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Idealog - October 2007

Image: Idealog header Oct 07

Image: High Moorland Centre, Princetown

Opening Up The Exploration of Dartmoor


The High Moorlands Centre in Princetown, Devon, is part of the Dartmoor National Park's interpretive strategy. It stands close to Dartmoor prison in the small town high on the moors. The Centre houses exhibitions about the history and wildlife of the Dartmoor National Park. Fixed displays are augmented by interactive items that can be used to explore life on the moors before setting off to explore the real thing. The Park Authority produces leaflets and booklets and for many years has organised an extensive programme of guided walks. There are also other interpretive and information centres within the Park.

The building itself is of interest. The original building was completed in 1810 to house staff at the jail and officers from a nearby army barracks. Later it served as the Duchy Hotel with a fine reputation. During the twentieth century it acted as a canteen for prison officers who did not have their own domestic facilities nearby. In 1993 the present High Moorlands Centre was installed and it was opened by the Prince of Wales in the summer of that year.

Image: The Polite Tourist

The Polite Tourist


Adrian Tinniswood's title is not a new classification of tourist but a reference to the people who visited country houses over four centuries. It would still make an interesting classification scale with a bit of developing, though: polite house visitors at one end, drunken stag party yobbos at the other. This morning's news was partly about police setting up a road block on the main route in to Blackpool to hand minibus loads of twenty-somethings warnings about bad behaviour. One of my students has begun a study of stag and hen party rowdies in her native Latvia and Lithuania. After Greek resorts, San Antonio and Prague the people of Riga are faced with alcohol-fuelled agressives from Britain and the problems they cause. 'Carnage' is a favourite description for a party in UK student life. Usually that means noise, vomit and broken glass, but on someone else's beach or boulevarde it can turn into something much worse.

In Tinniswood's history (published by the National Trust, that epitome of polite behaviour) the growth and changing nature of visiting great houses is chronicled in delightful detail. The book is a new edition and has many excellent colour plates. His account runs from Tudor times to postwar Britain, from when house owners impressed their neighbours with their great good taste up to the days when the modern equivalent entertained ticket-buying customers in order to pay for maintenance and death duties. A telling cartoon from Punch magazine in 1947 shows an aging gent warning his wayward son with the threat that unless he changes his behaviour, dad will leave the house to him rather than the National Trust. Being saddled with a property liable to soak up money was no idle threat in the years of austerity.

I wonder if junior had just got back from a stag party in Riga?

Tinniswood, Adrian (1998) The Polite Tourist: Four Centuries Of Country House Visiting, 2nd ed, London, National Trust Enterprises Ltd
0 7078 0224 5

Image: American Military Cemetery, Coton/Madingley

Dark Tourism - Coton American Military Cemetery


Previous postings (especially in August 2006) discussed dark tourism. In Cambridgeshire is one of two American Military Cemeteries in the UK - though some people might refer to it as at Madingley. Just west of Cambridge, the cemetery is called Coton in references at the chapel on the site.

British military casualties of war are often buried in home towns the length and breadth of the country. Others lie in military cemeteries abroad, close to the sites of the battles in which they were killed. The American dead were either transported home or buried in similar graveyards near where they fell. Britain has two cemeteries with American dead - Brookwood near London and Coton.

Whether the visitors to these places are relatives mourning a loved one, history buffs wanting to trace information or people who have some morbid interest in death reflects just an average spread of motivations for visiting. There can be little argument that the curving ranks of over a thousand neat headstones and two thousand names carved into a long wall commemorating personnel whose remains were never identified has a powerful visual impact. It may be that for some the imagery in the statues along the commemorative wall and in model planes on a relief map in the chapel worship war, the more so in the age of the Iraqi conflict. For others they are a necessity in order to overcome tyranny. But does the victory of democracy through war lead inevitably to tyranny by the triumphant in the next?

Image: Tourism and education variations

Education and Tourism Relationships


It's as well to clarify what this web site means by "tourism as education" and how it differs from other phrases combining the terms.

The 'others' first. "Tourism education" means the training of people to work in the industry - operations, attractions, local government, hospitality, etc. There is a wide and fast-growing literature of text books and journal articles besides college and university courses devoted to this task. "Educational tourism" is the use of travel in schools, colleges, universities and adult education courses to teach and to learn about all kinds of aspects of the world around us. "Tourism as education" recognises that all tourism - and travel, however that may be different - has some kind of informal educational effect, as opposed to the formality of educational-course tourism. So even lying on a beach in the Bahamas, doing a bit of swimming, eating and drinking at regular intervals and little else, will still be a source of new experiences, information and opinions for the people doing it: that the weather is better than at home, the local food different, the environment more attractive. All these discoveries are made by accident in a process the more to do with learning than teaching. By definition this form of 'world discovery', though less structured and of varied impact, is much more extensive than "educational tourism". And often more fun, too.

Image: Chatham Maritime - shopping

Chatham Maritime - shopping


Dickens World and docks: the previous postings referred to regeneration work going on in the former naval base area of Chatham in Kent.

Instead of a new mall building the shops of Chatham Maritime are centred in a refurbished engineering works that made boilers for ships. The shops are common enough (ie pretty much as found everywhere) but the structure housing them is not. It might have been scrubbed down and painted up, plate glassed and polished but a glance beyond the obvious reveals Victorian iron work of strength mixed with elegance - columns and tie-beams supporting a high roof over a magnificent space. This is a new development and looks not yet established. Shops have opened and closed and others are moving in, a situation suggesting that this development has not finally defined its market. As the marinas and other planned facilities nearby draw in more people the whole place should populate itself better and give a much-needed boost to the town's economy.

Is this tourism-as-education? Dickens World is. The Historic Dockyard nearby certainly is. What about shops? Yes, they is - sorry - are, too. Think of the goods brought from foreign factories, in the USA, south east Asia, Europe. Think about the images being sold on boxes and tins and books and in frames of strange, exotic lands with names redolent of romantic travel: Taiwan, Bangalore, San Jose, Sydney in New South Wales. First discover your shopping centre: next discover its windows on your world - then go see for yourself if the reality delivers the romance.

Image: Dickens World interiors

Chatham Maritime - Dickens World


A the centre of the dockland area being converted to new uses is a shopping centre. Opposite this, and flanked by a restaurant, bar and cinema complex, is Dickens World (yes, spelled without an apostrophe). Some time ago an earlier Charles Dickens attraction in Rochester was closed. That centre was an interpretive centre rather than museum. The new attraction, which opened in May this year, is an interpretive centre bordering on a theme park: and yet, the label theme park does not do it justice. Yes, it has a ride - a boat trip with a splash or two of water to give some tactile element to the experience - but that does not adequately describe the particular mix stirred together here.

It is an unexpected place for this kind of attraction. It isn't in a park, isn't in a historic house and is not a museum of objects. In a way it has more to do with the Odeon alongside, being more like a film set or a stage on which the visitors can be bit-part actors. Being next to a shopping centre, selling its admission tickets and emptying its clientele out into a shop of its own is likely to have the armchair sociologists bemoaning yet another example of the commodification of culture: but then, some of them earn their own crust by crying 'commercialism killing culture' before their brains have started even to enter first gear. It needs to be pointed out that Dickens was highly commercially-minded in the way he wrote his part-publication novels designed to dangle his readers over a cliff edge with each weekly instalment. His crusades against the social evils of his day were effective precisely because he wrote excellent crowd-pleasers capable of stirring up real anger at the same time. The new Chatham attraction aims to be a crowd-pleaser, too, but also has a clear objective of converting visitors into readers.

Dickens World makes its visitors climb a flight of stairs as if into a theatre. The punters are then delivered along a kind of gallery with a view of a ramshackle representation of Victorian London which is the stage for the boat ride; and a large open space in the middle of more buildings, each of which has some sort of episode in the visitor experience. Two suitably costumed staff draw visiting children into old-style games such as bowling hoops, skipping, playing diabolo and a tiny version of skittles on a barrel-top.

Around the open space are further fun and games areas related to Dickens' stories and times. there is a representation of a Nicholas Nickleby-type classroom in which interactive display screens offer a quiz about the author's work set out like a game of snakes and ladders. There is a haunted house, a dressing-up-in-costume area, two shop representations, a music-hall theatre witha 25-minute animatronic show, the boat ride, a modern restaurant with bar and another small theatre which runs a 10-minute 3D film presentation of impressive inventiveness about Dickens' travels in America and Europe.

Having visited with three other adults and three children aged from 9 to 15 who were absorbed by the place I can speak for the success of it in keeping us all happily occupied, fed and entertained over four or five hours. Ever hungry for fun we asked for more and, unlike poor Oliver, were given generous helpings.

Image: Chatham Maritime - docks area

Chatham Maritime


Tourism and regeneration is a mix well known. Around the world many towns and cities have used tourism development to kick-start economic and social activity. Many of these projects have been in waterside areas. A new one - well, really speaking, not a new project but a development by the South East England Development Agency building on the work of two decades - is Chatham Maritime. That is the label given now to a series of developments in the former naval dockyards of Chatham, incorporating a familar mix of shopping, entertainment, restaurants - and tourist attractions. The foundation was really the conversion of parts of the historic dockyards into a new maritime museum some years ago. In addition, close by is Fort Amherst, a partly-underground fortress which had a military history spanning a couple of hundred years or more, culminating in its use as the regional control centre for the defence of south east Britain during World War II.

Now, the Regional Development Agency for the south east is pushing a wider project, and the next couple of postings will look at parts of it. Above is a section of the old docks undergoing redevelopment with marina facilities and space for a number of buildings serving visitors and the local town.

What makes the project interesting is the precise blend of entertainment, education and shopping which is taking place here, as the next posting will show.

Image: Fuzzy world

Quiz Answers


These are the answers to the quiz posted on various dates last month. It was opened to level 1 students at Leeds Met and Joe Kenney won the prize of a copy of Holloway's "The Business of Tourism" for getting 57 out of 63 answers correct. Joe tells me he hasn't got a particular background in geography, but wanted to meet the challenge and scoured the atlas for the results.

Q1: Gran Canaria
Q2: Map locations - A Alaska; B Panama Canal; C Chile; D Greenland; E South Atlantic Ocean; F Iceland; G Turkey; H Red Sea; I Madagasca; J Sri Lanka; K Himalayas; L Japan
Q3: Map locations - 1 Belfast; 2 Londonderry/Derry; 3 Enniskillen; 4 Bangor; 5 Aberystwyth; 6 Swansea; 7 Cardiff; 8 Inverness; 9 Aberdeen; 10 Oban; 11 Edinburgh; 12 Glasgow; 13 Liverpool; 14 York; 15 Birmingham; 16 Norwich; 17 London; 18 Southampton; 19 Bristol; 20 Plymouth
Q4: Map 1 - 1 Minorca; 2 Portugal; 3 Andorra; 4 Iceland; 5 Faroe Islands; 6 Sweden; 7 Lithuania; 8 Belarus; 9 Bulgaria; 10 Croatia
Map 2 - 11 Bay of Biscay; 12 Baltic Sea; 13 The North Cape; 15 Black Sea; 16 Cyprus; 17 Adriatic; 18 Mount Etna; 19 River Rhone; 20 The Pyrenees
Map 3 - 1 Oslo; 2 Helsinki; 3 St Petersburg; 4 Krakow; 5 Vienna; 6 Athens; 7 Venice; 8 Marseille; 9 Madrid; 10 Berlin
Q5: Petra in Jordan

Image: Tour Guides

Tourist Guides


Tour guiding has a centuries-old tradition even though it only recently took on the position of a commercial industry. Many modern guides are in fact paid for by not-for-profit organisations such as national parks, others earn a living by guiding, if only part time. Travellers have always paid local people to guide them through unfamiliar territory - witness those TV travellers on Globetrekker or countless BBC series. Some are employed to show the way, translate or deal with paperwork. Others choose places to visit of interest to their clients and supply suitably interesting information about them. Michael Palin's latest journey, through eastern Europe, relies on a long series of people. It's noticeable just how much - or how little - of an 'official' line these guides follow according to the shade of government in power or level of freedom of expression allowed. I remember making a trip through Russia in 1964 where the guides were often Communist Party members, one of whom with a different party reported on a tourist taking photos of a munitions factory without realising what it was. On reaching the Polish border the Russian guards opened cameras and removed film and tore out diary pages in order to ensure none of the party got away with similar pictures - and were warned very effectively about obeying rules.

In the early middle ages pilgrims to Rome or Jerusalem could hire local guides - and even buy lists of places to see. Those on the Grand Tour from Tudor times on did the same, though they also took a tutor as a tour manager. In the American Rocky Mountains at the end of the nineteenth century a Nature Guide called Enos Mills led parties of people and persuaded the National Parks Service to licence two people trained by him as Interpretive Guides. According to Lynne McLoughlin in John Pastorelli's book on guiding (see a previous posting) this was the beginning of the modern activity of environmental or visitor interpretation.

Today, many - perhaps most - places visited by tourists have guides of one sort or another - freelance or employed publically. Ancient ruins and spectacular mountains are by no means the only locations shown off: industrial archaeology, urban-margin natural history, ghost trails and regeneration projects are equally popular.

What do you mean - your town/country home doesn't have a guide service? Aren't you showing it off to people? Everyone else seems to be!

Image: BBC buys Lonely Planet

Wider Still And Wider?


The news that the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, is buying Lonely Planet Publications reinforces the broadcaster's motto and is a reminder of that we can travel to understand. The Beeb's motto is "Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation". Buying Lonely Planet brings with it the publishing company's web site and network of readers around the globe, extending the BBC's world reach. Way back in the 1920s when the Corporation laid the foundations of its mix of education and entertainment under its Chairman, and then director General, Lord Reith, it was also establishing radio as a link with peoples around the globe. The Empire Service of the 1930s, the 1940s linking of British military bases and the 1950s growth through television of wildlife and travel programmes were all aimed at fulfilling the motto. Maureen and Tony Wheeler's guide books may be more recent, having been founded in 1973 with "Across Asia On The Cheap" but the aim is substantially the same - bringing people together by exploring each other's worlds.

Image: Selection and Editing in Tourism

Mediation In Tourism


A previous posting (Idealog for 29 September) said that travel lets you see places for yourself. It pointed out that the media and education talk about places to an audience that is not in first-hand contact with those places. Journalists and teachers will select what to say about destinations when they write or teach, giving their own spin or slant according to whatever message they want to put over. Visiting a place cuts out these mediators so that people can make their own judgements. The posting did say that there were still mediators around trying to influenece what you visit and what you get to know about a place. Even so, once there you are applying your eyes and ears (and nose and touch, come to that - maybe even on occasion mouth, as when tasting salt air near the sea).

Here are just some of the small army who can affect the message:

The Destination Manager promoting a particular place and primarily the most positive aspects of it...
The Destination Publicist who plans the destination brochure and guide books...
The Travel Company Management who persuade people to stay in certain hotels, eat in selected restaurants, enjoy certain attractions...
The Guide Book Editor (and copy writer, designer, photographer, printer) who chooses images, words and styling to get across the destination's chosen message (which is, of course, an actual medium)...
The Tour Guide who chooses the route, stopping places and stories to tell, creating images and imparting information...

There are more: hotel receptionists recommending places to go and events to enjoy; museum staff narrating history and culture; even the helpful residents who give directions and shape opinions by what they say. What about the architects, designers and maintenance people who create the all-important environments that speak to visitors through the language of landscapes?

It's really quite a long list and if they cooperate they are highly effective persuaders and informants. And yet the visitors can impose their own choice of places to go, discover their own information from whatever sources they select, and arrive at their own conclusions about a destination as they see for themselves.

[Pix: FMM]

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