The evening air is weary with tuk tuk fumes, massage oils, Oasis’ Wonderwall…inane travel conversations are overheard in 24/7 bars plagued by fading last chances and naive beginnings. Bangkok: Leaving, arriving or trapped.
I read an article recently about the backlash against tourism in Barcelona. Phrases such as: “It’s an adult Disney Land,” stand out particularly.
Now more than ever with cheap travel at our finger tips and the internet exposing the world’s hidden secrets to all; is it so important for countries, cities and places to manage the effect that tourism is having on them, their residents and their reputations.
The mystery of a place can never be regained.
Countries like Myanmar that are just opening up to the world need to look at tourist hot spots, decide who they are and take action now to stop ‘Bar Streets’ becoming the tourist equivalent of the Starbucks effect.
Once your cover is blown, once the mystery dissipates it cannot be restored. Places like Bhutan, high prices, difficult entry etc, retain this mystery but for how long? And to what cost? Are barriers sometimes the reasons that we choose to travel to that particular place?
There is a delicate balance between tourism as an industry and preserving that which encouraged the tourists in the first place. I don’t pretend to know the answer but the old adage, ‘Everything in moderation’ seems to be applicable here. Tourist locusts that consume and use a place up have to be managed and a sustainable strategy put in place to ensure that the reasons behind tourist decisions are not eroded by the very people that they are attracting.
I don’t come at this from a ‘We need to keep these countries as they are to preserve them for people like me that want to visit them…’ But once the reasons cease to become activating and more about avoiding the industry begins to falter and no-one benefits. Perhaps this is all just inevitable in the trend society that we live in today. The popularity of places ebbs and flows.
What Bangkok will always have for tourists is the geographical advantage and it’s status as a hub to the trails of South East Asia…
…But countries like Cuba, Myanmar etc. that are beginning to open up to tourism might like to take a moment to think how they would like to manage their tourist strategies towards a more balanced and sustainable outcome which includes a positive and attractive internal and external reputation to ensure that locals don’t go the way of the Catalans in Barcelona…then again perhaps the ability to protest against tourism is a first world problem.
I suppose it depends on what we’re all looking for. But the amount I hear the words ‘authentic experience’ thrown around on my travels and the boast of ‘off the beaten track,’ the slight of ‘it’s touristy but,’ – I have a feeling that this ‘authenticity’ is what is craved…the traditional recipe, that same Sak Yant tattoo everyone seems to have administered by an actual real monk…
I wonder if this authenticity is being eroded by mass travel, catering for it and to what end. Once a place is used up will it be discarded? or does the new generation come along and pick up the reigns? After all it’s new and mysterious to them…
Is it too late to change a reputation?
I don’t think so. Amsterdam over the past ten or so years has tried to shed its seedy reputation that encourages drugs and sex tourism and shift its positioning towards a more jetset group looking for exclusivity with a cultural and sub-cultural edge…
I feel it’s working.
The problem is, as Simon Anholt points out in his writing on the matters of ‘Nation or Place Brands,’ that place brands are not products or companies, they cannot be turned around with a lick of a new logo and natty comms. Places are felt and to change a feeling takes time. Mr Anholt likens it, I believe to a container ship, cruising along, it takes a lot of force and time to change its course.
The real question is, how much of your tourism as a place relies on ‘mystery’ and intrigue? And in fact is it just a lifecycle of places that the beginnings in ‘mystery’ inevitably dissipate and the image has to morph?
What type of tourism do you want?
What type of tourism do your residents want?
What type of tourism is sustainable for and matches what your country has to offer?
These are important questions that need answering to manage and sustain a country’s reputation with regards to prospective travellers and tourists.