Today is just one of those days

Loch Duich
Wide open spaces, Loch Duich

I need my wide open spaces today. The morning didn’t start out too grand. First, I almost overslept. Second, I went to a local fast food store for my morning ice tea and oatmeal, asking for extra ice and I get three pieces. And the oatmeal, they forgot to add enough water. How hard is it to make something? How hard is it listen to a customer and make the meal properly? I mean, it’s right there on the slip of the receipt? If you still have dry cereal at the bottom of the cup as you stir in the hot water, shouldn’t that tell you something? (I really want to rant…). Then I get to work and my ice tea topples to the ground from its perch as I fished out my keys. I admit that one is my fault.

Few if any were awake in my 9am class. Granted, not one of them likes math or accounting and maybe I was speaking a foreign language but seriously, RevPAR, is fun. It’s all in the book, in the notes, in the Powerpoint slides I put up. I go over problems and then its like Friday and weekend rolls around and every thing, every formula, all that we talk about is gone, just gone. *POOF*  

Today I am missing my wide open spaces.  I miss being immersed in the blues, the greens, the fresh sweet air and dynamic world.

The Beach at Culzean, looking at Arran
The Beach at Culzean, looking at Arran

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel CarsonSilent Spring

Lost in Scotland
Lost in Scotland

I need reprieve from the mundane existence of my life.  I need to sit on a bed of soft, sweet grass..even soft, frigid snow and take measured breaths of this time.  I need to get lost in order to be found.

At least to save my sanity.

This just validates my belief that I am in the right industry.  I understand the need for escapism.  I understand the pull and push into the extraordinary; the need or call for adventure.  I feel it today.  It is stronger than at any other time in the past five years.  Maybe is just one of those days, challenged by everything.  Maybe it is one of those days that needs to fly by and swing the door closed on.  Let it go, quickly with as little pain a possible and breathe a sigh when it is done.

The Push and Pull of Tourism

Mapping out thoughts
Mind mapping out thoughts on social research

I enjoy teaching Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality.  Last Thursday, I was talking about customers, stakeholders motivations for travel in defining what tourism really is as we headed into discussing the hospitality sector.  I gave examples about my own motivations and asked them to keep in mind their own reasons to travel and use the tourist system.

I had one of the moments of truth of why I like Pennsylvania.  Why I loath Illinois and its flatness.  I am transformed at that demarcation line that separates one reality with another.  On the drive home, along route 70, just past Columbus, I start to hit the Appalachians.  I feel this giddy sense of home looming in the distance, tugging, pulling me to hurry.  Even though I have a standard sedan and long for something with a little more zip (like I see on BBC’s Top Gear), my car handles the new textures of the landscape pretty well.  I hit the West Virginia border and the broad smile that cracks my lips will soon turn into bouts of sporadic laughter as I hit the gorges and mountains.  I know they aren’t as severe as other places but I’m home.  I’m back in my mountains.


Pittsburgh is next and the Turnpike from New Stanton to Donegal. Fourteen miles separate me from Ligonier and it is one of those drooling moments in anticipation of the mountains that flank either side of my car that has me intoxicated to roll down the window and breathe the sweet air.  This part of western Pennsylvania reminds me of Perthshire in Scotland and that might have something to do with me ‘lang for hame.  I can take a breath as I hit crossroads that bisect over Route 30, drive past the fort and hit the center of town.  I  careen counter-clockwise around the island that holds its famous bandstand of old Ligonier and hit the road that will take me up to my mountain.  I used to take Route 30 (Lincoln Highway, which even extends into Illinois) from Greensburg but a severe rearender in ’09 limits my desire to use that route any more.  Yet, I know once I am past Latrobe, past Derry, I hit the winding roads that our ancestors used to go west.  I traveled it this past summer while at home with my mother and her gal pals to lunch at Latrobe airport.  I rolled down my window then and drank in the smell of the pine, mountain laurel, and sweet wild garlic.  I am glad to see Sleepy Hollow Restaurant being rebuilt and Idlewild Park still going strong.  But I digress.  Memories tug at your heart, I tell them.

Band Stand Ligoneer, PA
Band Stand Ligoneer, PA

I tried to express to the students how it feels to be pulled by a destination.  How it tugs at your heart and makes you act.  I stood before them, my hands outstretched as I explained the drive under the

“lush canopies that crowned my beloved paths. …find my way home to the places of my present and my past… (Pudliner, Home, 1987).”

My hands glided one way and then another as I mimicked the drive over Route 271 or Menoher Highway (Menoher pronounced Men-ocher), visualizing it in my mind as I darted one way and then another as my tires hug the curves.   My eyes ever watchful looking for that fluff of white tail of a deer before it crashes from the foliage and ruins a perfect drive.  I hit the top of Laurel Mountain and realize I have held my breath.  We have hit close to 3,000 feet in elevation and the views are breathtaking on a ‘good’ day.  I am back in my Highlands–the Laurel Highlands and memory slips into recalling driving through Perthshire, from Pitlochry and north to Inverness.

Laurel Mountain
Winter on Laurel Mountain

I know now I am on the downward drive to Johnstown and my home atop Westmont Hill.  I love the curve at the bottom of the hill, know the line of sight, know when I have to pump the brakes ever so slightly and ease into the curve, allowing centrifugal force to pull me around the curve.  I love the rush of adrenaline, the thrill.  Even when it is winter, even when I know I have to slow to a crawl to take that curve…I cannot best explain it and sometimes, as I tell my students, you can’t.  You can’t explain entirely why people love a destination.  It just is.  But if we don’t ask the right questions, how will we know what they expect and want.

More later….

Working on….

Mind mapping the Heros Journey
Mind mapping the Heros Journey

Sorry all, been away to a conference and then the start of university had me jumping.  But it is back to the grind.

Last Spring I was asked to work and present a fifty minute lecture for our fall Ancient Lenses symposium on Greece.  I jumped at the chance, having enjoyed presenting about tourism, tourism landscapes and ancient Egypt last November.  This time though, I was given more autonomy about what I could present and have decided to examine the origins of the Hero’s journey, tourism authenticity and construction of a tourism voice or narrative.  That our unique origins of a tourism language, our narratives, originate in that quest to find ourselves or by chance in the action of tourism.  That there is multiple meanings for and derived by our undertakings.

Now this probably goes against the adage and construct of authenticity but I feel a new discourse needs to be examined with our modern times.  To understand today we must visit the past and understand the point of reality in which we find our actors.  We are all products of our three distinct sociocultural, economic and physical environments.  Our point or perspective of reality is nurtured and developed within that sphere of awareness.  We mature and broaden our view with experience.  As Campbell, illustrates, we progress from a limited awareness to a greater one within our life span.

But we should not think that it is just the tourist that has influence upon the voices and subsequent stories.  The acculturalization of individuals, contact of the new, authentic or the contrived; the very cultures they encounter, may or may not, push the tourist or host to reflection and speak of the encounter.  Today, we have the ability through modern forms of journaling to tell a good story.  The ritual of the conveyance, the “return with the elixir”, may have been more complicated.  (Was it richer though?)

Modern storytelling has its origins in ancient literature; the structure is refined and developed.  That there is an underlying current of thought, of consideration.  That at that time, though we had no modern concept of tourism, travelogues exist as stories and within actual journals.  The bedrock of Campbell’s treatise of the human mythology, the narratives is in his examination of Greek mythology, the works of Homer and other folklore.

I cannot help but see the correlation of the journey and the concept of tourism in everyday life.  We can be a tourist and travel mere feet in our own backyard to experience an awakening of spirit that is then translated into narratives.  I am, I know breaking the cardinal rule of the definition of tourism.  But definitions again stems from the tangible and intangible.  What we can measure and what we cannot.  I am an arm-chair traveller at home when I visit other’s weblogs and online journals, like their Facebook Timelines.  I see a narrative.  I read it, digest it and can be pulled into action.  I live vicariously through their journeys.  I listen to their stories just as our ancient civilizations did.

This contemplates then questions for the next step….for it has jump started thoughts about research…

Authentic branding in a digital age…

What does branding mean in today’s technological society? Does everyone truly understand what it is, what it means? Where does authenticity come into play? Does our social media give greater depth to the definition, the meaning and characteristics of branding of destinations? What about the three environments from which motivations, decision-making behavior develop; natural/physical, socio-cultural and economic? Is branding more than an advertising/marketing tool used to promote a concept, a place or a person?

We all seek some understanding of the complex world we live in. We seek to affix labels, group it into order and come up with a name. Should we? Should we try to gain order in a world that is in constant flux? All of us try probably to articulate why we have deep abiding emotions for a place, a destination, a ritual (i.e. event) and those with products want to capitalize on those emotions to cause you to act. They want you to recognize, in their message, something familiar that tugs, and pulls, pushes you to make a decision. They want a mutually beneficial exchange that creates values for both parties. Does branding hurt tourism?

Culburnie Burn 24th June 2011
Culburnie Burn

Advertisements, marketing specialist want to give those emotional strings names. Scotland has three to illustrate its sense of place and identity. “Enduring, human and dramatic (VisitScotland).” Any person that has visited Scotland or seen a picture can assimilate those adjectives and affix them to that product. Every day as I scroll through Colin Campbell’swork on Flickr, I feel my heart strings plucked and wish I was still living in Glasgow. I wish I was up in the Highlands walking, smelling the sweet air or at the Drover’s Inn having a pint and a good meal with friends. Incidentally, Colin has taken some outstanding pictures of Scotland and they have been featured in ads for VisitScotland. Are these images though authentic?

Every place has its bad side. Most of the people that I talk to when I mention Scotland or the UK, comment on the weather. When I travel to Washington, DC, I know from having lived there, you don’t travel to certain sections. Again, the image, the news, the information disseminated through the media figures prominently in the decision making process. How do we cut to the heart of a place? How do we find a realistic point of view? Do we really want to or allow the place to speak for itself? Do we view it in the raw without any manipulation of images? Again, the motivations for tourism are different for each individual, each member of society and we need to recognize that opportunity that presents.

Neil Oliver’s voice on the adverts for VisitScotland Creative campaign affixes a human aspect to branding. The human element has always been the crux of any hospitality and tourism venture. The human element puts a face, a voice, a welcome behind a place. Equity, value of branding is more than just something tangible but the intangible elements that you might not be able to equate with value. You might not be able to articulate what it means to you. The human element is more than just those that work in the industry but all stakeholders that have a vested or potential to engage in the act of tourism. Even those arm chair travelers that sit at a desk some where, typing away at a computer, posting on blogs or uploading images to a web site or creating stories from their own minds and research. Connections are some how made through the nexus of linkages made with technology. How many times have you read a good book and the place in which the story originates steps from the shadows and is actually a character? How many times have you watched a movie (i.e. Lord of the Rings) and the place is also one of the antagonists or protagonists of the story. That the place figures in the plot.

Do we expand and create a deeper mythology with the linkages made through social media, social CRM? Mythology in that incidence then takes on a whole new set of rules. The definitive point of divergence is when the mythology or developed expectations become realized. Value or currency of that reality is demonstrated in the compilation of images and words. So the question remains on how branding has evolved over time. How technology is pushing the boundaries of the concept into greater depths. I wonder if we should even call it branding any more or something else. A host of questions remain.


I guess with this blasted heat, I’m feeling a little nostalgia, trying to remember if it ever was this hot.  We didn’t have a/c in my house, my parents home, till 2007.  How did we survive the summers growing up?  We have horrendous humidity in southwestern PA and I just remember the 1977 flood.  That July seemed to really bother us, well those months after the flood and have to deal with the muck and the stench, the humidity.  I laugh now but we left to check out colleges, universities in the south for my brother and got flooded out of a hotel room outside Orlando.  At least we had a good laugh. You can’t do too much here in the middle of no where.  I’m not into baking from the outside in and inside out.  So, its inside with the fan on my legs and the a/c cranking away.  What did we ever do without a/c?  Today, I’m recalling stories my parents told me about their childhood.  They don’t remember the heat being this bad either.  Perhaps our minds were diverted to other more important past times.

Gene Kelly in his studio in Johnstown, PA (5)
Gene Kelly in his studio in Johnstown, PA
Mom doing her Dorothy imitation
Mom in her pig tails

My mother’s summer was filled with dancing and other pursuits. She learned to dance at the Gene Kelly dance studio in Johnstown. I asked her one day about one of her favorite stories from that time. We were trying to keep each other awake on a long drive back from NYC. I had been in the “Big Apple” for a job interview and she had tagged along to keep me company and help me navigate. She had a ball, getting up early and heading out to the Today Show, wanting to meet Anne Curry (which she did).

Mom in her dance costume (3)
Mom in her dance costume

Mom was a pretty good dancer and would travel to Pittsburgh for recitals. There was no “dance moms” in those days. My grandfather or grandmother would pack her a little suitcase, take her down to the train station and put her on the train. The cool thing though about this is that Mom got to stay in the Kelly household during those times. Now Mrs Kelly, God love her, was as I understand from Mom a “good Irish Catholic”. She looked out for Mom’s spiritual needs. The crux of the matter is that Mom was raised in a Presbyterian household. That didn’t stop Mrs. Kelly. Before my mother would arrive, she would march on down to the Presbyterian Church, confer with the Pastor and gain the Sunday School lessons and sermon. Come Sunday, Mom would head off to church and return for lunch before Mrs. Kelly would take her back to the train station and put her on the train home to Johnstown. Now, during lunch, Mom would be grilled with questions concerning the Sunday lesson and sermon. If she failed the test, Grandma and Pap, her mother and father, would get a phone call. Mom never wanted her parents to get the dreaded phone call. Good on you Mrs. Kelly!

Dad, Uncle John, Uncle Al
Dad and his brothers

Now Dad was an exceptional athlete his whole life. He lettered in three sports, baseball, basketball and football. But I think he was definitely a rebel, creating havoc around the neighborhood. I love his story about blowing up coffee cans, swimming in the creek in an old wash tub (which he almost drowned if not for his big brother John that saved him), and playing marbles with the other local boys. Dad had a mean shooter and was considered the champion of the his time. I can just see him down on the pavement, one eye shut, the other narrowed, taking a line of sight. He was a good sport though and would make sure that the others had marbles to play with. I think the only person to beat him was a girl but I have to confirm that.

Dad and Aunt Alma (?)
Dad in his Letterman’s sweater

The other summer past times that occupied my father’s time was those sports. Football and baseball were his passions. He was good enough to play in the AAABA tourney in Johnstown and was even scouted by the Red Sox. But he was drafted into the Army and sent to Japan during the Korean War. He played baseball over in Japan and fondly tells me about being thrown out of a game by the umpire because he vehemently argued a call. My Dad is a very quiet person and I have never really seen him mad or at least I can’t remember a time when he was mad. I retract that. I remember the summer my brother was denied to play in the same AAABA tourney by the coaches because they chose their son over my brother.  My brother was clearly, statistically the better player than this other kid. Dad called the coach on playing favoritism and I remember the late night phone calls.  Not once did my Dad raise his voice against the coach but presented a logical argument against his choice. My Dad has always been about fair play and that is why I respect him.

Stokowski (1992, Social Networks and Tourist Behavior) illiterates that “relationships are connections” and that these relationships could be identified by their enduring capacity. We all have connections to people and to landscapes. Tourism allows us to experience a wide variety of relationships and make new connections. Social networking allows us to bring to life stories that would otherwise be lost with time, loss of generations and their abundance of connections. I though would disagree that relationships can be predictive, especially in the changing times we live in now. Lifestyle is radically different. Perhaps it is not about predictability but about the action, what evolves from the interaction. Those moments of truths that will leave a lasting memory. We definitely live in a dynamic, complex social world made closer by technology. But more so now, than perhaps in the past is the ability to convey a story and make innate linkages as well external connections. Those six degrees of separation are closer than we think.

Friday…We’re havin a heat wave….

Kelpie Pool
Kelpie pool
Originally uploaded by bruiach1

It’s Friday, just another day of just another week in this heat. The grass is nothing but crunchy brown and the leaves are drooping, begging for water. Several of the small streams are dry and the small lakes are covered with algae; the water not inviting at all. And it stinks, and propagating enough mosquitoes to annoy us well into autumn.

I am glad I am not in city at this time. The heat bouncing off the buildings and clinging to the pavement; a steel desert of unbearable heat.

I long for that magical, cool pool of water to bathe my feet and refresh my mind. For now it is the oscillating fan on the floor, circulating the air in the office as I try to type up notes from a journal article. A few more hours and then I can turn back to some fun and the fantasy in my mind. Enjoy the poem….from my book of poetry, A moment, A breath, a beat in time

After the city lights
The crash and grind
Shattering nerves, crushing skin
Wanting to drive past the noise
Breaking out of the bitter vacuum
To the open wilderness
Into the sound of silence
That sharp bite of green
The calm of subtle light
Strip away the unwelcome shroud
Reveal the bare ass, naked
To feel alive
And breathe before I drown
Or driven mad
And into the calm, I drift