Defining the project's concepts and purpose

Conceptualizing Tourism

Several concepts related to tourism and place marketing must be dissected to help define the purpose of Hamilton: Brutal Beauty - Hidden Heritage and how it contributes to local tourism, community and economic development. Tourism is a very broad construct, so it needs to be qualified with a classification and scope in order to apply it to a specific project.

• What is the scope? The scope of tourism ranges from the context of an individual building of historic or cultural significance up to national or even intercontinental scales.

• Who is the audience? Although a book about Hamilton will have a local scope, the audience will go well beyond the city boundaries.

We begin this section with the broadest concepts of tourism, sustainable tourism, and ecotourism, and then start drilling down to more specific terminology and strategies relating to place branding and marketing. Resilience and local economic development (LED) in post-industrial cities (concepts that are relevant to Hamilton) are also discussed to show how the literature emphasizes context-sensitivity for building a place brand that is true to local identity.


Tourism, as an economic activity, is broadly defined by as be a generator of employment and income that can also promote social development through income redistribution and poverty alleviation [111]. The authors go on to caution that tourism can also cause undesirable disturbances to the existing cultural and environmental attributes that make a location attractive for tourism in the first place. Closing in on a more specific yet still ambiguous concept, “sustainable tourism” is simply “conscientious travel” according to an industry leader, Frommers, who provide an even broader definition.

Sustainable Tourism

The concept of sustainable tourism took hold amidst the rise in awareness of sustainable development leading up to the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 [85]. According to Middleton, sustainable tourism means:

achieving a particular combination of numbers and types of visitors, the cumulative effect of whose activities at a given destination, together with the actions of the servicing businesses, can continue into the foreseeable future without damaging the quality of the environment on which the activities are based. ([85]p. ix)

Environment in this context is subdivided into 1) the natural environment, and 2) the built/cultural environment, specifically "resources judged to have intrinsic value and be worthy of conservation" [86]. Sustainable tourism "thrives on consumable visualisations of landscape," [74] encouraging intimate, heterogeneous experiences rather than promoting a mass consumption culture. Individuals visiting these environments will each come away with their own individual perceptions and understanding of the experience.

Sustainable tourism aims to provide a meaningful experience for visitors and to raise awareness of sustainability issues. The continued success of sustainable tourism relies on continued participation of stakeholders and politicians to guide and monitor its impacts (World Tourism Organization, 2004).


Ecotourism is most often associated with exotic international travel, such as jungle tours in Costa Rica. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. Ecotourism in this sense is not likely to be on the list of things people think of about Hamilton. The city’s image is biased by its prominent urban and heavy industrial heritage. Yet only about one quarter of the city’s land area is urban. The remainder is comprised of rural agriculture, provincially significant wetland complexes, nature preserves, and obviously the Niagara Escarpment, which is a United Nations World Biosphere preserve. The escarpment, known locally as “the Mountain,” is an accessible local ecotourism destination known for hiking, rock climbing, unique ecosystems, waterfalls and habitats. Although there is ecotourism potential in Hamilton, it is unlikely that its urban industrial image can be easily reconciled with this concept.

Urban Tourism

Urban tourism relates to the built environment of cities: architecture, monuments, temporary constructions, "historical fragments," and cultural spaces [8]. This characteristic sets it apart from other forms of tourism, such as travel to resorts, or ecotourism.

Post-industrial cities are being transformed into "frontiers of post-industrial consumption and production." [92](p. 196) Tourists are increasingly interested in what is local and unique, and "fosters the power of place" (ibid.). But the desire for conscientious travel also occurs in the urban environment, even if the one is just searching for a fair trade cup of coffee.

Urban Green Tourism

This subset of urban tourism is “urban green tourism,” which was actually seeded in Toronto in 1993 when a group of businesses, government and community organizations came together to form the Green Tourism Association. A report was later prepared, for what was then Metropolitan Toronto, by consultants The Blackstone Corporation. The report defined urban green tourism as: and exploration within and around an urban area that offers visitors enjoyment and appreciation of the city's natural areas and cultural resources, while inspiring physically active, intellectually stimulating and socially interactive experiences; promotes the city's long-term ecological health by promoting walking, cycling, public transportation; promotes sustainable local economic and community development and vitality; celebrates local heritage and the arts; is accessible and equitable to all. [6]

The words green, sustainable and healthy are interchangeable in this urban tourism context[39], so a more concise definition this tourism concept is hard to pin down. However, searching for a more definitive meaning of urban green tourism among the academic literature ultimately leads back to the Blackstone definition and Toronto's Green Tourism Association as the genesis of the concept.

Toronto's Green Tourism Association produced The OTHER Map of Toronto in 1999, which was recognized as the 22nd map in the international Green Map System ( and a "locally adaptable framework for community sustainability" [25]. This map, and a later 2003 edition called the Tour Green Toronto Map, will be reviewed in Chapter 3. The association also published a guide book titled The OTHER Guide to Toronto: Opening the Door to Green Tourism in 2001. The introduction to this book describes urban green tourism as being a subset of ecotourism, with the justification that "as patterns of human settlement go, cities (and particularly compact cities) are about as efficient and ecological as you can get... In principle, in cities we can do more with less." [43](p. 2)

The Green Tourism Association's underlying philosophy of urban green tourism is suitable for the purpose for developing The Hamilton Book. It is reassuring to know that the idea of promoting this type of tourism has been considered elsewhere, and "the concept holds major potential for economic growth while proactively contributing to local quality of life and environment"[25].

Tthe term "sustainable urban ecotourism," is also synonymously with urban green tourism [123]. They sum up the concept by broadly stating that urban ecotourism concentrates on "reducing the negative impact of development, rather than strengthening (the negative impact)," [123](p. 741). The authors of that report attempt to identify and relate the concepts behind sustainable urban ecotourism with a tri-dimensional targeting model, Figure 1, to further highlight the breadth of this concept and its goals. An alternative model for urban green tourism is also proposed, as will be explained below.

Figure 1 - Tri-dimensional Targeting Model of Sustainable Urban Ecotourism, left ([123] Wu, Wang & Ho, 2010) and a proposed model for Urban Green Tourism, right (Dunlop).

Wu et al identify three aspects of sustainable urban ecotourism: social, economic and environmental, along with two target areas for each aspect. There is some inconsistency in the aims of these targets and how they relate to each other. For example, “degrading impacts of traffic,” which they measure by the convenience of the public transportation system, seems ambiguous if attempting to relate this target to the positive promotion of the other target areas. Traffic also impacts social and environmental aspects of urban livability.

The alternative model proposed in Figure 1 (above, right diagram) adapts the original diagram [123] to more clearly identify the potential benefits of urban green tourism and align with the philosophy supported by the Green Tourism Association:

Social Benefits

• Promoting local experiences through collective learning about activities, physical attributes and conceptions of place within local communities, thereby building a sense of pride and ownership for residents and a welcoming atmosphere for visitors.
• Building healthier communities by encouraging local cultural, food and recreation choices and highlighting the interconnectedness of distinct local communities as part of a vital regional mix.

Economic Benefits

• Flourishing local economy by encouraging consumption of local goods and services.
• Feedback of economic benefit by re-circulating money within the local economy, thereby strengthening local resiliency.

Environmental Benefits

• Reducing energy use by encouraging active transportation (cycling, walking) to experience urban places and encouraging travel options closer to home.
• Promoting environmental awareness by highlighting linkages between the urban and natural environment, with related heritage preservation, revitalization and conservation initiatives.

Cities are starting to embrace the urban green tourism concept, not just as a tourism strategy, but as a vital component to an overall "sustainable city plan" [111]. One example is the city of Arlington, Virginia, which produced a research paper in 2010 introducing a conceptual framework for urban green tourism. Their research also reveals a number of "supporting tactics" for the municipality to follow:

• Facilitate sustainable best practices in construction, lodging, infrastructure and transportation options, local education and workforce development.
• Implement planning policy influencing development.
• Continuing traditional tourism development efforts such as attracting conventions and trade shows, sport and entertainment events, and promotional marketing materials.

These supporting tactics, focused on built environment and local policy initiatives, reveal the divergence between urban green tourism and ecotourism. Although urban green tourism's concepts and aims are rooted in sustainable practices, the impacts on the natural environment are considered indirectly. Although "cities can do more with less", the urban green environment is a compromised balanced of economic efficiency, growth, infrastructure, education, conservation and preservation.

So, how could urban green tourism work as a branding or marketing concept for Hamilton? Is a tourism-based approach an appropriate foundation for The Hamilton Book? The review of place branding and place marketing, which follows, shows that there is first a need to establish a local identity, and build an understanding of what this place called Hamilton is, before it can be branded as an urban green tourism destination.

Related Articles:

Next >>: Place Branding and Marketing

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Economic Development in the Post-Industrial City

Community Resilience

The preceding is adapted from the academic research paper that accompanied the book, Hamilton: Brutal Beauty | Hidden Heritage - The making of a guidebook to the City of Hamilton as a practical exercise in context-sensitive place marketing and community economic development. (Dunlop, 2013)

© Copyright Ian Dunlop, University of Waterloo, 2013
Published by Strategic Interchange (Div. of Dun-Map Inc.)