Tourism and Public DiplomacyDecember 13, 2011
Last week John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Review linked to the blog of VisitBritain. This is the national organization for promoting tourism to the UK that sits above the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish organizations. It’s interesting to see VisitBritain cheerfully describe itself as a public diplomacy organization given how sensitive the British Council and the BBC World Service are to the label.
The bigger thought here is that we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of tourism within the public diplomacy field; in the US tourism may be a matter for states and cities but in other countries there are powerful national tourism organizations.
Firstly, the experience of tourism is an important influence on perceptions of other countries.
Secondly, a large part of the effort that many countries devote to shaping international perceptions is about tourism. Tourism promotion will probably be the external communication effort that has the largest reach into targeted foreign societies.
Thirdly, the existence of tourism promotion organizations affects other public diplomacy organizations in at least two ways. I noticed that in reading about the history of the British Council and the Swedish Institute national tourism promotion organization predated their creation. I might be wrong but I suspect that this pattern is true for many countries. In the British and Swedish cases the result was a degree of conflict between the cultural organization and the tourism body that had some impact on how the organizations defined their work. The other point is that tourism promotion organizations actually have significant money to spend through their ability to tap private resources and may actually be a large part of what a country devotes to external promotional expenditure. Thus, even where a foreign public is targeted by foreign ministry public diplomacy activities its perceptions are going to be shaped by tourism promotion work.
Tourism is a one of the largest global industries and there’s an extensive literature on it. These are initial thoughts but there is certainly reason for students of public diplomacy to pay more attention to the interactions between their concerns and those of the tourism community.