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Adventure in Namibia – proving the power of community based conservation and tourism

Excitement is mounting! In less than four hours I start my journey to Namibia to participate in the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s annual World Summit (2013).

It’s such a privilege for many reasons:

1. Namibia leads the world in wildlife conservancy because it made a courageous choice that at the time bucked the trend. Shortly after independence, Namibia was the first country to include the protection of the environment in its constitution. For the first time, rural residents on communal land could have the same rights over wildlife as private farmers, enabling them to operate tourism and trophy hunting businesses and to diversify incomes away from farming. There are now 79 communal conservancies covering 19.5% of Namibia’s land, with one in five rural Namibians living in a conservancy.

A whopping 42% of Namibia is under conservation management and the entire coastline (some 1000 miles) is protected.

elephants caprivi 1

Photo by Helge Denker (c) WWF Namibia

As a result of this visionary choice and the dedication of Namibia’s peoples, wildlife populations are flourishing.

I am looking forward to learning first hand how the Namibians have develop their Community-based Natural Resource Management Program

ATTA President, Shannon Stowell,  has written a mouth watering account of his first visit in the National Geographic here

2. Namibia is not just protecting its biosphere but the “ethnosphere” (Wade Davies’ term for cultural diversity) is getting a helping hand too as the conservancies provide the means for indigenous peoples to maintain their way of life and source income froum conservancy and tourism.

I am travelling as guest of Namibia and the WWF with a group of dear friends and colleagues from the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) to visit a number of community-based, indigenous tourism operations in the country. Included in our itinerary are visits to:

  • Mafwe Living Culture Museum, Zambezi Region (formerly Caprivi Region)This is a formal enterprise that provides visitors insights into the traditional culture of the Mafwe people.
  • Kwe San, who have established a guide training program to help ensure the world famous tracking skills of the San people are not lost among the young generation.
  • Ovambo Community, Sheya Shushona Conservancy. This conservancy has partnered with an investor to build a Joint Venture (JV) Lodge.

On October 25th, some 250 participants in Namibia’s tourism sector are attending an Indigenous Tourism conference at which my WINTA friends will speak.

I am so impressed by the achievements of our Namibian hosts and will do my best to share experiences of the next two weeks. It’s a trip of a lifetime and a story that must be told. Enjoy this video and please follow the adventure!

Place-based cultural tourism: a new planning paradigm

We’re very pleased to post this Guest Post by Steven 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 & Insight. Thank you Steven. 

For the past decade, my work has focused on destination planning for cultural tourism. Using principles and practices of cultural planning pioneered by my friend and colleague Greg Baeker of  Millier Dickinson Blais, combined with an inclusive, holistic framework for identifying a community’s cultural tourism assets, I’ve attempted to move communities beyond inserting their cultural icons – their flagship museums and galleries, arts events and festivals, historic sites and heritage attractions – into their leisure travel campaigns and calling the result, “cultural tourism”.

We know the market for cultural tourism is enormous. It’s documented in the new Canadian publication, Cultural & Heritage Tourism: A Handbook for Community Champions, to which I was pleased to contribute and serve as an editorial advisor. Elsewhere, the 2009 Cultural & Heritage Traveler Study, documents that 14 percent of all U.S. domestic leisure travelers are “Passionate Cultural Travelers” who actively seek out cultural tourism experiences. Total trip spending by these “Passionates” is estimated at $43 billion per year. Small wonder that, a decade ago, the Travel Industry Association of America’s Bill Norman observed, “The sheer volume of travelers interested in arts and heritage as well as their spending habits, their travel patterns and demographics leaves no doubt that history and culture are now a significant part of the U.S. travel experience.”

The challenge for communities wanting to capitalize on cultural tourism is simple: the current planning paradigm is obsolete. Effective tourism marketing is marketing by segment. To this end, destination marketing organizations cannot rely on generic leisure travel campaigns to reach cultural travelers. Cultural travelers must be targeted using purpose-built marketing platforms and targeted cultural campaigns.

But before we take a cultural tourism product to market, we first need to engage in a much more sophisticated process of identifying a community’s cultural tourism asset base, uncovering its cultural identity, and crafting a visitor experience that will capitalize on any community’s most strategic asset: its sense of place.

Source: Whistler Centre for Sustainability

Whistler, BC, recognizes this fact. In the wake of the 2010 Winter Olympics, North America’s pre-eminent ski destination realized it could not build the future of its tourism industry around skiing and snowboarding alone. Seeing the potential of cultural tourism to diversify its tourism offering, yet understanding it could not compete culturally with Vancouver on Vancouver’s terms, Whistler contracted my firm to develop Canada’s first place-based cultural tourism strategy, entitled A Tapestry of Place.

I call my approach, “place-based cultural tourism”, because it eschews the notion that cultural attractions are the heart of the visitor experience. Research tells us otherwise: Cultural travelers want to explore what makes a destination distinctive, authentic, and memorable. They want to experience the essence of the destination – its “cultural terroir”. They want to experience “place”. Through experiencing “place”, they are enriched – intellectually and emotionally. Of course, attractions are more than essential; they are critical. That said, attractions are expressions of a destination’s culture; they are not its embodiment.

It’s ironic. Richard Florida has opined that, “Place is becoming the central organizing unit of our economy and society”. And yet, while we see Florida’s understanding reflected in the emerging fields of place-based agriculture, place-based urban planning, place-based economic development and a host of others fields, tourism is oddly “behind the curve” on the application of place-based thinking to destination planning. It’s a head-scratcher – more so given that tourism’s product is place, or that, at the very least, tourism experiences are located in a particular place.

In North America, perhaps the best example of a place-based approach to cultural tourism is found in Stratford, Ontario – home to the internationally renowned Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Stratford Helps Visitors Meet Locals

Under the inspired leadership of Eugene Zakreski, the Executive Director of the Stratford Tourism Alliance, Stratford’s marketing campaign – along with its many initiatives in product development – is anchored in place-based thinking. Rather than focusing on the Shakespeare Festival as Stratford’s primary draw, Zakreski has positioned the Festival as the “jewel in the crown” of a destination brimming with other human heritage, arts, culinary, agritourism, and natural history experiences. At the same time, Zakreski uses Stratford’s history and heritage, its narratives and stories, its landscape, its townscape and people to “frame” the cultural experiences that are encountered on the ground. Where yesteryear’s Stratford was the Festival – full stop – the allure of today’s Stratford is all about, “what makes Stratford Stratford”.

The result? Because Stratford’s sense of place is front-and-centre, business has never been better. To quote Zakreski, “The results of our efforts have been significant, with triple-digit growth in visitors to our various websites over the past few years, double-digit growth to Stratford in the fall, winter and spring seasons, and noticeably younger adult couples enjoying the Stratford Experience.”

ABOUT STEVEN THORNE

Steven Thorne is a specialist in “place-based cultural tourism” – a phrase that Steven coined. He helps cities, towns, and regions to realize their potential for cultural tourism by using his company’s holistic, place-based planning approach. The approach weaves together heritage, arts, culinary, agritourism, and natural history experiences to form a “cultural tapestry” that reveals a destination’s unique cultural character and sense of place.

In Steven’s words, “For cultural travelers, the visitor experience is about much more than a destination’s cultural ‘attractions’. It’s about discovering what makes a city, town, or region distinctive, authentic, and memorable. It’s about the experience of ‘place’. Simply put, ‘the place is the product.'” Steven’s clients have included Tourism BC, Parks Canada, Tourism PEI, and cities, towns, and institutions from British Columbia to Newfoundland. Committed to cultural tourism education as well as its practice, Steven teaches the course, “Cultural Tourism: Realizing the Opportunity”, offered through the Cultural Resource Management Program at the University of Victoria. He is also a regular guest lecturer in the Graduate Program in Tourism Policy and Planning at the University of Waterloo. Steven can be reached at: steven.thorne@sympatico.ca

Conscious Travel Addendum
Here’s a link to another relevant and content-rich post by Steven Thorne comparing Canada’s approach to marketing culture to visitors to that applied by their American neighbours. The post is rich with references that could inform global readers. 

http://economicdevelopment.org/2012/12/why-dont-you-canadians-market-your-culture-2/ 


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