Green light for Tasmanian wilderness tourism development defied expert advice



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At least 30 tourism developments have been proposed for Tasmania’s World Heritage-listed wilderness.

Brendan Gogarty, University of Tasmania; Nick Fitzgerald, University of Tasmania, and Phillipa C. McCormack, University of Tasmania

The Commonwealth government’s decision to wave through a controversial tourism development in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was made in defiance of strident opposition from the expert statutory advisory body for the region’s management, it was revealed today.

In August, federal environment minister Melissa Price’s office decided the proposed luxury development on Halls Island did not need to be assessed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

But according to documents tabled in Tasmania’s parliament by the Greens this morning, the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council had advised the opposite, as well as recommending that the proposal should not be approved at all in its current form. The council also argued “contentious projects” like this one should not be considered for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area without “an agreed framework to guide assessment”.

This situation is not unique, and reveals a deeper problem with our national environmental laws. They may look strong on paper, but their strength can be eroded by bureaucratic discretion.

From conservation to commercialisation

Tasmania’s wilderness has long been ground zero for the struggle between conservation and commercialisation of our natural estate. In the 1980s, the Commonwealth government nominated the area for World Heritage listing to stop the state government building a hydroelectric dam on one of Australia’s last truly wild rivers.

The “locking up” of large parts of wilderness from industrial development has prompted deep social divisions. Nevertheless, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) has since become part of Tasmania’s cultural and natural fabric. Yet this wilderness is now under renewed threat, as commercial interests seek to capitalise on its tourism potential.




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World Heritage Areas must have an up-to-date management plan to ensure compliance with Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention. In 2016 the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments revised the TWWHA management plan to reflect its “socio-economic” value, allowing a range of tourism uses that were banned under the previous 1999 plan.

The World Heritage Committee warned in 2015 that without “strict criteria for new tourism development”, there would be significant risks to the area’s “wilderness character and cultural attributes”. Australia accepted the recommendation but has still not meaningfully implemented strict criteria to assess and protect wilderness values, even as it accepts proposals for tourism developments.

Proposed commercial infrastructure projects involving built structures, transport, and modification of the natural environment in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, which have received preliminary or final approvals at October 2018. 30 proposals have been made and additional projects are likely to be announced as the EOI process continues.
(c) Nick Fitzgerald 2018.

Since both levels of government agreed to open up the TWHHA, a range of commercial interests have proposed tourism developments there. Expressions of interest for commercial developments are done behind closed doors, but it is clear that at least 30 commercial development proposals have been made for sites in the TWWHA, including projects involving permanent huts, lodges and camps, and some that would necessitate helicopter access.

Halls Island

The first of these proposals to be released for public comment and assessed under the 2016 management plan is a plan to build a “luxury standing camp and guided ecotourism experience” at Halls Island in Walls of Jerusalem National Park – a remote highland region of the TWWHA.

The plan includes reclassifying the lake surrounding Halls Island from “wilderness” to “self-reliant recreation”. On March 22, 2018, the proponent (Wild Drake Pty Ltd) referred the proposal to the Commonwealth Environment Minister to determine whether it should be formally assessed under the EPBC Act.

Upon referral the proposal met with widespread opposition from scientists, conservation specialists, civil society, and recreational users of the park, especially the fishing community. What became clear today is that it was also strongly opposed by the expert advisory council for the TWWHA.

Expert advice

The National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council (NPWAC) is a statutory body of independent experts, with responsibility to advise on the management of the TWHHA in line with Australia’s national and international World Heritage commitments. The documents released today show that on July 13 2018, the NPWAC argued strongly against the proposal being allowed to proceed, stating that it “does not support this project progressing at this time”.

It cited a range of objections, including the fact that the development would effectively grant “exclusive private commercial use” of an area in the TWWHA, and that the opening up of airspace to helicopters would set an unwelcome precedent. It also described the development’s planned “standing camp” as a “pretence” because it would involve the construction of permanent buildings for year-round use. And it pointed to the proposal’s failure to address adequately the risk to threatened species and the fire-sensitive nature of the property.

Like the World Heritage Committee, NPWAC argued that the range of projects currently proposed for the TWWHA “should not be considered until there is an agreed framework to guide assessment”. Yet despite this, the minister’s delegate allowed the proposal to proceed without further assessment under the EPBC Act.

Commonwealth government’s decision

On August 31, 2018, the delegate of the minister decided that the referred action “is not a controlled action”, which means that it will not be subject to any further assessment, or even attention, by the Commonwealth government. No other reasons were given to reject the NPWAC’s recommendations, or the submissions from 78 individuals (including expert scientists) and 808 campaign submissions opposing the development.

Government ministers are not bound to act on expert advice. But they do have a duty to take it into account in a meaningful way. That is especially the case when expert advice is so clear, and supported by a range of relevant, independent and compelling public submissions from scientists and specialist groups.

According to the IUCN, world heritage wilderness area areas allow us to understand nature on its own terms and maintain those terms while allowing (and even encouraging) humans to experience wild nature.
(c) Brendan Gogarty

In the case of Halls Island, these factors should have tipped the balance towards undertaking a proper, legal assessment of the proposal and its likely impacts.

In a response to The Conversation, Price said her department had considered a range of advice and concluded that the proposed development is “not likely to have significant impacts on any nationally protected environmental matters, including the value of the World Heritage Area”.

Examined against the government’s increasingly cavalier attitude to our national estate, world heritage, and role in global environmental governance it is tempting to conclude that Tasmania’s wilderness has become yet another place where economic values trump conservation ones.

The Commonwealth is supposed to provide a check and balance on states’ self-interest in exploiting areas of outstanding universal value. But with another 29 development proposals on the list, our fear is that Tasmania’s World Heritage “wilderness” will become a lot less wild in the future.The Conversation

Brendan Gogarty, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania; Nick Fitzgerald, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania, and Phillipa C. McCormack, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Shark tourism can change your mind about these much-maligned predators



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Getting up close and personal can make you like sharks more, even if you already like them.
Juan Oliphant, Author provided

Michele Barnes, James Cook University and Sarah Ruth Sutcliffe, James Cook University

Shark ecotourism can change people’s attitudes about sharks and make them more likely to support conservation projects – even after allowing for the fact that ecotourists are more likely to be environmentally minded in the first place.

In our research, published in the journal Marine Policy, we surveyed 547 participants in a shark ecotourism program oriented towards education and conservation off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

We looked at participants’ knowledge of and attitudes towards sharks, and their intention to engage with shark conservation projects before and after the tour. We then compared these with the knowledge, attitudes, and conservation intentions of 488 members of the public who had not taken part in shark ecotourism.




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Even before taking part in the shark ecotourism program, participants were generally more environmentally minded, more knowledgeable about sharks, and had more positive attitudes towards sharks than the general public.

For example, 71% of participants had positive attitudes towards sharks before the tour, compared with only 45% of the general public. To a certain extent, therefore, the shark ecotourism program was attracting people who were already “converted” to environmentalism.

But, crucially, we also found that after the ecotourism program, participants had significantly more knowledge of the ecological role of sharks and a more favourable attitude towards them. There was a 39% increase in knowledge along our measured scale, and 97% of participants who held negative attitudes ended up changing their mind about sharks as a result of the tour.

Ultimately, the program had a significantly positive effect on people’s intentions to engage in shark conservation behaviour, despite them already being more environmentally minded than the general public. In other words, these programs are not just “preaching to the converted” – they really do improve people’s engagement with conservation.

Learning to love sharks?
Juan Oliphant, Author provided

Sharks’ PR problem

Sharks are crucial to our marine ecosystems, yet many shark populations are in decline as a result of fishing (particularly for shark fin soup), fisheries bycatch, habitat destruction, and climate change.

To survive, sharks need a coordinated global conservation effort. And for that they need people to speak up for them.

Unfortunately, sharks have a PR problem. They are feared by many members of the public, demonised by the media, treated as human-hunting monsters, and cast as the villains in blockbuster movies like Jaws and The Meg. In many places, government-funded programs actively cull sharks in the name of beachgoers’ safety.




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Feeding frenzy: public accuse the media of deliberately fuelling shark fear


Winning hearts and minds

Shark ecotourism provides an opportunity to learn about sharks’ role in ocean ecosystems, and to view and interact with them in their natural environment. Our research suggests it offers a way to counteract misconceptions and build support for shark conservation.

Not all programs marketed as shark ecotourism are equal, however. There are legitimate concerns about some forms of shark tourism, with important questions about animal welfare, ecological impacts, and public safety (particularly where chum or bait is used to attract sharks).

The conservation benefits of shark ecotourism are thus most likely to be realised when it is conducted responsibly, with trained staff, in areas that don’t conflict with other ocean uses.

Hopefully, our findings will encourage the development of responsible, environmentally friendly and educational shark ecotourism programs with specific conservation goals, which will allow people to engage with sharks in a positive way. In turn, that could help to build political and social pressure to conserve sharks.The Conversation

Michele Barnes, Environmental Social Science Research Fellow, James Cook University and Sarah Ruth Sutcliffe, Marine Social Sciences PhD candidate, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Australia might be at risk of ‘overtourism’


Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia

Recently, some of Europe’s most-visited cities have become surprisingly inhospitable to tourists. Barcelona residents have been openly hostile to visitors and officials are now cracking down on Airbnb rentals. Venice has been overrun with daytrippers and recently instituted tourist-only diversion routes. Dubrovnik has put a cap on the number of cruise ship passengers that can enter the city at any one time.

These destinations are suffering from what people in the travel industry call “overtourism.” The numbers speak for themselves. Europe was the most frequently visited region in the world in 2016, accounting for close to half of the 1.24 billion international tourist arrivals. Spain, a nation of 46.5 million people, welcomed a remarkable 75.3 million visitors in 2016. Croatia, population 4.2 million, saw more than triple the number of tourist arrivals.

Australia hasn’t yet experienced visitor numbers quite this large – there were just 8.24 million tourist arrivals in 2016 – but overtourism is becoming a concern here, as well.

What exactly is overtourism?

The awkward term overtourism describes a situation in which a tourism destination exceeds its carrying capacity – in physical and/or psychological terms. It results in a deterioration of the tourism experience for either visitors or locals, or both. If allowed to continue unchecked, overtourism can lead to serious consequences for popular destinations.

The situation has gotten so bad in certain locales in recent years, media outlets have started publishing lists of the “travel destinations you should avoid” and new terms like “anti-tourism” and “tourismphobia” are entering the travel industry lexicon. Tourist sites have even occasionally been targeted with violence, such as the string of attacks that took place in Spain last year.


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The causes of overtourism vary according to the destination. Recently, the disruptive agents of the sharing economy, like Airbnb, have been blamed for bringing more tourists into the heart of communities instead of just tourist sites. Cheap travel and package holidays are enabling more people to take short city breaks and cruises, particularly in Europe. Social media also plays a role in popularising places like Myanmar, which go from being off-the-grid to “must-see” destinations overnight.

The shifting focus of governmental tourism agencies play a role in overtourism, as well. Many agencies are now almost exclusively marketing-focused and their singular goal is promoting growth. For instance, Tourism Australia’s “Tourism 2020” strategy is clearly growth-focused. Its goal is stated simply on the website – to achieve more than AU$115 billion in overnight spending by 2020 (up from AU$70 billion in 2009).

Sustainable tourism strategies, once heavily promoted in the 1990s and early 2000s, no longer seem to be as high a priority.

Is Australia really in danger of overtourism?

Australian tourism sites like Kangaroo Island aren’t seeing visitor numbers anywhere close to Venice and Barcelona just yet. However, poor tourism policies may still lead to a form of overtourism if locals perceive their quality of life is being damaged by tourists.

For instance, the 2011 Kangaroo Island Pro-Surf and Music Festival faced considerable community opposition for its proposal to bring 5,000 visitors to the small hamlet of Vivonne Bay (population 400). Recently published research examining the policy process indicated it was a push by tourism authorities to boost tourism on the island that led to the event being imposed on the community. The backlash was so severe, organisers abandoned plans to host the event again in subsequent years.




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However, this hasn’t stopped other tourism development schemes from being proposed. And the state Economic Development Board has recommended doubling the numbers of tourists on the island by 2020.

Tasmania, too, has experienced a tourist backlash in recent years. Most recently, thousands came out to protest a proposed cable car for Mount Wellington near Hobart. With claims by critics that the cable car would draw upwards of 1 million tourists per year, one can readily see the seeds for overtourism.

Another site that could be in danger is the Great Barrier Reef. Agricultural run-off, climate change and a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak are currently posing grave threats to the reef, which could spark a phenomenon known as “last-chance tourism”, – a rush to experience a place before it’s gone for good.

What can be done?

Most experts agree government regulations are key to addressing the threats from overtourism. Many cities, for instance, are following Barcelona’s lead to tighten restrictions on Airbnb. The Thai government is closing popular Maya Beach on Phi Phi Island for four months every year to allow the sea life to recover. Creatively, Copenhagen is promoting a tourism policy based on “localhood”:

A long-term vision that supports the inclusive co-creation of our future destination. A future destination where human relations are the focal point. Where locals and visitors not only co-exist, but interact around shared experiences of localhood. Where our global competitiveness is underpinned by our very own localhood. And where tourism growth is co-created responsibly across industries and geographies, between new and existing stakeholders, with localhood as our shared identity and common starting point.




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And in New Zealand, the tourism board is actively promoting tourism visits outside of peak season. This is a good example of how government agencies can use “demarketing” strategies, or deflecting interest in places, to address rising tensions over tourism. Similarly, Majorca’s authorities have tried to rebrand it as a winter destination in an effort to reduce overcrowding in the peak season.

The ConversationWith its “Tourism 2020” strategy, Australia is focused instead on growing its visitor numbers. The national and local tourism bodies should take a more sustainable and holistic approach to their tourism planning to reflect the values and desires of local communities. That will ensure visitor numbers remain in check and tourism remains an enjoyable experience – for tourists and residents alike.

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The carbon footprint of tourism revealed (it’s bigger than we thought)


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Travel is getting cheaper, but more carbon-intensive.
Renato Podestá Castilho/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Dr Arunima Malik, University of Sydney and Dr Ya-Yen Sun, The University of Queensland

The carbon footprint of tourism is about four times larger than previously thought, according to a world-first study published today in Nature Climate Change.

Researchers from the University of Sydney, University of Queensland and National Cheng Kung University – including ourselves – worked together to assess the entire supply chain of tourism. This includes transportation, accommodation, food and beverages, souvenirs, clothing, cosmetics and other goods.

Put together, global tourism produces about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, much more than previous estimates.

Adding it all up

Tourism is a trillion-dollar industry, and is growing faster than international trade.

To determine the true emissions produced by tourism, we scanned over a billion supply chains of a range of commodities consumed by tourists. By combining a detailed international trade database with accounts tracking what goods and services tourists bought, we identified carbon flows between 160 countries from 2009 to 2013.

Our results show that tourism-related emissions increased by around 15% over that period, from 3.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) to 4.5Gt. This rise primarily came from tourist spending on transport, shopping and food.

World map showing bilateral embodied carbon movements. In 2013, international travel was responsible for 23% of the global carbon footprint of tourism.
[The carbon footprint of global tourism] (http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x)

We estimate that our growing appetite for travel and a business-as-usual scenario would increase carbon emissions from global tourism to about 6.5Gt by 2025. This increase is largely driven by rising incomes, making tourism highly income-elastic and carbon-intensive.

Whose responsibility is it?

In the study, we compared two perspectives for allocating responsibility for these emissions: residence-based accounting and destination-based accounting. The former perspective allocates emissions to the country of residence of tourists, the latter to the country of destination. Put simply, are tourism-related carbon emissions the responsibility of travellers or tourist destinations?

If responsibility lies with the travellers, then we should identify the countries that send the most tourists out into the world, and find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their travel.




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On the other hand, destination-based accounting can offer insights into tourism spots (like popular islands) that would benefit most from technology improvements and regulations for reducing the carbon footprint of tourism.

Tracking emissions under destination-based accounting over a specific period could help researchers and policymakers to answer questions about the success of incentive schemes and regulations, and to assess the speed of decarbonisation of tourism-related sectors.




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So how do countries rank under the two accounting perspectives? The United States is responsible for the majority of tourism-related emissions under both perspectives – many people travel both from and to the US – followed by China, Germany and India.

But on a per-capita basis, the situation looks rather different. Small island destinations have the highest per-capita destination-based footprints. Maldives tops the list – 95% of the island’s tourism-related emissions come from international visitors.

Tourists are responsible for 30-80% of the national emissions of island economies. These findings bring up the question of the impact of tourism on small island states.

Islands as tourist destinations

Small islands depend on income from tourists. At the same time, these very tourists threaten the native biodiversity of the islands.

Small island states typically do not have the capacity to embrace technology improvements due to their small economies of scale and isolated locations.

Sustainable tourism on islands.
Author provided

Can we lend a helping hand? Directing financial and technical support to these islands could potentially help with efforts to decarbonise their infrastructure. This support would be a reflection of the share of consumer responsibility, especially from developed nations that are “net travellers”.

Maldives, Mauritius and other small islands are actively exploring ways of building their renewable energy capacity to reduce the carbon intensity of local hotels, transport and recreational spots.

Creating awareness at multiple levels

We hope that our study provides a starting point for conversations between the public, companies and policymakers about sustainable tourism.




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‘Sustainable tourism’ is not working – here’s how we can change that


The ConversationUltimately real change will come from implementing regulations and incentives together to encourage low-carbon operations. At a personal level, though, it’s worth looking at the carbon-cost of your flights, choosing to offset your emissions where possible and supporting tourism companies that aim to operate sustainably.

Dr Arunima Malik, Lecturer in Sustainability, University of Sydney and Dr Ya-Yen Sun, Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

#MeTourism: the hidden costs of selfie tourism



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Selfie tourism is changing the experience of traveling for many people – and not necessarily in a positive way.
Shutterstock

Marianna Sigala, University of South Australia

Technology has changed the way we travel. Smartphones, travellers’ comments and photos, search engines and algorithms can all inspire and empower us to plan complex journeys all over the globe within minutes.

Planning and booking tourism has always had an element of risk. One has to commit upfront – there is no sample to try before you buy, and no return policy. It is not surprising that people increasingly rely on social media content and networks to identify, evaluate and select their preferred tourism destination and suppliers.

But even if the final destination is beautiful, many social media users will now ask themselves a set of new questions. Is it the trendy and fashionable place that you want to be “seen” travelling? It this a place won’t be embarrassed to share this with your peers and followers online?

In TripAdvisor we trust

Increasingly, TripAdvisor is the starting point for information (photos, videos, comments, blogs) for choosing a travel destination, particularly among millennials.

Travel inspired by social media has gained popularity because it saves time and reduces the purchase risk of travellers when searching for travel information and planning their trip.


Read more: Selfie is not a dirty word


The universal penetration of smartphones has created the “always switched-on” tourists, who use their devices to share tourism experiences on the spot and in real time. Identifying, searching and sharing tourism experiences and information have been identified as the two top major ways in which social media has transformed tourism.

For many people, mobile phones have become their external brain when on the road. However, in some cases, continuous mobile phone use on holidays has led to tourists anthropomorphising their devices, by attributing them human characteristics and perceiving them as personal travel companions.

‘Selfie gaze’ tourists

These so-called “selfie-gaze” tourists see and experience the destination largely through their cameras and the comments and feedback they receive on their posts.

In this sense, their satisfaction does not depend on the quality of the destination and experience, but on how well they manage impressions and attract “likes” and positive comments.

The perception that those taking the selfie are being widely viewed has also changed the way people consume places and what they see and how they behave at a destination. This is because online profiles and posts have to be carefully managed by tourists to highlight positive attributes, socially desirous experiences and present a more idealised self.

“Selfie-gaze” tourists do not only participate in touristic photography – they also artificially create it. One example of this is the infamous “duck-face” photo that so frequently appears in social media feeds.

Gone are the days that destinations had control of their image-making and communication. Once used as a travel memory, social media has converted personal photography to a significant source of travel inspiration and the most popular way of online communication, self-expression and identity formation.

The Insta-tourist

Instagram hosts more than 220 million photographs hashtagged with #selfie and more than 330 million hashtagged with #me. People go to such trouble to get the perfect picture of themselves — creating at least a moment that is artificial – in their quest for an image of authenticity.


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Tourists get killed, condemned by priests, or arrested by police for insulting local culture and people, or disturb local nature.

EU countries have banned selfies at major landmarks such as Eiffel Tower, while attractions and museums ban the use of selfie sticks for the physical protection of other tourists.

In the quest of self-promotion and the search of an idealised tourism experience, my research shows how tourists share fake and unrealistic information. This could include “checking-in” to places they haven’t been or pretending to be happy despite staying in terrible conditions.

Although this deviant online behaviour biases and dilutes others in their travel decisions, tourists continue doing it believing it doesn’t harm anyone. But it can distort the real travel experience and give people false expectations about destinations.

Influencer marketing

Tourism marketers spend more and more of their marketing budget on “influencer marketing”, a strategy referring to the use of celebrities and online opinion leaders to post favourable content for a brand.

The influencer market has been estimated as having a value of US$10 to US$15 billion in 2017.
More than one-third of marketers now spend more than US$500,000 a year on it, and influencer posts on Instagram alone are worth US$255 million a month. Another recent survey of marketers found that almost half (48%) anticipate their influencer marketing budgets will rise in 2017.

Research shows that it is not age, but the dark triad of personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy – that push people to pursue selfie glory regardless of the result.

Selfie-gaze tourism also lead to conspicuous consumption in which tourists travel to destinations and perform experiences in front of the camera to display economic power and attain or maintain social status.

Deeper tourism education needed

Obviously, it’s not useful to rail against basic human needs or deny the functional benefits of technology. But what we need instead is a serious education of tourists and citizens for a mindful use of social media before and while travelling.

This is an area of research that urgently needs to be explored to ensure technology use does not negatively influence travellers’ psychological, mental, emotional or even physical wellbeing.


The ConversationThis article has been amended since its original publication. Several references have been changed to include more accurate references and links. Some phrasing has also been changed to distinguish it more clearly from that of the reference it draws on.

Marianna Sigala, Professor of Tourism – Director of the Centre for Tourism & Leisure Management, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tourists are happy when taken off the beaten track, and smaller cities and towns can tap into that



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Yes, it’s a beautiful part of the world, but what sets Ballyhoura apart is the deliberate focus on a warm, local welcome.
stephendotcarter/flickr, CC BY

Elizabeth Turenko, Griffith University and Karine Dupré, Griffith University

Big cities and places with internationally renowned attractions have long been the most popular tourist destinations. Even today, Chinese tour companies in Australia, for instance, mostly focus on the biggest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane – and landmarks like Uluru. But modern tourism is starting to take a slightly different path, regional travel, which creates economic benefits for towns and also leaves tourists with a better impression of a country.

Unpublished research undertaken by one of us (Elizabeth Turenko) while working as a tour leader in Ukraine in 2013-2014 confirmed this. Feedback from guests travelling on a group tour to Europe showed 80% preferred to visit “well-known” large cities, mostly capitals, when it came to choosing a tour.

Most of the time, though, these tourists were disappointed because the cities did not live up to their expectations. But, the study revealed, 75% of tourists enjoyed travelling to smaller towns when they did decide to visit them as part of a tour.

Big cities are losing their local flavour

There is no doubt the major cities are attractive and are still perceived as the essence of a country for many tourists. Yet the question remains: are these cities actually showing the “real country”? At a time of globalisation and global cities, to what extent do the larger cities still give tourists “the taste” of local culture.

Rural Tourism Marketing Group CEO Joanna Steele writes:

In the past five years tourism has seen some big changes. Large numbers of travellers have lost interest in cookie-cutter restaurants, lodging and attractions. Instead, they want local food, local attractions and connection to the lifestyles of local people.

The best places to experience that are often small local towns and villages. Here life hasn’t yet been adapted to tourist needs and the authenticity feels right.

Turenko also investigated the tourists’ preferences during a group bus tour in Europe. The main program involved a one-day visit to Amsterdam and a second day on which tourists could spend their free time in Amsterdam or go on a group trip to Volendam, a small town 20km away. The 90% of the group who opted for the town visit were very satisfied with their decision.

So, was there anything special about Volendam? Not really.

Much like many small towns in the Netherlands, Volendam has limited tourist attractions, these being mostly its built heritage (wooden buildings) and cultural assets (a museum and a cheese factory). When surveyed, the visitors explained they enjoyed the glimpse into the local culture and the routine life of the locals.

The tourists appreciated going to local shops and eating at local restaurants far away from standardised brands and international franchises. They felt they could feel the “soul” of the country.

What does Volendam have that Amsterdam doesn’t? It probably comes down to everyday local character.

At the time of this 2014 survey, cities and holidays at the coast were the main attractions for visitors to the Netherlands (36% and 22%, respectively). But interest in the countryside and touring the Netherlands (12% and 10%, respectively) has been increasing.

Finding a local tourism niche

Let’s be frank: smaller towns and villages have not been dormant, and many have jumped at the opportunities offered by tourism. We all have heard about farm holidays, horse riding, wine tasting tours, nature guided walks and so on.

Building on this, innovative regional tourism practices have been recognised worldwide for displaying a breadth of approaches and end products. A good example in Ireland is Ballyhoura, “a world where the little pleasures of sharing everyday things with the locals in Ballyhoura – talking with them, walking with them and sharing a joke – is possibly the greatest attraction of them all!”

Despite a lack of outstanding tourism resources, the area became a successful tourism destination thanks to a very personalised marketing method. Visitors even received a welcoming letter. The focus on “promoting a genuine rural experience and warm welcome” creates an incentive for more local start-up enterprises and for a co-operative, closing-the-loop process of quality control.

Longreach and Winton are Australian towns that have taken advantage of distinctive local histories and features such as old mines and fossil beds. Longreach has the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum, while Winton’s Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum offers “products” of the natural environment such as dinosaur stamps and bones.

Nowhere else has one: the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland.
James Shrimpton/AAP

Yet all attempts have not been met with success. Many smaller towns are slowly disappearing in Australia. Main streets with closed shops and abandoned business are not uncommon.

The combination of lack of employment and population ageing and loss is a chicken-and-egg situation. The various levels of government are acutely aware of this, and tourism offers a possible way out of the dilemma facing these towns. Several recent initiatives have shown how tourism can contribute to the development of these areas when innovation, expertise and community participation are brought together.

Charleville in far west Queensland offers a great example of this, with the outback town working on making the most of its clear nighttime skies, far from the city lights. An extension to the Cosmos Centre and Observatory, funded by state and local governments, has boosted visitor numbers in just one year. The extension displays fun and serious facts about planets and life in space, enhanced by interactive media.

The ConversationFor the town of fewer than 4,000 people, the growth in tourism is like a nice spring rain after a long dry season. It’s another reminder of why rural tourism can be “the perfect small town business idea”.

Elizabeth Turenko, PhD Candidate, Griffith University and Karine Dupré, Associate Professor in Architecture, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.