The economic importance of creative industries is widely acknowledged, but their relationship with tourism has to date received little attention. The present research explores the role creative industry clusters play in the development of urban tourism, aiming to enrich debates on urban tourism, creative clusters and urban form. The research pays particular attention to the role of creative production in
the tourist experience, the characteristics of visitors to areas with a high concentration of creative industries, and the relationship between the urban form and tourism. In order to investigate these processes, four non-central London creative areas (Spitalfields, Hoxton/Shoreditch, London Fields and Deptford) were chosen as case studies.
A qualitative methodology based on face-to-face interviews and sketched mental maps was deemed the most appropriate to attain the research aims. A total of 132 face-to-face interviews with visitors were conducted in the four case studies. In addition, maps sketched by visitors provided a useful and new approach to the study of tourist experiences. Interviews with visitors and mental maps were supplemented with in-depth interviews with key informants such as local creative entrepreneurs. All interviews were transcribed, printed on paper and, together with mental maps, coded by hand according to themes and sub-themes.
The research findings highlight similarities and differences between the four areas, allowing reflection upon the ways in which creative clusters may facilitate the development of urban tourism. One of the consequences of the high concentration of creative industries appeared to be the attraction of a critical mass of visitors who are either employed in the creative industries themselves or are particularly interested in the arts or other creative products, such as fashion, design and architecture. In the case of creative professionals, their visit may also be closely related to their job, as they often visit creative areas in order to be up to date with the latest trends, or to soak up the creative atmosphere and be inspired for their own creativity. In addition, these cultural intermediaries often act as models of fashion and style, thus becoming a tourist attraction themselves. In this sense, tourism in creative areas can be seen as a form of co-creation, since consumers co-create the value that can be derived from the experience (White et al., 2009) and others represent an important aspect of the visitor experience. Following the analysis of qualitative evidence collected, five typologies of visitors to these areas were established: trendsetters, detached fashion critics, cool seekers, cultural browsers and accidental creative tourists. These types of visitors are characterised by different levels of interest in creative products and desire to be a pioneer (in discovering new trend or new places). Their varying perceptions of the areas’
qualities helped to develop a model which represents how different groups of visitors may perceive a creative area over time.
The idea of cool appeared as a key concept to understand the qualities which are valued and sought after in a creative area. Coolness emerged as a fundamental quality, linked to its bohemian character and to its distinction from mainstream cultural activities and tourist attractions. Perceived authenticity also appeared as an important asset in attracting visitors, who seemed to associate it with anything which did not appear as conceived or produced specifically for the visitor. Also the areas’ physical space emerged as an important factor in the visitor experience and in their appeal. In particular, the small size of the shops, the heterogeneity of urban environment and the presence of rundown buildings and public spaces contribute to the perception of authenticity, artiness and coolness, and thus to the area attractiveness. Everyday activities (e.g. grocery shops) are also important markers of authenticity, contributing to overseas and domestic tourists’ perception of these areas as ‘real London’ (Londoners by contrast see them as ‘unique’). The recommendations for tourism development policy in creative urban areas therefore call for a soft approach to planning, which would allow cultural diversity to thrive and keep independent businesses and everyday activities alive, and avoiding excessive theming and the creation of tourism bubbles.