Synopsis for ATHE Annual Conference handbook:
Since March 2014, the Lord Ashcroft International Business School tourism team at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (UK) have been working closely with a network of European universities (including University of Bergamo (Italy); University of Girona (Spain)) to analyse the role of ‘slow tourism’ for the management and development of a new type of ‘sustainable’ tourism system for small to medium sized historic-university cities.
There are several reasons why the emphasis on ‘slow’ principles is critical in the context of these spaces. Firstly, all of the cities chosen are by-and-large overshadowed by a neighbouring ‘global’ city (e.g. Cambridge-London; Bergamo-Milan; Girona-Barcelona et cetera). In light of this, prior academic debate, alongside empirical evidence gathered in the context of Cambridge, suggest that these spaces can be subject to the ‘eight hour tourist’ problematic – the condition whereby visitors stay for short-time periods, mainly in inner-city areas, and engage in more institutionalised and less adventurous modes of consumption (e.g. consuming ‘popular’ attractions; opting for chains over independents et cetera). The project thus focuses on how those responsible for tourism management and development in the city can enhance spend and encourage longer stays, promote ‘localism’, cultural diversity, and the back-street quirks of these spaces, alongside educating visitors to engage in modes of ‘critical consumption’. A brief overview of the project’s objectives can be found below:
1) Consider ways historic cities can encourage tourists to stay longer, and spend more in the local and regional visitor economy
2) Assess the importance of food events and festivals for stimulating ‘slow tourism’
3) Critically evaluate how ‘slow tourism’ can develop stronger cultural identity for the respective cities
4) Amplify the idea of ‘slow tourism’ as a strategic focus for the development of regional and local tourism, and as a critical movement associated with idea of ‘critical consumption’.
Critically, such regional development and new ‘slower’ perspectives are set against a backdrop of corporatisation and standardisation of tourism experiences in light of inner city gentrification effects – which in turn – may be seen to be damaging the cultural identity of the historic city of Cambridge, UK. Arguments as to whether such standardised experiences may in turn de-incentivise future visitation of affected spaces under question, poses not just a serious socio-cultural question, but also an economic one too. In response to such considerations, the project has thus been at the forefront of these debates, championing the ‘slow’ agenda – strategically aligned against the priorities and policies of the council, whilst also considering the needs and role of local stakeholders (from festival directors to small businesses) to open up the conversation and start planning how Cambridge can embed ‘slower’ perspectives.