Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Review - Civic Tourism: The Poetry and Politics of Place

Civic Tourism: The Poetry and Politics of Place
By: Dan Shilling

The tourism industry is ever-changing and experts are realizing that there is more to business than just sales. Shilling notes that the "tourism product increasingly is crafted from a region's 'sense of place' - that is the very thing people call home" (17).  I agree with this statement. It is this sense of place that makes a community unique. It can be used to draw crowds when used correctly in tourism planning. Shilling encourages the reader to 1) rethink economics 2) connect to the public and 3) invest in the story (17). It is important to remember that museums play a key role in local tourism. Museums are responsible for educating the public about local history so it is crucial that museum staff communicate with those in charge of local tourism planning to ensure the museum is well-represented.

Shilling talks about place-based tourism and the importance of establishing pride in place:
"The more the people know the story of a place, the more likely they are to take pride in and be stewards of that place. Consequently, fostering a responsible place-based tourism ethic is made more practicable when you create additional opportunities to educate the public, including employees in the hospitality sector, about local history and culture. Innovative tourism training programs are doing just that - partnering with schools and heritage institutions to instill a sense of community pride in front-line staff, the people guests usually meet first. Museums can supplement these efforts by hosting open houses and receptions for travel industry employees, and they can lure in the public by thinking beyond their walls. For instance, to reach new residents museums might sponsor an updated version of Welcome Wagon, that instead of a fruit basket provides a video or book about local history - a way of saying, "Welcome, this is why we care." (45)

Think about what makes you unique and how you can share your stories with not only visitors but also potential partners. Who shares your vision for educating the public about local history and culture in your community? Who can help you reach a larger audience? Who can you connect with? How can you make these connections?  What can you do as an organization to invite the public into your space? 

Shilling talks about developing a sense of belonging by offering an insider's perspective through local tourism efforts. I too believe in the importance of this because it gives visitors the opportunity to invest in the local experience. It allows them to develop an attachment to the stories that are deeply rooted in this sense of place. I think it's important that everyone in the heritage community considers Shilling's "Invest in the Story": Conversation Starters:

Place Making: What institutions in your region focus on the preservation and improvement of cultural, natural, and social ingredients of place? 
Place Finding: If people and organizations in your community talk about "sense of place," are they primarily referring to a built notion, a natural one, or a historic sense of place? Or perhaps a combination? Do the agencies that represent these different characteristics of place have a history of working together? 
Place Funding: Have there been recent attempts in your community to develop a capacity-building and funding scheme to assist museums, Main Street programs, archaeological sites, and other heritage institutions, beyond the usual funding programs? (76).

Although, these questions were directed more towards those who work directly in the tourism sector, I think they are still valid in museums. One of the challenges that many museums face is comparing their organization to larger institutions. Shilling makes a great point about comparing a township to a city and comparing Disney World to a local attraction. There simply should be no comparison. It is important to focus on your town's assets and what the town can offer. It is important that you do not get overwhelmed by the bigger picture. Think about partnering with other organizations who share the same vision, who too are striving to create a cultural destination. It should be "encouraged to mature organically, that is humbly, in a manner appropriate to and consistent with a region's heritage, and ecologically, that is, reciprocally, in true partnership with other community players, the hospitality industry has the potential to transform towns" (22).

Now, do some digging. Is there already a history of tourism development in your town? Who are the stakeholders? Are there road blocks in the way? How are ideas communicated? When are meetings held? How can your museum be more involved in this discussion?

And finally, consider the cultural landscape of your community. Think about how cultural heritage, historic preservation, and nature overlap (105). Where does your museum fit into all of this? How can individuals and organizations from each area work together to create a stronger sense of place in your community?