torsdag 7 april 2016

Tourism and sustainability 2

This is an experiment. I usually write in Swedish, but here and in another blog post I will publish two conference papers on the topic of tourism. It is two theoretical texts about how one can think about developing sustainable tourism destinations. These texts have been published in a conference preceding, but will not be published elsewhere because they do not fit into the form that today is demanded. Therefore, I publish them here.

Best practice in Destination Development is always a different practice

Eddy Nehls

Associate professor in Ethnology

This paper is theoretical, analytical, explorative and thought provoking. As a scholar in Cultural Studies the research I conduct is not about telling people how it is or what is best to do. What I can contribute with is tools to think with about how it could be done different and what it can become, whatever it is I do research on. Inspiration for this approach I often get from the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, and here in this paper I am working with his concept conversation and how it can be related to destination development. The aim in the paper is to open up a space for thought about this highly complex issue. I am arguing that what we need today more than anything, because we have all the evidence and knowledge we need, is methods to think differently. In this paper I am trying to briefly sketch out some guidelines for a mindset that we need to promote innovation and economic growth in a broad spectrum of the tourism industry, and present analytical tools that can be used by many different stakeholders, both inside and outside of academia. I am arguing that knowledge and the ability to think critically needs to be spread more evenly in society to make it more innovative and sustainable. It is also important to emphasize that the only value this article might have is entirely dependent upon the actual result that it gives rise to and what this result can be used for.

How to think about conversations, as a concept

When a problem is discovered in society it is common to start a debate or a negotiation to try to solve the problem, or to hire an expert that can design a best practice for the work. But the concept of best practice is problematic, even if one clearly can and should learn from others' best practices and benefit from experiences done by others. Very often and quickly debates about what is best tend to be focusing on demands and expectations for quick and tangible results. The problem with many debates and questions raised in society as well as in the academy is that its configuration is shut and limited, and that it is designed to point out one winner, the best contestant. Debates therefore constrain the possibility to come up with new and unexpected answers, that is what prosperous and interesting destinations are in desperate need for. When a question is raised there is seldom ill will intermingled in the question or from the person who calls for a debate or seek for a best practice. This highly problematic tendency should rather be understood as a property which is nestled in to our contemporary culture.

Conversations, I argue, is a better platform for developing the kind of destination development that I have in mind here. A conversation is by definition, open, explorative and unbiased. In a conversation (ideally) there is a natural and obvious understanding, not just for routes forward but also for detours and ideas that is not really thought through, as well as for silence and reflection, which often is what it takes to come up with new ideas. It is important to remark that the concept of conversation may not be perceived as a method to solve concrete problems once and for all. It is not a best practice; it is a whole new way to think about practices. For conversations to be fruitful processes of knowledge exchange (and this is important to bear in mind because it is not the conversation as such that is important, but the engagement that it promotes and what happens in-between the participants) they must be allowed to operate over time, in their own pace and in an open ended fashion. When this is understood by the participants they can help each other to control the conversation so that it stays as open and unbiased as possible and not migrates into a debate in which territory is guarded and power is exercised. This require that the participants that is involved in the conversation give up some of their autonomy and rather consider them self as representatives of specific skills more than as legislatures of a company or a discipline, with all that entails in terms of positioning and monitoring of special interests. Conversations, here in this paper, are hence a concept, a practice and a cultural quality.

Becoming from below

A sustainable and economically viable destination can only be built together with the people that live their life in the location that is to be developed. Without a sensitive and deep understanding of the history, the present and the local’s visions of the future, any developing project is bound to be short lived, because the world and culture is constantly changing. A successful and prosperous tourist destination has to be built from below and on what is there in the first place, and to make it sustainable the work has to be process oriented and related to some kind of common vision. Even if this is easy to say but very difficult to implement in a society, I argue that this is what must be accomplished. In many ways it is an impossible mission, but why should we let difficulties like that stop us from trying? Let's start the work and we'll see how far we get. The alternative is to give up, and then we know for sure what is happening: Nothing! This is an important epistemological remark and it is grounded in the theoretical work of Gilles Deleuze and his co-writer Fèlix Guattari that will be presented more and developed further later on in the paper.

To develop this collective approach we need an understanding of culture that emphasizes it as an open ended process. Movement and change is what both researchers and people in general and in everyday life are dealing with when they work with innovations, try to achieve sustainability or build a tourist destination. These kinds of questions cannot be regarded as well-defined problems that can be solved once and for all. Because the world; culture, society, people and matter, technology, money and knowledge, is in constant, intermingling process’ of joint becoming. Culture is best considered as a kind of mutable structure, characterized by collective continuous co-creation; a kind of organizing principle that can be open or shut (a conversation is open, and a debate is shut). Culture is more than anything the result of interactions between different kinds of actors, and actants, because not only humans can be said to act and make a difference in a given context (Latour 2005).

To liberate the potential of this way to understand culture and development we need a “place” that is designed for communication. If this place/space is physical or virtual is of no importance, what matter is that it can promote unbiased meetings between interested and open minded participants, liberate innovations and encourage thinking in new ways. To make this happen one can do as Deleuze and think of the processes in terms of conversations (See Deleuze & Parnet 2002:1 ff). According to Deleuze, we must engage our self in conversations much more than what we do today. What we, on the other hand do today, but should stop doing, is debate. There is a fundamental difference between these words, an important and epistemological difference.

Debates have specific goals: To arrive at something that is defined beforehand, something definitive. Therefore debates often tend to evolve into arenas for exercise of power, even if it is not the intention of any of the parties. It is so to speak, built into the nature of the debate forum to fuel the trend to power precisely because the goal is to reach a settlement. The concept of conversation can thus function as a thinking tool for understanding what an ideal developing process can look like and what we need to strive for.

To achieve these ambitions it is essential to work carefully with the design of the process, and to really think through the parties respectively responsibilities. Deleuze presents various suggestions on how one might think when designing such a process, or his thoughts can at least serve as inspiration when the rules for such a conversation climate is formulated (Deleuze & Parnet 2002:2). Deleuze’s thoughts should however not be seen as clear definitions but rather as attempts to provoke the reader to think for themselves. Deleuze says that, “all mistranslations are good – always provided that they do not consist in interpretations” (ibid:5). The important thing here is to stay open for, and to devise strategies to discover and hang on to, the lines of flight that show up everywhere but that can be difficult to detect if you are concentrating too much on achieving a specific, pre-defined objective.

A new and different, sustainable destination development cannot be something that arises in the mind of one or a few experts, since these are only small parts of larger systems. Knowledge grows out of the middle, between the participants and their respective competencies that is brought in to the process. By making many people actively aware of this state of affairs, it is possible to understand how to work out successful strategies to promote innovations and develop tourist destinations. But to be successful in this work it is crucial to understand that the process can’t be steered towards pre-formulated goals, which is what the experts are trained to do and expected to help us with in a top down fashion.

In Deleuze’s and Guattari’s (2003a & 2003b) joint production, it is what is happening in the in-betweens that are emphasised and regarded as important. It is in the middle that the unexpected (innovations, lines of flight) is to be found, and it helps if everybody engaged in the process understands this and the importance for the context where the conversation is taking place to stay sufficiently open. A quotation from Deleuze, when he is talking about his longstanding collaboration with his colleague Fèlix Guattari, can illustrate this.

We were only two, but what was important for us was less our working together than this strange fact of working between the two of us. We stopped being ‘author’. And these ‘between-the-twos’ referred back to other people, who were different on the side from one other. The dessert expanded, but in so doing became more populous. This had nothing to with a school, with processes of recognition, but much to do with encounters. And all these stories of becomings, of nuptials against nature, of a-parallel evolution, of bilingualism, of theft of thoughts, were what I had with Fèlix. I stole Fèlix, and I hope he did the same for me. (Deleuze & Parnet 2002:17)

For those who might think that Deleuze is wrong, it is important to point out the fact that if the thoughts are found not to be the constructive tools that I perceive them to be, or if not enough actors get engaged in the work, then the process will inevitably die. The only way to form an adequate understanding of the usefulness and potential of a concept is to investigate the actual consequences that can be connected to it. The value of a concept cannot be forecasted, only back-casted or measured with empirical observation of the actual outcome of the process. For this work to be successful it is crucial to understand that the future is fundamentally open.
A totally different example to think withBecause every thought is affected by the context that it grows out of, and because everything is biased, we need a totally different example to think with. And a conversation about the differences och similarities between Wikipedia (conversation oriented) and Encyclopedia Britannica (debate oriented) hopefully can illustrate in a thoughtful way what a conversation is and how it can be used, and what the problems is with debates.

Objections to Wikipedia have been raised, but consider then that there are no perfect and flawless encyclopedias. Even Encyclopedia Britannica has a whole bunch of errors. But since this revered work is printed on paper, often published in a solid half-bound edition and above all because its content is authored by the foremost authorities on each area, it is easy to believe that it is correct and can be trusted. As the content is approved by experts, the degree of critical vigilance over the content is lowered, and this makes the readers vulnerable. If, of course, you trust blindly what is written there. Encyclopedia Britannica in this way fuels a problematic trend in society today: putting our lives in the hands of experts, shifting responsibility elsewhere. It is not the content in either work that is the problem; it is the use of them that can be problematic.

As a reference in scientific papers or student essays, Encyclopedia Britannica and other physical collections of knowledge are perfect, but it is not because they contain fewer errors than networked and collectively-produced sources. Encyclopedia Britannica is an excellent reference because it is a work that one can check ex post and because it has an explicit publisher (it is linked to a specific individual). But these features do not necessarily make the content more credible.

For the same reasons Wikipedia is a poor source, when regarded as a reference. But Wikipedia is an excellent tool in everyday life. Wikipedia was created and is continuously developed through volunteer work. The articles have no named author, and their content constantly changes. Anyone who finds something that they regard as an error can easily make changes and develop the content further. This is Wikipedia's great advantage, but also its problem. There is an important difference here, between a reference and a tool. Both are good and useful, but for different needs and purposes.

This is a metaphorical illustration of the current situation in society today. The difference between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica in many ways has its equivalent in the difference between a conversation and a debate. The trick is then to extract the best of both these worlds. One problem with debates and experts is that it promotes people to blindly trust authorities, and then society will lose some of the necessary protection against unforeseen events that is needed for its long-term survival. And here Wikipedia as well as conversations has an advantage. It is an adjustable tool that can be used to orient oneself in the contemporary and fast changing world, but it is on the other hand an open source, that needs to be used with caution.

What is needed to tackle both the problems and the benefits of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica is the ability to think critically. All societies depend on citizens having a developed capacity for independent, critical thinking. Promotion of critical thinking is the single most important task, both for tackling rapid change and in meeting new demands from customers and new trends in travelling. It is alarming and frightening to constantly read in the newspapers that the overall ability to think critically is decreasing in contemporary society. This problem has to be addressed if we take the need for sustainability and innovative destination development seriously. The conclusion is that all knowledge and different sources are good, not per se, but for different purposes and in different contexts. In destination development it is more important to learn how to evaluate knowledge, than to listen to experts and follow rules like best practice.

As important as it is to promote and develop the ability for critical thinking it is to understand that there is not one way to do this, not one best practice: Only different ways, in different contexts. The same goes for the concept of sustainability, that by definition are abstract, complex and often contradictory. This is the reason for society’s urgent need for critical thinking and for conversations instead of debates about the new kind of destination developments that I have in mind here.

Scholars in social and humanistic sciences sometimes get to hear that they are too abstract when they say that culture by definition is complex, often contradictory and constantly changing, and therefore cannot be explained in a simple, firm and clear way. But if it is the case that culture is complex, contradictory and extremely changeable processes, how can we argue otherwise while retaining our intellectual pride? To present distinct answers would mean that we were more interested in satisfying the questioner's desire and willingness to get answers than to actually respond in accordance with what we know and hold to be true. A typical example of this and of the problems that are connected with it is a feature in a morning TV show a while back. It was about the increasing obesity of children, and what to do about this alarming trend. The host of the program then called in, as a guest on the couch, a doctor and asked him to answer the questions. Until then, everything was all right, obesity is an issue that falls under the physician's skills and thus it is obvious that he or she is the best person to answer questions. But the questions asked were not about what happens in the body when exposed to fat, or what kind of risks obesity among children may result in. The questions were about what society should do. The doctor's response was to recommend increasing the tax on fat and sugar. It is possible that this same doctor was also well versed in economics and social sciences, but it was not in this capacity that he was presented. His expertise as a medical doctor was not utilized, in other words, only his title and reputation.

These examples show that people all too often tend to listen more to who is talking than what is actually being said. That is why we need critical thinking, not to criticize but to evaluate the sources and contents that we are about to trust, and to spread knowledge and develop competences more wide and evenly than today.

Wikipedia is a shining example of the phenomenon of “The Wisdom of Crowds” that James Surowiecki has identified and discussed in a book with the same title. Many wise heads who collaborate in an open and humble spirit (which the anonymity of the Internet promotes) are often more creative and able to capture more knowledge than a few ever so knowledgeable experts. Wikipedia is a collective memory, a bank for retrieving knowledge from. Instead of storing the knowledge in one’s own head, today, via a cell phone, we can acquaint ourselves with many people's collective knowledge and wisdom. This makes it possible to invest more energy in the development of critical thinking, and if enough people do so we will have a society that is more sustainable. And then Encyclopedia Britannica can be read and used in new ways and for different reasons too.

The new principles for destination development is then not entirely new, it is instead combinations of old and new components and thoughts that make us think in new ways about what is possible to try to do. The issue, then, is not which is best, the new or the old. It is about how you relate to and work with what you have. Knowledge is always a fresh product; it must be continuously reviewed, evaluated and managed. And the more people who take part in the process the better.

The work on creating a new and unique, truly context related destination development can only be carried out without clearly defined objectives in mind and with awareness of that there is no a priori way of knowing where to go. The goal has to be invented during work, in the process and it must constantly be revised. Therefore it is important to adopt a scientific style that can make visible the whole network of actors that is required to maintain the prevailing truths. Furthermore, it is important to make oneself aware of the fact that there is not one, and one only, theory of or truth about anything. Because the world is in a constant process of becoming it is preferable to embraces uncertainty and complexity, and use the insights constructively. To manage this, critical thinking is crucial, and needs to be promoted constantly in society.

Concepts and scientific achievements have the capacity to change, if the work is read and processed by readers who do something with the insights they hopefully acquire. Everywhere actors meet other actors, and nobody or nothing ever stays the same. Everything is constantly changing and becoming, everywhere, always. Therefore, last but not least, we must draw attention to the people that live in the area. The most important interface in destination development is the one established between the residents and the tourists, because there, in between, every destination is becoming.

The concept of best practice is problematic, even if one clearly can and should learn from others' best practices and benefit from experiences gained by others. It is important to bear in mind that everything we do, think and hold for true, has to be critically reviewed not only by scholars, because science is just as much as any other human activity impregnated by power and power structures. Consequently research findings must be presented in such a way that it is clear whose interests are served if the outcome is accepted as relevant. Transparency is the key word, and it is important to promote the ability to critically assess the work done. The insights gained in and through such communication between academia and the community can be used collectively and democratically in the process of building a more equitable and sustainable world, and develop other, radically different ways to work with destination development. In line with these thoughts, this article should not be read as a description of how one should do, but as a collection of stories and thoughts about how one can do and think.

More inspiration for conversations

What is lacking today is independence and critical thinking, and this affects society as well the tourism industry. We are completely obsessed with rankings, citations, peer-reviewing and best practices. This means that the attention shifts away from the learning process, to the end result. Is it citations you want, well, you get it! And if it is a good place in the latest rankings which is important, it is possible to fix this. But what do we get then? We are locking ourselves even more into a rigid structure and a debate climate that makes it even harder to accomplish what the tourism industry needs.

There are lots of texts and thinkers to draw inspiration from. One interesting and thought provoking thinker is the scholar Stuart Kauffman and his book, At Home in the Universe: The search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. There he explains the kind of rules that he have found, and this is not "root-rules" (Encyclopedia Britannica) but "rhizome-rules" (Wikipedia). That is anyway one way to understand him and his book. Another example of a thinker to gain inspiration from is Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine, who with Isabelle Stengers has written the book, Order Out of Chaos, which deals with similar things. One very interesting thinker is Nassim Nicholas Taleb and the book, The Black Swan that discuss the role that chance plays in everyday life, everywhere. Taleb argues that we are constantly worried about the wrong things. We are concerned that what has happened in the past will happen again, which it rarely does. It is always the unexpected, unexpected that occurs. Therefore we need to abandon the idea that it is more accurate knowledge and better experts that we need. What we need instead is wisdom, collective wisdom that grows in between and from below. And for that purpose conversations based on the knowledge we have today, is the only structure needed to develop a sustainable tourism destination practice that really works and that is unique and well fit for the place where it is implemented.

Every place and every context are made up of much more than just people. A tourism destination is only partly made up of humans. Therefore it is important to view the world as a set of sites under collective and continuous becoming, and therefore I argue that conversation is the “best practice”. Equally important as humans it is to consider the materiality of places and destinations. It is the context as a whole that gives rise to consequences, rather than just people who do certain things. Conversations opens up our minds to new meanings and significance in between and can, just like a destination, be regarded as a context in a state of constant becoming. In that process stories and concepts play a central role for the outcome. That is what Deleuze and Guattari (1994) argue in their last book together, What is Philosophy?

It is remarkably how often good ideas, which everybody agrees on, disappear like sand between the fingers. It is as if they lack the ability to hook on and get stuck. Thoughts that give clear answers, on the other hand, thoughts that tell you how it is and what to do, they always hook on and get spread. It is as if the vast majority wanted nothing more than to divest itself of responsibility. Impurity is disturbing to how security (as clarity) is favoured in society today. Only researchers that make definitive statements get the attention from the public. Therefore it is important to make a break with this story and exchange it for different stories and practices. We need to understand the importance of challenging the irrational and counterproductive fear of chaos and uncertainty. Rather, we should embrace the unsafe.

Chance and lines of flight

The world and also the knowledge of nature are best understood as non-linear processes. And therefore, one must, first of all, accept that life on earth, culture and also the development of tourism destinations is affected by chance. But with this said it is important to remember that I talk about chance in the sense of the word that Deleuze (see, eg, 2006: 209, 2006: 253, 1990: 164ff) has launched, and that he compares knowledge production with throwing of a dice. Thinking is not primarily or exclusively something that goes on inside the heads of people, but is rather to be understood as something that occurs in encounters between actors, within a context. And it is the whole context that must be considered in order for us to be able to understand how thinking arises and changes. Any possible future scenario cannot be actualised at any given time. Anything cannot happen as a result of chance. But what actually can happen in a moment is inevitably determined by the conditions that arise from what happened before. Once you have accepted this you can easily pick up chance as a way to understand knowledge, culture and destination development. Chance then illustrates that any limited number of possible scenarios will be realized. The outcome can never be regulated in detail beforehand, but the opportunity horizon that exists can be manipulated to some degree. This is the best forecast of the future we can get, and that is good enough! There is a small, but very important shift in perspective here, from debates to conversations.

Related to chance is another key concept from Deleuze and Guattari, lines of flight that has been touched upon above. In the book Dialogues II (Deleuze & Parnet 2002: 39) I find a quotation that explains what it is or can be thought to be: “For Gilles Deleuze, the real potential of a text lies in process, in its lines of flight. The artist’s ability to take up the ‘interrupted line’ in the middle mobilises a becoming through art, a creation of something new and of endless transformative potential.”

A line of flight can be described as a constructive opportunity that arises where/when you least expect it. And what is needed in order to make use of these opportunities is to detect and catch them as they appear, in flight. Moreover, to make use of this thinking, we need a little bit more humility and openness and a greater willingness to test new ideas, even ideas that someone else is the author of. We have to remember and make us aware of that thinking is a collective process with lots of different actors involved, not only humans.

Chance and lines of flight is one way to emphasise how important it is to break away from the notion that thinking can be a solitary phenomenon, and that we need experts or that there is a best practice in tourism development. Thinking is not and cannot be regarded as an activity carried out in solitude. The outcome always occurs in between, as a result of the process of becoming and of chance and the occurrence of lines of flight. Therefore it is of vital importance that as many people as possible learn to recognize these lines of flight, for they occur quite often when you least expect them. In order to liberate the potential of this approach and to detect and take advantage of the alignments that occur everywhere, it is in everybody’s interests to be humble and to ensure that work progresses in an open ended fashion. This is a general rule for the kind of destination development that I have in mind.

What I appreciate most with Deleuze is that he writes texts that deliberately provoke the reader to be active. He never offers any solutions. For his texts to make sense they require that the reader performs active interpretations of the content. And since the destination development that is discussed here first and foremost must be a process where knowledge and experience is exchanged, Deleuze's work fits very well as a source of inspiration. His texts are not closed in the sense that the author first determines and defines whatever is under scrutiny and then, as clearly as possible, to avoid confusion for the reader, explain the content. Deleuze’s texts accomplish meaning only in and through the reader's active reception of the content and therefore his texts as well as this article cannot be assessed in any other way then to put the thoughts into action, and exclusively in relation to the result of the acts.

Deleuze and Guattari writes in there book A Thousand Plateaus that their understanding of the world (and of humans) is about cartography, to follow the lines drawn between the actors who populate the world, both human and nonhuman. The lines, however, mean nothing in themselves. Thus they argue that these lines:
“...compose us, as they compose our map. They transform themselves and may even cross over into one another. Rhizome. It is certain that they have nothing to do with language; it is, on the contrary, language that must follow them, it is writing that must take sustenance from them, between its own lines. It is certain that they have nothing to do with a signifier, the determination of a subject by the signifier; instead, the signifier arises at the most rigidified level of one of the lines, and the subject is spawned at the lowest level” (Deleuze & Guattari 2003: 203).
This statement can certainly be perceived as excessively abstract and perhaps even incomprehensible. That is, in any case, how many readers of Deleuze regard his texts, but if that is the case here I would like the reader to try to tackle the quote in a slightly different way. Do not try to find some meaning inside the text or in the writer. Read instead the words, not as a definition of something, but as an attempt to provoke thinking and thoughts. Dare to put your own meaning in the words and draw on whatever you find meaningful in the quote. Relate your understanding of the words to your everyday life! If the words are treated in this way, you need not worry about what the words really mean. Instead you have to try to make the text more comprehensible, and this can be done safe in the insight that there is no absolutely true and real meaning, just different ways to use the quote. We must dare to trust our own understanding of whatever we think is useful.

What I want to do here is initiate processes of becoming. Because destination development can never be controlled, it can only be started and then feed with ideas, energy and matter. I do not want to define what is good or bad or what is needed and what is not. The only definition of good knowledge and a destination development that works is conditional upon its functionality. Does it work? Does it further our destinations potential? If so, then the knowledge, insights and practices are good. Otherwise not, and we do not want to waste time arguing about who has the best knowledge. Time will tell.

How to release the hidden power of creativity

Now, when the table has been set and the prerequisites for the work that I have in mind have been presented I hope the reader is ready for the final where I will elaborate on some examples that can push the thinking outside the box and that illustrates the relevance of the theories that have been presented in the paper. Uncertainty and chance is a vital part of the everyday mix we have to deal with. This is a fact of life that one can regard as a problem to try to eliminate or an opportunity to make something of. And I have argued that it is better to accept and do something with the problems than to try to eliminate them.

It is important to understand that innovations are created in complex relationships. You can never order up an innovation and you seldom find them where you think they are. Innovations emerge from the in-betweens of people, but only when the time and conditions are right. What is required is never possible to know exactly in advance, for then it would not be an innovation but a pre-fabricated best practice. Perhaps it is hard to see and understand the difference here, but that is on the other hand the hardest part. When these conditions are understood and accepted then the constructive work to make something out of the thinking tools that have been presented in the article can start. But one has to understand that the important thing here is what one does, not the goal as such. Because what we have to deal with in the kind of destination development that I have in mind and try to argue for hear is not work towards a goal, it is a joint venture or a journey of discovery. This is the innovative new way to think that I try to promote.

The kind of Cultural studies that I am working with deals with prerequisites for change and creates tools to make the most of the possibilities that is hidden in the complexity of everyday life. In order to create a climate that fosters innovation and innovative thinking, different skills than those used in society today are required. We need for example a more developed and collective ability to understand and to manage complexity and we have to learn how to live with and embrace uncertainty. We have to learn how to break patterns. Therefore, we cannot by definition do as we have always done or in accordance with experts and best practice. Often we want to be able to plan in advance exactly what should be done, how long it takes and how many people that is needed. But that only works when one deals with what we already know. Innovation is per definition something that we do not know, it’s about creating something new. To foster innovations we therefore need to understand the value of generous margins, of patience and tolerance for errors and vagueness. In short we have to understand the value of conversations.

What distinguishes one place from another is its identity, and an identity is a fragile and complex quality that lays hidden in-between. Identities of places can’t be pin-pointed exactly, they change when people goes in and out of the place. But everybody knows that some places are better than others and that some destinations manage to attract more visitors than others. This is what destination development is all about: identity and a sense of belonging (both among visitors and inhabitants). To achieve and to work with this we need to understand the delicacy of the matter, and then we can work with a broad spectrum of tools and aspects. Identity is built by a mix of things that is familiar, of recollections of and connections with memories and different sensations, but we also have to take in consideration the environment and its unique characteristics. It is important that this complex process is allowed to emerge in-between, with as little interference as possible to allow people to put their own stamp on the destination and make room for them to shape his/her own destination out of what is there. It is also important to work with and try to develop collective visions for the future that can guide the process. To make this happen it is important that the place is built up of an architecture whose forms and structures in some sense is open and allows people to mentally or physically add the rest themselves. It is in the gap between tradition and an open ended future that a prosperous and sustainable destination and place to live is created and continually recreated.

A place is never finished; even if it is fixed in concrete it changes over time when the people who live and reside there interact with the place and with each other and the visitors. Innovation and creativity is just like culture and destination development processes that must be balanced in order to be sustainable. Exponential success is tempting, but involves huge risks for backlashes. The objective for this kind of destination development is therefore not to produce a finished concept that can be implemented and sold as a ready-made and copy write-protected artifact. Sustainable and innovative destination development must be based on and derived from those who live and work at the destination today, and it has to be a process with multiple visions, not a goal that must be reached. To be successful in this kind of work the destination has to be able to house a certain ambiguity, a kind of lack of clarity in how it should be considered and used. This ambiguity develops and triggers people’s ability to interpret and also help them commit to the physical environment because they are co-creator of it. The effect that I have in mind here resembles what happens in art museums and exhibitions where the meaning is known to lie in the eye of the beholder. Ambiguities activate the imagination and start interpreting processes, and this sets creation processes in motion and promotes innovation. Ambiguities engage the residents and visitors in conversations about the place and its meaning that then changes and spreads and this perhaps starts conversations that gives rice to new and different practices.

By consciously build in and count on ambiguities in the development of a place or a destination the sense of integration increases, and that in turn creates good conditions for prosperity and sustainability. A place that one has made one’s own is a place that one has feelings for. Ambiguity also helps to create interest, and it leads to a sense that there is always something new to discover at the destination. The effect that I am looking for is a common feeling of never being finished. A unique place’s own ambiguity is always related to that particular place history, and its future. Ambiguity is therefore something that is growing in the gap between tradition and vision, the known and the unknown, and this is my main argument both for conversations and against the concept of best practice.

Conversation is a model of thinking that can be said to address all of what I briefly have try to discuss in the article. In a conversation ambiguity is not a problem, it rather starts new conversations. I also regard conversations as a perfect context for developing skills that is needed to promote both sustainability and innovation. It is an approach to knowledge that is based on skills and insights from the field of Cultural Studies. A common prejudice of Cultural Study is that it deals with art, but it does not. It’s all about culture, but there is a lot of inspiration to retrieve from art in striving to understand how to promote new and different practices of destination development and open ended processes of collective becoming in the tourism industry.


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