cultural tourism 101: how to get people to enjoy a cultural experience

After my distastrous trip to Leeds, instead of getting a goitre about how shit it was, I decided to get constructive and get open source. Inspired by Sacrum, the Open Source Art School and the Advertising/Planning School on the Web, welcome to the first lesson of Cultural Tourism 101.

While i don’t have a PhD in Cultural Tourism, I am a cultural tourist (especially at the moment), i have resurrected a gallery in a regional town from the depths of hell (to hand it over to the best) and i have a brain, which i choose to use often.

What is cultural tourism?

Dictionary.com didn’t have a definition, but on a basic level, cultural tourism is attracting people to a place that is based around experiencing a creative experience, in order for them to be able to transcend their daily lives. Commonly, it is centred around music, art, literature, dancing, theatre, performance (as opposed to sport, business, or nature). as these are ways that we express ourselves as humans and give others a way to know us and know themselves.

Now, cultural tourism isn’t really a new thing. Even 2-bit towns in the arse-end of Australia have cottoned onto the phenomenon, but there are a few key points that need to be followed if a city/region/organisation is really going to attract tourists based on their cultural icons. I’m going to separate the lesson into two sections: events and institutions, because while a lot of the strategy behind it may be similar, there are a few key differences between the two.

Firstly, housekeeping.
There are a few basic questions you need to ask yourself if you’re going to embark on establishing your event/institution as a point of cultural reference for someone:

• Do you want people to come?
Yes? Fantastic. That’s what i would expect.
no? Leave.
What are you doing it for then? Is launching it online more your cup of tea, so you don’t actually have to engage with anyone?

• Do you believe in your event/service/idea/product/place/whatever?
Yes? Fantastic. That’s what i would hope for.
No? Leave.
Why are you doing this then? Perhaps a better option would be to actually hire someone who does.

• Do you have a good event/service/idea/product/place/whatever?
Yes? Fantastic. Now we’re cooking with gas.
No? Leave.
Go away and improve it. Spend some more time/money making it right (not perfect, just right) so that you’re not flogging a dead horse. Necro-sado bestiality is so last century anyway.

OK, chapter one.

Events

These are the main means of contact tourists will have with your event. If you can cover these bases, to the best of your budget/ability/means, you’ll be on your way.

Who?
Make a list of the people you are trying to attract. If it’s only a few people, that’s OK, It’s only a few people. But the important things is that you’re clear. You need to know who they are. It will help put everything else in check later on and it is a lot easier to attract people when you have clarity of purpose.

When?
Often this is the first question that cultural event organisers (especially small ones) ask themselves, as they’re often restricted by budget, or government funding/staffing etc. In doing so, they lose out on asking that first vital question, out of a sense of panic. After you’ve asked who, the when may be a whole lot easier

For example, if you want to attract students, don’t make your event in the middle of exam time. Or 2 months before exams. Make it in the holidays, or at the beginning of semester. It sounds like common sense, but you would be amazed.
Consider things like what hours people work – maybe think about having a later closing time? Also, don’t forget to check what else is on that day – big sporting events, election day, Mother’s Day, Eid, beginning of Ramadan, etc. These will all be a hindrance to getting people to turn up, so it’s best to avoid them, if possible. Knowing which ones to avoid will be made easier by knowing who you want to come. If your target is christian death metal fans, chances are Ramadan won’t matter, but they might be busy on Sunday morning.

Where?
Accessibility is key for tourism. Not to reduce everything down to lowest common denominator, but to make it as open as your event can possibly be to the people you want to come. So your choice of where to have something needs to take this into consideration. And not just the physical accessibility either. Yes, it needs to be available to those who still have brains, but may not have legs that work, but it also needs to be perceptually accessible:

For example, a labourer with 3 kids may be intimidated by something held in the lecture hall right in the middle of an elite university, but could still brave it if it was in a hall open to the street. It’s just an example (which i’m sure people will pick to bits), but what i’m trying to get at is to actually think about the wider implications of where you hold your event. This will be amplified in the next point.

How?
Again, accessibility is the key and if they can’t get there easily, they ain’t gonna come. Full stop. Assume that all of the people, coming to your event will be walking. That is the basic way of getting anywhere and if you make it accessible by walking, you’ve got half your bases covered. It may sound obvious, but make sure there is public transport available. If there isn’t , make it so. Organise a shuttle bus from the nearest train/bus/plane station. If you can’t afford that, leave a bunch of push-bikes there. Whatever, make sure that people who don’t drive cars can get there. Not only is it fucking simple, but it shows you actually care about the environment and are preventing drink-driving (if it’s an alcohol kind of event).
If you have thought about public transport, make sure you’re in partnership with the companies. Maybe organise a special deal where you can buy your ticket and a train ticket for a cheaper price. And make sure transport is running throughout the whole time (not just the beginning).

Once you’ve sorted out public transport, obviously, you have to consider parking for those who cannot or will not use it. I have a friend who hates public transport. I’ve tried to persuade her, but she will drive. You need to make room for people like her, so organise somewhere that there is adequate parking. Let the local residents/council know that you may be clogging up the streets for a while. Maybe include a parking permit in with the ticket (at a price).

And same with cabs. Let the cab companies know that you’ve got a shindig on. The drivers will appreciate the increased business and your people get a safe ride home. Maybe you could make sure there’s a phone on site, from which to call a cab. Just to make it a little easier.

As you can see – the how is all starting to mingle with the who and the where…

Promotion
If you’ve got all of the above covered, the promotion should be just like joining the dots. In fact, it’s a waste of time and money if you’ve got great promotion, and a sub-standard event organised. You’ll just alienate your visitors and have them blogging about it behind your back!

There are a tonne of ways you can promote cultural events. the great thing is that people who are into cultural events are usually open to being interested in interesting ways. Which means you don’t have to go down trad routes of advertising.

Well-chosen advertising will still work, but choose wisely. Artists still read art magazines and musicians still pore over music mags, so a good looking ad in a well-read/regarded mag will still hit the jackpot. the saturday papers get read at a much slower pace and when people are open to transcending their daily lives, so if you want to go mainstream media, they still work.

I wouldn’t even bother with a tv commercial. I don’t think i’ve ever been to something cultural based on a TVC and the cost is astronomical. But i’m not a media buyer/consultant/boffin, so it’s entirely possible that i could be way off.

Use the internet. In fact, if you have £5[$12.50] to spend on marketing, use £4 [$10] on a good, accessible website that tells you everything and the rest on a good well-placed ad (provided that you have everything else sorted, to back it up)

Whatever mode you go with, i encourage you to think intelligently about it. And if you can’t, get someone who can because you will save yourself a lot of money, time and heartache. And if you’ve done the hard work (ie, the other questions), like i already said, the rest is easy.

Chapter 2 will be on institutions and i’ll tackle that in a couple of days.

Homework
Your homework will be to go to a cultural event – a concert, a fair, a festival, a one-day talk, a poetry reading, a private viewing, and tell me what worked and what didn’t, in terms of attracting an audience.

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Some cultural comparisons and sweeping generalisations

***warning*** the following post contains rash generalisations and assumptions made on limited experience. things will change, i’m sure of it.

Regular readers will have read my post on Dubai. And while I obviously didn’t completely nail cultural comparisons, I received so much insight into Emirati and Indian culture that it blew my mind. When I arrived in London, about 3 weeks ago, I tried to get the same level of insight. I tried to understand London and Londoners (as opposed to the English in general. I understand they’re different species), to get a handle on what I needed to ‘know’ as quickly as possible in order to ‘fit in’ and not make any awful social fuck-ups. I focused on the differences between us, hoping to overcome them and that just got me all tangled up in a psychological mess. Thankfully, last week, I let go of trying to figure it out all at once and as soon as I did that, it seems I’m settling in nicely.

The funny thing is that the cultural differences between Londoners and Australians are so subtle and the whole point is that they don’t really want to anyone to know the intimate intricacies of their eccentricities. I can kind of understand a little more now – thanks to reading DH Lawrence’s Kangaroo, actually. [English writer guy emigrates to Sydney and Wollongong in the 19th Century]

I don’t know whether this is the purpose of travel, but the longer I’m here, the more I totally love Australia and what I have there. Tarty, mouthy, rank Australians still give me the shits, but they did back home, so I haven’t become that wildly patriotic, but I have fallen in love with things about home that I didn’t expect to.

green is for garden waste, the litte red one for rubbish and the yellow one for recyclables.

For a start, I’m proud of how much Australians and Australia gives a fuck about the environment. London can’t seem to get basic home recycling in order, which, for a city of 12 million people, is fucking appalling! They waste electricity like nobody’s business and water wastage..holy crap! Not as bad as it was in Dubai, but still, pretty bloody shameful. And every Aussie I know here (which is quite a lot, considering I’ve basically come from a city of 180,000) is similarly appalled. We actually care about the environment and resources and we’re years ahead. I’m so proud of that!

I’ve also become incredibly proud of our lack of bureaucracy. While it may be misconstrued as a lack of order, fucking hell, we just get things done. And for the most part, we kick arse at customer service. You get your off days back home, where you hit a couple of rude bastards behind the desk, but here, oh boy, it’s a big deal if someone actually smiles at you when you hand over the cash! Yes, rash generalisation, because I’ve lucked out on a few gems recently, but when I first arrived here, boy was I shocked.

The other thing people seem to just ‘totally do’ here, which I’m so unimpressed with, is to hit the cocaine like it’s fucking candy. Most of the Australians I know here have been on it or are on it and it’s fucking filthy, really. I’ve never been anywhere where drug culture is just so cheap (in every sense of the word) and it’s pretty unattractive. I’m glad I don’t do the stuff and by the same token, I’m making sure I just let people do what they need to do. I’m surprised, for such a huge drug culture here that the support services or public service announcements aren’t more visible. Even the Australian government managed to bang together a totally shit campaign about party drugs.

On the good side, the other night I went to the Surrealist ball at the V&A Museum with a birdsnest in my hair, and what I totally loved about it was the people were there, dressed up, only mildly self-conscious, enjoying a museum/performance/cultural experience on a Friday night, without any hint of pretence or snobbery. That’s just what you do, it seems. Which is totally ace. Doing something to extend your mind or elevate your experience is seen as something positive, not something to be looked down upon, like it is in Australia. Little wonder that half our intelligentsia are in London.

And of course, you can’t compare cities with London without mentioning transport. London really needs to congratulate itself on the Underground. Not only is it efficient, but the design of the system, the map, the logo, everything is neat. OK, so some aspects of it may seem filthy compared to people having lived in cotton wool, but it’s fantastic. Even when there are delays on the circle line (which is practically all the time), it means that trains run every 5 minutes, rather than every 2. And if there are major delays on the system, you can get around it. If something fucks out on the systems back home, you’re screwed and waiting for at least 20/30/50 minutes for trains and/or replacement buses. I haven’t had a chance to research the design history of the Underground, but I really want to, because they’ve got the details down pat – even down to the hand rails on the Victoria line trains being Azure, the same colour as the line on the tube map. Fucking brilliant.

While a lot of that may sound like I’m whinging all the time, I’ve actually snapped out of my culture shock quite a bit, and these are only the glaringly obvious bits that still rub me up the wrong way. The fact of the matter is that I’m traveling. I’m actually engaging with seeing how other people live and I can’t understand those that don’t. It is a great way to have a complete opinion transplant and as an opinionate geek, I need that, regularly.

UPDATE: I am actually having a really good time here and living totally in each day and moment, just in case it sounded like i wasn’t. While I may rant, it’s very rare that I cannot find some good times to live – just in case you were concerned.

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