Tourism System Cultures – Monoculture vs. Complementary Subcultures

David Twiggs

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As I have the opportunity to speak to many groups, I find there is often a misunderstanding of the types tourism systems and the degrees to which tourism should play a role in the economic development on a community. To build the economic development benefits of tourism while retaining the livability and character of a region, I am constantly promoting the development of tourism systems using the authentic natural assets and vernacular of the region. There is often a general low-grade fear of how tourism will impact a community. To understand the difference between types of tourism systems, it is important to look at the basics of how they develop. While there are always exceptions in tourism systems, I have found the majority use one of two models, the large–scale monoculture or the complementary subcultures.

Corporate Monoculture

In a corporate monoculture, we typically are setting a formulized stage for entertainment. It may be participatory entertainment but it is corporately structured. Monoculture developers usually want to find a blank slate to build the vision upon. In the worst cases, the monoculture may overwhelm and obliterate the authentic subcultures that preexisted the development. These corporate monocultures typically impose their model upon an area rather than enhance the pre-existing culture. Examples of these are the development surrounding monoculture attractions such as Vegas or the Disney properties.

In a monoculture, there is a single clear narrative to give the user an understanding of how they will structure their visit due to the narrow brand control. Very narrow but clear expectations are set. There will be peripheral service business development such as hotels, restaurants, and side activities but they still support the single narrative.

Complementary Subcultures

In complimentary subcultures, we typically focus on creating a system for belonging rather than entertainment. With community based tourism, we wish to enhance the organically occurring subcultures. In other words, be more of what we already want to be. We must remember, we are not trying to attract everyone in the world. Just those that are interested in our specific subcultures. This is much easier to do with the internet leveling the marketing playing field. These systems, draw on location based recreation sub-cultures. Take the North Carolina High Country as an much simplified example, the fly-fishing, golf, mountain biking, climbing, folk arts, and skiing subcultures all coexist to support and be supported by a vibrant culinary, music, and retail economy that ads to the livability of the region.

As with any economic driver, there will be impact on the community. Tourism development through complimentary sub-cultures creates opportunities for passion based entrepreneurs and small businesses that can have a relatively low barrier for entry. That said, if you are going to create the conditions to draw other peoples money; you must deal with other people. Proper planning and growth control are vital to retain the true flavor and livability of the region. You must know what level of growth is enough and build in the controls, lest you kill the goose.

There is nothing wrong with single attraction tourism in the correct setting. It is the big fish that many tourism developers seek as it falls into the corporate realm. This can be very beneficial creating opportunities for support business development; chain hotels, retail, and restaurants. It can also have the effect of concentrating tourism dollars creating many lower paying corporate jobs while the profits leave the community. It can force out the original population by destroying the historic economies and lifestyles. For the vast majority of small towns and rural areas, fostering a tourism economy based of complimentary sub-cultures if far mare preferable and controllable than the monoculture option.

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