The Influence of the media

This examines the relationship between the media and tourism within the UK, ranging from its influences both positive and negative to the measureable impacts. The main areas of study are the effects of film and television, radio and news reports. It is apparent that within the UK, a great deal of tourism to rural destinations is fuelled by the nostalgic imagery that is representative of the British countryside and presented through various mediums of media.

Introduction

Throughout the world, the rural has proved a popular destination for visitors, in part because of its high quality, aesthetically pleasing landscape, a common feature that many tourists desire. Furthermore, the demise of urban areas could also now be a factor, with many looking to escape the issues associated with congestion and pollution which are perceived to be characteristics of many inner city locations (Cooper, 2008). However, it could be suggested that it is difficult to define rural, which can create a degree of ambiguity. An example definition could be that rural is anything not urban, implying that it therefore encompasses a vast array of locations, from bucolic spots to seaside resorts. Mathieson and Wall (2006, p. 237) argue that tourism has "changed the economic and social structure of rural communities in western nations". This is reflected in the United Kingdom (UK), where rural tourism in the countryside has been actively encouraged by governments on both a national and supranational level.

Following the move by land owners from a productivist to a post-productivist economy, many have diversified their usage from an agricultural focus to other ventures. This is often achieved in the UK through a grants system from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EARDF) which is "targeted at improving agricultural competitiveness, managing the environment, improving the quality of rural life and diversifying the rural economy" (Cooper, 2008). Some of these include providing accommodation for tourists in idyllic locations, like traditional farm houses, to providing facilities and activities that could also be appealing to this market. Bierman (2003) attributes some of the success of rural tourism is its wide range of possible activities and especially to its ability to be inclusive and accessible to those even on a moderate or restricted budget. Furthermore, it is also suggested that increased participation in tourism can be linked with a greater level of media exposure, thus creating a desire within people to want to visit places outside of their home environment (Holden, 2005).

Positive Influences

Television

Nowadays, it is undoubted that the media have a huge influence over the public and perceptions on certain issues. This can often be achieved through the way in which they portray certain items or events. Film, television, literature and art are just some of mediums through which it can it can be attained. Bunce (1994, p. 31) argues that "with the arrival of new publishing technology and especially electronic media - radio, film and television - in this century, the countryside ideal has been absorbed readily into mass culture", whilst Cloke (2003) also suggests that television and radio are two of the most influential mediums, often presenting a contemporary nostalgic view of country living. Both arguments highlight just how significant the growth of this style of media has been and how influential it can be whereby people develop a deep fascination with it and a sense of longing to be part of this lifestyle. It is on this basis that organisations charged with the task of promoting tourism, like Visit Britain, use the settings of productions as a way of encouraging the public to participate in tourism in these regions. The Visit Britain website promotes rural tourism by advertising aspects like castles used in films like Harry Potter and James Bond (Visit Britain, 200-). However the input of the media is not always of benefit to the tourism industry.

Many programmes on television present an idyllic, sanitised view of the countryside, a chocolate box like image. Figure 1 illustrates this by displaying an illustration of perfectly manicured, rolling fields as far as the eye can see. This is a very attractive prospect for would be tourists. However, it has been suggested that a televised view of the rural is merely symbolic of a commodified landscape, bearing little resemblance to reality (Phillips, 2001). This indicates that although the television can be an effective method of promotion, what it endorses is often not a true representation.

Film

The growth of the film industry in the UK has further contributed to promotion of rural tourism because of the locations used for filming. One of the most significant and well known contributors is the Harry Potter series of motion pictures, which have run since 2001 and use locations all over the UK. The success of the series is undoubted, as of 2007 it is the highest grossing film franchise of all time with earning over £2.2bn (Guardian, 2007). In 2003, it was awarded an Outstanding Contribution to English Tourism award by Tourism Minister Kim Howells because "Many visitors cite the film was a direct reason for visiting the UK" (UK Film Council, 2007). To coincide with the release of the first film the British Tourism Authority, who later in 2003 became VisitBritain, released an accompanying movie map featuring thirty two locations, all of which were sites used for filming for the movie. Many of these were rural locations which provided the scenes for the centrepiece, Hogwarts and the surrounding areas. Due to the schemes success, it has been adopted by VisitScotland and VisitLondon, to promote their film locations.

Research conducted by the UK Film Council (2007) shows that the Harry Potter movies have been integral to improving the number of visitors to rural areas. Figure 2 illustrates the increase in the numbers of visitors since the scheme was set up in 2001. Over half of the visitors to this location came because of its role in television and film with 15% of those surveyed went because of its role in Harry Potter whilst 38% went because of the television series, Heartbeat. This indicates that its role as a film location is seen as more attractive than its protective status as a National Park, highlighting the influential nature of the media. This is further highlighted by the fact that this is merely a railway station which in 2004 attracted more than 300,000 visitors, a true testament to the impact that media involvement can have on a site.

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland has been a major success story and one of the greatest beneficiaries from the scheme, all this despite not featuring as a marquee destination on the VisitBritain movie map. Since 2001, the castle gardens visitor numbers have increased from 13,627 to 515,813 per annum in 2003. It is estimated that the region has generated £9 million in income as a direct link to its role in the films. It could be argued that this location has been such a huge success because of its role as Hogwarts, the main location for the film and undoubtedly one of its most iconic settings that has become synonymous with the franchise. Furthermore, it could be argued that the aggressive marketing strategy and heavy promotion are effective in enticing people to visit. It seems that this is even more spectacular because the region has had to market itself because it was officially endorsed by film maker Warner Bros., limiting its ability to be promoted by other outside agencies. The current owner recognises the historical obligations of the site and that the income generated will help to ensure the long-term prosperity of the estate (Murdoch, 2003). The author also suggests that the significance of Alnwick Castle's success is also felt outside of the boundaries of the estate because of both the direct and indirect relationships and opportunities that tourism also brings to the surrounding area and the businesses within its locality.

Negative Influences

Film

Although it has been demonstrated that rural locations can generate a lucrative income from film deals, it is certainly not always the case. It could be argued that this is because it does not play a significant enough role in the film, they do not promote their location enough or simply because they simply do not want to participate. One example of this is Ashridge Estate which has only received the "odd" enquiry about its links with the Harry Potter movies and they do not promote its connection with the franchise. It could be argued that the lack of advertising is one of the key reasons why it does not attract many visitors through this medium. It is also noted that they do not keep a record of their visitor numbers, although if the number of people taking a trip there is quite high, they may not feel the need to promote the site because it may be close to its carrying capacity, or the point at which the physical threshold of the site is pushed (Cooper, 2008).

A spokeswoman for Durham Cathedral stated that they asked to be left off VisitBritain's Harry Potter movie map, stating that they are "first and foremost a place of worship that happens to attract half a million visitors per year" and that they do not want to "cash in" on its role in the film. It is also argued that part of the reasoning for this is because some of the areas of the cathedral are off limits to the public. It is indicated by the spokeswoman that they do not want to be associated with its film set status because visitors would be ignoring certain features of the building like the heritage, purpose. However it could be argued that its role in the Harry Potter films enables it to attract a vast array of tourists that previously, may have had little or no interest in visiting a site of this nature. Secondly, the fact that it already attracts such a high number of visitors per annum could also be a contributing factor and if they were not as successful, it may be a route that they may have been more willing to exploit. Furthermore it could be suggested that they are also simply unable to accommodate any more tourists to the site. However, it could be viewed that greater promotion of its linkage with the film would merely act as a hindrance as they simply do not have the resources to cope with the possible influx of visitors.

Epidemics

One of the biggest epidemics to have an impact on rural tourism in the UK is the spread of Foot and Mouth disease in 2001. This was different to other forms of crises that could be caused by terrorism, crime or human epidemics, because its effects resulted in the closing down of rural locations, resulting in people not being able to access them as oppose to generating a sense of fear amongst tourists that repel them from a certain location. The effects of this were further exacerbated on a national and international scale by the 11th September terrorist attacks in New York City, USA, resulting in the decline of visitors to the UK from abroad through a fear of air travel, which is the main method that most people use to enter the country.

Bierman (2003, p. 174-175) argues that the "sickening media images of burning pyres of animals, people in rural areas undergoing disinfection procedures and the news of parks, gardens and rural attraction quarantined off limits to tourists rapidly transformed a rural problem into a tourism crisis".

The image above (Fig. 4.) is typical of some of the media images used in reports that are referenced by Bierman as contributing to discouraging tourists from visiting rural locations. Images of this type are a stark contrast to some of the more traditional imagery of rural Britain (Fig. 1.) and also make the rural locations far less desirable. Simon Bradley, a spokesman for South West Tourism, said "the government's failure to manage media images, particularly those shown abroad, contributed to visitors staying away from the countryside" whilst newspaper headlines like "Leper Nation" were also perceived as hugely damaging (BBC News, 2002). Images and headlines like those used in reports, only seem to have generated and instilled an increased sense of fear amongst the public and potential tourists, thus deterring them from even visiting those locations that were unaffected because all rural destinations were stereotyped as sites that were potentially dangerous.

The devastating impact of this outbreak is even more significant for rural tourism because of its significant promotion by both private businesses and government since the early 1990's, with the initiative aiming to decentralise Britain's tourism industry to benefit more peripheral areas because it was viewed as a proven method for spreading wealth to marginalised areas (Bierman, 2003). Furthermore, at this time rural locations suffering was increased not only because of the loss of revenue from falling livestock sales and also the slaughtering of infected animals, but also by the intense loss of revenue from the crippled tourism sector, which had previously became important as it helped to fill the deficit left by the declining agricultural sector over recent years through the process of diversification.

References

  • BBC News, 2002. Tourists 'put off' by Blair images [online]. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2222372.stm [Accessed on: 7th December 2009].
  • Bierman, D., 2003. Restoring tourism destinations in crisis: a strategic marketing approach. California: CABI Pub.
  • Bunce, M., 1994. The Countryside Ideal. Routledge.
  • Cloke, P., 2003. Country Visions. Pearson Education.
  • Cooper, C., 2008. Tourism: Principles and Practice (4th Ed.). Pearson Education.
  • Guardian, 2007. Harry Potter becomes highest-grossing film franchise [online]. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2007/sep/11/jkjoannekathleenrowling [Accessed on: 7th December 2009].
  • Holden, A., 2005. Tourism Studies and the Social Sciences. Routledge.
  • Mathieson, A. And Wall, G., 2006. Tourism: Change, Impacts and Opportunities (2nd Ed.). Pearson Education.
  • Murdoch, J. et al., 2003. The Differentiated Countryside. Routledge.
  • Phillips, M. et al., 2001. Putting together ruralities towards the symbolic analysis of rurality in the British mass media. Journal of Rural Studies, 17 (1), pp.1-27.
  • UK Film Council, 2007. Stately Attraction: How Film and Television Programmes Promote Tourism in the UK.
  • Visit Britain, 200-. Castles in Films [online]. Available online: http://www.visitbritain.co.uk/things-to-see-and-do/interests/history-and-heritage/features/castles/feature/castles-in-films.aspx [Accessed on: 7th December 2009].

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