Can Peripheral Regions Become Popular Tourist Destinations?

What constitutes a country’s geographic core and periphery? Can a periphery turn into a core? What is the role of tourism in regional development? These questions were addressed in the presentation made by David Weaver (Dongbei University of Finance & Economics, China) at the Tourism and Hospitality session of the XX April International Conference held in Moscow last week.

What is a periphery?

Core - Periphery differentiation is a standard construct in social sciences for describing and explaining various kinds of disparity through space, time, society, etc. Typically, a country’s core would be described as powerful, advantaged, competitive, and desirable whereas periphery would bring up such associations as weak, disadvantaged, uncompetitive, and undesirable. However, it is worth noting that periphery is ultimately a subjective idea and is by no means a static phenomenon. It can definitely shift over time – the world’s core in the 1920s was very different from the one we see now – and we see it shifting to the Asia Pacific region. Within Russia an example of this would be Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia serving as core at different points of Russian history. It can also depend on the point of view – we can identify a global, national, or even regional periphery. While Moscow is the country’s core, some parts of the city constitute its own regional periphery in relation to the city centre. There are also several gradations of periphery – we can identify some areas as semi-periphery, semi-core or near and far peripheries. There is also interdependency with core being the core only because there exists a periphery.

Judging by population density, Russia is definitely a periphery-rich country with a huge deep periphery - just like Canada or Australia. Periphery constitutes 90% or more of the entire country

What’s more, the real meaningful core is the greater Moscow area, with surrounding areas functioning as semi-core and the territory along the Transsiberian railway – as semi-periphery.

Especially since 1990s, the breakup of the USSR, the Russian periphery has experienced numerous serious problems including outmigration, chronic economic instability (because of dependency on unstable natural resources which can run out or be substituted by other resources), and social pathologies (substance abuse, domestic violence). All this truly calls for some innovative solutions and for new ways of thinking about core – periphery structure.

Advantages of Periphery

Periphery is a great place to escape to – to get some clean air and see the nature. In tourism context, isolation and low density, which are seen as negative economically, are actually quite positive because they facilitate peak visitor experiences. Therefore, the geographic periphery can simultaneously be an experiential core with great tourism potential. There can be ways of helping the periphery to become more stable and more resilient.

Conventionally thinking, the periphery is plagued by geographic remoteness, lack of effective local power, weak internal economic linkages. However, as experiential core this same area can be a source of spiritual and emotional intimacy. These areas can provide spiritual, social, physical, and psychological emancipation as well as spiritual, social and psychological multiplier effects – the more time you spend in the periphery, the more powerful you become spiritually. This is what tourists are increasingly looking for in the modern world.

In the US the Mississippi delta is often called the third world of the US because it’s one of the poorest parts of the country. At the same time, it is extremely rich in cultural tourism. In a sense, poverty and isolation create an intensive experience for cultural creativity. Ireland is another example – the farther you travel from Dublin, the better the music and literary culture.

This has important implications for tourism industry and is worth capitalizing on as tourism is becoming an increasingly important agent of economic, social and environmental change. More and more countries around the world are looking to tourism as a way of boosting their economies. Areas that used to rely heavily on natural resource, like northern China, for instance, are now set on developing tourism. Currently it is the single largest industry in the entire world representing 10% of the global economy. It has grown from 166 mln international stayovers in 1970 to over 1.4 bln in 2019. On top of that, there is also domestic tourism which is 6 to 10 times bigger than the international tourism. China alone accounts for 4.5 bln domestic trips. This can be described as the era of tourisation.

Tourism Impulses for Russia

Tourism will increasingly drive the global economy through eight impulses that differentially promote tourism in different locations based on their location and resource endowment. Three of these impulses are either less relevant or irrelevant for the Russian periphery and pertain more to the core or semi-core. These are:

 Ludic – pure leisure, beach vacations (Sochi)

 Metropolitan – agglomeration attraction (Moscow)

 Proximity – places that are close to a metropolitan area (Sergiev Posad, cities of the Golden Ring)

Five impulses relevant for the periphery:

 Spiritual (religious / spiritual search) - Sergiev Posad and its famous lavra (monastery)

 Heritage (history and culture) - St Petersburg and its museums

 Nature (ecotourism) – the beautiful scenery of Kamchatka

 Wellness (focus on physical and mental health, which is the fastest growing area of tourism)  – Yalta

 Transition (forced economic diversification) – Myshkin and Uglich where tourism industry developed from scratch in the absence of any other significant industry

Another impulse that could also be mentioned is the notion of rush, for instance, from white water rafting or base-jumping. However, there is only a very small number of people who have the skill and the desire to go on a really dangerous adventure. So, the emphasis needs to be more on soft adventure that can attract a larger number of tourists.  It is better to focus on the adventures where the tourists get the feeling of something thrilling, new experiences, and a little bit of risk and danger, but not such that might potentially incur significant liability for the tour operators.

Magadan Olbast Case Study

This area constitutes a deep periphery in Russia, with staggering level of depopulation – in 1989 there were 543 000 people living there; in 2018 – only 144 000. This puts the population density at 3 km2 per person in Magadan and 10 km2 per person outside the city. The area is easily accessible by air transport – there is a good airport in Magadan, which is a great advantage. There are also all the modern services available in the city which can serve as a zone of acclimation before people go into the deep areas to get their peak experiences. The nature in the region is beautiful and can easily provide peak experiences to travelers.

Peak experiences are closely connected with emotions, both positive and negative. There are ‘light’ emotions and ‘light’ peak experiences. That would be the feelings of tranquility, thrill, awe, humility, and joy.

There are also dark emotions and dark tourism that invokes the feelings of reflection, indignation, horror, melancholy, or sadness resulting in a peak experience

In Magadan oblast the source of such emotions would be the Gulag ruins where thousands of people perished during the Soviet era. With the right kind of advance preparation and education people will really appreciate visiting such places. It could be a good thing ethically if people confront it and understand why this occurred, why here and not somewhere else, and what it says about all history of Russia, of the Soviet Union.  These are good examples from the Holocaust and World War II museums how this could be very tastefully achieved in the interest of sustainable tourism.

Magadan Oblast is exemplary in that it requires innovative solutions aimed at boosting its touristic attractiveness, particularly for international tourists. It is sure to be attractive for Chinese travelers, who would love to explore its wilderness, clean air and aurora borealis. They have the money and the time to travel. The Chinese market would love to visit Eastern part of Russia because of the contrast with China, its high population density and pollution. Another big market could be Japan, which is not that far away from the region. Reinventing the area as an experiential core will lead not only to economic but also to functional shifts in the structure of local economy, ultimately benefitting the local population and the country as a whole.

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