10 Counter-Tourism Tactics You Can Use at a Heritage Site
Ever heard of counter-tourism? It’s any creative strategy used to experience heritage sites that purposely goes against the typically prescribed path that 99% of tourists are supposed to experience — thereby giving you a new, unique and sometimes totally bizarre perspective on the site itself. (And sometimes making you look odd to everyone else there.) Counter-tourism was invented and popularized by author and explorer Phil Smith under the pseudonym Crab Man after he wrote a number of independently published pocketbooks on the subject.
Here are 10 counter-tourism ways to explore the world. However, we take no blame if you end up getting arrested.
1. The Zombie
Inspired by the mall scene in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Crab Man recommends walking around a grocery store, a mall or any other building where the masses congregate, like a zombie, while treating the building like an old artifact of a post-apocalyptic civilization.
2. Smuggler’s Lane
This tactic is about creating a curiously intriguing experience for anyone who may follow the same path, and to get people thinking and talking at the location in general. Find any path, corridor or underpass and place the words “Smuggler’s Lane” over any existing signage pertaining to those locations.
3. Take Offence
Consciously keep track of and see how many times you can be offended on a day out. Don’t be afraid to (tongue firmly planted in cheek) voice your sometimes manufactured displeasure loudly to no one in particular. It’ll put you in a different, if not exaggerated, emotional headspace and give your journey a whole different feel and perspective.
As a reminder to always change the way you look at a heritage site, wear an eye patch to locations with a possible pirate theme, such as Smuggler’s Lanes, at harbours or on vintage vessels.
“Pirates wore eye patches not to cover wounds, but so that if hand-to-hand fighting shifted from the upper deck to below decks, they could switch the patch and rely on an unaffected eye already adapted to the darkness, ” says Crab Man.
5. Theatricalize Heritage
Bring a theatre curtain — whether red and felt or clear and plastic — with you on your next visit to a heritage site. Put the curtain over the doorways, corridors or even over your field of vision at the site and slowly draw the curtain back. But be careful, as Crab Man offers the following warning to anyone who tries this tactic:
“The curtain (knowing its job) sees through you. Hiding everything else, it exposes whoever uses it or looks upon it. So handle it carefully, because wherever you take it, you create backstage wings, dressing rooms and property stores, a behind-the-scenes of the site’s dreams. Those places where the site stages for itself what its visitors are to it.”
6. The Margins
More of a tip and less of a tactic, Crab Man recommends you always look in the margins of heritage structures and locations, such as behind statues or in the margins of paintings. You never know what hidden and overlooked historical tidbit you might uncover.
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Explore a gift shop as if it were an actual museum by giving careful consideration to every item inside. Explore every trinket as if it were an important artifact and respect the space as if it were a revered museum filled with hundreds of years of history.
8. (Re)Frame Heritage
Take an old picture frame and remove the photo from inside. Then, hold it up across the sky and against various segments of the heritage site you visit and take another photo of what’s revealed within the frame. Suddenly, you’re seeing things from a new and innovative perspective – one that is always changing depending on what you frame within it.
9. The Sandman Signs the Guestbook
When you stay at a hostel, hotel, vacation home or B&B, be sure to sign the guestbook by describing the dreams you had while staying there. It’s certainly more interesting and subversive than “Love the food, great people, see you again!” and other yawn-inducing guestbook pleasantries.
10. Visit a Heritage Site Barefoot
For a completely different tactile experience, take off your shoes and socks and walk through a heritage site completely barefoot. Use your feet as your hands and nudge, push and explore the surfaces and objects around you. How does it make you feel? How does it change your experience? That’s what counter-tourism is all about.