Heritage, Tourism and Economic Development in Seaside Towns

Yesterday, I gave this presentation at a fascinating event at Turner Contemporary in Margate on local lists and the heritage sector.  I was invited to speak by the Margate Neighbourhood Plan Forum and Margate Civic Society, about the relationship between heritage, tourism and economic development.  This was great opportunity for me to return to Margate, the regeneration of which I published this article about a few years ago.

In my presentation, I argued that, in the absence of strong government policies on tourism and culture, and as public sector funding and control of regeneration reduces, there is an opportunity for heritage groups (like the fantastic Sevenoaks Society, who presented their work on local lists at the event) to influence how their local heritage is presented to tourists and to influence the nature of local economic development.

My main point was that tourists want fantastic, memorable experiences.  If heritage groups can present their local heritage to tourists as interesting stories and use exciting narratives, then heritage can be a great resource for regeneration. This might mean them becoming comfortable with the inauthentic heritagisation of their areas, but seaside towns like Whitby and Blackpool show that this can be highly effective in bringing in tourists and generating economic impacts.

 

An elephant delighting tourists in Margate (Thanks to Geoff Orton @ Margate Civic Society)
A mechanical elephant delighting tourists in Margate (Thanks to Geoff Orton @ Margate Civic Society)

Back the bid: East Kent City of Culture 2017

East Kent, the area that I grew up in and where I’ve spent most of my life, is bidding to become the UK City of Culture in 2017.  This is an innovative, exciting attempt to bring together the areas of Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone and Thanet as a single ‘city’ for the bid.

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Over the last ten years, there has been a flourishing of cultural activity and investment in East Kent.  My Phd (which is almost finished!), looks at how this has taken place on Kent’s coast.  I’ve written about cultural regeneration has been taking place in seaside towns generally and in Margate and Folkestone, specifically.  Inland though, there are other exciting cultural activities – Canterbury is a beautiful heritage city with an international arts festival and Ashford has an emerging arts scene with a new exciting venue and an inspiring, energetic arts manager in the local authority promoting the work of the borough’s artists.

East Kent is a diverse and interesting part of the country – it is an area of significant economic growth and home to some very wealthy people, but it is also the site of areas of significant poverty and exclusion.  Kent is a huge county, and large parts of it are rural (the garden of England, apparently!), but the urban areas are densely populated and growing fast.  For years, the area’s proximity to London has been a brake on the development of its cultural offer, but now high-speed links and it’s great quality of life mean that it can attract new residents from the capital and put on events that attract London audiences.

The successful opening of Turner Contemporary on East Kent’s most distant tip shows that distance is no barrier in attracting audiences if the quality of the cultural offer is high and the marketing is right – this bid will showcase the excellent cultural activity of the area and build on the buzz around Margate.

I want this bid to win. 11 cities are submitting bids and East Kent’s is clearly the most innovative – bringing together a huge range of local authorities, cultural organisations and other agencies.  If East Kent isn’t successful, then there is a huge amount to be gained from the bidding process: new links between councils who have competed rather than co-operated in the past, new networks of cultural organisations, a better sense of the cultural offer in the area and increased visibility for tourists and visitors.

Jools Holland and Tracey Emin at the opening of the Turner Contemporary Gallery
Jools Holland and Tracey Emin at the opening of the Turner Contemporary Gallery

Of course, as a researcher, I and others will be looking for opportunities to get under the skin of this bid and the project itself, if East Kent win.  These projects aren’t without their critics and maximising the benefits of this for tourism, economic development and the cultural sector will be challenging, but bidding, and hopefully winning, is the beginning of an exciting new opportunity for East Kent.  The short list for the next stage of the competition will be announced in June – you can support East Kent’s bid by clicking here and adding your name!

Dreamland, tourism and the regeneration of Margate

This week, a battle has been taking place in the High Court over the future of the Dreamland theme park site in Margate, Kent.  The Local Authority for Margate, Thanet District Council, has been granted a Compulsory Purchase Order for the site, because it wants to develop it in what it sees as the best interests of the town and its residents.  The owners of the site, Dreamland Live, are challenging this decision and want to retain the right to develop this land in their own commercial interests.

This is a brief news report about the background to the court battle, including a short contribution from me.  The court case finished yesterday, with a judgement due in around two weeks.

The Dreamland site is an important part of Margate’s tourism heritage and vital for the future of tourism development and regeneration in the area.  The delays to this project are incredibly damaging to the development of the town and are only worsening Margate’s Tourism Destination Image, which had been massively improved recently with the opening of Turner Contemporary.

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Click here to find out about more about Dreamland

I wrote a journal article about the regeneration of Margate, and of the use of culture to regenerate seaside towns generally, which you can read more about here.

The large dreamland site
The large Dreamland site

I’m not convinced that the owners of the site have really grasped the full potential of a revitalised Dreamland for tourism and economic development. However, I’m equally concerned that the local authority may not have the funds, capacity and commercial experience to deliver a project that is sustainable in the long-term.

I hope that the future development of Dreamland involves a genuine partnership between the public and private sectors and that the Dreamland Trust remain at the heart of the project. The trust have put together a set of really exciting ideas for the future of the site and represent a range of views and interests in the local community.  Without them, I’m sure that the whole site would have been given over to housing or a supermarket development long ago.

Social media and tourism marketing: Margate vs. Easyjet

Last week, I posted a photo on twitter. I took it on a Southeastern train that was going from London to Kent. This is the photo:

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Within an hour or so, my tweet was being re-tweeted and the photo was popping up on twitter and Facebook. When I woke up the next day, it was appearing on blogs and I was being emailed by journalists to ask for more details.

This advert provoked strong reactions for a few reasons:

  • Easyjet were suggesting that Margate was a second-class destination, that you wouldn’t go to unless it was all you could afford.
  • Margate has been undergoing huge developments, not least the opening of turner contemporary. It was recently voted one of the top must-see destinations in the world by Rough Guides. Easyjet seemed to be ignorant of this or, worse, deliberately mis-representing the destination
  • The advert was placed on a train that served the destination that it was insulting.  This last point isn’t really an objection to Easyjet, but to Southeastern Trains.  They have been supporters of Visit Kent, the DMO for the region, but they have also recently supported the regeneration of Margate through their high-profile PR link-up with Margate’s Mary Portas-supported town centre revival project.

Over the course of a few days on twitter, the extent of public anger about this advertising campaign was made clear to Easyjet.  Margate’s Mayor used twitter particularly effectively to complain to the airline.

On Monday, Easyjet formally apologised and withdrew the campaign.  This was reported locally, but also nationally, in the Independent and Telegraph newspapers and on the ITV news website.

This is a fascinating example of how communities in tourism destinations can influence how they are perceived and marketed, thanks to the power of social media and the access that this gives communities to the media and tourism businesses.  Admittedly, this kind of negative advertising is quite rare.  In fact, it most closely resembles the kind of comparative tourism marketing that helped to kill off towns like Margate in the 1960s, when English tourists were first shown the delights of Sun, Sand and Sangria.

Local gourmet Pizza company, GB Pizza, came up with this witty response to Easyjet’s campaign, I wonder how far we agree?

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Rediscovering cultural tourism: cultural regeneration in seaside towns

UPDATE: This article is now available for free download from here.

I’ve just had this article published in the Journal of Town and City Management. The abstract is below.  If you’d like to know more about this paper and don’t have access to read it online, please get in touch.

“British seaside towns have been subject to numerous attempts at regeneration and rebranding since the collapse of traditional seaside tourism began in the late 1970s. This paper reviews contemporary approaches to seaside regeneration and demonstrates that cultural regeneration strategies are becoming increasingly prevalent in this area. The validity of transferring city-based models of cultural development to these smaller urban areas is critiqued. The history of cultural investment in seaside towns is highlighted to show how current approaches to cultural regeneration, while presented as novel, are in fact a resumption of earlier strategies of cultural tourism development. This heritage of cultural development provides a resource for seaside cultural regeneration which may allow development of this type to avoid the negative social impacts often associated with cultural regeneration in cities.”

Social Seaside

I have started a new blog and a new twitter account to record the progress of my PhD research into the cultural regeneration of seaside towns in the UK.  I’ll be posting fairly regular updates on my research, which is now into its last 12 months, and also using them as a forum for discussion and dissemination of my results.

SeaScape conference

I’m planning on going to this conference in October,which for some reason I only found out about today!

SeaScape Conference – Butlins, Skegness, PE25 1NJ
Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd October 2009

This is a two-day international conference exploring culture as a regenerative force for coastal communities.

Bringing together cultural strategists, architects, and regeneration experts to discuss creative applications and practice from the Black and North Sea regions, also highlighting the Sea Change programme led by CABE.

The SeaScape conference is part of the ‘SEAS’, a festival featuring installations and performances, happening throughout Skegness

Programme of events

Each day will begin with presentations and discussion followed by more informal opportunities for delegates to actively respond to the conference themes through hands-on exploration of cultural mapping; site visits to innovative arts capital projects and dialogue with local residents.

International speakers will discuss and explore approaches to coastal regeneration from capital investment to community engagement.

The programme includes a session hosted by CABE of examination of Sea Change funded projects from Margate, Bridlington, Boscombe and Hastings.

Event Speakers

Speakers include Dragan Klaic (Netherlands), Fast Urban Research: Jacek Dominiczak and Monika Zawadzka (Poland) and representatives from key projects in Sweden, Norway and the Ukraine. Mark Simmonds (UK), MP for Boston and Skegness and Shadow Minister for Health will be chairing Day 2 of the conference.  Mark is leading on the Conservative’s Coastal Manifesto.

Conference Purpose

SeaScape is part of ‘Cityscape’, a series of conferences within the Black/North SEAS festival. The festival has travelled through Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Denmark, Sweden and Norway before arriving in Skegness, on England’s North Sea coast.

SeaScape provides an international platform for reflection and discussion embracing politicians, residents, artists and cultural entrepreneurs exploring common themes of climate-change, regeneration and demographic challenge that bind these coastal communities.

The conference will be a dynamic and inspiring interchange of ideas and experiences, connecting UK activity to international exemplars and supporting European networking and community action.

Attendees

Senior decision makers, planners and regeneration officers in coastal local authorities from the UK and internationally; RDA and other staff responsible for Coastal Action; Senior cultural officers, academics, planning consultants and other influential professionals; Local Strategic Partnership representatives; artists engaged in regeneration projects.

Costs

£80 + VAT + Booking Fee – conference, including lunch and refreshments (Does not include accommodation).

Book Now

The Apprentice does seaside regeneration!

BBC1 show ‘The Apprentice’ is taking on the re-branding of Margate in Kent as one of the tasks for it’s contestants in the latest series, which started last night.  Contestants will be tasked with designing a brand for the seaside town that can capture the town’s aspirations as a 21st century seaside destination.

Kent Profile

This is a copy of an article published this month in Kent Profile magazine, based on an interview with me about Kent’s seaside towns.  Click on the image to read it.thats-entertainment-2009

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As seen on TV….

I will be part of a panel on the South-East section of BBC 1’s ‘the politics show’ on Sunday 23rd November, discussing the role of cultural projects in the regeneration of seaside towns.  The show will be broadcast live between 12.30 and 1pm from Margate, ahead of the ground-breaking ceremony for the controversial Turner Contemporary gallery that will be constructed in the Kentish resort.  If you are not in the South-East, you can view the show after it has been broadcast via their website.

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