Ontario Culture Days’ Departure Lounge | Episode 1: Introduction
Shawn Newman 0:00
Hello, welcome to the Ontario Culture Days Departure Lounge, an audio course podcast designed to teach you about the ins and outs and the trends and pitfalls of cultural tourism in Ontario. I’m your host Shawn Newman, speaking to you from Tkaronto.
The COVID 19 pandemic has dealt devastating blows to the arts and culture sectors as well as tourism. And now, two years in, we are seeing leaders from both industries coming together in new and innovative ways as they work toward recovery and rebuilding. This audio course produced by Ontario Culture Days is one way we hope to support collaboration between these sectors and to close the gaps between the two.
You might think that gaps between the tourism and the arts and culture sectors seem odd, and we agree. But there are fundamental differences in how these sectors work, even though they have so much in common. Over the next five episodes, we’ll explore the ideas at the core of cultural tourism, connect to these concepts to the arts, and hear from professionals on the ground.
This audio course podcast is geared towards arts and culture sector workers and organizations. But we certainly invite everyone to listen and learn with us. This podcast, its transcripts and the resources referenced throughout are all available on the Ontario Culture Days website. Whether you are new to thinking about or working with Ontario’s tourism sector, or feel like you want an inspirational refresher, the Ontario Culture Days Departure Lounge has something for you.
Tourism is at a crossroads: the pandemic that quite literally shut down Canada’s arts and culture sector overnight in March 2020 also forced us into our homes. It kept us from even connecting with our local neighborhoods. And while we have begun to enjoy gathering indoors for things like live dance and theater, concerts, and even weddings and social events, our ability to travel remains hampered. In fact, at the time of writing and recording this episode, questions about the ongoing impact of the disease and potential new variants remain unanswered.
Two years into this pandemic, we remain in flux. And with various vaccination requirements into travel restrictions, or even outright bans, we can see that COVID-19 has impacted the travel sector more than any other even more than arts and culture. Tourism industry leaders, along with their colleagues and other sectors created the hashtag #hardesthit when lobbying the federal government to get financial support to survive the crisis. Together, they have built the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses, which has tirelessly and effectively advocated and lobbied for increased federal support. Because of their work, in October 2021, Canada’s federal government announced much needed extensions to the support programs that have buttressed our devastated sectors. You can read the November 25th Press Release praising these new measures from the coalition at hardesthit.ca.
Yet, despite this support, the recovery will be slow and fragile. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, on a global scale, the COVID 19 pandemic is likely to cost the tourism sector 2 trillion US dollars in lost revenue in 2021 alone. In these conditions, it’s hard to predict or forecast what or when a return to so-called normal will be. And in fact, many argue that there may not be a return to what we called normal in 2019, as the pandemic will have long lasting effects on our social values and behaviors. And as the arts and culture sector has experienced firsthand, the pandemic has catapulted conversations and activism about issues like systemic racism, ableism and more into the spotlight. So while some are saying that we might not return to normal, many are also saying that we simply can’t.
But is that a bad thing? We don’t think so. Already, the pandemic has made many tourism experience providers and destinations rethink their purpose and mission. Of course, tourism has long struggled with issues like impacts of travel on the environment and climate change. The International Institute for Sustainable Development notes that annually, 7 million people die from poor air quality. Moreover, the environmental impacts of industries like tourism can reveal deeply embedded inequities related to race, class and more. So in a difficult context already heavily impacted by climate change, the COVID 19 pandemic has added yet another complex layer to working in and through tourism.
Certainly, arts and culture organizations can empathize with how deeply the tourism sector has been affected by the pandemic, whether or not our sector likes to it admit it, we rely heavily on tourism. Consequently, any limitations to mobility, if not full restriction means that gathering inside museums, performing arts venues, and more, has been deeply impacted, even when not completely forbidden. And as we have seen, one thing that has characterized the pandemic so far and has thrown a series of wrenches into arts and culture reopening plans, is the pandemic’s ebbs and flows as measured by the daily number of infections. When it seems that we are getting control of the virus through increased vaccination rates, another variant pops up, it wreaks havoc on society again, and incites governments to reimpose restrictions on movement and gathering. These so called waves are taking a toll on people’s confidence in traveling, in gathering with others, and simply in getting out of their home. The subsequent impact on our mental health is showing with growing anxiety for many. This situation will continue to affect people’s intentions to travel and to participate in arts and culture programming for many months, if not years to come.
Some say that it is time to call for the end of tourism as we know it – a destructive economic activity that has profound negative impacts on natural and cultural environments. In other words, the pandemic made many realize how mass tourism based on fossil fuels and excess consumption has a degenerative effect on destinations and communities. Whether it was because of pollution or overcrowding, tourism’s impact was that of a consumptive and extracting industry. In essence, this has acted as a trigger for positive change. Some of the best known examples of cities that are attempting to change with the pandemic and to rethink their business models are Venice and Barcelona, two cities that were overwhelmed by the consumptive nature of tourism that deteriorated their social and environmental capital.
And while destinations like Venice and Barcelona are changing, the pandemic has also led to changes in travel behavior, people fly less, they take shorter trips, and they tend to favor nature destinations as opposed to crowded urban environments. We are starting to see the reemergence of slow travel, which can generally be understood as a form of tourism that relies more on types of travel that leave smaller carbon footprints.
For example, in 2018, the flight shame movement emerged in Sweden. With this movement, people started to take the environmental impacts of air travel more seriously. Many abandoned air travel altogether. In one year, the flight shame movement resulted in a 4% decrease of international flights at Swedish airports. At the same time, perhaps partly as a result of flight shame, Europeans more broadly have an increased interest in rail travel, with new developments in sleeper train services as countries try to reduce short haul flights. At the same time, this slow travel is as much about feeling accountable for one’s carbon emissions, as it is about enjoying a different, slower and more experiential way to travel. And whether or not we are conscious of it, slow travel has actually been integral to the promotion of tourism and even resident lifestyles across Ontario. So while perhaps not new to us, these global trends towards slow travel will open doors and opportunities for cultural tourism in Ontario.
This brings us to regenerative tourism, a concept that will be the guiding framework for this podcast series. You might be more familiar with regenerative tourism’s predecessor sustainable tourism. For over 30 years, much has been said about sustainable tourism. Sustainability focuses on meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. And while this certainly remains important, some argue that regenerative tourism goes one step further than sustainability. If sustainability is about leaving an environment as it is, regenerative tourism is about leaving a destination or community as a better place than it was before. In other words, tourism should contribute to improving destinations, making them better and stronger with regenerative tourism. We move from a draining or extracting quality of tourism towards one that is restorative, one that concentrates on humanistic and ethical principles, and is concerned with the effectiveness of helping communities and regions thrive.
The term regenerative tourism was coined by Anna Pollock. For Pollock, regenerative tourism enables us to move beyond the difficulties presented by concepts like sustainability, which is based on restraint, more than on restoration or growth. In seeing tourism as an agent of transformation, regenerative tourism is very much community led. The tourist, and tourism more generally, are than tools with which the community can regenerate its local ecologies. From the environment, to health and well being, to the local economy and more.
Regenerative tourism is a great opportunity for the arts and culture sector. As noted in the Ontario Culture Strategy: Telling Our Stories, Growing Our Economy, culture provides, quote “important social and economic benefits. It contributes significantly to our quality of life and economic development in Ontario. And it is an essential part of individual and community well being,” end of quote. These realities are also found in tourism development. So, with shared objectives between tourism and arts and culture to positively influence wellbeing and the economy, both sectors can work together to ensure the responsible restart of inclusive cultural tourism in Ontario. But the challenge is to collaborate and make cultural tourism relevant to, and significant in, recovery efforts.
A key aspect of regenerative tourism is to include local decision making where local stakeholders are brought to the table. Together, everyone discusses and agrees on what is wanted in the community, what is of value to the community, and what the intended value of tourism might be. Some questions to consider are, how might tourism integrate with other economic development strategies? How much can the destination handle without seeing detrimental effects to the cultural, social or environmental fabric of the community? In the words of Zita Cobb, the entrepreneurial leader of Fogo Island Inn, people in the destination, need to ask, what do we have and what do we know? And can we put that forward in a way that’s dignified for locals, and creates economy, and connects us to the world? These are essential questions to ask for any community. Finding and agreeing on answers is the key to successful tourism development.
However, tourism can generate both positive and negative outcomes. Consequently, a collaborative approach between tourism and local communities, including arts and culture organizations, is necessary to generate outcomes that are beneficial to all. Together these two sectors can enhance the destination’s competitiveness, or the ability to simultaneously attract visitors and increase tourism expenditure. This creates value for both hosts and visitors. We can do this while providing visitors with satisfying, memorable experiences, and profitable ways that also enhance the well being of destination residents, and preserve the area’s environmental and cultural capital for future generations.
In addition to building partnerships at the local level, and exploring key questions that include a diverse range of perspectives, regenerative tourism development strategies are infused with ethical and humanistic approaches. They recognize the limitations and abuses of current management strategies. In today’s context of climate change the pandemic, and the tourism labor gap, more than ever, there is a need to adopt ethical and social responsibility principles to address human dignity and the promotion of community well being.
So, we can see that the core ideas and approaches of regenerative tourism reflect ethical values based in reciprocity, relationship-building, and both self- and organizational reflection. This means that ethical and responsible tourism are all about thinking through the consequences of tourism on the environment, on local people, and on the local economy. And together, we can plan to mitigate, if not prevent outright, any possible negative impacts.
For those of you who are involved in making strategic decisions, consider the types of tourism products you want to develop and promote. This will help you to identify the types of visitors and tourists you want to attract. This process also imbues a sense of responsibility into drawing tourists to your community. Some destinations really benefit from tourism economically without sacrificing nature and culture because of some of the strategic choices that are made. If we think back to Zita Cobb’s line of questioning, it’s all about finding the adequate mix that fits the community or destination and its inhabitants.
If we agree that we should favor regenerative and ethical tourism, we should aim at designing a form of tourism that will encourage both tourism businesses, and tourists themselves, to consider the impacts and ethical implications of their actions. Avoiding developing and promoting activities that would contribute to abuses and negative impacts in the community is difficult, particularly if you haven’t worked with tourism organizations or supports before. In this podcast, we’re going to offer you a host of resources and starting places to get you going.
So now that we’ve set the stage and understand better what tourism can be and how it can support the ethical development of a community, let’s introduce some of the benefits that arts and culture organizations can enjoy from engaging with tourism. If you are someone who works at an arts and cultural organization, or are an artist yourself, you know how important our sector is to our local communities, our province, and the country as a whole. Arts and culture related industries, which are also known as creative industries provide direct benefits to communities. They create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies through tourism and consumer purchases. But the role of arts and culture is also about enhancing the quality of life for locals, enriching their communities and attracting new residents.
The pandemic situation may be providing a unique opportunity for regional arts and culture organizations and businesses to contribute to and to be part of tourism, development and communication efforts. Many travelers choose travel destinations for the combination of natural resources and cultural offerings. They may plan to extend their stay in a region to enjoy the area’s unique heritage and cultural attractions, be they related to people, visual or performing art, history, or food. Think, for example, about how rural Louisiana has become an attractive destination by putting forward cultural assets such as Cajun and Creole food, as well as Zydeco and Cajun Acadian music. Tourism that focuses on these kinds of activities is called cultural tourism. It is travel for experiencing places and activities that authentically represent the history and the stories, past and present, of the people in a community or region.
While some in the art sector are resistant to seeing their work as a tourist attraction, the reality is that people traveled the world to view classical and contemporary art museums and galleries, see both avant-garde and commercial live dance and theater, and discover the works of local artisans and craftspeople. So, cultural tourism is already a major driving force within our sector and our livelihood. For arts and culture to not think about our work as tourist attractions, means that we are missing out on opportunities to reach even more people than we already do.
So, what are the benefits to approaching your organization’s activities and programming as cultural tourism? First, communities and destinations are increasingly recognizing arts and cultural activities as key factors of attractiveness and competitiveness for destinations. As a result, our organizations play a prominent role in generating economic benefits for our communities. As our organizations get recognized for their attractiveness, they become stakeholders with a stronger voice around the community decision-making table. Tourism, in turn, provides a significant incentive for communities to protect and enhance local arts and culture, and to generate income that will support and strengthen artistic and cultural heritage, production, and creativity.
In Ontario, arts, culture, heritage, and tourism are already intricately connected and feed off each other. As you know, our provincial ministry houses these sectors within the same ministerial portfolio. Moreover, even within the portfolio, a single division exists for heritage, tourism and culture. It makes sense then, that we work with tourism and learn to speak its language, navigate it’s systems and collaborate with tourism organizations and professionals.
Well, this brings us to the end of the first episode of Ontario Culture Days’ Departure Lounge. We hope you found what we’ve started to explore interesting and thought-provoking. On our website, you’ll find links to additional resources on the content discussed today.
In the rest of the series, we’ll further explore what tourism is, how tourism attractions and communities can be managed and marketed, and we’ll learn about people and organizations across Ontario that are leading the way in cultural tourism. In Episode Two, Managing Tourism we’ll give you some working definitions of common tourism industry lingo, describe the kinds of tourism organizations that exist in Ontario, and paint a picture of how the system within which they exist works. You’ll also get to hear interviews with deeply passionate and brilliant tourism and arts and culture professionals already working across sectoral boundaries. We hope you listen in. I’m Shawn Newman, host of Ontario Culture Days’ Departure Lounge. This podcast was made possible thanks to support from the Province of Ontario and the Canada Council for the Arts. And thanks to you for listening.
Ontario Culture Days is a province wide organization dedicated to supporting the vibrancy of Ontario’s arts and culture sector as a means of enriching our communities. We envision a sector in which each and every person has the opportunity to participate, where arts and culture are integral to everyone’s day-to-day lives and recognized as essential to a thriving society. We lead the annual Ontario Culture Days Festival, while supporting organizers from the smallest hamlets to the largest cities. We support the success of our sector colleagues through resources and network development while highlighting the breadth and diversity of Ontario’s arts and culture to the wider public. The Ontario Culture Days network is active throughout the province and across multiple Indigenous territories. We would like to acknowledge Indigenous peoples as the original occupants on this land on which we gather. The Ontario Culture Days office is located on the land on which the city of Toronto is situated, which we acknowledge is the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. Ontario Culture Days is committed to creating meaningful relationships and supporting a diversity of Indigenous practices, art forms and cultural expressions. We are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.