The Art of Being a Tourist at Home

Posted 6th November 2022 by Marcus Chidgey

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.” Herbert Melville

There’s a wonderfully colourful book written by Jenny Herbert, a travel writer living in Melbourne, Australia called “The Art of Being a Tourist at Home”.

Her observation is that far less people are travelling after COVID. Putting increased costs and concerns about falling ill abroad to one side, more people are becoming worried about the effect too much travel is having on indigenous communities and the planet.

So why not ‘holiday at home’? All the travel tropes – self discovery, tolerance, better health, wider knowledge and improved social skills – are all achievable where we live.

As place-makers, we already know this. Our job, more often, is to invite people to explore our place and there are a raft of mechanisms we can use. From creating compelling experiences – events, trails and exhibitions of one kind or another – to ensuring adequate signage is present in the public realm. We think of our tactics in terms of mass adoption.

Yet reading Jenny’s book, it reminds you that the experiences we are ultimately trying to create are highly personal. The catalyst for people to visit a town might be a ‘walking art tour’, but actually the unplanned, secondary social interactions people have around this are more important to the joy and long-lasting impressions of a place.

It’s the unpredictable nature of these interactions that makes them special. We can’t map them out, but what we can do is to open people’s minds to them. So how do we do this?

Well, here are three ways inspired by the book …

Freedom to roamencourage people to walk but don’t be prescriptive. Let them find different paths and routes through your place. Help them to stumble unexpectedly across an amazing juice bar one minute and a small piece of heritage the next. Encourage people to have conversations with the people in your place.

Worlds within worlds it’s easy to think of places in ways we already understand. Human nature means we group and classify objects to simplify our own understanding of the world. To really explore however, we need to encourage people to go deeper to tap into the rich seams of knowledge they subconsciously overlook. For instance, people may love the food at a local restaurant, but do they ask about its origins, the language and culture of the people who cook and serve the dishes?

Local mindfulnessbusy lives means people often attend social experiences when their attention is elsewhere, i.e. they are present in body, but not in mind. As place-makers, there is a danger that we present local activities and events as more things for people ’to do’. Actually, what we need to do is to help people learn to play and rediscover fun. To connect with a place, people need to ‘seize the moment’ and this will occur more readily when people are allowed to unwind and step out of life’s daily grind. This can be as achieved with community sports clubs and toddler groups, as much as large format promotional events – they are also ‘effortlessly repeatable’.

The UK, of course, is facing the ‘cost of living’ crisis. Less disposable income and rising prices will mean people will travel a lot less. We will see more staycations and greater domestic travel.

So let’s think about how we can create those secondary, special social moments.

Let’s create the events and attractions, but also welcome ‘local travellers’ (be they residents or visitors) like they might do in Greece or Spain. Local warmth and friendship will help people to access our communities. We need to signpost all the entry points so people can find them at their leisure too.

All good trips – local or otherwise – should create memorable stories to be regaled and shared with family and friends long afterwards.

Order the book, “The Art of Being a Tourist at Home” by Jenny Hebert, from your local bookshop.

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