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Destination Management and Public Health: Converging or Diverging Agenda?

24th February 2015

With public health professionals returning to local government in England there is much scope for collaboration with destination management practitioners aligned with the promotion of health and ‘wellbeing’ / ‘wellness’. As my colleague Professor Heather Hartwell puts it, ‘in bringing local strategies for tourism and public health together, councils can create a community culture where the tourist destination is seen to enhance and promote physical and mental health for both locals and tourists alike.’ Tourism therefore has the potential of contributing to the Public Health England priority of building the capability and capacity of the public health system through participating in the delivery of health messages to visitors as well as local communities and several ‘wellness’ tourism initiatives are in development.

However, a key tension exists where alcohol production, distribution and consumption is a key component of the destination offer. There are stark contrasts in policy discourse, public perceptions and media reporting between positive connotations associated with tourism that emphasises conviviality, taste, discernment and quality in the moderate consumption of alcohol as opposed to public health and order concerns, ‘moral panics’ and negative destination imagery of indiscriminate ‘binge drinking’ ‘alcotourist’ behaviour. How do destination managers and public health practitioners negotiate these conflicting positions in cases where the consumption of alcohol and ‘hen and stag’ parties are significant elements of the visitor economy? Are there opportunities for public health messages to be communicated in apparently benign ‘alcotourism’ contexts such as real ale festivals, brewery tours, ‘gastro pubs’ and the like?

Another Public Health England priority is to work towards reducing health inequalities in the population. There is an opportunity here for destination managers to contribute through promoting the extension of the health and wellbeing benefits of taking a break to all sections of society and in particular those most at risk and vulnerable. To what extent are ‘social tourism’ initiatives happening in England? Are most destination managers more concerned, understandably, with attracting high-spending, middle-class tourists, with ‘wellness tourism’ initiatives aimed primarily at such markets?  

Destination Management and Public Health: Converging or Diverging Agenda?