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Idealog - July 2007

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Image: Idealog July 07

Image: Scarborough - Public Sector management

Hidden Heroes?


The unbalanced view of tourism management and development continues. Surveying the available text books (which have multiplied a hundred-fold in recent years) and the student attitudes being shaped by them leads again to the conclusion that the work of the public sector is woefully underestimated.

One reason is probably that the promotional impact of the accommodation, transport and theme parks sector creates the view that making profits and personal careers is all that counts. Commercial forces drive huge swathes of activity in the media at every level. Tourism students respond quickly to the glamour and glitz which goes with the making and spending of money. On sandwich courses it's far, far easier to get a student in to a commercial environment for the third or quarter of the time they are going to spend on their course by doing a placement - and they learn and mature quickly by doing it. But they see mainly the side of the industry driven by profit, not the wider objectives related to quality of life issues that the public sector must cover. Even those who do spend time in local government tourism units are mainly being exposed to a set of profit-related cultures, especially since even local government must make operatig profits in many areas these days. The wider activities related to environmental and community qualities of life are lesser priorities and organisations dealing with them are less easily accessed by undergraduates. Some UK students and graduates receive an exposure to these issues out side their courses or on completion of them: they might spend time in the less-developed world where they might help with projects but also learn more of the facts of life as it is lived around the globe.

The text books are partly to blame. Although there have been some more moves towards examination of the public sector, they have been mainly to do with national government policies and they ways in which they affect the business of tourism (for example Murphy 1985, Cooper et al 2005). Recent editions of standard books such as Holloway (2006) have begun to include some pages getting into the role of local government, and make mention of other not-for-profit operators like the National Trust and agencies like English Heritage, CADW etc (see Yale, 1992). The most disappointing have been the books on marketing. Of course, most people think of marketing as a commercial operation, but it is not confined to the commercial sector by any means. The public sector and the not-for-profit sectors employ it heavily. In addition, tourism has that (possibly unique) feature of the joint public-private marketing strategies which are related to, but still distinct from, the individual public and private efforts. Middleton (1994) hardly mentions them in any substantive way, although in Middleton and Clarke (2001) they are introduced at national level. Holloway and Plant (1992) were on a similar level. Both books largely relied on some case study examples to bring in any references at all to NFP and community efforts. The authors on public policy have also largely worked at the level of national politics (Hall, 1994). One author did get closer to the NFP/Public Sector, Yale (1992) in a chapter which was to be consigned to history by the regional-level changes brought about by the 1980s and 1990s governments. Overall, however, the work done by the public sector at grassroots level is hardly covered by anyone, which given the importance of issues of sustainability and community life in both more and less developed countries is a serious weakness. Tomorrow's managers must be better prepared.

The situation in the UK is complex, the Regional Development Agency structures having added confusion at least in terms of the variations in pattern that they have adopted. Local government is seen, perhaps, as both complicated and boring. Those of us who have had the good fortune to serve in enterprising districts, and who have found satisfaction in working on behalf of our neighbours in various communities, know it to be otherwise, with unique rewards to be found. We also know just how important the NFP sector is and what it has achieved at its different levels. Individuals, voluntary groups, regional and national organisations and a range of governmental units from local to international wield a powerful set of influences which need to be studied and understood much better than they are.

After all, Britain's first seaside resort, Scarborough, still relies on the efforts of such a range, as hinted at in the photos above:

Stephen Joseph Theatre (Owned and operated by a trust)
Scarborough: planning, maintenance, environmental health, traffic engineering etc - Borough Council
Also: Scarborough Borough Council own and operate the Spa conference and entertainment centre
The Anne Bronte gravestone is in the care of St Mary's Church
Scarborough Castle and history events are operated by English Heritage
The Ravenscar Headland and land areas behind Robin Hood's Bay are in the care of the National Trust

For none of these organisations is profit the primary motive, rather, conservation, education and aspects of the quality of life. Their development and operating strategies are therefore driven by policies other than the making of profits.

Cooper et al (2005) Tourism: Principles and Practice 3rd edition, Harlow, Pearson Education
Hall, M (1994) Tourism and Poilitics: Policy, Power and Place, Chichester, John Wiley and Sons
Holloway, J (2006) The Business of Tourism 7th edition, Harlow, Prentice Hall
Holloway, J & Plant, R (1992) Marketing for Tourism 2nd edition, London, Pitman Publishing
Middleton, V (1994) Marketing in Travel and Tourism 2nd edition, Oxford, Butterworth
Middleton, V & Clarke, J (2001) Marketing for Travel and Tourism, Oxford, Butterworth and Heinemann
Murphy, P (1985) Tourism: A Community Approach, London, Routledge
Yale, P (1992) Tourism in the UK, Huntingdon, ELM Publications

Image: Calderdale Royal Hospital

Health Tourism


A long break from posting here has been due to a short spell in hospital for a close family member. Even though the hospital (above) is only ten minutes away by car, it did look like an example of health tourism. Once upon a time the patient might have gone to the coast for a bathe in the sea, staying overnight in a small hotel. Not that that would have done anything for a disintegrated hip joint. Today we use the term 'health tourism' when we mean a flight to eastern Europe or south east Asia to get something replaced, straightened up or medicated in escapist surroundings. Here, the journey was shorter but the overnights similar, with customer service (excellent), choice of food (hmmmm..) and entertainment (bit like an aircraft seat-back service attached to a swing-out steel arm over the bed) all part of the process. I'm not one who wants to be called a 'customer' on the railways - 'passenger' is much more significant - and they don't seem to have gone that far in the health service - quite. But (at least in this northern town of ours) treat people with the respect and help that a customer would expect, while putting the needs of the individual as a patient first.

One of the dangers in tourism management today is to see niche sectors where the reality is of major segments which in fact helped found the industry. Bath, Harrogate, Margate, Baden Baden and Karlovy Vary have been around for generations - and most of our towns and cities have accommodated people overnight in hositals for almost as long, and some of them travelled long distances to get the service they required.

Image: Holme Fen Posts

Holme Fen Posts


Some time ago I heard the story of the Holme Fen Posts. After the Great Exhibition building of 1851 was dismantled, one of the cast iron columns were taken to a place just south of Peterborough. It was believed that the fens in that area were slowly sinking as water was drained to open up farmland. The post was driven in to the ground with piles bracketed to its base until the top of the post was flush with the surface. Over the following years the fens did continue to sink, but the post, firm on its piling, stayed put, slowly reappearing from the fen. Over a century a number of plates showing the current year were added which show the rate of sinking. The photo shows three years - 1870, 1875 and 1892, recorded on plates. A second post was added later to show continued lowering.

The story was just a brief mention in a book I came across. A phone call to the Reference Library in Peterborough produced a helpful response and I was sent a photocopy of a map showing the exact spot. Some time later, driving up the A1, my wife and I took a short detour, over the main east coast railway line via a level crossing - the whole track bed must be a couple of metres lower than it once was - and reaching the spot along a side road. An interpretation panel tells the story. There are a few bits and pieces of the famous 'crystal palace' around the country - a garage, once part of a railway station, in Oxford has some of the framing; the mechanism inside the station clock at Kings Cross, London, is apparently from an 1851 Exhibition exhibit. Are there more?

Image: The Development of Harrogate

Tourist Traces - Harrogate


Harrogate again: there are many traces of the town's past, especially as a spa town. The reconstructed well heads are tucked away in part of Valleys Gardens. The Old Swan was Harrogate's first hotel and was opened in 1700. Enlarged from the original, it was known for some time as the Harrogate Hydropathic, but returned to its old name in 1952. The following year a museum was opened in the Pump Room shown in the third photo above. This elegant building dates from 1842 and supplied sulphur water to visitors, putting out of work many women who had ladled out water from some of Harrogate's many wells - 88 in total. The locations of those in the Valley Gardens area are shown on the plaque, to be seen in the Gardens.

Harrogate's story is well illustrated in this book which I have used as the source of my historical information:

Mitchell, W R (2001) Harrogate Past, Chichester, Phillimore & Co
ISBN 1 86077 181 5


Image: Whitby Abbey interpretation

Talking to Tourists - Whitby Abbey


English Heritage looks after Whitby's famous Abbey which stands prominently on a headland just above the town. The ruin occupies part of an open grassed area with other buildings nearby, one of which is used for an entrance point and visitor centre. Signposting of the usual cast iron variety has directed people from the town centre up the long curve of steps to the Abbey, though the general direction is easy to see from the harbour.

On site the task is to delight the visitor, which the location and open space with the dramatic ruins can easily do. Hopefully the visitors will be inspired by the story of the Abbey, its people and the town around it to find out more - and perhaps to join English Heritage as members. Information is supplied in plenty by exhibition areas with pictures, sounds and activity-based displays. The general ambience is impressive, suggesting quality and interest. As carers for the Abbey and its grounds English Heritage must conserve, inform and entertain as well as furthering its wider purpose. Sustainability and responsibility are the over-riding aims.

On site the visitors can just wander around to enjoy the sense of place and the past in whatever way comes to them. They can use a leaflet, a guidebook or one of the audio guides (pictured) that is supplied from the visitor centre. Information panels at intervals show where things are on the site, and interpretive panels tell of the meaning and significance of the surroundings.

While gaining an income and operating profit from visitors, the objectives are first and foremost the public requirements of conservation and interpretation, and it is these rather than profit-making that drive the planning of this tourist attraction.

Image: National Trust Youth Theatre at Erddig, 1980s

Bringing the Past to Life: Dramatic Interpretation


A guide book pleases only one of the senses and you can't ask it questions. Participatory drama on-site captures attention of all the senses, is interactive and makes a lasting impression when done well.

The above photos illustrate a junior school history session at Erddig House near Wrexham in the 1980s, but the principles can be adapted to interpret a subject to every visitor, as has been done at Wigan Pier in the UK and Old Sturbridge Village in the USA. It is often called first-person interpretation in which participants pretend to be the characters depicted, not just talk about them.

The scene was set as being at the time of the Coronation of King George V in 1911 when the household of Erddig were planning an outdoor party at the house. In picture 1 children are seen holding placards with the names of countries in the British Empire: flags and a banner proclaim loyal greetings to the new King and his Queen. A group of children led by an actor from the National Trust Youth Theatre are taking the part of a band of tramps. They have heard of the celebration and hope to take part (food is to be provided). The lead 'tramp' - the actor - teaches them a folk dance with sticks, playing music on instruments that he carries.

In the house other schoolchildren have taken on roles assisting various members of the household - the estate manager, butler, housekeeper and so on. They carry out some duties around the house related to their allotted roles, and see the party being set up in the yard, with trestle tables set out with party food. During the hour or two that the drama is unfolding the children absorb something of what it was like to live and work at Erddig in 1911. They are encouraged to relate to children in other role-groups according to their status.

The party of tramps arrive at the house and enter the yard. Immediately spotted by the eastate manager and his group of assistants they are challenged: they have no right to be there. The children can see the food laid out and had been told when preparing for the day in class that refreshments were provided at the end of the session. On arrival at the house roles were given, so at that stage some children found out that they would be tramps.

The tramp leader tries to argue that everyone should be allowed to take part in the celebration. His fellow tramps take his side and the argument grows. Other groups are arriving, witnessing the scene, and hearing their own group leaders - butler, housekeeper, etc - making disparaging comments about the group of vagabonds before them. The owner arrives and refuses entrance. His senior staff throw the tramps out of the yard and the gate is slammed shut and barred. Now the children playing 'tramps' have been cut out of the events, with only their leader, the actor, on their side. Their friends are within and ready to enjoy the feast.

At this stage, of course, the drama ends. Having learnt the hard way what life could be like at the different upstairs-downstairs levels of society in a house like Erddig, the whole class is reunited inside and within a very short space of time the picnic feast is consumed. They have seen, heard, touched, smelled and tasted something of 1911. They 'became', if only in a small way for an hour or two, part of the household. Questions could be asked, things examined and argued over. This particular piece of dramatic intrepretation took place over twenty years ago, but it probably still resonates with those children today in a way that a classroom lecture or book chapter could not do.

Image: Harrogate tells its story

Harrogate Talks to Tourists


The locations in the previous two postings have information panels, or more properly, interpretation panels as they convey the meaning and significance of what the visitor sees. They have been placed by Harrogate District Council and are part of a much wider provision. Each is cast in metal, clean and legible - with no graffiti visible either. The colour scheme makes them noticeable to passers-by, though I heard someone describe the Winter Gardens (now a Wetherspoons Bar) after they visited as a former chapel entered via the old pulpit. They had walked past the interpretive panel, missed the Winter Gardens name painted prominently round the arched entrance, and had misinterpreted the nature of the lecture-platform between the entrance stairs.

Image: Harrogate centres

Harrogate Attractions


Within a short distance of each other in Low Harrogate -the shallow valley to the north of the town centre - are some of the local attractions spanning several decades. Others - Harlow Carr Gardens, the Mercer Art Gallery for example - add to the destination's pulling power.

The International Conference Centre, with seating for 2,000, opened in 1982, is seen in the left hand photo. Connected by a bridge is the Hilton Hotel. Just behind (photo number 3) is the Majestic hotel, for its day an opulent, huge building taking 400 guests and opened in July of 1900. The International Hall that I criticised in the previous posting for its uncomfortable front is show in photo number 2. On the right are the Royal Baths, once called the New Baths - there were several public baths in the town: the Turkish Baths within this building have been restored and are in use.

Image: Harrogate - Royal Hall - Kursaal

Harrogate Spa and Kursaal


After the pilgrimage and the Grand Tour, health tourism was one of the foundations of the modern tourism industry. Like all forms of travel it was fed by mixed motivations, health being only one, and arguably only the excuse for a social expedition. From Bath to Tunbridge Wells, Margate to Woodhall Spa, health-based destinations sprang up around the country. Harrogate was one and it was was amongst the earliest, starting in the seventeenth century when the book trade was busy spreading the ideas of some of the medical profession about mineral-rich spring waters. Scarborough and Margate also owe their originas as resorts to the movement, with the added advantage of sea bathing - and the drinking of sea water, not a recommended pursuit any longer.

Spa buildings and hotels were erected around the springs. During the nineteenth century some magnificent new entertainment buildings were designed in which 'taking the waters' was a minor pursuit compared with eating, drinking, promenading amongst other visitors, gaming and enjoying concerts, plays and public lectures. The Royal Hall in Harrogate is opened in 1903 but was still of product of Victorian style. At the moment it is being renovated in a project costing 8m. It now sits alongside the Harrogate International Centre, a very uncomfortable affair which tries to place a steel-and-glass representation of a pediment onto the columns of the old Concert Rooms. The result fails to enjoy the unity of classical architecture and leaves the stonework looking almost embarrassed at having to support an unsympathetic framework.

Alongside, the Royal Hall should look much more at home. The building was the work of architect Robert Beale. Inside there is a 1,200-seat theatre by the famous designer Frank Matcham, whose work enlivened many a city and resort town. On the facade of the Hall is displayed the name 'kursaal'. This, originally German word for a public space in a spa building, represents the older function of the Hall, namely bringing together many visitors in a social and entertainment setting. There is another kursaal - in other words where the name is still in use - in Southend, Essex, where it is placed in a large funfair. When the Royal Hall is reopened it will be part of a business environment, Harrogate now being one of Britain's main conference and exhibition centres.

Answers to Where In The World? - December '08 blog.

Plymouth, Davon
Blackpool, Lancashire (The tower was inspired by the Eiffel Tower built in 1889)
Lavenham, Suffolk (a centre for the medieval wool trade)


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