Tourism or Meaning
Here in the Yorkshire Dales, there are attempts to re-think tourism and reflect on the role National Parks play in society. Much has changed in the 60 or so years since National Parks were established. Back then, as the economy was beginning to recover from post-war austerity, agriculture provided the main economic backbone. Tourism was no more than a fringe activity. Nobody foresaw the changes that would lead residents to protest about overwhelming visitor numbers. Neither, that they would bemoan the loss of rural bliss that enabled visitors to enjoy its essential qualities.
Where we came in
That question – how to make the most of natural beauty? – led to the establishment of High Trenhouse as a place of learning more than 40 years ago. What is the essential quality of a National Park and how does society as a whole benefit?
As we look at modern tourism, we might reflect on the old joke, about the man who asks a yokel the way to Tipperary and gets the response, “Sure, I wouldn’t start from here!” When it comes to National Parks is tourism not leading us down the wrong tracks?
What is different?
There are two prime purposes of National Parks, as enshrined in law. One is the conservation of natural beauty and the other is the enjoyment of its special qualities by the public. What made sense 60 years ago, has become a profound dilemma, subject to misinterpretation in today’s context.
Historically our wild beauty was the preserve of farmers and the landed gentry but the National Park designation obliged these groups to tolerate the wider public. The public originally came as day trippers to places with amenities and as ramblers to the wilder spots. Two generations later, they have been joined by multitudes in cars, adventurers on foot and in 4x4s, by commuters and thrill seekers, often having little regard for natural beauty.
Find the added value
In every walk of life, there is a tendency to pursue a virtue in such a way that it turns into a chimera or parody of itself. Our treasured beauty spots become victims of the tourist industry, which sells travel, accommodation and entertainment. When profit is your driver, there is little room for ideas about slowing down, of detachment, reflection, or discovery of nature as the mystery and magic of self. Increasing consciousness and realising human potential are only now beginning to be widely valued. However, there is a growing awareness that these inner qualities of human beings are what make life meaningful. We can go deeper if we are in appropriate surroundings. It is for this purpose that we need to conserve our National Parks.