Many things happened in March 2020 and one of them for me was meeting Tina O’Dwyer at the Scottish Tourism Alliance conference.
Tina is the founder of The Tourism Space, who have a mission to create spaces for people in tourism to connect, learn, grow and lead together into a better tourism future.
I began joining their online huddles, a safe space for learning and knowledge sharing, not long after we were all in the life adjusting environment of a global pandemic.
These weekly huddles have various topics and format, but at the start were very much a way of supporting people in tourism as we ventured into the unknown.
As time moved on it became clear that normal wasn’t ever going to be normal for quite some time, but life goes on. Work goes on. Travel began again, even if that meant only a few miles from our homes.
Tina is a great facilitator, coach, mentor and highly experienced practitioner in sustainable and regenerative tourism, she is also a firm believer in lifelong learning. Our weekly huddles moved on to a programme of guests, key discussion topics, goal setting, and member spotlights. After being part of The Tourism Space for a year I had the honour of being in the member spotlight. I say honour, because it was just exactly that.
The people in The Tourism Space make it what it is. Supportive, inspiring, engaging, social, challenging, thought provoking, knowledge sharing, learning; and frank openness. All of that with a generous smattering of multi-cultural banter.
Being described by Tina as a community tourism activist and regenerative tourism advocate was a cue for me to gather all my thoughts, knowledge and practical experiences together to present my view on Community Led Tourism (CLT) to the gathered company. It really makes you think when you are put in the spotlight.
I have lived and worked in Angus all my life, that’s quite a while! My first experiences of CLT were with the Glenesk Folk Museum, way back in the late ‘80s. It was run by the community, for the community; but so much more as well.
Some of my CLT experiences have been more colorful than others, walking Feliciene the pig in Meetjesland, Belgium will be forever etched in my memory!
Angus Tourism Cooperative have been at the forefront of CLT, partially through our work on the AngusLEADER Transnational Cooperation project, Flourishing Destinations. A project firmly rooted in Community Led Tourism. Working with our Belgium and Romania project partners was an opportunity to learn, share and implement ideas on welcoming visitors, traditional craft skills, and food and drink. Our community engagement on the project was Angus wide, striving to share the opportunity of engagements between visitors and host communities. Through our work on this we were then invited to be part of a SenScot funded pilot project for CLT in Brechin.
Being aware of the impact, and often a lack of connection, between visitors and communities has to be at the forefront going forward. There is ample evidence in Angus of how the balance can be extremely detrimental, yet out of that amazingly creative things can happen. We see that at East Haven, Lunan Bay and elsewhere.
Tina used a quote from me after the huddle, “People within the community need to feel they’re being looked after before they can look after guests to their area.”
The benefits of CLT are many, from positive social impact, pride in place, thriving places to live, developing a keen sense of individuality of an area and telling that story. I am lucky. My DNA is in the Angus soil, I am an ambassador and advocate of Angus and love where I live. I am part of a community, many communities, who come together to help our communities thrive. Guests, visitors, tourists; call them what you will, they will benefit when our community thrives. The connection and exchange will be more authentic. The seeds are sown, and that local sense and pride of place is growing. We see it in initiatives like our Insider’s Guide and MyAngus week. We may have challenges to overcome, but we have ample opportunities too.
Angus Tourism Cooperative