic Circle follow? Or the great challenge - the Antarctic Circle, blown along riding on a whale?

I have said before how refreshing it is to have someone like Reeve doing our journeying for us. His line of travel (whoops, nearly a pun there) takes in some typical touristy scenes but otherwise gets to grips with something of the read character of a country. So this new series opened with a 5,000 a night resort in Baja California (looked like a monumental rip-off to me) and then got stuck into a highly dangerous drug-dealer infested town also in Mexico. His expressive eyebrows arched at the thought that the Mexican government wants to built a score of other high-price resorts with huge marinas along the Pacific coast of Baja California. What a way to destroy a landscape and its communities!

Simon Reeve may be hopping around the planet rather fast to deliver his series, but he gets some depth out of most of his destinations - drug wars and cynical mining companies in the first episode - Kenyan squalor and cattle raiding in the Equator trip, for example. Much more satisfying than the travel supplement diet of sun, sand, skiing and shopping.

And how about Requiem for Detroit, Julian Temple's 75-minute film also this last weekend and also BBC2? Not that the city was really anything of a tourist destination unless you hankered for the home of the Motown Sound or wanted to see Henry Ford's Museum and Greenfield Village. Detroit was nurtured by the automobile and then destroyed by it as bigger and brasher highways carved up its communities. Temple followed someone called an Urban Explorer who picked a careful way through decaying factories that were being hacked apart by locals desperate to find something to sell. At one point he stood listening to hammering going on high above his head in one of the abandoned buildings. "That's someone tearing it apart" was the explanation. "They will probably throw stuff down through that hole". He moved away fast.

Depressing it certainly was, but at the same time intelligent, sensible folk told of their past, present - and future: urban farming and building repair of some of the thousands of decayed houses are beginning to suggest some better future for some parts of the city.

Sun, sand, skiing and the rest?

They represent only a tiny fraction of the world around us.

These two programmes show that for many of the world's population time is running out.

We need to travel to understand. to see for ourselves - or have good reporters like these uncover what tourist brochures want to hide.

(c23.04.10)
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Another two scandals in Parliament.

Labour has suspended three former ministers for touting their services to lobbying agencies on a rent-a-member basis. They are said to have put their own money-making ability before the needs of their constituents. At the same time many MPs have, allegedly, been breaking the rules on foreign travel paid for by commercial interests.

And what has this to do with tourism as education? A great deal, because the wider community gets a bad deal. Those MPs make the policies that affect every aspect of national life.

Everything from the state of the economy through the operation of the service infrastructure, the educational system right down to the way that the man, woman and child in the street are treated is affected by Parliament, perched on top of the political pyramid.

What is more worrying is that it isn’t just politicians who are guzzling whatever they can swallow. We can all quote examples from every walk of life. Our parents and grandparents will have been able to do the same.

Corrupt dealing in Leeds and Newcastle-on-Tyne brought together city council leaders, business men, trades union leaders and some MPs when urban development schemes were on the go. In the early ‘seventies jail sentences resulted and political resignations followed.

During the get-rich-quick ‘eighties growing prosperity and increasing competitive attitudes spread a culture of in which looking after yourself became more important than looking after others. Wartime cohesion and post-war welfare provision was derided, then dissolved, as a matter of government policy.

Has this affected education and educational tourism?

Yes.

I can’t speak at first hand for schools as my teaching there was almost fifty years ago. But in higher education, amongst the people with integrity who put the needs of students first there are more of the other kind, who only carve out their own careers at the expense of someone else. Such as these have been noted in many a book and newspaper piece about university life – ‘Lucky Jim’, ‘The Glittering Prizes’, the Times Higher's ‘University of Poppleton’, the cartoon strips of Posy Simmonds and Gary Trudeau.

The problem is that in the new century under New Labour rocketing expansion, government-set targets and a destructive kind of marketing environment have eroded the good work done by good tutors and managers.

The people who will drive educational tourism, as well as every other sector of tourism, are too often being taught principles and trained in management strategies that are not about enhancing sustainability and communities but about making a fast buck and a glittering career.

Cultures need to be changed at all levels.

(23.03.10)
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