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Planning for peace: the role of tourism in the aftermath of violence.


The Irish conflict, it has often been observed, is a very contrary one. Every time the English find an answer, the Irish change the question. (Darby 1990, p. 151)

There are two characteristics that define the Northern Ireland conflict: (1) its persistence and (2) its relatively low level of violence. These two factors mean it is unlikely to be eliminated or unlikely to get worse. Northern Ireland hit the world headlines in the early 1970s, but it was the arrival of Scottish and English planters in the early 17th century that provided the present-day demographic basis for conflict, with the dominant planters differing significantly from the native Irish in religion, language, social customs, and economic status (Darby 1990). Although there was considerable mixing between the two groups from the start, violence remained a central feature of the two cultures; and in Ulster, where there was a closer balance between Protestant and Catholic, the rivalry quickly became divided on sectarian lines: "The sectarian divide was too functional to be permitted to disappear" (Townsend, cited in Darby 1990, p. 152).

Nationalists regard unionists as heretics, to be consigned to whatever fate their heresy deserves. For their part, the unionists have to live with the paradox of maintaining an ideology rooted in British values while distrusting British Governments. Their loyalty is to union with a Britain that is patently impatient with their intransigence. Nationalists, by definition, threaten this union and so are viewed by unionists as traitors with whom compromise is impossible. (Darby 1990, p. 152)

For Loyalist Protestants, this means carrying out symbolic actions that renew the link with past events providing defining moments for the Protestant culture, such as the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when William of Orange defeated the "Popish ways" of James I, now commemorated through the Marching Season, with a parallel symbolic imagery also enacted by the Nationalist Catholics through Celtic mythology, secret societies, and their own Marching Season (Bell 1991). Thus, a contested heritage within Northern Ireland can be seen to sustain both cultural identity and a continuance of sectarian violence.


"An Acceptable Level of Violence." The politician who coined this phrase was roundly condemned in many quarters, and it is a truism that there is no acceptable level of violence. However, experience in Northern Ireland has shown that once random violence largely ceases, tourists start to return albeit slowly but at an ever increasing rate. (Henderson, cited in Leslie 1996, p. 52)

Beyond the reality of conflict and the cessation of conflict is the perception of safety and the role it plays in choosing a tourism destination. Wall (1996) notes that a survey of Americans in the mid-1980s revealed that less than half would be enticed to travel overseas following a terrorist event:

The consequences of terrorism for tourism are wide-ranging. They are both short term and long term. They affect tourist and tourism plans and destination areas. They have implications for profitability and for the economies of destination areas and even for entire countries when their economies depend heavily upon international tourism. (P. 145)

He goes on to speculate that while some travelers may postpone their visit to a destination experiencing civil unrest, it is more likely that the holiday location will be changed to a safer place. However, this would depend on the market segment, as business travelers and those visiting friends and family would be less likely to change their original plans. This is an important niche market then for communities emerging from conflict. In Northern Ireland the effect of terrorism on tourism has been clearly demonstrated by downturn in tourism visits. From a peak of 1,080,000 in 1967, tourism numbers had dropped to a mere 321,000 visitors (Northern Ireland Tourist Board, cited in Wall 1996).

Wall (1996) states that regardless of whether visitor numbers are affected by actual terrorist events or inaccurate perceptions caused by media reportage, it is clear that tourism within Northern Ireland has been affected by "the troubles" and their accompanying random acts of violence. O'Neill (1997) acknowledges this correlation when he describes reason for the underperformance of the Northern Ireland tourism economy, where international visitor numbers are only recently being reestablished at levels similar to the 1960s. Tourism represents roughly only 2% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and the majority of the Northern Irish residents choose themselves to holiday abroad rather than within the domestic travel market. He gives the three major consequences of the conflict as (1) reduced tourism activity in visitor numbers and corresponding spending; (2) the relocation of tourism, both for the indigenous population and within the Republic of Ireland; and (3) the impact the conflict has had on tourism-related investment:

For most of the previous 25 years international tourism to Northern Ireland had suffered a general decline and as a consequence there was little need to develop new tourism products. . . . Against this background attracting investment of any type was a Herculean task. (O'Neill and Fitz 1996, p. 161)

However, Leslie (1996) offers a market analysis of the root of the problems stifling growth in the Northern Ireland tourism industry. He notes that the low visitor figures parallel periods of economic depression in the United Kingdom, with oil crisis, high inflation, and the average growth rate reflecting the normal market shifts, with a consistent 7% growth rate since 1988. He states that the tourism industry was already in trouble before "the troubles," with the expansion in the supply and diversity of the international holiday market increasing competition and the decline of traditional markets. Titterington and Lennon's (1995) assessment of the Northern Ireland tourism industry endorses this viewpoint, commenting on a 1978 Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) study that showed that "even a peaceful Northern Ireland was perceived as having no advantage over the Republic of Ireland as a destination" (Titterington and Lennon 1995, p. 88). Titterington and Lennon (1995) note that the hotel industry not only had to cope with disappearing tourists but prior to 1987 they also had to cope with disappearing hotels that had become prime targets for the terrorists - the most well documented probably being the "Europa" in the heart of Belfast.

A strategic response to the impact of"the troubles" on the local tourism economy between 1985 to 1994 was to recognize the need for repackaging to new and existing markets; new product development; product and service excellence; promoting cross-border cooperation; and addressing the troubles head-on, using the curiosity factor. At the same time a number of initiatives were launched, including "An Indicative Plan for Tourism in Northern Ireland" by the NITB in October 1990, the 1992 Northern Ireland Tourism Order, the NITB's first major "Corporate Plan 1992-1995," the launch of the Tourism and Hospitality Training Council, and the launch of NITB's "Development Strategy 1994-2000" (O'Neill 1997).


When a political cease-fire has been announced and peace comes, there is seldom a single moment when the conflict ceases and peace begins to reign; rather, there is an uneasy neutrality where each side watches and waits to see if former adversaries are committed to the complete cessation of violence. If there is no clear winner or loser in the war, then peace is merely the beginning of uneasy negotiations at all levels about what peace will mean and what it will bring (Dunn and Morgan 1995). This has been clearly demonstrated in the 1994 politically negotiated cease-fire in Northern Ireland, which was broken 18 months later: a social consensus had been reached on the desire for a lasting peace, but a political solution had yet to be delivered on an acceptable timetable whose contents were satisfactory to all parties (Bruce 1995). The experience of Northern Ireland following the shattering of an 18-month cease-fire in February 1996 showed that where political consensus has failed to be maintained, community peace-building measures in the form of economic reconstruction and development have been frozen. This included freezing a substantial sum from the European Union Peace and Reconciliation Fund and a planned increase in the American-based International Fund for Ireland, a planned increase in new hotel amenities and domestic investment in bed stock, and stopping a planned redirection of former security funding and an increase in air and sea services (O'Neill 1997).

The 18-month cease-fire had opened up a window of opportunity for tourism enterprise and had shown conclusively what was possible for a peace dividend. In 1995 visitor numbers were up by 20%, with pure holiday visitors up by 68%; visitor nights were up by 9%; visitor spending was up by 17%; and visitor inquiries were up by 59% at 1994 levels (O'Neill 1997). The ending of the cease-fire and a stalemate in the peace talks meant faith in the future by international and domestic business investors, and visitors, was put on hold while difficult questions about future directions in the province remain unanswered. Will postconflict reconstruction be on the old lines of coexistence, or will there be a form of social apartheid, where the separate and distinctive communities maintain a completely separate existence, each with its own social organizations and versions of history? This is known as the "pillar principle", of social organization, originating in the Netherlands as "a means of reconciling contradictory and potentially divisive Protestant and Catholic social visions within a single state" (Tunbridge and Ashworth 1996, p. 31). The experience of Northern Ireland suggests that community divisions remain along cease-fire lines, rather than returning to their former patterns of integrated coexistence. Social organization and heritage identification in Northern Ireland have provided the strongest flash points for sectarian violence, most notably the Marching Season, where each side marches denying the other side temporary access to, or freedom of, movement on or near the sites of a contested heritage: "The heritage of one minority is dissonant to another" (Tunbridge and Ashworth, 1996, p. 184). The implications for successful tourism planning in the aftermath of violence mean an acknowledgment of the importance of the different communities' full participation in the peace-building process and an agreement in the interpretation of the contested heritage that has been the catalyst for conflict and civil war. It also suggests that using tourism as an engine for development in postconflict peace building means it is particularly vulnerable to post-cease-fire hiccups and that a return to politically motivated violence means there is no fuel, that is, tourists, to run the engine of a successful tourism economy (O'Neill 1997).

At the policy and planning level in Northern Ireland this is demonstrated by the NITB's (1995) acknowledgment that "with the emergence of a new situation, it is all the more important to have an agreed vision and strategy which makes the best use of available resources for the development of the industry to the year 2000" (p. 3). Also,

Awareness of the social and economic importance of tourism must be built quickly. Northern Ireland's tourism industry will work best when every person in it feels that they are engaged in an important partnership, one that combines a personal fulfilment in the business of tourism with the benefits flowing from economic growth. (NITB 1997, p. 9)

Against this vision is an acknowledgment of the current reality that

the industry lacks the profile and credibility needed to assume a more important position in the economic future of the province. This is the result, in part, of the industry's difficulty in rising above internal differences in order to speak with one voice on policy issues affecting the sector. (NITB 1997, p. 9)

The solution advocated by the NITB, in conjunction with other Northern Ireland industry stakeholders, is to form a single tourism advocacy organization and to develop a communications program intended to increase awareness of the economic and social importance of the tourism industry directed to a key audience (NITB 1997). How effective they will be in this goal remains to be seen, given the diversity of voices present in the Northern Ireland tourism product.

Key markets have been identified by the NITB as the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, North America, Australasia, and the Northern Ireland domestic market. Of the 1.294 million visitors to Northern Ireland in 1994, 85% (1.098 million) came from the rest of Great Britain (NITB 1995). For tourism planners, this has enormous implications for the presentation of Northern Ireland's dissonant heritage. Not only must the local communities in conflict agree on the presentation of their heritage but visitors from the rest of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland must be satisfied with the presentation of a contested heritage if they are to receive consumer satisfaction. The response of the NITB to this dilemma has been to focus on developing a tourism industry infrastructure that goes beyond a consultative process to a participative one. Culture and heritage are important factors in drawing visitors to both the Republic and the North of Ireland, with almost two out of every three tourists visiting historic places during their stay. Culture and heritage include museums, regional centers for the arts and culture, historic sites and monuments, historical houses and gardens, waterways, national parks, nature reserves, art galleries, and theaters (McElroy 1994). Sites that could be considered part of a contested heritage would include museums and historic sites and monuments. This is because a different meaning may be inferred depending on a Unionist or Republican/Protestant or Catholic viewpoint.

Finding successful solutions to the dilemma of a contested heritage therefore becomes an existential imperative when heritage tourism is considered an integral part of postconflict economic regeneration. But first it is necessary to understand something of the background to what has become known during the past 25 years simply as "the troubles," in the spirit of J. S. Mills's 1868 statement to the British House of Commons that "no one is at all capable of determining the right political economy for any country until he knows its circumstances" (MacDonagh 1985, p. 47). The next section will examine what could be argued is a best-practice model of the role museums might play within heritage tourism in community peace-building initiatives.


Derry's history is controversial and, despite major improvements in recent years, the city's two communities, Catholic and Protestant, are still embroiled in an age-long civil conflict. Obviously, a museum cannot aim to solve such a centuries old problem, but by honestly tackling the story of how this conflict came about, it may be able to contribute in some small way to its resolution. That is our aim. (Lacy 1992, p. 13)

Derry is the only surviving walled city in Ireland, built by the Protestant planters between 1613 and 1618 on an earlier site traditionally believed to be a monastery founded by St. Comcille (St. Columbus) in A.D. 546 (Lacy 1988). In the 1980s, a controversial scheme to build a modern version of the Gaelic Irish castle resulted in a building in Derry that now houses the Tower Museum, part of a scheme to regenerate the inner city that had largely been destroyed by "the troubles" (Lacy 1992). In the pretroubles era of 1951, a speech by the director of the Belfast Art Gallery and City Museum, Sidney Stendall, had argued for the revival of a museum in the city, when only a year previously his report on the Londonderry Museum recommending the corporation should "scrap it" formed the basis for the closure of the museum and the subsequent dispersion of its collections:

When Derry begins to look after it's [sic] past as it has commenced to do, it will become a flourishing place from the tourist point of view and from the historical point of view. It has a glorious history and that should be preserved so that the people of today and those to come will understand it. (Francis 1993, p. 85)

This ambivalence about representations of Irish history is not confined to recent interpretations of its troubled past. Eagleton (1994), writing on the newly opened Famine Museum located at Strokestown in the Republic of Ireland, commented that "museums are meant to represent, but how do you do that when your subject matter strains at the bounds of the articulable. . . . The event, like Auschwitz, continues to elude appropriate speech" (p. 42). He goes on to note that

there are political considerations here: most Irish history writing of the past two decades, with one eye warily on the Northern Troubles, has been soft on colonial Britain and hard on Irish nationalism, and the Famine is a notably bad story for Britain. (P. 42)

It is worth remembering that both the Famine Museum in the Republic of Ireland and the Tower Museum in the North were opened before the first cease-fire had been announced and before British Prime Minister Tony Blair had made a historic public apology to Ireland for the British role in the tragedy of the 1845 famine.

Throughout the province's recent troubled history, Derry has been described as "the cockpit of the Troubles" (Lacy 1995, p. 254), with many of the defining moments and images of "the troubles" originating from the city. This includes the banned civil rights march on October 5, 1968, which marked the start of the modern-day troubles in Northern Ireland. In 1974, an article in The Guardian, titled "Tumbledown Derry," stated that more than 10,000 separate claims for damage and injury amounting to 30 million pounds of damage had been submitted to the government in what was then the first 5 years of "the troubles," involving 5,200 houses either burned or destroyed and 124 business premises with another 1,800 damaged (The Guardian 1974). By August 14, 1990, on the 21 st anniversary of troop deployment in the province, out of a total of 2,810 people killed in deaths related to the crisis, around 8% of the deaths, or 230 people, had died in Derry (Lacy 1995).

How then did the Derry Heritage and Museum Service manage to articulate a sense of the city's dissonant heritage "without sacrificing . . . coherence and aesthetic will" (Livingstone and Beardsley, cited in Buckley and Kenny 1993, p. 144), as well as being acceptable to all those represented by the Story of Derry exhibition. The aim of the service when it was formed in 1986 was to reconcile the touristy and educational dimension, being at once both serious and popular, "without suffering any of the sense of schizophrenia or conflict of interests which nowadays afflicts the discourse between aspects of the museum world and the tourism industry" (Lacy 1993, p. 58). The two main items on the Heritage and Museum Services agenda were to provide a range of visitor facilities to make a contribution to the economic development of the city by improving its infrastructure and to make a contribution to cross-community mutual understanding and reconciliation (Lacy 1993).

In the event the Derry Heritage and Museum Service created an exhibition described by Member of the European Parliament Dr. Ian Paisley as one of the "best historical museums" he had "ever seen," adding that the exhibition presented a fair and objective representation of the city's history, using the analogy of Cromwell's portrait - "warts and all" (Francis 1993, p. 86). The Tower Museum is also the only museum to be given awards by both the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain (Gulbenkian Irish Museum Award 1993; British Airways Award for Best Tourism Project in Northern Ireland 1993; National Heritage IBM U.K. Museum of the Year 1994; and a special commendation in the European Museum of the Year 1994). Curator Dermot Francis believes the secret to the museum's success can be found in the willingness of the city's Heritage and Museum Service to "grasp the nettle" in the interpretation of the city's dissonant heritage. In practice this meant involving the different communities comprising the city of Derry/Londonderry and involving them in the development of the City of Derry exhibition, so that each stage agreement was reached on the interpretation of a particular historical event. Finally, it also meant being seen by all communities as being absolutely impartial and unbiased to the point of mathematical precision on the space given to the opposing communities and voices represented (interview with Dermot Francis, May 6, 1997).

The Heritage and Museum Service felt the Tower Museum project had to have two uniquely local considerations built into it from the outset: these were that

it had to have "street credibility" in Derry itself, i.e. it could not be seen purely as a tourist attraction, the content of which was divorced from the real experiences of the people who lived around it, including, where significant, their negative experiences. (Lacy 1993, pp. 62-63)

Second, that

given our understanding of the indigenous political/cultural situation in the city and given what we know about the tourists who actually come to Derry, we felt it was important to deal with the city's history, in a phrase used by the Rev. Ian Paisley in the opening ceremony, "warts and all" (Lacy 1993, pp. 62-63).

An experience of the Tower Museum's City of Derry exhibition will confirm the fact that contact with history's warts proves that images of brutality can exist alongside images of beauty as honest, some would say integral, representations of a contested heritage.


This article reveals the very complex factors that interact to create the political, sociocultural, and economic conditions that influence tourism in Northern Ireland. While the success of a development such as the Tower Museum makes it clear that there is a role for heritage tourism as a tool for community peace building during and in the aftermath of violence, history indicates that a sea change in the way the two cultural traditions within Northern Ireland perceive each other may not happen anytime soon or even in our lifetime. However, the long journey to reconciliation is no reason not to identify current benchmark practices toward which all tourism practices within a contested heritage might aspire.


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Caroline Anson is the international projects coordinator for Earth Visions International in Northern Ireland.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue on War, Terrorism, Tourism: Times of Crisis and Recovery
Author:Anson, Caroline
Publication:Journal of Travel Research
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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