Community in Tourism and Urban Environments
Why this series?
The intent behind this series of articles is to reflect on the concept of ‘community’ in the urban environment, and to explore the relationships that exist with tourism activities in our cities. The old and the new, as well as the innovative.
I am personally very familiar with a specific niche of urban community tourism; in fact, this is where I started my journey as a tourism professional, but that is another story.
My interest in communities and their different relationships with tourism returned right at the beginning of the pandemic, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of some trends and attitudes I registered.
On the one hand, the word ‘community’ has gained a renewed interest globally; a new weight and enriched quality have been added to its meaning, accompanied by a warm feeling of rediscovered belonging at the local level.
Nowadays, what has happened at the global level because of Covid-19 has greatly affected us as a species. We have been forcefully taken away from each other, and, left alone, we have started to look inwards. In many cases we have rediscovered our social roots and the importance of being part of one or many communities, consciously realising how much we have often ignored this primary need.
On the other hand, tourism has re-discovered the cities, now with different eyes. Not only has domestic tourism become a renewed option, but also, and especially, our own cities and neighbourhoods have been revalued, sometimes by their own citizens.
We are all guilty of having sometimes considered a city-break abroad to be more glamorous than a journey in our own backyards. How much do we know about our own cities and neighbourhoods really? It does not need to be like this, and the pandemic has shown us the hard way.
It has happened for lack of options, but we have still enjoyed this re-discovery and the reconnection with the place we call home.
Even though this extreme sensitivity to the call to nourish our lost or unknown ‘communities’ may become less intense with the ending of forced social deprivation and global travel restrictions; and even though domestic tourism and local tourism are, for many countries, already not the only option available, I believe that some concepts have come to stay and, having been brought into existence, they have gained a new and shiny power of attraction. At least, I hope that will be the case.
Among other terms such as staycation, slow tourism is a concept that seems to have broadened its number of supporters. Although it was born years before Covid-19 arrived, it has long represented a deep breath for our claustrophobic senses.
Nevertheless, we have acquired a new gaze, and slow travel tunes into that well.
In addition to this, what has happened in Venice with the recent local governmental decisions, as well as in other European cities and international locations that have suffered from ‘Overtourism’, has shown us that we can waken up to a new sense of community, and re-design the way we look at our cities in relation to tourism when we have the time to re-think and regain our decision-making power as local citizens
This collection of writings has no pretention to talk in an exhaustive way on the subject. Instead, it aims to be a kind invitation to zoom-in on our cities and notice the innovative realities that we may have ignored for lack of time, or that have been overlooked because they were too new to be perceived.
Perhaps, this pausing exercise could start building a bridge so that we can not only live our cities in more depth, but also take more pride in their expressions, and provide grassroots support when it is required.
Creative interactions can be healthily prompted, if not designed, but in either case, will be enjoyed.
I would like to explore the concept of community and urban tourism, and observe how some examples are changing our gaze on social and cultural issues. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, at a time when we were in an intense lockdown, finally made the Black history of our own cities and countries even more visible, with a global impact that cannot be buried or hidden anymore.
Virtual Tours have become an important alternative for local tour-guides and for unemployed women, who are hungry to share their city’s views and cultural roots with visitors.
Our cities are considered home by many ethnic minorities and socially marginalised individuals, life refugees and homeless people; they are our invisible neighbours and there are many cases in which tourism has been used as a form of social integration, earning additional economic income while the process has been providing important untold narratives to refocus the mainstream one, increasing many layers of value to the experience.
In some cases, our cities have become closer to their farmers and local producers;in others, urban environments have continued hosting vital Community-Based Tourism initiatives, and have become international expressions of resilience and solidarity.
In some other cities, there are vibrant neighbourhoods that encourage the young in creativity, and have become grassroots laboratories of innovation and art experimentation for the locals, strengthening the inner bond within the citizens, while local tours, have also created new inspiring channels of hope and local sustainable development.
Let’s start a brief journey through our cities with a curious eye and a blank-canvas mind, ready to be splashed randomly with unexpected colours.