Friends, I promise I have tried to find things to like in tourism as an industry, but to you I lay bare my confession–the best I can really do is to grudgingly put up with it. I know the arguments, and yes I go places and turn into a tourist, but I still puzzle over this strange modern-day predilection of spectating (often on the quaint legacy of others’ poverty…) herd style at a check list of must-have sites.
In 80s Orkney when this was remoter island than it is now and where retuning émigrés came to visit their relatives, rather than a destination skewed, packaged and marketed for tourists, the local council embarked upon a drive to increase tourism as a means of revenue. They equated numbers with success and so the race was on to lure the camera clad northwards while pub food was given a kick up the backside and anyone with a derelict croft (including me I hold my hands up) scrambled for EU largesse to convert to ‘self-catering’.
And so, we saw the unintended consequences of the iniquitous winter let and summary summer evictions, the seasonal splurge of waitress aprons and the attractions of the quaint tidally-gated community to the fleeting visitors whose serotonin receptors went into meltdown as they ’fell in love with the place’. This phrase turns my stomach for its naivety, hopelessly unmasked condescension and downright dangerous silliness.
In the intervening 30 years Orkney is now a stage set, a venue for a parade of weekly festivals that consume the year. We have recently emerged from the midst of a Blues Festival which I rather like as you can dance crazily to excellent local pub bands like the ‘D Chords’ and the ‘Fastliners’. The Blues Festival draws a clientele of biker meets hippy, however all strands of human life file through the green room that is (Heritage Scotland’s top-earning-site-after Edinburgh Castle) Skara Brae.
The Science Festival, (last festival but one) attracts long beards and little dress sense, but heralded a good debate on Climate change. Then there’s a Story Telling Festival which as a story-teller is the last place I would want to go, and as you can imagine I can descend into shameless generalisation and sheer stereotypical hubris in my attempts to contrast the followers of the folk festival (fills the streets with tatty folky types with instrument cases) and the Saint Magnus Festival replete with the well-healed London types (who are the ones that can actually afford to buy the second homes) and have hi-jacked what used to be midsummer in order to monopolise and patronise (us) at the aisle of high culture.
30 years on from the shiny new dawn of the tourist fast-buck, it is possible to count upwards of 14 tour busses with 14 corresponding busloads of feet pounding the creaking visitors sites of Brodgar and Skara Brae. Cruise liners moor in the bay if they are too large to get alongside the pier and a cruising population greater than the entirety of Kirkwall can be disgorged to site-see over a day.
My place of work involves me negotiating the road closures, security fencing and notices warning me that I may be stopped and searched without question as part of port security, meanwhile the few Mohicans still left with fishing boats cannot take their pick-ups down the pier as everywhere is cordoned off for tour busses and, Lordy! you can’t have stinky bait polluting the sanitised product that is Venue Orkney! The workers as long as they are not spreading slurry that day or being generally too smelly can serve their purpose as some local ethnic colour in the day’s snap shots.
It says it all when two stooges dressed in pantomime Viking outfits with historically questionable kit and horned helmets can be found waiting at the top of the pier under a portable gazebo with a photographer, to invite the circus clientele alighting from their shuttle boats, to pay for a picture of themselves beside a ‘Real Orcadian Viking’. Scurrying below and stowed well out of sight a stray fisherman can be spotted trying to get on with his days work as if he has no place there.
Tourism I think is the undisputed winner.