"The 2008 financial crisis and ensuing sovereign debt crisis, which has engulfed leading tourism economies such as Spain, Portugal and of course Greece, demonstrates both the precariousness of an economic model built on the shifting sands of speculative real estate and tourism industries, as well as the degree to which different economies have become enmeshed within increasingly integrated circuits of capital worldwide."
Dr Raoul Bianchi is a Principal Lecturer in Tourism and Leisure at the Royal Docks Business School, University of East London. He has a BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Southampton and an MSc in Tourism Management from the University of Surrey. In 1992 he then joined the University of North London, to pursue Doctorate research on the social anthropology of tourism development in Gran Canaria (Canary Islands). After a brief period working as a Lecturer in Tourism at the University of Derby from 1995 to 1998, he returned to the University of North London (subsequently, London Metropolitan University) where he took up the position as Research Fellow then Senior Research Fellow in Culture, Tourism and Development (1998-2008). He researches on and has published widely in areas related to the international political economy of tourism, sustainable tourism, World Heritage and the cultural politics of heritage. Currently he is working on a book exploring the connections between tourism and citizenship (with Marcus Stephenson).
ECOCLUB.com: You have published widely on the Politics of Tourism. Would you say the Tourism Industry, and international bodies such as UNWTO, is a politically conservative industry perhaps due to its domination by large corporations? Do Tourism Media, and perhaps also Tourism University Departments influenced by this domination and concentration and also become pro-business and apolitical?
Raoul Bianchi: It is not so much that the industry is "politically conservative" – indeed such terminology can be somewhat ambiguous in today's fluid ideological world - rather that, international tourism, like most industries in today's globalised, free market economy, is increasingly organised and managed within the narrow economic and financial parameters set by the demands of market efficiency and competitiveness. That is not to say that the business of tourism is predominantly owned or controlled by transnational corporate entities. However, notwithstanding the preponderance of small, often family-run businesses in many destinations, from the Mediterranean to the small, rudimentary home-stays found throughout the world, tourism enterprises everywhere have to adapt to the pressures of competition and 'market discipline', as the norms of neoliberal market economics become increasingly institutionalized at all levels. Most recently, the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing sovereign debt crisis, which has engulfed leading tourism economies such as Spain, Portugal and of course Greece, demonstrates both the precariousness of an economic model built on the shifting sands of speculative real estate and tourism industries, as well as the degree to which different economies have become enmeshed within increasingly integrated circuits of capital worldwide. It is also quite depressing to witness the degree to which many in the tourism industry and government agencies appear to seek merely a return to the growth-driven yet ultimately unsustainable model of tourism development of the recent past. This may offer temporary respite from declining revenues, but will do little to offer long-term solutions to the growing challenges of climate change, low productivity, inequality and structural unemployment in the tourism industries.
As far as the inter-governmental bodies such as the UNWTO go, there are clearly differences of political opinion and schisms within them. Institutionally, however, the UNWTO along with employer organisations such as the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), continue to promote the view that liberal market economics albeit moderated by a framework of, usually voluntary, principles of sustainability and 'good conduct', are the only parameters within which tourism economies worldwide should be organised. This worldview is forcefully promoted in the preamble to the UNWTO's 1999 Global Code of Ethic for Tourism as well as the 2003 White Paper on "Tourism Liberalization with a Human Face" in which former Secretary-General, Francisco Frangialli spoke of the need to facilitate the progressive liberalization of trade in tourism services with an emphasis on sustainability and poverty alleviation. However, as evidence from places such as India demonstrate, the rapid liberalization of domestic tourism sectors, for the purposes of 'improving competitiveness', may lead to a range of negative outcomes with particular regard to protective environmental legislation and workers' rights.
More significant perhaps, is the fact that the UNWTO is one of the few UN agencies that essentially represents an industry in contrast to other such UN agencies as UNEP, UNDP, and UNESCO, whose mandate covers a broader scope of human activity from culture and the environment, to science and education. This therefore predisposes the UNWTO to promote the expansion of tourism and the private sector interests behind it. If it were to be a truly progressive institution it would be a specialised agency for human mobility, perhaps integrated with UNHCR, and thus devote equal attention to the freedom of movement and right to travel of all humanity, not just tourists.
ECOCLUB.com: You are involved with Mediterranean Voices, a project exploring intangible heritage in 13 Mediterranean cities. How easy to quantify and how important is such heritage and who, if anyone, has the right to exploit it?
Raoul Bianchi: The project itself came to an end in 2006 although many of the original participants are part of what is the Mediterranean Voices Association. In fact a re-configured and updated website – www.medvoices.org – will soon be back online. The project, comprised of 14 research teams working across 13 different cities, did not however set out to quantify nor calibrate intangible heritage in these cities. Rather it sought to interrogate the meaning and interpretation of [intangible] cultural heritage and how it becomes incorporated into urban planning and cultural tourism development, as well as the consequences of these processes for the neighbourhoods that were studied. Such an instrumentalist or perhaps even quantitative approach was antithetical to the ethnographic and multi-faceted qualitative scope of investigation that was adopted by the different research teams – many of whom but by no means all were anthropologists, whilst others were experienced oral historians and tourism specialists.
Second, it depends also what you mean by 'exploit'. If you are referring to the deployment of such heritage in urban regeneration programmes, there is no easy answer. As we explain on the site, this is precisely one of the areas we tried to explore in the Med-Voices programme. It may well be the case that the 'architects' of such heritage and oral cultural traditions wish to deploy it in the context of such programmes – indeed, it is often the 'intangible' that is excluded, or has been until now, in the development of urban cultural tourism – however what is important is to develop a dialogue so that all concerned can express or have a say in how such heritage is used, and perhaps more importantly, what it is comprised of. That is not to say that the project was able to achieve such ambitious aims. However, in many of the cities involved in the project the project did serve to stimulate a series of public debates and dialogues on these issues. There are sadly myriad examples of where the heritage and cultural practices of inner-city residents in the Mediterranean, often working class and/or immigrant communities, is either commercially exploited by external agencies with little benefit for inhabitants, or removed altogether. More specifically, the cultural practices of inner-city residents in such neighbourhoods throughout the Mediterranean, from Ciutat (Palma de Mallorca), to Belsunce (Marseille) and Istanbul, are threatened by top-down city master planning, much of it undertaken in the interests of converting historic buildings and atmospheric neighbourhoods into gentrified urban-cultural quarters that will appeal to professional middle-class residents and tourists. In a case which has some similarities with the fate of Granada's established Roma population, many of whom were forced out of the now trendy and expensive Albayzín quarter, the destruction of historic buildings in the Sulukule quarter in Istanbul (home to one of the world's oldest Roma communities) in preparation for its stint as one of three European Capitals of Culture in 2010, and the re-housing of many of its residents in newly built blocks of flats some 30 kilometres away, threatens the traditional communal lifestyle and the livelihood of its residents, based on music and street performance.
ECOCLUB.com: From your research so far in the Mediterranean, are Ecotaxes an effective way of limiting the environmental impact of Tourism and funding local projects or just a way to raise tax revenues for irrelevant purposes?
Raoul Bianchi: The Balearic ecotax 'experiment' was I think a landmark in the ongoing struggle to achieve some measure of sustainability in Mediterranean tourism. Despite being scrapped by the incoming conservative government in 2003, the ecotax did serve to demonstrate that such destinations can devise effective instruments of sustainability in the face of even the substantial market power of large, integrated tours operators. It also gave lie to the exaggerated claims that even the mildest intervention in the market would wreak havoc on the Balearic tourism industry, which were put forward by many representatives of the tourism industry and the Spanish government itself at the time. However, one must also bear in mind that we are talking here about the Balearic Islands, one of the richest regions in Spain and one that few tour operators would willingly substitute for others given the sheer scope of resorts, activities and tourist 'products' it offers. Despite the growth of cheaper competitors, the Balearic Islands still to some extent constitutes the 'bread and butter' of the North European, particularly German and British, package travel market, not to mention budget airlines given the amount of foreign-owned second homes on the island.
There were however some legitimate concerns raised by the hoteliers who felt (unfairly) encumbered by the fact that the levy was charged to tourists by the accommodation suppliers. They felt that this would place them at a particular disadvantage vis-a-vis tour operators, who could pass on the costs down the supply chain whilst maintaining competitive prices for their packages. The tax was to some extent seen as progressive in so far as it rose in line with the 'quality' of the establishment and thus, the ability to pay. Within a short space of time the ecotax managed to raise approximately €17 million which were then disbursed across a broad range different environmental and cultural regeneration projects. Sources close to the ecotax did nevertheless suggest to me that the Left-Green coalition that was responsible for devising and implementing the ecotax, failed to ensure that they had garnered a sufficient level of consensus across politics, business and civil society, before going ahead with it. However, when one considers the sheer weight of corporate forces aligned against even the most meagre levy on tourism activities, led usually by organisations such as the WTTC, it is hard to see how consensus can ever be reached for anything but the mildest sustainability measures in the fiercely competitive market environment of global tourism.
One must also consider that such 'mass' tourism destination suffer from a classic sustainability 'paradox' whereby increasingly restrictive planning laws, particularly with respect to building plot density and the quality of accommodation establishments, serves to 'squeeze out' smaller, often locally-run, two and three start establishments from the market (in the interests of improving the 'quality' and hence 'sustainability' of the destination offer) thus paving the way for the construction of ever more luxurious, large-scale and corporate-owned, 'niche' tourisms (spa, wellness, golf, conferences etc). Such are the characteristics of a significant swathe of new self-styled sustainable tourism 'products' in Mediterranean tourism. At the same time an older generation of small, often family-based investors with stakes in self-catering apartments and other local business ventures, perhaps built with loans from local banks, are unable to meet the costs of upgrading and refurbishment and thus to compete with the new generation of 'corporate-led sustainable tourism'. In fact, in the Canary Islands, environmentalists were opposed to the 2001 Moratorium on further construction, for amongst other reasons, to do with the fact that proposals to upgrade obsolete apartment accommodation stock threatened the livelihoods of thousands of local families.
Finally, the ecotax also needs to be seen in the particular historico-political context of the fractious central-regional government relations in Spain. The ecotax was developed during the reign of the centralist Popular Party (Partido Popular) in Madrid, a party which was and still remains hostile to even the most modest demands for increased regional autonomy. In response to a challenge by the ruling party in Madrid, which argued that only the central government could legitimately raise taxes in this manner, the decision to implement the ecotax was nevertheless upheld by the Spanish Constitutional Court on January 15th 2002, citing Articles 148 and 149 of the Spanish Constitution in which regional governments (there are 17 in total) are given a wide range of powers over environmental protection, heritage, territorial planning and tourism. Accordingly, the defence of the ecotax can itself be an exercise in the defence of regional powers in the face of central government encroachment, a perennial theme in Spanish politics.
ECOCLUB.com: The peace-building potential of Tourism is often praised by international organisations. However you recently co-authored a letter against the holding of an OECD Tourism meeting in Jerusalem. Please explain what prompted you to do this and what are the underlying issues? Could an alternative, community-owned tourism really build grassroots peace in that area, or will that have to wait for a just and lasting peace agreement?
Raoul Bianchi: I am rather sceptical of the notion, that tourism as an industry is uniquely positioned to promote peace, whether in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or indeed elsewhere. That is not to say that certain context-specific initiatives cannot succeed in advancing some form of cooperation and mutual understanding. This has been seen for example where heritage and commemorative acts have been deployed as a means of helping to forge reconciliation between formerly conflicting and/or antagonistic parties in areas that have witnessed civil war and sectarian conflicts, as numerous examples from such places as diverse as Mt Gumgang (Sth. Korea), South Africa and indeed, Northern Ireland, have demonstrated. However, to argue, as many do, that this has something to do with the systemic attributes of international travel or that there is a trans-historical umbilical relationship between tourism and peace is in my view, misplaced. If anything, tourism is usually the beneficiary of peace and the restoration of diplomatic ties between states, as myriad examples from the impressive growth of tourism in Eastern Europe in the 1990s to the resurgence of tourism in countries which have experienced long periods of conflict, including in the Balkans and Lebanon, demonstrate.
In the case of Israel and Palestine, the odds of tourism acting as a stimulus to peace are fairly slim given the current political uncertainties within Palestinian politics, and more importantly, the continuing military occupation of Palestinian territories, and draconian restrictions on the mobility of ordinary Palestinians not only across into Israel and elsewhere, but within the Palestinian territories themselves. There have nevertheless been initiatives aimed at bringing Israelis and Palestinians two sides together through tourism. These include cooperation between the respective Ministries of Tourism and between high level representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian hotel sectors, as well as through the work of a number of dedicated organisations in Palestine such as the Alternative Tourism Group and foreign-based organisations such as the Belgian group, Tourisme Autrement, dedicated to what is often referred to as 'justice tourism'. However, I would argue that these organisations are 'preaching to the converted' so to speak, although that does not devalue their excellent work. Although it was reported that tourism arrivals in the West Bank increased significantly in 2010, such advances are undermined by the daily harassment of Palestinians at military checkpoints as well as the targeting of suspected foreign activists and grass-roots organisations, the despoliation of the landscape and heritage by the construction of by-pass roads and Israeli settlements, and of course, incidents such as the violent assault of the aid flotilla sailing to the Gaza strip in 2010.
What is important I think to add, is that contrary to popular perceptions, it is not so much the fear of violence that keeps tourists away from Palestine – although this no doubt plays its part - but rather, the fact that the Israeli authorities exert monopolistic control over the Palestinian tourism industry itself, by controlling and directing the flow of tourists into and out of the West Bank, when not discouraging them altogether. In a recent paper by Rami Isaac of Breda University in the Netherlands, he reports for example, that Israeli tour groups are prohibited from remaining in Bethlehem for more than 1h and 45 minutes. Indeed, the highly symbolic town of Bethlehem illustrates the many paradoxes and contradictions which permeate the idea of tourism as a vehicle for peace. Each year around Christmas time, Bethlehem becomes a barometer of the degree to which it is safe to travel into Palestine as foreign diplomats, dignitaries and religious worshippers seek to visit the holy sites of Christianity. In the midst of this annual media attention, it is rarely mentioned that the inhabitants of Bethlehem are all but imprisoned in their town and their tourism economy shattered by the encircling Separation Wall and the ongoing Occupation. In the absence of a definitive peace agreement and the granting of full Palestinian sovereignty over its territories, including the reopening and upgrading of its international airport, long term economic development, prosperity and above all, justice for the Palestinians, as well as ordinary Israeli citizens, will sadly remain out of reach. Perhaps the most depressing symbol of the chasm that exists between Israel and Palestinian co-existence in matters of tourism, freedom of movement and economic development is represented by the religious site of Rachel's Tomb which lies on the outskirts of Bethlehem (close to the Bethlehem Inter-Continental Hotel), just south of Jerusalem. As Professor Tom Selwyn of SOAS recounts in a recent article, this site, visited by Jews, Christian and Muslims for centuries, was expropriated by the Israeli authorities in 2005 and encircled by part of the Separation Wall. It subsequently became reserved exclusively for the use of religious Jews and firmly incorporated into Israel's tourist offer.
With regard to the recent letter sent by Tom Selwyn and myself, protesting at plans to host the OECD Tourism Conference in Jerusalem in October 2010, this was motivated by two things in particular. First, we felt that we should support the Palestinian academics/activists who had originally circulated details of this conference together with a letter of their own condemning the OECD decision. As a result of circulating their letter on a well-known internet discussion forum for academics working on tourism, they were subject to a certain amount of vitriol from a minority of academics wheeling out the same tired old clichés which often greets any attempt to challenge the Israeli Occupation and its apologists. It cannot be right that any academic forum be censored or an individual be subject to personalised attacks for reasons to do with the expression of a political opinion that for whatever reason others disagree.
Second, together with Tom Selwyn, who has a long standing involvement with this region, I have been privileged to come into contact with and indeed work with a number of Palestinians from the worlds of business, politics and academia, as part of the Mediterranean Voices project and an EU-TEMPUS sponsored MA programme in Tourism and Cultural Pilgrimmage. In tandem with the well-documented evidence, I was able to witness first-hand the reality of the Occupation and its repressive effects on Palestinian lives and livelihoods, particularly with regard to its curtailment of the rights and freedoms of ordinary Palestinians and the debilitating effects it has had on the Palestinian tourism industry.
I would urge people to travel to Palestine and see for themselves. Aside from being able to witness some of the most incredible history, architectural heritage, landscapes and culture in the world, by visiting Palestine, tourists will straight away be able to see through the misinformation and negative stereotyping of Palestine and Palestinians (one well-known tourism analyst once referred to Palestinian leaders as 'hate mongering rat bags'), which often presents Palestinians as inherently prone to violence and 'terrorism'. Tourism can also of course provide much-needed income and employment for ordinary Palestinians whose tourism economy, and the related handicraft/souvenir sectors, have suffered gravely as a result of the Occupation.
ECOCLUB.com: You have also written about Tourism and the Globalisation of Fear. Through which mechanisms are destination security perceptions manipulated and how effectively? Can online independent media help dispel myths?
Raoul Bianchi: I must first stress that I don't see the security concerns of tourists and indeed the tourism industry as a conspiracy whereby fears of being caught up in terrorist attacks or whatever it might be (many of which are indeed legitimate) are wilfully manipulated. Indeed their interests are best served by precisely the opposite – the removal of both 'real' security risks as well as the perceptions of fear that attach themselves to particular destinations. As in the case of the media and its reporting of certain events in general, it is a more subtle process whereby certain discourses become reinforced through constant repetition and a lack of contextualisation and/or dissenting views. Perceptions of insecurity are quite often exacerbated (unintentionally) through the mechanism of government travel advisories (although only a minority of tourists tend to read these), as occurred in Kenya in 2002-2003, to the detriment of local tourism businesses and workers. In addition, the indirect effect of travel advisories may also affect patterns of travel where travel insurance is invalidated as a result of a negative travel advisory being published for a particular state or region within it.
Moreover, there is arguably an ideological consensus within international tourism industry and affiliated organisation that 'tourism' as an activity/practice is essentially apolitical that is constantly besieged or under threat from the forces of insecurity and political violence. At first this would seem to be self-evident, clearly tourists are not (well, not usually) willing participants in the political struggles of other nations. However, tourism is an activity that inevitably spills over into political domains and worse still, may become unwittingly embroiled within wider civil and regional conflicts, as it has in parts of the Middle East and South-East Asia, or worse still, may become complicit in repressive societies, as it has in Burma. Prior to the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi, many were critical of the boycott on Burmese tourism by activist organisations, not least opinionated newspaper columnists and the few remaining tour operators who had no wish to give up this lucrative market. However, whilst the representatives of the worldwide tourism industries often invoke the freedom of movement and the right of tourists to travel without hindrance wherever there is an interesting place to be visited, one has to consider that such freedoms are rooted in wider global inequities and stand in stark contrast to the lack of mobility freedoms amongst those for whom travel is either coerced (refugees, economic migrants) or beyond reach altogether.
ECOCLUB.com: You currently teach at an East London-based institution, a strategic location for you to observe the build up towards the London Olympics! How satisfied are you with preparations in terms of benefits to the local community and overall sustainability, and how worried are you that after the lights are out, the people of London will be left with a huge debt and little else to show for it than unnecessary infrastructure, as has happened in many Olympic cities in the past?
Raoul Bianchi: Whilst I am not a specialist on the Olympic Games/legacy of global mega-events I am currently engaged in a small research project with a colleague at UEL, looking into resident attitudes to the 2012 Games and the legacy, as well as the fact that I do live and work in the area. Considerable energy, and analysis (not least by specialist researchers at UEL) has been expended commenting on, evaluating and analysing the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to the extent that it often feels that they are being subject to almost unparalleled levels of scrutiny. Much of this has to do with the fact that as the notion of 'legacy' has become increasingly significant the level and scope of public expectation with regard to what the Games themselves can deliver beyond the event itself, has increased with each successive set of Games. Indeed, the success of the London 2012 bid was largely a result of its emphasis on urban regeneration and the sustainable re-development of one of London's, if not the UK's, most deprived urban areas, in addition to the sporting legacy (which is linked also to the promotion of health and well-being amongst the local resident population).
That is not to say that with an urban development project of this scale (the largest in Europe) there are not questions to be asked. In fact a number of activist organisations in East London (www.gamesmoniter.org.uk) have been critical of the 2012 Games, following a pattern worldwide where grassroots activists in cities around the world that have won bids to host either the Olympic Games, or indeed other such global mega-events as the FIFA World. However, the initial flurry of outrage that accompanied the early hiccups (rises in local taxation contribute to the cost of hosting the 2012 Games; cost overruns, initial concerns regarding the tendering for construction contracts etc..) seems to have subsided as the Olympic Park takes shape. This may be result of the various successful PR interventions undertaken by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), and increasingly positive media coverage of the lead-up to the Games. It is also no doubt partly linked to the fact that as the Olympic Park itself takes shape, people can see for themselves the extent of impressive facilities and reinvented urban-green landscape that will be bequeathed by the Games. One must also bear in mind that the bid to host the London 2012 Games did not take place in the vacuum: there have been numerous initiatives backed by various governments to develop and regenerate East London and the Thames Gateway going back to the early 1990s. However, it is almost certain that we would never have witnessed that scale of investment and regeneration in urban parks, housing and transport infrastructure had the bid not been successful, and certainly not in such a short space of time and in the context of such a severe economic circumstances. Nonetheless, whilst many Londoners appear to be pleased to see one of the most run-down and impoverished parts of inner-London, receive this level of state-backed infrastructural investment and international interest (the latter being relevant for raising the long-term tourism profile of the area), already our researchers have recorded significant levels of apathy amongst local residents, and at worst, frustration and even hostility towards the Games.
Notwithstanding the obvious appeal such 'mega-event'-led urban renewal programs for cash-strapped governments in the current financial climate, there are some serious issues of concern. In addition to some of the issues that have already been raised regarding for example, the displacement of local amenities (football pitches and allotments), property inflation, spiralling costs (and associated debt) and the questionable benefits of a half billion pound sports stadium after the Games have finished (not least as the football club which will take it over, West Ham United FC, has just been relegated to the second rank of English football, the Championship!), is how the process as a whole is consolidating a neoliberal model of urban consumption-led regeneration, kick-started here in the UK during the early 1980s with the controversial re-development of London's docks under the tutelage of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC). There is already evidence that the area will attract upwardly mobile professional classes rather than benefit the local working class and ethnic minority communities who live in the poor boroughs that flank the Park. Swanky waterside apartments and trendy cafes have already begun to spring up along the canals and in some of the gritty urban neighbourhoods which border the Park. These areas reputation for low rents and affordable artists' studios are rapidly giving way to gentrification and corporate re-branding the closer we get the Games. Conversely, it is interesting to note that the Olympic Park Legacy Company has not been granted 'super-authority' powers to re-develop the site after the Games, as occurred in the 1980s with the controversial redevelopment of the London Docks by the LDDC. Rather, property developers will have to liaise with the majority landowner (the London Development Authority) as well as the five municipal authorities, on a contractual basis, in order to gain approvalfor any post-Games development projects. In addition, approximately fifty per cent of the accommodation that has been built for the Olympic Village, will be given over to low-cost housing after the Games.
However, the fact that the purported economic regeneration of the areas adjacent to the site of the Olympic Park rests substantially on the construction of the largest retail park in Europe, the majority of which is owned by the world's largest multinational property-retail development corporations, the Westfield Group, illustrates the neo-liberal norms that drive the regeneration agenda. The borough of Newham is home to some of the most significant pockets of social deprivation and unemployment in London and the UK as a whole, many of which lie adjacent to the Olympic Park itself. Other than providing approximately 6,000 jobs in the new Westfield shopping centre (applications to these are restricted and most construction jobs will have disappeared by 2012) it is hard to see precisely which aspect of the London 2012 Games is going to significantly change this, not least with regard to the tourism and hospitality industries which in this area, are still in their infancy. Indeed, what is clear is that the 2012 Games and legacy sit firmly within the scope of the neoliberal model of urban governance and economic regeneration, based on multinational corporate investment, a privatised and securitised 'public sphere' and flexible labour markets, notwithstanding that certain well-placed local businesses stand to benefit from the general boost given to the area through infrastructure spending and integration into wider transportation networks on a scale that has not been seen before.
What is of particular interest to me as someone who works on issues related to tourism development, is the degree to which the 2012 Games will create a robust platform for the development of tourism in this part of East London, that is not exclusively focussed on the predominantly corporate-owned facilities adjacent to the Royal Docks, such as the Abu Dhabi owned Excel Exhibition Centre. The local authority has been particularly active in creating a number of initiatives geared towards putting this relatively unknown (to tourists) part of East London on the tourist map. It will be interesting to see to what extent the 2012 Games and the entirely reconfigured urban/green spaces within the Olympic Park will develop an association and identity that is linked to existing markers of cultural history and identity in the area (the docks, industry, football, Asian markets, immigration). Although, given the recent backlash against the commodification of urban space for tourism in Berlin, and indeed, Barcelona, one wonders whether there will be similar concerns in Newham and other areas around the Park. However, given both the notable absence of dissent and the overwhelming need for employment in the current crisis, I think not.
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much for your in-depth replies!