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II Fringe Tourism

Cool Suburbs: A Strategy for Sustainable Tourism?

Robert Maitland1[1]

Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster, London, UK

Introduction

The search for the authenticity, for the ‘real’, is a well-established strand in attempts to understand the tourist experience. Our work on tourism in London and other World Tourism Cities (WTCs) has shown that many visitors seek the ‘real’ city, and that synergies between tourists and residents are important in reconfiguring, reimagining and reimaging places (Maitland, 2007; Maitland and Newman, 2009; Maitland, 2010; Pappalepore et al., 2011; Pappalepore et al., 2014). Tourism off the beaten track has been evidenced in once unfashionable areas of the inner city (e.g. Brooklyn, New York City; Hoxton, London; Kreuzberg, Berlin) (Maitland and Newman, 2009), and tourism has played an important and synergistic role in the new economy of the inner city (Hutton, 2009), though one that has been largely unplanned. But as development pressures and tourism numbers increase, areas that were previously off the beaten track become incorporated into recognized tourism circuits. This means that ‘urban explorers’ (Maitland, 2007) must look further afield in their search for the ‘real’ places where they feel they can get ‘backstage’.

Yet rapid and largely unplanned changes to London and its population, together with shifting views about what constitutes ‘the tourist’, complicate the idea of a ‘real city’ that can be ‘discovered’ by visitors; tourists in search of the real city may now have to look further off the beaten track - into the suburbs. At present, suburbs seem unlikely candidates for new tourist destinations. However, places’ attractions for and meaning to visitors can change, sometimes radically; 25 years ago, attempts to attract visitors to inner city areas were novel and often derided in the USA and in the UK (Beioley et al., 1990). Yet such areas now constitute London’s hippest destinations. We draw on evidence and ideas from our research on tourists’ attempts to get off the beaten track in London and other WTCs to consider how far suburban areas can meet the demands previously satisfied by off the beaten track areas in the inner city, and whether their images and imaginaries can change as radically. If so, there may be opportunities for sustainable tourism development and creating links between urban and rural locales, usually seen as offering separate tourism experiences. Whilst the focus is on London, the ideas may prove applicable elsewhere. The chapter begins with a consideration of the appeal of off the beaten track areas for visitors, and examines the rapid changes in London that are shrinking what tourists have seen as the ‘real city’. We identify the qualities that constitute the ‘real city’ for visitors, and assess how far those qualities can also be found in the suburbs. We conclude with an assessment of the potential of suburban areas for tourism, emphasizing that negative image and imaginaries are of crucial importance.

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