Tag Archives: cultural tourism

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The challenge for communities wanting to capitalize on cultural tourism is simple: the current planning paradigm is obsolete.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.”


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. 


Tourism of the people, by the people, for the people – the story of StoryMap

Thanks to a sharing in Facebook’s Responsible Networking Group – thank you Jeremy Smith and Ethical Traveller, Catherine Mack – I was introduced to StoryMap.ie and heard myself (there was no one else to hear) let out an almighty YEEEEES!

I wasn’t planning to write a post today but felt compelled to share this development from Dublin with readers of Conscious.Travel who are proving to be such a loyal supportive group despite the  fact that most of you are invisible.

This initiative proves why the focus on place and people can be so powerful. Two unemployed Dubliners served themselves and their community by providing the means whereby Dubliners could tell their stories and invite others to share what what makes Dublin unique. It’s an innovation that simply emerged from the grassroots, required no top-down planning or feasibility studies and, once you start watching is guaranteed to distract you and make you want more – perhaps even to visit Dublin. Simple, Brilliant and in its execution, utterly Irish!

It ticks all seven of Conscious Travel’s working Principles – creative people, with a sense of purpose talking about their place, using social media and story telling to pull customers towards their community; offering opportunities to tell stories about the culture and nature that is or needs to be protected; and suggesting that if visitors simply slowed their pace, they too could create stories of their own. The end result: Plenty – plenty of delight for the viewer, fulfillment for creators, a reason to stay long and savour more for guests and a highly cost effective way of expressing the kind of quirky experience and warm welcome you might expect from Dubliners.

Here’s the Story Map story in the creators’ own words – they don’t need me to be a intermediary……

Storymap is the brainchild of two Dublin filmmakers, Andy Flaherty and Tom Rowley. Just back from working abroad, unemployed and in between film projects, the lads became annoyed with all the negative press the city was receiving. The bleak tales of recession, the gloomy accounts of unemployment and the notion that Ireland’s best and brightest had emigrated was completely at odds with what the lads were experiencing being back in their hometown.

“We wanted to do something to get people as excited about the city as we were. While loads of great people have left the country, you only have to walk into any gallery, gig or any of the fantastic spoken word or comedy nights to see that Dublin is a ridiculously fun and vibrant city with wonderful characters and a flourishing art scene. We wanted to bring the charm and character that had been pushed aside by the Celtic Tiger and bring it centre stage” – Andy

The lads came up with Storymap, a web based multimedia project that revives Ireland’s age-old tradition of storytelling and tries to capture the personality of Dublin city through its stories and storytellers. These stories are filmed being told where they happened and integrated into a live map to create a charming and layered collective vision of Dublin city made by the people of the city.

“Walking around the city – everyone has their own stories that they remember on certain streets, stories that flavour their personal experience of the city, that they tell on to friends. We thought it’d be exciting to pool those stories in one place, like one big pub where everyone shares their stories, creating a sense of what the city means to Dubliners. It’s a simple idea, but with complex possibilities, and we’re only just at the beginning of it.” – Tom

The site is expanded by a story a week to create a ‘Storymap’ of the entire city – a vision of the city as lived across nationalities, generations and centuries. The site is developed by Tercet, and was built through funding by DCEB.

OK, now for a bit of healthy interaction and dialogue so that I don’t have to talk to myself all morning. Which stories did you enjoy the most?  Why don’t you take a small step and fill in the comment box or, just as good,  share this post with friends.

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