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Idealog - December 2007

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Image: Idealog title strip - December 07

Image: Tourist Attractions - attributes

Tourist Attraction Components

18.12.07

The previous email made comments on retail centres as attractions. What makes an attraction? How do we define such a thing as an attraction?

It would sound flippant but would be nonetheless true that a tourist attraction is anything attracts tourists. Definitions have tended to differentiate between man-made and natural attractions or formal and informal (created as attractions compared with those made for other purposes which happened to become attractions). Events venues are seen as different from permanent shows. And - is a garden centre a tourist attraction or not?

On the basis that any geographical location that attracts people can be a tourist attraction (probably because the visitors have travelled a distance rather than crossed the road from their front doors to see the place) it should follow that there are many kinds, some minor and others major and with very different reasons for existing.

Above is shown a graphic suggesting that attractions may - note 'may' - have five groups of components with each group being capable of subdivision. The five are: content, information, food and drink, servies and retail.

'Content' refers to the main feature of the attraction that is doing the - er, attracting. So it might be a collection of theme park rides, a seaside beach, a museum display, set of exotic animals, theatrical performance or business meeting. It's worth pointing out that in some cases the very attractions might be up for immediate sale - as in garden centres or flatpack furniture store, so 'content' might overlap with 'retail'. So this main division or component
can be sub-divided: displays (eg flowers, museum objects), activities (eg interactive science exhibits, beach activities) and events (eg a play, a sports event).

'Information' here refers to whatever communication is in use to explain the meaning and significance of the content. It might be a case of a label on a garden centre plant or a cast list for a performance of a play. It is also likely that there will be an element of interpretation going beyond the simple labelling of of things or participants. Garden centres will explain where plants are from and what conditions they need - and, of course, have photos of what they will look like in due course. A cast list will probably be accompanied by brief biographies of the performers. But information is not just a one-way provision. There might be staff or volunteers on hand to answer questions, and perhaps a system of enquiry card which can be used to obtain a postal response.

'Food and drink' covers anything from vending machines to full restaurants and banqueting suites.

'Service' here is separate from the services implied by the other divisions. It is what is generally especially centred on the reception area or starting point - from car parks to ticket and enquiry desks. Signposting must help guide people and orientate them to the content and supporting features of the attraction. Toilets are essential for anyone who has travelled a distance and is going to spend time (and perhaps a penny, ho ho) inside the attraction. There might also be children's play areas, even a creche staffed by qualified carers. There are often points where a different kind of enquiry from the 'contents' question can be made - maybe about bringing future visiting groups, about job opportunities or about the running of the attraction.

'Retail' is straightforward. Goods on sale might include souvenirs but also tools, gadgets, games, clothing needed if the weather is bad during the visit, etc. 'Read and view' essentially extends the information areas, especially interpretation, by providing material for reading or viewing at home - guides, reference books, DVDs and computer software for example.

These facilities and features might be entirely within a unified organisation and building such as a zoo or historic house. They might also be provided and run by very varied people with different objectoves and service standards, such as those in a town centre or along a strtch of beach.

This typology of components suggests the range of provision. It doesn't mean that all are proved at every attraction by any means - though it could be suggested that trhese are what are needed somewhere or other, at least close by. Nor does it define the scale or quality of the provision, which is are all-important criteria for successful attractions. Devising the means of measuring those - well, that's another subject again......
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Image: Endsleigh Garden Centre near Plymouth

Unusual Tourist Attractions - Garden Centres and Furniture Stores

16.12.07

Whenever we are visiting relatives in the Plymouth area we are likely to call in at the large garden centre just to the east of the City on the main road from Exeter (it's Endsleigh's if you need to know). It's pretty big, very nicely designed and has variety, from floriana titchmarshia to decking tommywalshipine. There are also sections for aquarists, a gift shop and a coffee shop. Things are well arranged and clearly labelled. There's the requisite car parking and space for kids to play and somewhere to empty the dog.

Shopping has always been part of the tourist experience - how could you eat out and buy Something For Great Aunt Maude otherwise? Whether on the coast or well into the country an amble around the shops is what we love to do when rain threatens or the beach becomes boring. What is changing is that retail parks and centres on the urban fringe have become strong enough to supply retail therapy for half, or even a full, day at a time. The change in Sunday Trading legislation in the 1980s from the previous daft and unworkable system helped enormously. Shopping shot up the Sunday schedule to leave playing in the park or mooching around museums well behind. At the same time, large-shed shops began to take on aspects of museums and parks themelves.

Garden centres like the one shown above were becoming big enough to keep punters happy for several hours at a time: gaze around, buy a snack, purchase a trolley-load of goodies, maybe play a game of hide-and-seek or two with the kids. Oh, and introduce them to exotic flora from some tropical paradise or semi-desert landscape. Perhaps point out the difference between trees from north European forests compared with Mediterranean coastlines. A bit of family-centred education, in fact.

It's noticeable how retail centres set themselves out like museums. There are areas where umpteen different varieties of flowers, shrubs, ornaments or tools are presented for customers to make comparisons. There are then areas where small-scale displays are placed setting out different assemblages of all these things to represent The Urban Backyard or an Alpine Garden. Its what museums have done for years. They show off fifty varieties of Venetian Glass in one gallery and then recreate the interior of a Venetian house in the next. The real experts are those good people from the flatpack lands of the Baltic who funnel their customers in a carefully-controlled stream past armchairs, storage units, home office furniture and lighting units, all with strange Nordic names that sound as if they were devised by some mud-spattered three year old going off in a sulk. There are the fifty kinds of armchair next to the representation of a what the bright young twenty-somethings are designing for their next luxury apartment.

Nothing really new in tourism, after all.
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Image: Piece Hall, Halifax

Halifax Piece Hall

12.12.07

That jewel-in-the-crown of Halifax, the 1779 cloth, or Piece, Hall, remains a monument to procrastination politics. Those people who have watched the fortunes of the building since it was saved from demolition by the narrowest of majority votes in the early 1970s must have a feeling of despair. A scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade 1 listed building, the Piece Hall is a unique structure of elegance, charm and social significance for Halifax and the Calder Valley. Yet it remains relatively unknown and struggles to maintain its role, both as a tourist attraction and as a local facility. The weekly market, shops and galleries established over thirty years ago are little advanced over what they were back in 1976 when the Hall was reopened as a tourist attraction. Indeed, some would say that they are in a worse position thanks to the failure of Calderdale Council to continue a development momentum which peaked twenty years ago.

At the reopening in the long, hot summer of '76 the building was given a role to attract visitors using a mix of features. Tourist-oriented shops were to occupy the top gallery and an art exhibition area and museum part of the middle gallery. By one of the main entry gates was placed a Tourist Information Centre with space also for small exhibitions. Part of the huge central courtyard around which the building ranged was used for a two-day per week open air market, a new addition in the town as the six-day indoor Borough Market had been a central feature since the mid 1890s. A wide selection of events were to be attracted, making use of the lower half of the courtyard.

Over the years a lot of effort was put in to developing this mix of activity. During the 1980s the Pre-Industrial Museum was developed further and then the Calderdale Industrial Museum was opened in an adjoining nineteenth century building. This was a major project with displays from the textiles, confectionery and wire-making industries of the area plus others on modern manufacturing and service industries. A fine working steam engine, spinning and weaving machines were on show. On occasion museum staff put on historic costume and play-acted life in the mills for wide-eyed groups of school children.

When the children's museum, EUREKA!, opened by the busy Halifax railway station, there was a modern flagship tourist attraction able to catch the eye of travellers. Much talk existed about a 'yellow brick road' that visitors could follow from the station and from large car parks into the town. The route led naturally through the Piece Hall and the Industrial Museum. Prominent at the corner of the Hall nearest the station stood the derelict, eighteenth century, Square Chapel. This brick building some twenty metres by twenty was internally largely one of open space ideal for an exhibition or events area. Although the roof of the chapel represented a problem since the roof trusses were each leaning more and more towards one end of the building, threatening to bring the whole structre crashing down, it was clear there was still time to save the Chapel and find a new use as a key point on the imaginary 'yellow brick road' from the station to the town centre. Boosted by national awards given to Calderdale Council for its refurbishment of the Piece Hall, a well-respected Councillor set up a working party which, after a long and arduous trail, finally found a new use for Square Chapel as an Arts Centre.

It happened to coincide with the start of a long decline in the fortunes of the Piece Hall. Several influences contributed to this, but the lack of a seven-day a week attraction in Square Chapel represented one of them. While the building had been saved by people who wanted to make use of it, and a very useful events and arts centre had been secured for the district, it meant that there was a gap in the hoped-for magnetism of the Chapel and Hall attractiveness. The Piece Hall looks entirely inwards, and with the exception of three gateways presents a completely blank face to the outside world. It was a deliberate decision by the builders back in the 1770s in order to create a secure storage area for the valuable thirty-foot pieces of cloth which were sold to visiting merchants each Saturday. This means that it is extremely difficult for modern promoters to set flowing a stream of visitors into the Hall as the entrances are each tucked away at the ends of small streets with little immediate indication of the glories within.

[More to follow - shortly]

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Image: Chronology - Package Pioneers

09.12.07

Timeline - Package Pioneers

Several text books on tourism imply that package holidays arrived in the years post-world War II. Using the definition that a package holiday included transport, accommodation, meals and entertainment for a single price, then 1845 looks like the real starting date. In that year Thomas Cook, the real founder of the modern holiday industry, organised a visit to Liverpool which included all these elements.

It was not his first organised visit, of course. In July of 1841 his famous excursion from Loughborough took 570 folk by train, fed and watered them and laid on entertainment, inlcuding speeches about temperance between the sports and concert music. This event launched Cook upon the world of leisure travel even though those speeches gave the day a more serious purpose. But it was a package excursion with no overnight stay, so doesn't meet the full criteria. The Liverpool trip included hotel accommodation, and what's more a fully-detailed guide book, so this was the first package holiday in what we would call the tourist sense, staying overnight. Yet we still have allow some latitude of definition. As modern tourism management considers day visiting part of the tourism scene, then so would the Loughborough trip qualify as a tourism event. However, 'packaged holidays' are also thought of as fully organised, far-travelling and multi-day in duration, so Loughborough falls short.

Within a few years Thomas Cook was taking people to the Continent, the USA and then right around the world. Offices were set up in Egypt and India and elsewhere.

It is very noticeable that the package pioneers were interested in education above all. Cook - and Frame, Lunn and Leonard - were driven by religious motives with some element of evangelism in them, even if only relatively indirectly. Cook's company would move away from his avowed aim of "uniting man with man, and man with God" but discovering the world God had created was central to its early years.

Sir Henry Lunn set up 'Co-operative Educational Tours' in 1893 as part of his work developing discussions between English church leaders, organising conferences in Grindelwald and other Swiss destinations. This is said to have helped lead to a particular British trend of combining winter sports and religious retreats. During 1905/6 he developed alpine sports tours and Greek holidays, the foundation of the Sir Henry Lunn Travel Company which, when merged with the Polytechnic Touring Association in 1962 formed Lunn Poly, now absorbed into the TUI Group.

The Polytechnic Association had its origins in the 1880s when students of a school for poor children set up by the businessman, Quintin Hogg, in Charing Cross, began to take part in visits to places in the south east of England, then Belgium, Switzerland, Norway and, for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, to Chicago. Hogg was also instrumental in creating the Regent St Polytechnic which took on the organisation and management of these tours. The Touring Association became independent and it was this business that would merge with Sir Henry Lunn Travel.

All of these tours relied on the growth of the railway and steamship networks as industrialisation proceded. They also relied on communication in its other sense - printed material and reports and telegraph and telephone networks which allowed for publicity and the setting of of the tours to go ahead. As the late nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth and photography, film, newspaper publication and electronic communications spread round the world so were the conditions ripe for the growth of travel. People wanted more and more to see the places that were being reported in the media and introduced in schools and colleges, and of course the fashions of travel were stimulated by reading and hearing about other people who had already made such journeys.
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Image: Tinside Lido - Plymouth

Tinside Lido, Plymouth

04.12.07

Those outdoor swimming pools known as lidos, from the example in Venice, popularised in Britain betwen the two world wars, have often decayed or disappeared. The pool on South Bay of Scarborough has been filled in with concrete and kept as an open walking area. One in Plymouth has been restored to something of its Art Deco glory and is once again in use.

It was opened in 1935 on the edge of the huge expanse of Plymouth Sound and just below the promenading area of the Hoe in an area known as Tinside. Three pumps forced water through cascades that aerated it and replaced the whole pool with fresh water every four hours. Above the pool an orchestra might be playing and there were beauty competitions between girls parading in swimming costumes. At night underwater lights changed colour regularly.

During the war the characteristic shape of the lido, with the water perhaps catching the moonlight, made a landmark for German bombers attacking the dockyards. Local people used the pool as a wash room after they had been out clearing rubble from the damage caused by air raids.

After the war, as British people began to take holidays abroad during the 1950s the seaside resorts declined and so did the use of the lidos. Tinside Lido became neglected and closed, though not until as recently as 1992. A campaign to save and restore it began. In 1998 it was listed Grade II, and it has now been renovated at a cost of 3.4m and once more is used by swimmers. An interpretive panel tells visitors about its significance and its story: do and tell must be the rule today.
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Image: Malta at War Museum

An Island Under Siege

03.12.07

Malta was a British base and coaling station on the sea route to its Indian Empire between 1800 and 1979, positioned between other bases at Gibraltar and the Suez Canal. During World War II Italy, and later, Germany, tried to bomb and starve the Maltese and British on the islands into submission in order to cut the Indian supply line and prevent Malta-based forces interfering with Rommel's army in Africa which was trying to take Egypt.

Between June 10th 1940 and the Italian surrender on September 8th 1943 a huge and incessant campaign was waged against Malta. 3,340 bombing raids delivered around 16,000 tons of bombs which killed 1,468 Maltese and injured 3,720. Throughout the country air raid shelters were excavated deep into the limestone which made up much of the land masses. A population getting ever nearer to starvation for much of the war was forced into cramped, insanitary and often claustrophobic tunnels for many hourts at a stretch.

The Malta At War Museum in Vittoriosa has opened up sections of tunnels going 40 feet down into the rock. Here, five hundred civilians from local rescue services and amongst community leaders could, with their families, be housed in relative safety. There was a first aid post, a surgery, a gas decontamination chamber, some public offices, a place where pregnant women could give birth and a tiny chapel. Buckets served as toilets, being emptied by the shelter warden after each raid.

The Malta Heritage Trust - Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna - now operates the museum along with Fort Rinella and the Saluting Battery in Valletta, both of which were the subject of postings in these pages in November. In the photos Mathew, one of the guides, is introducing a group of visitors wearing protective helmets to the tunnels. The entrance, seen above left, has a concrete blast protection and a blanket to be rolled down and soaked in water as a means of keeping out poison gas dropped in bombs. The birth room is seen with a light steel operating table and, behind that, a small cot for the new-born baby. At one point a tunnel has a window opening onto an open space with trees, the only place where natural light enters the shelter. The warden's small office is seen with basic equipment and furniture.
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Image: Malta ITS Trainee Guides November 2007

Tourist Guides In Training

01.11.07 (previously on the home page)

One of the most intensive courses for tourism guides in the Mediterranean area at least is that offered by the Malta Institute of Tourism Studies. This is a three-year diploma course, both full and part-time. Pictured are a group to whom I delivered a week of seminars in late November, 2007. Course tutor Vincent Zammitt (well known to well over three of our Leeds Met students who took part in nine residentials on the island from 1997), myself and the students. They included people originally from Russia and Hungary as well as Malta; two staff from Air Malta and others from a wide range of current employment in the country seeking to exapnd their knowledge and skills. My own contribution was to introduce them to tourism as an interpretive experience and to describe some interesting tourist guide examples from Europe and the USA.
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