3 September 2010

Big Ideas on tourism

There are few better ways to spend the evening than having a stimulating discussion in a pub. This time the discussion was on tourism and was arranged by Big Ideas at The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia.

I got there early to get some food (Brie and Beetroot tart), a couple of beers (the marvellous Black Sheep) and to play with internet things on my iPhone4 and iPod touch (I carry both and The Wheatsheaf has wifi).

Fed, watered and FourSquared by the witching hour of 8pm I grabbed a fresh Sheep and headed upstairs to the meeting room.

I must quickly mention the room because it is very pretty with Mock Tudor windows with lead and coloured glass.

The discussion was initiated (rather than facilitated) by Nathan, one of the Big Idea founders, who soon demonstrated both his knowledge of the subject and of the latest academic thinking.

We started with the story of how Parliament Square, famous for its role in our history, has now been preserved for tourists because of that history and, therefore, has been excluded from being part of our history again.

More stories followed from throughout the room as we all added our perspectives and built on those of others. As usual at these sort of events, the questions proved to be a lot more interesting than the questions and I made a few notes of things that caught my attention during the debate. Some of these were...

What is a tourist and what is tourism? Does it define where we are (e.g. somewhere foreign) or how we feel about where we are (e.g. acting like a tourist in your home town)?

Is there any significance in our use of different terms like tourist, traveller, holiday maker, day tripper and migrant which seem to suggest differences in the relationship between the person and the place?

Is tourism colonialism by another, more acceptable, name as we bend the places that we visit to meet our needs?

If truth is the first victim or was, is authenticity the first victim of tourism as the victims of tourism exaggerate their culture and their history to become what the tourists want to see?

Do we really appreciate the impact tourism has on us in London, e.g. the colonisation of Covent Garden and the long queues to visit our local places of interest such as Westminster Abbey.

The evening ended, or rather paused, around 9:30 when we went down stairs for a refreshing drink. Most of the people stayed at least for one drink and the conversation carried on throughout the bar.

A corker of an evening.

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