Place is back – how did we ever lose it?

A consistent theme of this blog, that will persist until The Shift/The Transition/The Great Turning/The Great Disruption is over, relates to the power of paradigms to shape behaviour.

A perceptive reader will notice that I haven’t used the word paradigm much because I was told a few years ago that it was too “high falutin” for my audience and it would cause their ears to close down, and eyes to roll or glaze over.

But I am encouraged. A couple of weeks ago,  there was a seminar at the World Travel Market of all places on just this subject:

“The Paradigm Shift in Travel and Tourism – New Rules for

Competitive Success”

South Gallery 19; 12:30-13:30.

And it was lead by a tourism professional with all the right credentials – Dr. Auliana Poon, CEO of Tourism Intelligence International, whose text turned a few heads some 20 years ago,  was subsequently largely ignored simply because she was too ahead of her time. Sadly, an unplanned for accident on the way to the seminar prevented my attendance and a long overdue catch up with Dr. Poon to find out her interpretation of the current paradigm shift.

Emboldened that there might be a growing audience for this topic, I’ll continue.

An industrial mindset (a.k.a.paradigm) causes many of us to view the world through a lens that separates subject from object; that pits buyers against sellers as adversaries; and consistently focuses on things and transactions rather than invisible stimuli and emotional states.

This same worldview fuels our obsession with definitions, with labels, with breaking down a topic into its component parts before trying how to make the pieces of the puzzle fit back together again.

Consider our tendency in tourism to:

1. Separate product development (engineering) from marketing (see an earlier post on Branding – If branding were left to engineers);

2. Separate markets by activity (adventure, cultural, heritage, agro, eco, culinary tourism)

3. Focus on artefacts and facilities,  “attractions” and venues rather than the experience, the emotions aroused and memories created; and

4. Divorce the “product” from the setting – the place – which is properly the biggest force shaping the visitor experience

5. Have the message shaped and controlled by centralised bodies often with the help of external agencies.

Well for someone who has felt like a displaced person for much of my career in tourism, I’m delighted to find I am in very good company and that THE SHIFT that I keep describing is real and not a figment of my imagination. The waves of change are even washing up on the long sandy beaches of Australia’s Gold Coast where the chief reporter for the Gold Coast Bulletin  declared in a recent article:

We need a sense of place. A lot of global tourism destinations are starting to look the same. Place tourism is growing.

While I am having real difficulty with the completely redundant term “place tourism” which is as about as useful as “experiential tourism” I do see cause for optimism.

And to celebrate the return of PLACE in our consciousness, I’d like to honour other “soldiers in the thought trenches” who have been trying to lure place back into the centre of all tourism conversations:

  1. Steven Thorne, From Waterloo Canada, who has been consistently writing about the power of place along with his colleague Greg Baeker, author of Rediscovering the Wealth of Places: A Municipal Cultural Planning Handbook for Canadian Communities published in 2010 by Municipal World.
  2. Joe Pine, author of the seminal work The Experience Economy
  3. Robin Barden, a Briton based in Barcelona who writes a very perceptive, intelligent blog called SenseOurway
  4. Simon Anholt,founder of the National Brand Index and author of “Places: Identity, Image and Reputation
  5. Ethan Gelber, editor of The TravelWord, co-founder of the Local Travel Movement and Chief Communicator for the WHL Group
  6. Marin Schobert of Tourismus Design
  7. Dr Dan Shilling, former Executive Director of the Arizona Humanities Council, and author of the wonderful 2007 book, “Civic Tourism, The Poetry and Politics of Place”. His website is – Clearly Dr Shilling is a skilled proponent of place. I hope we will be able to embed the video that is on his site here. I thoroughly recommend a view.
  8. Dr. Susan Guyette – a cultural anthropologist in Sanata Fe with considerable experience working with indigenous people in the US and author several books has recently conducted a webinar on Sustainable Cultural Tourism with/for Sustainable Tourism International that has lots of practical advice and examples concerning ways of maintaining cultural integrity and ensuring that the culture of a host community is respected.
  9. Ron Mader, creator of the magnificent resource Planeta Wiki moderated an important seminar on Media, Tourism and the Environment in which there was considerable focus on place. Ron’s summary posted by the South Africa’s Rhodes University titled The Coverage of Place. is here

I am aware that this initial list will have only scratched the surface of specific tourism-place talent out there so I would welcome suggestions as to other “Place Proponents” – individuals, hosts, planners who are making a stand for PLACE to replace product.

Over the next few weeks, some of these place rescuers have agreed to contribute their insights on this blog. They’ll all be categorized under Place and further links given here as we compile their insights and point our readers to useful sources.

16 Responses to “Place is back – how did we ever lose it?”

  1. I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it.


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  3. I love reading through the comments following Anna/Conscious Traveler’s posts–so often worthwhile. So please allow me to add to the reading list:

    Paul Kingsnorth’s “Real England”–recommended to me by Harold Goodwin while on the Responsible Tourism Masters–really got me thinking about real places vs. “contrived places”, place distinctiveness and the forces that combine to make places–from farmland to pub interiors to town centres–bland. It’s a rallying call too.


    • This is a reply and expression of gratitude to all the commentators on this post. The power of community at work! Thanks for all the pointers to additional reading. Really helpful to me and our readers.


  4. Pardon me for not erasing a partial comment that appears after my name in my previous response.

    As promised, here are but a few “place-related” sources from which I have drawn inspiration over the years:
    – Peter Murphy, Tourism – A Community Approach
    – Alexander Wilson, The Culture of Nature
    – James Clifford, Routes – Travel and Translation in the late 20th Century
    – John Sears, Sacred Places – American Tourist Attractions in the 19th Century
    – Alan Gussow, A Sense of Place
    – Edward Relph, Place and Placelessness
    – Yi-Fu Tuan, Place: An Experiential Perspective, Geographical Review
    – E.V. Walter, Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment
    – Roger Keil et al, Local Places in the Age of the Global City
    – James H. Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere, and Home from Nowhere
    – Winifred Gallagher, The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions and Actions
    – Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place
    – Barara Kirchenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture – Tourism, Museums and Heritage
    – David Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Distance
    – Edward S. Casey, The Fate of Place – A Philosophical History
    – Clare Gunn, Tourism Planning and Vacationscape
    – G.L Ashworth et al, The Tourist-Historic City

    This partial list provides but a glimmer of light into place-related wisdom I have found fascinating. I have also discovered that books and articles on environmental psychology, architecture, vernacular regional design, cities (Jane Jacobs), rural areas, sustainability, history and so on, have also yielded a wealth of relevant knowledge.

    Of course, what would our understanding of place do like if it weren’t for the immense contributions of National Geographic, UNESCO, the mavericks who launched eco-tourism, encouraged the preservation of heritage sites and created national parks, the the NGOs (e.g Rainforest Alliance) who have provided world-view perspectives on tourism development especially in fragile and sacred regions.

    But, that isn’t all. Those of you who do not follow exciting new developments and positive change in the corporate world might find it enlightening to know how technologies are creating a New World Order, encouraging co-creation in the realm of innovation, and fostering more responsible and transparent organizations that have no option but to become more community and customer-centric. I find it quite worthwhile to read publications like Fast Company and Harvard Business Review that are focused on cutting edge ideas, innovative developments that are shaping the future of enterprises and economies. After all, if we are to foster change we have no choice but to thoroughly understand our constituents, most of which are hard-working entrepreneurs and dedicated small business operators. Our job should be help them create desirable futures for their communities, and give credance to the importance of place in pusuit of noble purpose.

    Cheers, Michael


  5. Hello Anna, Place matters. Whether sacred or secular, good, ugly or bad, place drives touristic activity and how people respond. Like it or not, tourism supports and facilitates mass mobility, amusement-driven cultures, and the constant churn of “been there, done that” visitors (many of whom are more interested in discounted deal transactions, in contrast to seeking more substantive knowledge and meaning). Unfortunately too much tourism activity is transaction-based. And furthermore, tourism comes with an implied promise to turn communities and regions into growth and job-generating destinations. So, tourism’s entrepreneurial and operational focus is inevitable and ever-lasting, as is the attention (or lack of it) given to creating, managing and marketing tourism’s products and services (that not only determine survival but collectively help define place). However, it is the constancy and consistency of appeal, magnificence, beauty, distinctiveness, and delightfulness of visitor experiences of these products and services within a given place that ultimately creates true competitive as well as community advantage.

    As our industry grapples with new post-traumatic growth, the negative aspects of capitalism and the narrow-minded managerial mindsets have become ever more exposed. Bringing them to our attention is important, but rather than dwell on them now is the time to dedicate ourselves to identifying and uncovering positive response to this new normal.

    We need to focus the excess energy released from over-reaction to setbacks toward innovation – not simply to products and services, but to policies, processes, and long-term profitability that emanates from more innovative managerial practices, and better appreciation as to the power of place.

    Difficulty is what wakes up the genius in us. “When life gives you a lemon…..” As proponents of “Conscious Travel” principles, therefore, it is our collective responsibility not only to encourage hosts and visitors to discover and embrace the true sense of place that is worthy of affection and human aspirations, but to provide the tools and processes that will reveal how best to care for community; embed place in product and product in place; restore the physical dwelling space of our civilization; offer real hope for nations, regions and communities yearning to live, work and play in places worth caring about; declare that the public realm matters, and that it must be honoured and embellished in order to make civic life possible; create radically better forms of tourism development; and revive our communities and a shared sense of place.

    Whereas we have turned our collective backs on our communities and abandonned them to fate, now is the time to engage our political, community and business leaders and to mencourage them to think more seriously about them and their future.

    Those of us who support Conscious Travel’s principles constitute a network of strong relationships. Change will not occur, however, until we exploit our weaker ties, expand and grow our networks. Like bridges, they allow us to disseminate and provide better access to knowledge and information that they might not otherwise have access to. By establishing more pathways to placeways, Conscious Travel and Tourism principles will inevitably become the norm.

    Anna…you’ve resurrected my interest in place. In another response I will identify a few of my cherished sources of knowledge on place.

    Sincerely, Michael (Haywood)

    This change in mindset is already taking hold and is being driven by quests for authenticity, sustainability, hospitality,


    • Thank you Michael for your contribution here. Through our personal correspondence I am aware that you have given considerable thought to a smarter form of tourism and I delighted that you are here!

      It’s so encouraging to receive passionate comments coming from people who care. Two years ago I coined the expression “Places That Care” and there’s a wiki that shows how my thinking was developing at the time ( The focus was on encouraging young people to become the change agents in their community. I’ve since shifted my focus to the importance of hosts demonstrating that they care about the places in which their business are set (i.e. by exercising the Protection principle) and I still believe that’s a vital piece of Conscious Travel. But here, as you articulate, the focus is on Caring About Places in a fuller, richer way. I really like this paragraph in your comments:

      “……it is our collective responsibility not only to encourage hosts and visitors to discover and embrace the true sense of place that is worthy of affection and human aspirations, but to provide the tools and processes that will reveal how best to care for community; embed place in product and product in place; restore the physical dwelling space of our civilization; offer real hope for nations, regions and communities yearning to live, work and play in places worth caring about; declare that the public realm matters, and that it must be honoured and embellished in order to make civic life possible; create radically better forms of tourism development; and revive our communities and a shared sense of place”

      This is the space in which we’ll regenerate true value for all participants in the tourism system and also develop our capacity to adapt to external forces (our resilience) and create prosperity (defined not in exclusively fiscal terms but in terms of greater vitality, complexity, beauty and meaning.

      I also like the use of the word collective – I am convinced that change will occur in communities when hosts learn to communicate, connect and collaborate as modelled by the “Millennial” generation and described in this article:


  6. A brambly issue arising out of this trend:

    In our quest to experience the intrinsic qualities of the places we visit, do we make a tacit demand that they remain true to their heritage at the expense of positive progress?

    Make no mistake — my colleagues at Amble Resorts and I are all “place proponents” — the concept of “genius loci” is central to design and operations at our resorts.

    Still, there are times when we visit a place that is moving away from its cultural origins, but towards a brighter future for the often-impoverished local population.

    Imagine you’ve visited an indigenous community, hoping for an “authentic” experience of its culture through traditional food, rituals, music, and dance. You may witness some of this, but alongside it you see information technology and modern conveniences being incorporated, to the benefit of these people who stand to enjoy greater health, education, and opportunities by embracing things developed elsewhere. Or perhaps you find only elders in the village, as the present generation has largely left to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

    I believe some travelers are swept up in the appeal of experiencing exotic cultures as they have existed for centuries… and that they fail to keep the true best interests of the locals at heart. Geotourism is admirable in principle, but in practice, there are many interests other than the geotourists to consider.


    • Excellent point Rachel! All cultures are dynamic as all life is dynamic and, therefore, constantly changing and adjusting and, ideally evolving. That’s why I believe that the concept of sustainability – if it means the endurance of what currently exists in its current form is neither possible or desirable!

      It would be a cruel tyranny if the expectations of inbound tourists caused an indigenous culture to freeze in time – at the very least this would be disrespectful and worse another form of exploitation.

      I defer to your practical experience in the real world at Amble Resorts Rachel but isn’t it a question of good communication and, more importantly, conversation?

      The last half of your last sentence shines the light on this – I don’t believe we should put the tourist first, any more than we should put the shareholder first. I don’t like the stakeholder word much either but it does help us remember that there is always a community involved – hosts, residents, guests, employees, shareholders, suppliers and, tough though it can be (as I am sure you have experienced) the outcome has to be some form of balance.

      Thanks once again for your insightful comments. It’s great to any form of discussion.


      • Absolutely — the ongoing discussion is key to achieving this balance. At Amble, we have a rich mixture of different personalities — we approach things like marketing, design, and travel from different angles even as we pursue the same goals. It makes for a good system of checks-and-balances so that we are able to consider our eco-resort guests’ needs even as we respect the locals in our areas of development. Tourism developers can and should take note of the value of diversity when making hiring decisions.


  7. Anna,

    To your list of “soldiers in the thought trenches” of PLACE, allow me to add the name of Dan Shilling. Dan is the former Executive Director of the Arizona Humanities Council, and author of the wonderful 2007 book, “Civic Tourism, The Poetry and Politics of Place”. His website is


    Steven Thorne
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada


  8. Thank you Ron. I was not aware of this discussion and I encourage readers to look at the conference summary you identified at th end of your comment. It can sometimes seem as we go round in circles in tourism but with every iteration there’s a different context and a fresh angle. I salute and thank you too for Planeta and for so diligently trying to chronicle these iterations. You are another valued soldier in the thought trenches. Muchos Gracias amigo!


  9. Fine essay, Anna! My view: we ‘lost’ place when we allowed tourism experts to focus our attention solely on destination.

    This was a topic for discussion back in 2001 and the Media, Environment and Tourism Conference — — but we have not made that much of it in the past ten years as conferences and journals focused instead on in-bound travels and what locals needed to attract foreigners. Have a look at the conference summary posted by the South Africa’s Rhodes University titled The Coverage of Place. (PDF)


  10. Kevan gmail Business Reply November 28, 2012 at 4:45 pm


    You are the most inspirational leader in my tourism career, and I thank you for all you contribute.

    We never seem to make the whole journey into marketing our destination more holistically with “place” at its core. Maybe I’m too stuck in old ways! Partly, it’s because of our relationship with government and working with a program that’s 25 years old. Maybe the new Destination BC will bring the changes that I have been advocating for years.

    If you have any plans to come to BC next year, it would be great if those were scheduled in June so we could invite you to our Regional Tourism Leaders Forum (which also needs a more creative name!).

    Of course, you could always apply to become the CEO of Destination BC!



    Sent from my Ipad

    Kevan J. Ridgway Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Tourism Region t: 604-638-6930


    • Thanks Kevan for your generously kind words.
      I believe the replacement of place by product has less to do with government relations as it has with a way of approaching commerce that has dominated our thinking for well over 100 years and occurs in most developed economies.

      It’s an exciting time as so many of the assumptions underpinning the old production-consumption model are being questioned throughout society.

      The re-structuring in BC, however, does provide a creative opportunity for the tourism community to re-think roles, functions and relationships in light of the huge change forces affecting tourism. I would love to work with my former colleagues and assist in that re-thinking process but I have no interest in any other role. Nice to feel wanted though!!



  1. Place-based cultural tourism: a new planning paradigm | Conscious.Travel - December 3, 2012

    […] Thorne who is one of our fellow “place proponents” as listed in the previous article, Place Is Back…“ . The original post was published in Canada’s  Economic Development News & […]


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