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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Community Builder or Consumer – David Twiggs

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To build an extraordinary destination community, we must realize our residents and visitors want to belong to a community rather than simply be a consumer.  We must create the seeds for citizenship.  We are often faced with a culture of community consumers not a group of contributing citizen community builders.

I spent 18 years living and working in the North Carolina High Country in the Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain and Linville triangle.  In this area, there was a proliferation of communities being built to meet the in migration, second home and rental housing demand.  Many of these were very well done creating a community personality that added to the cultural richness of the community.  While these were clearly defined areas they were relatively porous allowing exchange of communication, ideas, and commonality.   These communities were generally considered to be good engaged neighbors.

Other communities developed into isolationist monocultures that were generally considered unwelcome even after many years of existence.  These fostered the” Us vs. Them” mentality.  While they were successful real estate development projects in that they sold through and made the developer a lot of money.  They were not necessarily successful in adding to the long-term health of the larger community.

Consumers are like investors in a stock.  As long as the community is thriving, they receive their dividends in the form of quantity of amenity per dollar paid in taxes, dues, or fees and in increased property values when they decide to sell their investment.  Just like in stocks, owners change on a daily basis. If their dividends are not what they expect, they sell the investment. Since a community’s major dividend has been the lifestyle and perceived quality of life, the same dividend may leave one investor unimpressed while going beyond another’s expectations. A community cannot be all things to all people. It must enhance its unique qualities and values and seek those to whom the lifestyle resonates.  The one constant is that the people will eventually change.  With this come two schools of thought.

The American zeitgeist on what is considered of value is now shifting towards a citizenship point if view.  In response, we had better set up policies, governance and traditions that foster the unique authentic value in our community.  While enhancing and preserving, we also must celebrate individualism within that framework.

From a consumer point of view, there had better be something to attract the next purchaser for their business, home or property; the next “investor.”  While recent years has seen a decline in the investor mentality as a primary motivator for choosing real estate purchases, the change model holds true.  It is the value proposition that has changed.  People are looking for authentic lifestyle and an atmosphere that helps them become a contributing part of the community.

The mindset of a destination community being simply a marketable amenity delivery system has to change if a community is to thrive. In funding new development, the purchase and flip investor mentality made pre-construction sales to investors a reliable funding option until about 2008.  This has changed particularly if a destination wants to attract in migration in the second home and retirement markets.  We are now focused on an end user, a citizen, which is much more concerned with the authentic community values than the marketability of the real estate in the future.

Community must be defined as collection of human relationships rather than as a defined real estate space.  Many of the early pioneer destination communities were built with these more humanistic goals in mind.  In the 90’s and 00’s, many designs strayed for these values.  Creating fortified islands of monoculture did much harm to the traditional meaning of community.  The truly extraordinary places designed the governance structure to add value and enhance the region’s authentic nature.  This goes beyond the physical design of the neighborhoods.  There are many extraordinary places that have technical design issues that they continue to deal with as knowledge on neighborhood and civic space design evolves.  These places are extraordinary because the citizens are part of the positive regional dynamic rather than a separate protectionist subculture.

Now that some of our early pioneer associations are reaching 30 to 40 years old, we are starting to see some multigenerational ownership beginning.  Up until recently no current owners where born and raised in their community.  It was a created environment based on a theme that was quickly put in place rather than slowly evolving with the nature of the area.  There were no roots to speak of that would build a sense of citizenship as opposed to walking into a readymade ala carte consumer environment.  Mixed generation communities have faired much better over recent years than age restricted or retirement type communities.  Mutigenerational populations tend to vest much more quickly into the total community environment, both within and outside the association scope.  This is beginning to alleviate some of the challenges faced due to a transient consumer mindset that has been prevalent in community associations.

Boomers are not necessarily joiners.  The value of being a “member” is not nearly as prevalent as with prior generations.  There is much more value placed on being an individual engaged citizen.  This does not mean that the Boomer will not use the amenities of a community.  They may very well be more active than prior generations but the do not want any part of their “parents retirement community.”  They want to live in a community that engages their children and grandchildren as a family unit and individuals.  They want a “cool” factor.  There must be a new mental narrative about the community. They envision their grandchildren saying “let’s visit grandpa, he lives in the coolest place”. This is what the successful community of the future will be conjure in the mind.

A primary challenge is developing a real sense of citizenship.  Consumers look at the cost/benefit now and seek to extract as much product as possible for the least cost.  Citizen community builders have a longer look as they take responsibility in growing their community.  The sense of being a builder not simply a consumer is what builds community within our members.

Organic Destination Community Systems

Lodge at Santa Lucia Preserve

Lodge at Santa Lucia Preserve

 

A destination community is defined as a place that uses its quality of place to motivate economic growth, in-migration, tourism with the assurance of access to recreation, entertainment, and leisure opportunities that fall within their interests and values. There are as many definitions of theses needs as there are potential visitors.

 

This is not striving to become a pure destination. A destination can be a corporately manufactured monoculture such as a Disney or Vegas. These can be highly orchestrated and controlled artificial environments. These are not always the most livable of locations but are typically dominated by large corporations with the financial resources to control and draw a local or recruited workforce.  Who would want to live in a monoculture? Being a destination community is far more desirable from the residents and returning visitor point of view.

 

The question is what kind of destination community can you authentically be. What will protect values of the area and bring economic vibrancy.  Systems must remain authentic to the nature of the area while also keeping relevant with their chosen recreation subculture trends.  This allows systems to develop that are unique to the municipality or region the system is being designed for. The resulting destination must strive to deliver a triple bottom line: Economics – Conservation –Quality of Life.

David Twiggs