(solo in inglese):
On 12 July at the Robert Stephenson Centre a little bit of magic was in the air. It was the launch of Dott 07’s Design Camp project, which focuses on sustainable tourism in the region. The gathered group of intrepid explorers were taken on a trip from the RSC centre, across the Northumberland wilderness to the Durham Necklace Park, then down to the romantic valleys of Southern Italy and back. Just like the iconic salmon in the Tyne River, the group ended up where they started and all without adding one ounce of CO2 to the atmosphere. If that’s not sustainable tourism then I don’t know what is!
Together with the Royal Society of Arts, Dott 07 has invited 17 young designers from the UK and abroad to work with local people in the region on the development of radical new forms of tourism. Projects to be realised over the coming weeks will include urban camping in a disused city centre space; new ways to access and experience the industrial heritage of the North Pennines; and turning wind farm installations into spectacular new kinds of tourist destinations. This challenge is not for the faint hearted. Take wind farms, they are arguably associated with having a negative impact on tourism and even if the wind farm developers appreciate the aesthetics of their creations, they have certainly never been in the tourist trade before. In the North Pennines, there already exists an award-winning mining museum at Killhope – but unconventional access to the heritage remains untapped. As for urban camping, it has quite simply not been done before!
So, these designers have to be better than good because their ideas need to stand up in an area that has not been tried and tested before. Over the next 2 weeks, they will come up with practical, working ideas on the three different sites. These ideas will be realised during the Dott 07 Festival in October when visitors to the Festival will experience these innovative and radical tourist sites for themselves and get to understand, first hand what sustainable tourism actually is. Which begs the question! Personally, I find the example of unsustainable tourism quite helpful when trying to understand what sustainable tourism is: A recent article in The Independent highlights the massive increase in the number of people flying. It seems that despite the dire environmental impact of airplane emissions, some 2.51 million flights were scheduled for May, breaking the previous record of 2.49 million taken in August 2006. The finger is being pointed at ‘no-frills’ airlines – of the 17.7 million extra seats available in May this year, 12 million go to the ‘no-frills’ crowd. All good news for the airline industry but very bad news for the environment. In the current climate it’s pretty obvious that this runaway obsession with ‘no-frill’ runways is unsustainable. In the opposite corner, sustainable tourism flexes its muscles and prides itself on creating holiday experiences that consider the environment while also providing beautiful, memorable, unique, fun places to visit that respect the culture and local heritage of a place.
While considering their challenges ahead, the young designers of the Design Camp could not have had a more ideal team of experts to ignite their imaginations and get their sustainable minds firing on all cylinders. The evening was introduced by John Thackara, Dott 07 Programme Director and Steve Messam Senior Producer of the Design Camp and co-founder of FRED. Following swiftly on their heels, Chris Little, head of the Tourism Development Unit at One NorthEast (ONE) gave an insightful presentation that put us right inside the brain of someone with their finger on the green light of tourist initiatives in the region. Tourism is huge business. It is a vibrant, outward looking business and in a world of change and uncertainty, like all big business, it is spending a lot of time and money trying to understand the trends of the future. Fascinating stuff. Chris let us in on the results of a survey carried out for ONE by the strategic futures and marketing consultancy The Henley Centre, about what kind of tourist experiences the billion pound tourist industry is expecting in the very near future – results that the tourist industry will act on. These trends indicate that people are looking for
- Authenticity – where they can experience the ‘naked city’ and get under the skin of a place;
- Illicit pleasures – somewhere they can go and do what they can’t do at home – take Amsterdam for example;
- Deep peace – a place where they can do nothing but think and be themselves;
- Glasto; without fences – a place, like Glastonbury, where they can be part of a transient community and experience a ‘second life’ or another identity with a group.
Wow! These young designers will have to think hard to come up with something that will take these considerations into account if their designs are to have a life beyond Dott 07.
Clearly the Tourist Development Unit is supportive and very interested in the results but when summing up, Chris did not underplay the challenge facing the Design Campers when it comes to the harsh realities of creating tourist experiences that are successful. When it comes down to it, this means quite simply, somewhere people want to visit and return to. Chris challenged them with the question: when making heritage exciting, does technology get in the way? Lots to think about. You could almost hear brains whirring in the room.
As if in answer to this last question, the next speaker, Leandro Pisano and Alessandro Esposito, inspired the audience with the success story of their unique festivals in Southern Italy – Interferenze and Mediaterra – that bring together two seemingly opposed worlds of nature and technology, organic and electronic, traditional and contemporary. The success of their festivals has centred on knowing their core audience and appealing directly to them through their target magazine. The result is a unique combination of ancient and modern that would likely baffle any marketing guru if presented with the idea!
If sustainable tourism is about creating unique memories for people in a way that respects heritage and gives something back to the community, then this team have succeeded in spades. What is so inspiring and beautiful about their festival is that it was started by a group of 4 or 5 friends who love the rich heritage in their local valley in Southern Italy and were driven to do something with it that combined their other passion: a passion for electronic music. In essence they have created an electronic arts festival that promotes their region in a non-conventional yet very effective way. After the success of their first festival in 2003, the friends realised they were on the pulse of something that could bring tourists to their valley and give them a highly unique experience while promoting their dual passions of music and heritage. They carefully chose the locations of their three festivals, locations that would maximize the beauty of their environment while creating a contrasting and memorable space for their visitor. Memory is important to them. Making a strong impact on the audience is paramount. Achieving this is their speciality. Wow again! I was blown away by these guys and their thinking. When Alessandro told me about one of their events, held in a disused watermill where an electronic artist played sounds while visitors sampled the best wine and food of their valley, I was there! I now have a memory of being somewhere I’ve never even been! Sustainable tourism indeed! They concluded their talk with an emphasis on the importance of knowing the customer if one is to develop successful sustainable tourism.
‘Developing some form of sustainable tourism relies heavily upon a wise choice of the “ideal customer”. Interferenze being an electronic arts festival is directed to a very specific target: people with fairly high culture, interested in arts an avant-garde, sensitive to ecology and nature preservation like they are to technology. They are relatively young, travel a lot, especially to attend events and are usually in good economic conditions.’ Leandro Pisano.
The Design Camp designers could breath a sigh of relief because Alessandro and Leandro will be around for a few days to mentor the team who will work on the wind farm project before they take their mountain of sustainable experience back to the valleys of Southern Italy!
Next up, Beth Davidson, assistant producer on Mapping the Necklace. This is an exciting, ongoing project taking place in the Durham Necklace Park, a 12-mile stretch of land linked to the River Wear. It was devised to raise awareness of Durham outside of the main tourist attractions of the Castle and the famous Durham Cathedral. Teams of ‘mappers’ were recently invited to explore the Necklace Park as long as they left no marks in the environment. These experiences of the teams were recorded and are being used to build up a profile of a virtual park that will be online in the near future. To contrast with the vulnerability of the actual park, visitors are invited to do what they like in the virtual park and they will have permission to blow up trees, build houses and dig holes! Beth let us all into the world of mapping by sharing some of the experiences of the mapping groups from the recent weekend in the Necklace Park. She emphasised the benefits of using mapping as a tool for accessing unique stories, thoughts and experiences that members of the pubic have about Durham as a visitor centre.
‘Thinking about mapping gave us an insight into secret places, secret thoughts that people had about Durham’ Beth Davidson, Mapping The Necklace
The River Wear and the chain of jewels along it’s meandering journey through County Durham led us nicely to the next presentation by Ross Lowrie a senior officer at the Environment Agency and project leader of the ‘Tyne Salmon Trail’. Again, fascinating stuff. The aim of the project is to celebrate the River Tyne, it’s heritage and its diverse ecosystem. The project explores low-impact ways to improve access to the River Tyne and its different species. To this end, the Environment Agency have taken the unusual step of engaging the architecture company X-site who came up with the gorgeous idea of marking the trail of the iconic salmon from its birth place down to the sea at Tynemouth and back again to Keilder where they return to spawn and die. The Environment Agency jumped on the idea of the Moveable Cubes Exhibition. To enhance the experience of the visitors, they have decided to hold 3 events around the salmon trail, at various points along the river, aimed at creating memories for people and encouraging communities to engage with the river in diverse, unusual ways that will encourage them to see the river as part of their lives. Why have the Environment Agency got involved in such an unusual experience? Put simply, they understand the power of using public art and technology to fulfil their mission of promoting the environment and awareness of the river in particular. Ultimately, they see the importance of their roll in getting people involved in the climate change debate and generating awareness of the changing environment we inhabit.
‘Good design and good public art works. It engages people and makes them remember place. We think this project will deliver sustainable tourism for the North East’ Ross Lowrie, The Environment Agency
The Explorers Club ended for most of the audience but just like the young fry in the Tyne River, the eager designers of the Dott 07 Design Camp are beginning an epic journey that will take them round quite a few bends. Let’s hope that when they return from their experience, they will spawn some brilliant ideas that live!