A Primer on “Counter-Tourism”

Counter-Tourism is a term coined by writer and performer Phil Smith (aka Crab Man), and is described as a series of “tactics (which) are designed to transform the way you look at places and to get you thinking about the way the industry packages ‘heritage’“.

Far from being elitist and snobbish (according to Phil, counter-tourism is “definitely not about sneering at tourism“), the philosophy is in fact geared towards “those who want more from a heritage site than a tea shoppe and an old thing in a glass case“.

I am a big fan of Phil’s playful writing and films, and I interviewed him on my blog after the release of his previous book, entitled Mythogeography. Counter-tourism takes many of the ideas developed in that publication, and applies them specifically to the heritage industry.

Phil’s theories are outlined in a handbook (described by his publishers as being “the definitive guide to Counter-Tourism, except that Counter-Tourism has a low opinion of definitive guides“). Alongside this guide is a smaller counter-tourism pocketbook, containing suggestions for “50 odd things to do in a heritage site“, and there is also an online resource where people can share tactics.

My first thought when reading his texts is that there is probably less of a need for counter-tourism in France than there is in the UK or the US. Heritage sites in France do not have grafted-on ghosts, or staff members wandering around in ‘period’ costume, and are generally bereft of cheesy documentation and ‘as featured on TV‘ signs.>

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