Discussion of Tourism Impacts on Historic Towns Essay

In this essay will be discussed the socio-cultural impact of tourism on historic towns, looking at the case of Canterbury, Kent. Some ideas will also be given of how to reduce the negative and increase the positive impacts of tourism activities.

Canterbury is situated in north-East Kent. The city lies on the River Great Stour. (Photo no 0.) (www.wikipedia.com, 2009) We cannot discuss a historic town without taking a glimpse at its history. Canterbury, like many historic towns, has had its share of rising and falling throughout its history. The author looks at five major historical periods that had a significant impact on the town’s development and its tourism.

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The first period was when the Romans occupied England (43AD-410AD). They built stone houses, theatres, temples and baths, and also constructed roads which allowed better access to the city. (Photo no 1, 2, 3)

The second was the reign of Henry II (1154-89) when Archbishop Thomas Becket’s death brought mass tourism into the city in the form of pilgrims visiting Becket’s shrine. (Photo no 4)

The third period was when Geoffrey Chaucer’s (1343-1400) Canterbury Tales were written and also when the biggest pilgrim inns were built. Today one of the most visited attractions is the Canterbury Tales House. (See photo no. 5) It shows that these periods had a positive impact on tourism in the town by encouraging visitors to spend time in the city.

On the other hand the fourth period, the Tudor and Stuart (1400-1700) period, had a negative impact, because all the monasteries in the town were closed down, which stopped pilgrims visiting. (Photo no 6.)

The final period is the last 300 years, when the ‘rise of stagecoach and turnpikes’, later the railway and Channel Tunnel put Canterbury back on the map, making it one of the most popular cities to visit for pleasure and cultural purposes.

Russo et al. (2001 p.826) warn us that ‘sustainable tourism development based on the exploitation of cultural attractions cannot be achieved if the users of the heritage -both tourists and residents – are not culturally prepared to appreciate it and reward its value.’ In 1988 UNESCO declared the city a World Heritage Site, naming the following buildings as meriting protection: Canterbury Christchurch Cathedral and Precinct, St Augustine’s Abbey and St. Martin’s Church. It is now up to future generations to look after them.

The rise in visitor numbers brought about by the UNESCO designation raises the question of socio-cultural changes. The population of Venice is affected by similar problems. Unaffordable housing prices forces young generation out of the historic centre, thus the city experiencing decline in population. (Russo 2002) Cohen (1984) suggests examining host-guest interaction and tourist behaviour.

The attitude of the local residents depends on their level of involvement in the industry and also on the number of tourists. According to Doxey’s (1976) irritation index the impatience level of residents changes and follows a particular model: it begins with euphoria. In the 1830’s the euphoria level must have been significant when the first train service from London to Canterbury via Whitstable began to operate, carrying up to 300 people. (Smith, 2009) The next stage is apathy when visitors are taken for granted and hosts are more concerned with marketing. This is followed by the annoyance stage when hosts are concerned whether tourism is any benefit to them. (Shaw and William 2002) In France the government wants to prevent this stage by planning to limit the number of US tourists and so called ‘free riders’, giving the reason of economic concern and ‘popularity of the country’.

Understanding tourist behaviour cannot happen without understanding the social behaviour of individuals and the society as a whole. (Hewison, 1987) While Krippendorf (1987 p. 41) depicts tourists as behaving badly, using words such as ‘ridiculous’, ‘na�ve’, ‘uncultured’, ‘ugly’, ‘exploiting’, Poon (1993) shows a positive attitude and notes that ‘new tourists’ are more aware of the social and cultural impact they have on the places they visit.

Pizam and Sussmann (1995) raise the question of nationality and whether this has an effect on how different types of tourist behave. Ritter’s (1987) studies show that Europeans are an adventurous and ‘individualist’ type of tourist, whilst the Japanese and Chinese are more likely to travel in groups and stay with them most of the time, without social interaction with local people or other tourists.

Major negative socio-cultural impacts appear when tourists outnumber the local population. In these cases there are language barriers and religious differences and the issue of antisocial behaviour arises. To mitigate these negative impacts local residents have to challenge themselves by learning other languages. During our trip to Canterbury, we experienced the dominance of French-speaking students. To minimize the late-night disturbance of local people, pubs should have limited opening hours. Tourists should respect local ethnic traditions and values. (Hall, 2000) For instance, when visiting the Cathedral, respecting it as a holy place would strengthen locals’ positive attitude to tourism.

One way in which the city council or development trustees could accentuate positive impacts of tourism is by involving the community in decision making. To this end, academics, sports experts and policy makers gathered together last year at Canterbury Christ Church University to discuss and exchange ideas on how to help regions like Kent and Canterbury to take advantage of the forthcoming London Paralympics Games. They suggested more active involvement of the community and increasing understanding of the socio-cultural and health opportunities which will be provided in the period up to and during the Olympic Games.

Conclusion

This essay did not have time to give a wider description of Canterbury’s history. If you are interested in furthering your knowledge, visit www.drttours.co.uk .From Pizam and Sussmann’s studies we found out that tourist behaviour could be affected by nationality. It is not so much national culture that determines a tourist’s behaviour but the individual’s social class. (Richardson and Crampton 1988) The socio-cultural impacts are mostly linked to other impacts, such as economic and environmental. In cities with large concentrations of tourists, traffic congestion, air and noise pollution affect the lives of people who commute in these areas.

According to his worst critics ‘Tourism is an invasion and takes over the host culture and transforms it into a spectacle’. (Burns and Novelli 2007 p.382) However, tourism has not only a negative side, but a positive: by creating employment and cultural diversity, it helps tolerance and acceptance of difference.

Finally, to improve tourist/host relationships, both parties have an equal part to play.

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