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Perfection in Paradise: The Eden Project

Image: The Eden Project - general site view

Cornwall's world-class attraction has been a runaway success both in terms of being enjoyable and being educational. It also represents a spectacular piece of regeneration of what was once a literally down-to-earth industrial site. And it has given a shot in the arm to the county's tourism which has had a patchy performance of late. Perhaps most significant for responsible tourism management, it makes the point that to win understanding and support for the principles of sustainability, we need to communicate effectively with visitors.

Image: Eden composite - visitor management 1

The Eden Project looks as though it has been designed by people who knew that they needed to plan everything from the visitor's viewpoint. In other words, it looks as though someone walked the exact route that the visitors would follow from the approach roards to the entrance and around the site. So the signposting works on the roads, car parks and footpaths; the flow through the entrance building makes sense and is generally efficient, and then the visitor walks out on to a viewing platform where the whole spectaular site is laid out below to see, packed full of tempting prospects. The Project presents itself clearly as an introduction to the world of plants, with every bit of the display contributing its own part of the story. In this way it is a contrast with the Earth Centre near Rotherham which had little idea of how to communicate its aims and stories, and remained a strange collection of odds and ends: and as a result is now closed.

Image: Eden Project Visitor Centre composite

Image: Eden Project plan and guide book usage

Image: Eden Project biome composite

Image: Eden Project - tropical composite

Image: Eden Project temperate biome composite 2

The Eden Project works because it communicates. For those who just want a nice day out there are lots of things to see, many of them in unusual settings such as the Tropical Biome with bananas in bunches and rubber-plantation tress growing. There are waterfalls and pools, huge palm trees, and village huts. There is the heavy humidity and the smells which can only be experienced in a tourist attraction like Eden unless you can make the real journey to the tropical jungle. Even though the displays in the Project domes are still only approaches towards the real thing, they do work with all five senses, which the TV and books can't do.

For those who want to dip a bit further there are information panels interpreting what is on show. There are special displays such as the 'house without plant products' in the Visitor Centre that explains in animated, life-size 3D just how we rely on plants. Guide books are available that work at adult and child levels, with more books, videos and activity items on sale in the shop. Staff are on hand to answer questions. Organised educational activities are held. Art, drama and sculpture help the interpretation work.

Image: Eden Project - interpretation composite

Above, L-R: Rice varieties in an interpretive display; guided walk through the Tropical Biome; the 'Plant TakeAway' removes plant-derived items from a kind of mechanical theatre to show how people rely on them.

Image: Our Own Nature Trail

"Come and see our nature trail, mum!"

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