Civic Tourism
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A new amalgamation of our favorite tourism trends is called civic tourism and puts cultural tourism, heritage tourism, ecotourism and geotourism into the pot and focuses on place. Civic tourism reframes the purpose of tourism from an end to a means. Says Dan Shilling, "Civic tourism is about appreciating tourism as a public good, valuing it as a public responsibility and practicing it as a public art." This changes tourism from a market-driven growth goal to a tool that can help the public preserve and enhance what they love about their place.

More info on the Civic Tourism website -- www.civictourism.org

Ron Mader: Dan, can you introduce yourself and share your views on the benefits of civic tourism?

Dan Shilling: Hello. I wanted to quickly introduce myself, as I'm on the road, about to keynote the Pennsylvania tourism conference, to be held in Gettysburg. Like a lot of places, here's a town that has a rich historical and natural landscape, but it is being threatened by top-down tourism development. This "industrial age" approach to tourism is obvious in a place like Gettysburg or many of our gateway communities, but my concern is that the same paradigm is playing out in many other places, to the detriment of healthy economies, social networks, and environments. For about 20 years we've been asking why a lot of our place-based tourism doesn't work, and that's what we set out to study with civic tourism. You'll see a lot of references to Aldo Leopold in our work. Just as Leopold urged us to relate to nature in something other than an economic way, we're asking communities to "reframe" their approach to tourism so it is seen as something other than an economic tool. I'm not naive about this - it's hard work but I think our strategies are sound (especially the connection to natural capitalism and similar trends), and with the many groups like Planeta involved in the same work (and what I see happening in universities today), I'm hopeful. I'll post something about the Gettysburg conversation in a few days.

Ron Mader: Thanks, Dan. It's a pleasure to have your reflections. I was surfing Flickr and found the Gettysburgh group -- http://www.flickr.com/groups/gettysburg -- inspiring. Relatives on my father's side of the family fought there and this place has great meaning in personal and national histories. We look forward to your news and insights from the conference. If there is a website focusing on the event or a Flickr group of its own, please include the URL. Background question - How is Pennsylvania developing tourism? Is it civic?

Dan Shilling: I was surprised that the Gettysburg conference was the first statewide tourism conference ever held in PA, especially since tourism is so central to the state's economy -- and becoming even more important, as Gov. Rendell told us more than once. It's clear that much of PA's tourism is place-based -- it's remarkable scenery and equally remarkable history. But more than a few at the conference expressed concern that their sense of place was being buried beneath outlet malls and theme parks, which is true of the Gettysburg experience, much of which looked like Anywhere USA. There was also concern that tourism development has focused too much on advertising, at the expense of the resources, such as historic homes and parks. I encouraged the place-based community to become more political, not to assume they will receive support because "they do good stuff." I'm not sure how "civic" their tourism development is yet, except to say I heard many good things about my presentation, received several inquiries to return, and have already written an article for a small-town magazine where they are trying to do the right thing. You can find more information about the PA conference at this link: http://destinationpa.visitpa.com. But they are to be commended for not only featuring civic tourism, but for inviting several other place-based programs, such as geotourism and many ecotourism and cultural tourism examples. Also, about half of the attendees were from the environmental and cultural community, so that's a great start.

Ron Mader: Happy World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development! It's a week of celebration with International Museums Week and tomorrow's International Day for Biological Diversity. As I was reading your book, I came across this wonderful line: "Because the whole is more than the sum of its parts, those who study nature's ecosystems recognize diversity as a key to healthy 'wholes' and 'ones.'"
My question -- do you have any tips for improving our respect for cultural and environmental diversity in tourism?

Dan Shilling: I recognize that among ecologists the diversity=sustainability question is still open to debate, at least in some quarters. I, however, come down on the side of Aldo Leopold, who urged us to "keep every cog and wheel." For economic development in general, that means not putting all of your marbles in the tourism basket, and for tourism development that means not putting all of your marbles into one attraction. For example, we sometimes focus too much on ecotourism by itself, without telling the "story" behind the land. The Grand Canyon, for example, is more than rocks and a river; people lived there, there's a story to tell, one that'll help you connect to visitors in another way. In my workshops we do some exercises that encourage participants to look for those land-history-heritage connections -- thinking of a community as a "social ecology."

One thing I also feature is the economic impact of places that do preserve the diversity of their natural and cultural environments, as opposed to those that don't. The numbers are pretty startling. That's one way to get the chamber of commerce, town planners, and elected officials to at least pay attention. They're often not persuaded by ecological or cultural arguments to "save biodiversity," but if we can demonstrate the economic benefits, that's another tool to use.

Still, I still think we're mostly pushing a rock uphill until we induce people to genuinely care about their place, and all of the economic and tourism arguments ultimately are insufficient unless we inspire that pride in place. That, as you know, is a big part of what civic tourism is about -- fostering a commitment to one's community.

Excerpts

Because the whole is more than the sum of its parts, those who study nature's ecosystems recognize diversity as a key to healthy 'wholes' and 'ones.' (p. 63)

Most of the discussion is centered in academic or activist circles, rarely making its way to official booster platforms at any level. I've met city administrators and chamber of commerce directors who, with a wave of a hand, dismiss the findings in these troubling analyzes, but I seldom meet many who have confronted the literature and I've never encountered a session at a local hospitality conference that seriously engages the critiques. What are we afraid of? Tourism can and should answer with bold action, not just more of the same economic aspirin it's been dispensing. (p. 33)

I can't count how many towns I've visited where the historical society and art museum seldom cooperate, where the zoo and land trust don't even like one another, where the historic preservation guild and parks department have never met. Fragmentation is the operative word ... Beyond the fact that a fragmented design doesn't invite visitors into the full story, the nonprofit groups and public agencies charged with overseeing the various forms of alternative tourism often don't have the necessary resources or clout to be as effective individually as they might collectively. (pp. 67-67)

Listen up: You already have a theme park! It's called your streetscape, your lands, your culture and no other community possesses those same gifts. Forget about being Santa Fe -- be yourself first. Forget about attracting or appealing to visitors -- satisfy your residents first. (p. 22)

Local and state tourism agencies can make any museum look good in a website or fancy promotional magazine, but what happens when the visitors show up on Saturday and there's a sign pinned to the door that says, 'Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 1-4PM'? Are they likely to return? I've stumbled upon several versions of this note: 'If you'd like to see the museum, go to the 7-11 and ask for Marge. She has the key' (p. 71)

Are we culturalizing commerce or commercializing culture? ... Don't you get a wee big suspicious when your city's smart growth campaign is spearheaded by the housing industry? Serious rethinking of economic policy, especially if you intend to act on that policy, requires equally serious restructuring of decision-making systems. Consider: if 'place' is so important to 21st century economics, why is it being paved over at an alarming tempo? If 'sense of place' is so vital to economic development, why has funding for culture, historic preservation, and environmental protection dipped at many levels this past decade? (pp. 36-37)

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