Dr Heather Skinner is a fellow of the Institute of Place Management and was recently appointed Chair of the IPM Special Interest Group on Responsible Tourism. She is now based in Corfu having moved there in 2013 following a 15 year academic career at the University of South Wales (formerly the University of Glamorgan) where she was Reader in Marketing. She travels as a guest lecturer at a number of Higher Education Institutions, facilitates online learning and continues to supervise and examine doctoral theses.
Since 2011, Heather has been researching issues concerning the future of tourism in Corfu, in particular, how Corfu, along with many other mature European destinations, can address the problem of declining numbers of middle-market independent tourists from its key source markets. This work has been undertaken alongside her main research into other place management and marketing issues, with a current focus on responsible tourism.
Heather Skinner have chaired the annual Corfu Symposium on Managing & Marketing Places since its inception in 2013.
Ares Kalandides: Heather Skinner, you were recently appointed Chair of the IPM Special Interest Group on ‘Responsible Tourism’. What does the term mean to you?
Heather Skinner: To me, responsible tourism includes encouraging tourism that respects the preservation and sustainability of all aspects of a destination‘s social and cultural heritage, and its natural resources. And that means appropriate place gevernance to preserve, and sometimes imporve and regenerate, everything about a destination that made it so atractive for tourists to visit in the first place.
Ares Kalandides: You moved to Corfu, Greece, some years ago. What do you think of tourism and tourism management on the island?
Heather Skinner: Corfu, like many other Greek islands, and other Mediterranean destinations, is facing the challenge of trying to re-define its tourism offering to meet the needs of 21st Century tourists. Corfu still attracts many mass market tourists, many of whom stay in all-inclusive enclave resorts, and that is not really contributing much to the island’s economy. In more recent years there has been a strong movement towards attracting more independent tourists, and attracting more tourists that want to participate in more alternative holidays. These types of holidays can help strengthen the shoulder season because such activities usually take place in the earlier and later seasons months outside of this high season. So for Corfu that means sailors, walkers, cyclists, and people interested in finding out more about the local flora and fauna.
“Corfu is in Greece, and Greece remains in financial crisis, and so it is difficult for the Municipality of the island to finance and projects or initiatives.”
For example, given the island’s strong links with the Durrell family, every May the island attracts naturalists to ‘Gerald Durrell Week’ to spend time exploring the island. There has also been a lot of interest in TV-induced tourism to the island as a result of the success of the UK ITV TV series The Durrells about his family. Corfu also attracts many spiritual tourists who come to the island for a range of events and festivals. Although such activities take place all over the island, for example, yoga and Tai Chi retreats, there is a growing critical mass of spiritual centres in the North West of the island particularly around the Arillas area, and these centres put on many events and festivals throughout the year.
However, Corfu is in Greece, and Greece remains in financial crisis, and so it is difficult for the Municipality of the island to finance and projects or initiatives. There is a proposal to establish a DMO for Corfu, but this has not yet happened, and so developing and delivering a tourism strategy for the island at all, let alone one that focuses on responsible tourism, is problematic.
Ares Kalandides: You initiated the Corfu Symposium on Managing & Marketing Places, which you also chair. How has that experience been so far? What has been the contribution of the Symposium and what are your plans with it?
Heather Skinner: The problems facing the future of tourism Corfu are some of the reasons I established the Symposium. There is a wealth of academic and practitioner knowledge about responsible place management and marketing, and so I wanted to bring some of these leading academics and practitioners together here to discuss such matters. We have just held the 3rd Symposium, and it is becoming an event that is well-respected by the international academic community, and fast becoming one of the highlights of the annual conference season. There is no compulsion for authors to submit papers that are of specific relevance to Corfu, and over the past 3 years we have had an excellent spread of very high quality papers on a wide range of issues.
“Our future plans are to hold an event that is not only of the highest academic quality in terms of content, but which also has real impact for its host destination.”
However, one of the differences about this Symposium that I have never really experienced at any other conference is the focus on building links between academic delegates, practitioners, and policy makers. So, that is where the contribution is being made, and that is where our future plans are also focusing – to hold an event that is not only of the highest academic quality in terms of content, but which also has real impact for its host destination. I will hopefully be able to announce some more information soon about some of the projects we will be working on as a direct result of our delegates meeting with local business leaders and policy-makers at our most recent event.
Ares Kalandides: What would you say are the main challenges in managing and marketing places today?
Heather Skinner: Firstly I think people still do not really understand what place management and place marketing is all about, and if we are to do it better we need to know what it is we are actually doing. I hope we have moved a long way from the days when creating a slogan for a place was considered place branding, but I worry that we have not because I see so many initiatives that seem to be doing only that, with no substance behind the creation or communication of the place brand. Secondly, even once we do know what we’re talking about and whether what we are aiming to do is place branding, place marketing, or place management, there are so many stakeholders involved, each with different, and often competing agendas, that is becomes difficult to get agreement to do anything really meaningful without it becoming so diluted that it becomes not worth doing. And, of course, as I can see in Corfu, even if it were possible to focus on an agreed and relevant plan, there needs to be funding available to deliver many of these initiatives, and in times of economic crisis and cutbacks we see some of the things that are so important to place making being the very things that get their funding reduced.
Ares Kalandides: How do you think that the Institute of Place Management and your SIG on ‘responsible tourism’ can contribute to making places better?
Heather Skinner: My aim is for the SIG to grow. This will mean that more people all around the world can not only discuss responsible tourism issues, but that this growing body of practitioners, policymakers and academics can make connections through the SIG and through the IPM that will lead to collaborative work on projects that will make places better.
Find out more about the Institute’s SIG on Responsible Tourism here.