Thursday, November 17, 2016

Tourists And Their Creative Urges

Tucked away in a conference hall at last week's World Travel Market, Estonia was receiving an award. So were Mexico, Italy and Cyprus - two in fact in the case of the latter. One of the speakers at this event was Vicent Torres, the president of the Council of Ibiza. His presentation was based around a slogan - "be creative, transform tourism".

Ibiza is a member of the Creative Tourism Network, an international organisation, the origins of which go back to another conference: one held in January 2000 in Portugal. Greg Richards, one of the foremost thinkers on cultural tourism, was giving a lecture. While saying that cultural tourism was growing rapidly, he pointed to a potential drawback. It could be summed up in two ways - "not another bloody cathedral" and "this or that happened in the year 1637". In other words, cultural tourism has a great propensity to be repetitive or dull.

Listening to this lecture was Crispin Reynolds, whose background was principally in the arts world: he had been chief executive of the Theatre Royal in Bath. He was taken by what Richards was saying. They met, they spoke and some time later they came up with the concept of creative tourism, defined as offering "visitors the opportunity to develop their creative potential through active participation in courses and learning experiences which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are undertaken". Cultural tourism had to be interactive and creative in order that cultural tourists could be fully engaged. From this came the Creative Tourism Network.

But what actually is this creative tourism? A marketing specialist in the subject, which is how her website describes her, says that research shows that people have a "growing desire to connect with each other and feel more in touch local communities". Based on this research, she was looking to develop workshops in Kent, such as for cooking with Kent produce, knitting, woodcarving, painting.

Barcelona claims to have the world's first creative tourism platform and has had it since 2005. Visitors are therefore able, among other things, to learn flamenco dancing, engage in fashion design or make bread (in a creative fashion). As this is all promoted in English, one has to assume that they've overcome what might otherwise be something of a stumbling block. When baking bread (creatively), it does help if you can understand what you are being told, unless you don't speak English.

In Ibiza, they reckon they can crack the nut of seasonality and become a year-round destination by providing courses in anything from art to gastronomy to photography to organic farming. There are also visits "with charm" to bodegas, agricultural cooperatives, artisan workshops or eco farms. This is all couched, inevitably, in "sustainability" terms. For once, the word can be used with real justification. It is not invasive of the environment, unless there are great masses traipsing across eco farms (unlikely, admittedly), it boosts employment and business, it is respectful of this local business and culture.

And as importantly, it doesn't require great investment, if any. When there are people and businesses already doing things and making things, investment is not required. As a concept, therefore, it has much to commend it. But how much can it be developed or is it being developed?

Ten years ago, there was a meeting under the auspices of Unesco at which it was envisaged that in ten years time there would be, variously, a growing network of creative cities, the packaging of local products and creative offerings, and local creative history curricula. Two years ago, research was submitted for a project in the Costa del Sol - its reinvention through creative tourism. The project may see the full light of day, but as far as the Creative Tourism Network's website is concerned, the only creative tourism in Andalusia is based on the town of Lucena. And it is one of only a small number of global "creative-friendly destinations": Barcelona and Ibiza are two of them. The growing network of cities that had been envisaged ten years ago seems to need more time to really start growing.

In Mallorca, there is to be an international seminar on experiential tourism. It isn't that different to creative tourism. In fact, it doesn't seem to be different at all: just another way of calling it and imbuing it with the worthiness of sustainability. Here is, therefore, a further means of attempting to find the Holy Grail that unlocks the negative impact of seasonality. And where might it lead? Visitors being instructed in building dry-stone walls or being shown how to make ensaimadas?

In a sense there isn't anything new about all this. Working farms, cookery courses, art classes; they've been around for years. Putting them all into a coherent form, though, is new. But how many tourists would be attracted? By comparison, there's still something to be said for another bloody cathedral.

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