MANY cities, in a bid to boost tourist numbers, look to outside influencers to transform their city. They see a flagship project or a redevelopment as the catalyst needed to generate numbers and interest. But in so many cases, the answer is far more accessible, affordable, and much closer to home.
Making a place more attractive to tourists does not mean stripping away local landmarks and replacing them with a swanky new design by a world leading architect. Instead it is uncovering the treasures already hiding in plain sight, says Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN Habitat.
Speaking at the 6th Global Summit on Urban Tourism, Clos points out that the key assets cities are in search for, are already there.
“Don’t worry about the [tourism] assets, the assets are there,” he said Monday at the Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “The only thing needed is to discover what is already there… Do an analysis of your own reality and focus on what you already have because there are treasures there. You are sitting, I’m sure, on a gold mine.”
As cities the world over compete for the spending dollars of eager tourists, central areas in particular can all start to look rather homogenous. As a result, the new developments can often have the opposite effect to that desired. Tourists will soon tire if they travel across the world only to find a city much like the one they left at home.
“We have a problem currently where many cities of the world, especially the new areas of a city, they look the same everywhere,” says Clos. “They have lost diversity, they have lost identity, they have lost character. This is awful.”
The local charm is more often than not the attribute that gets tourists hooked on a place, and that’s something you can’t buy. Places that locals may well take for granted as part of their everyday lives could hold the answer to a city’s tourism woes.
Using the example of local markets in Mexico, Clos highlights the close interdependency between local staples and tourist satisfaction.
“The local markets are the most visited places. Even if it’s not the prettiest of areas, locals go to shop and go about their day, and tourists are there to experience local culture,” he said.
“It’s a very authentic place, and at the end of the day, people visit authentic.”