Special Interest Tourism has in the recent years gained increasing importance. Over the past few years, there has been a growth in Special Interest Tourism products in what is currently a highly competitive tourism market. The popularity of concentration camps as tourist attractions signifies the emergence of Special Interest Tourism. This trend which has rapidly developed over the past few decades has placed pressure on managers of German concentration camps to transcend these sites into more mainstream tourist attractions sites. But with this transformation has emerged several management issues which continue to confront small tourism businesses.
This paper examines some of the general management issues facing operators at concentration camps in Germany. The paper examines the extent to which managers of these sites identify with these problems and issues, and explores on the extent to which they have addressed such issues. Issues identified include pressure to commercialize developments, competition, interpretation, authenticity and ethical concerns over commodification of such sites. These challenges necessitate the need for more strategic management schemes. The paper concludes by suggesting the need for tour operators to harness managerial skills and adjust to all sorts of changes in order to overcome these challenges.
Special Interest Tourism has in the recent years gained increasing importance. Over the past few years, there has been a growth in Special Interest Tourism in what is currently a highly competitive tourism market (Ritchie et al. 2003). The growth of attractions in the former German concentration camps signifies the emergence of Special Interest Tourism and reflects the changing attitudes towards such sites associated with war, death and tragedy. This trend has developed rapidly in the recent years such that it has placed pressure on managers of German concentration camps to transcend these sites into more mainstream tourist attractions sites (Ritchie et al. 2003).
With this transformation have emerged a number management problems similar to those suggested by Thomas (2007) and Shaw & Williams (2009). This section explores on these management concerns which continue to face operators at concentration camps in Germany. The paper examines the extent to which managers of these sites identify with these issues, and explores on the extent to which they have sought to address them. Before examining the specific issues relevant to concentration camps, the paper will first explore on the general management challenges and issues facing Small Tourism Enterprises (STE’s).
Small Tourism Enterprises and general management issues
STE have received support from governments owing to their employment-generating potential and their contribution to economic growth (Sharpley & Stone 2012). Many governments have avidly supported STEs, although it is only in the recent years that emphasis has been placed on the importance of having right skill set for managing such enterprises (Stephen 2012). Nonetheless, STEs play a major role in most countries.
As argued by Page et al (1999), STEs are the cornerstone of tourism development in local economies. Buhalis (2006) further explains that STEs contribute to a considerable proportion of economic production and provides employment to a large number of people especially those located in the peripheral and insular regions. However, a range of management problems and issues face small tourism enterprises.
Some of these issues have been identified by Ken & Mountinho (2000). The two authors suggested that small tourism enterprises are confronted with a number a number of issues including political changes, competition, environmental concerns, new consumer trends, globalization, fragmentation of markets and economic integration. Carter (1996) argues that irrespective of the relative size of the Small business sector, the management issues faced by STE in many countries are enormous. However, these may differ depending on the STE product.
Also many of the tourism SMEs tend to have a limited knowledge of the business environment. Many of them tend to have little experience of the business environment. What is more interesting with SMEs is that their sources of venture capital are varied, with a significant proportion coming from families (Stephen 2012). STEs are undercapitalized, product led and family owned such that management function is only confined to a few key individuals (Stephen 2012). These small enterprises also tend to have a short-term planning horizon and their marketing functions are peripheral to the management task of running the business (Stephen 2012). Many of these characteristics are borne out in the studies by Thomas (2007) and Shaw & Williams (2002).
The challenges facing STE’s necessitate the need for more strategic management schemes. Without proper management, tourism development is bound to decline. To overcome these challenges, STEs need to harness managerial skills. Management of STEs must adjust to all sorts of changes to ensure sustainability of tourism activities and a continuing outward flow of services (Poitevin 2012).
Management challenges relevant to German concentration camps
One of the management challenges that is particularly relevant to German concentration camps is pressure to commercialize developments. Many decades after the end of the Second World War, concentration camps have transformed into tourist attraction sites and are facing demands from tourists for associated facilities and commercial development (Ritchie et al. 2003). This changing nature of concentration camps from being memorial sites to tourist attractions has presented management with a significant dilemma.
Managers of concentration camps are faced with a dilemma between either preserving the site as a memorial site or developing it for commercial tourism (Ritchie et al. 2003). This management concern has further been made even more complicated by the reduction of government funding for many of the former German concentration camps (Ritchie et al. 2003). Dachau concentration camp is one such camp site which has been facing increasing pressure for commercial development of its facilities.
This memorial site presents the history of Dachau concentration camp from 1933 to 1945, illustrating how it came into being during the Nazi era (Johannes 2004). The Dachau concentration camp was first developed as a training centre before it became a model camp for Hitler’s Secret service and a training ground for the extermination camps of Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz (Johannes 2004).
Since its opening as a memorial site in 1965, this former German camp site has not undergone any renovations or commercial development. There seems to be no retail or ancillary service such as restaurant or a cafe (Ritchie et al. 2003). Cinema video technology and traditional static exhibits with poor orientation and layout are used (Ritchie et al. 2003). Such settings could lead to mindlessness as visitor connections and interest of the Holocaust may wane (Ritchie et al. 2003).
However, half of the museum was closed for renovation as of late 2001 (Ritchie et al. 2003). The reconstruction of the museum is expected to provide a substantial improvement to the setting factors such as orientation, display and interaction. Such improvements are expected to provide more mindful experiences to the visitors. However, only time can tell whether the renovations of Dachau camp memorial will enhance tourist experience or whether such commercial developments will detract from the site’s authenticity (Ritchie et al. 2003).
In transforming the memorial sites into tourist attractions, managers of these sites have also faced conflicting political, religion and personal ideologies (Jangula 2004). The transformation of the site to a tourist attraction has generated controversy with ethical concerns arising over the commodification of such sites associated with death, war and tragedies. But this ethical concern is debateable. These memorial sites would be meaningless if no one was to visit. We derive the significance of such sites from their explanatory inscriptions and knowledge that we learn through visiting such sites (Jangula 2004). It is impossible to discern whether the Dachau camp site or the Auschwitz would retain their significance if no one was allowed to visit (Jangula 2004).
Another major challenge facing management at these memorial sites has been the changing nature of relationship between commemorative agents, owing to political and socio-economic changes (Jangula 2004). It is important to note that numerous stakeholders are involved in the process of orientation of memorial sites with the most obvious group being the victims. The local and regional authorities are also involved in the orientation, often funding operations at memorials.
Managing this complex relationship between the various stakeholders remains a major challenge in these former German Camp sites. Whilst the managers of these sites are granted the legal and legislative authority to manage the memorials and the ties between the locals and tourists, managing such relationship is often made more complex by changes in political, social and economic environments (Jangula 2004).
Competition is yet another management challenge facing operators at these sites. In a world of information age where the Holocaust has become a well-known event, commemorative agencies are challenged by external groups that seek to transmit the legacy of these sites through different medias (Jangula 2004). For example, movies have re-enacted or have made attempts to re-enact history. Works of such popular culture compete with ‘official’ agencies in Germany who have infinite mandates to commemorate such sites (Jangula 2004).
Additionally, the managers of these sites face additional competition from other agents abroad who transmit the legacy of the Holocaust within religious, cultural and commercial realms (Jangula 2004). Recreation of commemorative aspects of such sites is made easier by the site’s historic relevance. The significance of the Holocaust is comprehended by people and cultures across the globe (Ateljevic & Stephen 2012). The site is more than just a domestic historical site as people from all over the globe tour the site.
Extent to which tourist operators have addressed these concerns
Given these challenges, we sought to investigate the extent to which tour operators at Dachau concentration camp have addressed these concerns. In addressing the ethical concern, we found that the management provided for guided tours (Ritchie et al. 2003). Guided tours are available in different languages including German, English, Spanish, and French. During the tour, visitors are reminded of the historical significance of the site as a place of memory and pilgrimage and the importance of behaving with respect while at these sites.
However, despite such guided tours, there is still an ethical concern over the commodification of such tourist sites. Many of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust are still infuriated and deeply concerned that the death and horror of their brethrens is treated as a commodity and sold to tourists (Jangula 2004). Some commentators have in fact pointed out that some of the tours offer little educational component and that visitors often film, photograph and chat in these memorial sites as if they were in a zoological garden (Sharpley & Stone 2012).
Responding to the pressure of commercialization of developments, we found that operators of Dachau concentration camp had made renovations to the concentration camp. The reconstruction of the site had been made with the aim of improving the setting factors such as display, orientation and interaction; and ultimately improving the tourist experience. But whilst some challenges seem to have been addressed, majority of these concerns remain largely addressed.
To address the issue of competition, management would need to explore on the visitor motivation to such sites associated with tragedies. Understanding the motivations behind such visitations can be useful in further promoting the site. For example, if education is found to be the key motivator, managers would need to focus on the teaching aspects in order to promote the site (Yuill 2003). This could be as simple as interpretive design or as complex as offering additional services such as workshops, seminars and lectures (Yuill 2003).
Site interpretation can be better designed to cater to the visitor’s needs. Should commemoration be the key motivating factor, management would need to ensure a quiet environment for contemplation (Yuill 2003). However, where visitors are motivated by nostalgia, then highly sensory exhibits would be best suited to these visitors (Yuill 2003). Understanding visitor motivations would help management to tailor services to meet their needs thereby increasing visitation which in turn would generate higher revenues for the site. The revenues generated can then be used to preserve the site.
To address the complexity of balancing the concerns of the locals, visitors, entrepreneurs, politicians and other stakeholders involved; there is need for managers to have a right skill set for managing such relationships. Operators of such concentration camps need to harness managerial skills. They must adjust to all sorts of changes to ensure sustainability of tourism activities and a continuing outward flow of services (Poitevin 2012).
It is clear that the operators managing these sites are confronted with a number of management issues including issues of commercialization, competition, interpretation, authenticity and ethical concerns over commodification of such sites. Managers are confronted with the challenge of providing an accepted interpretation as far as victims, survivors, friends and relatives of victims the Holocaust and historians are concerned. Balancing the concerns of the locals, visitors, entrepreneurs, politicians and other stakeholders involved pose another challenge to managers at these sites.
Managers are also under pressure from tourists to commercialize developments in order to enhance tourist experience. They face a significant dilemma between either preserving the site as a memorial site or developing it for commercial tourism. The task of site managers is further challenged by additional external agencies that seek to transmit the legacy of these sites via different Medias.
In overcoming these challenges, tour operators must harness managerial skills and adjust to all sorts of changes to ensure sustainability of tourism activities and a continuing outward flow of services. The challenges necessitate the need for more strategic management schemes.
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