The importance of identity and diversity - tourism in context

Tourism has always played an important role in historic towns. Managed positively, it can be part of a broader driver of change and regeneration. It does not have to be the scapegoat for unwanted change but can contribute positively to the character of an area.

Without careful management, actively promoting tourism could have a detrimental impact on the individuality and distinctiveness of historic towns. What is attractive to visitors itself becomes threatened by the economic imperative to create income and jobs, a view that distinctiveness and attractiveness are qualities to be exploited and a failure to understand the subtleties and acknowledge potential damage.

In the EHTF guidance 'Focus on Tourism', the Forum suggests a number of critical actions to achieve this, which include recognising the uniqueness of the locality; the need to enhance the sense of place; and maintaining local distinctiveness and the environment.

At a time when the environmental implications of cheap flights are being questioned, it is time to ensure that our historic towns and cities have strategies in place to maintain their quality and distinctiveness in a changing visitor market.

The Forum suggests there are three key messages that will ensure this:

  • The unique qualities of a place have a worth to community over and above their exploitation value as a tourism commodity
  • Conserving and enhancing uniqueness requires an integrated approach from the destination, individual travellers and the tourism industry
  • Managing tourism in this way is a necessary, though not by itself sufficient, condition for making tourism more sustainable.

Ian Poole, Planning Policy and Specialist Services Manager, St Edmundsbury Borough Council