The Notting Hill Carnival

1 January 2017

The events industry has become an essential part of our culture today as Bowdin et al (2006, p. 4) noted when he sated, ‘since the dawn of times, human beings have found ways to mark important events in their lives. Today, events are central to our culture as perhaps never before’. As a consequence countries are increasingly looking for ways to highlight their advantages in order to produce a variety of social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits that, in turn, reflect the area.

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Heritage and cultural tourism is a fast growing sector within the tourism industry with a rise in the number of tourists who look for culture, history and interaction with local people (Hollinshead, 1993). The multifaceted nature of urban tourism and the use of heritage and cultural events as a vehicle for its production, are both difficult when describing and interpreting them (Laws, 1998). Therefore the aim of this report is to address the implications and changes to the heritage and culture tourist industry and how this has impacted upon the execution of cultural events, especially the Notting Hill Carnival in London.

Heritage and Cultural Events Major events can be an advantageous way with which to position a destination and all that it represents, promoting it to the world stage. It has been suggested that destinations have become a place product, with Selby (2004) indicating that cultural events are able to improve and create unique place products, a concept that is both attractive to the consumer and the producers. Major events around the world have been used as a means to raise destination image, boost their cultural offerings and benefitting the economy.

The Liverpool European Capital of Culture attracted 9. 7 million additional visits to the area, generating ? 753. 8 million to the economy. It is estimated 2. 6 million European and global visits were motivated by the Liverpool Capital of Culture in 2009, with 97% of these being first time visits to the city (Garcia et al, 2008). However with economic benefits of these kinds, it has resulted in cultural and heritage tourism becoming more competitive and the events industry has witnessed destinations developing a more strategic approach when delivery these kind of events.

The Notting Hill Carnival Within various countries the cultural strategy for urban tourism is the same, in that it is a growth factor in boosting the culture of the area and spreading tourist activity within the region (Richards, 1996). A city which has utilised this approach is London by using events as a catalyst for bringing the diverse cultures of the area together and enhancing the tourists experience within the city.

Established events, such as the Notting Hill Carnival have acted as channels to reach London’s ever diverse communities, improving social capital and engagement, also benefiting the economy with the carnival bringing ? 93 million to the area over its 3 day weekend (Festival and Events International, 2012). Benji B of Radio 1 comments on what the carnival means by stating that the ‘Notting Hill Carnival offers a reflection of what it is to be a Londoner’ (Benji B, 2011).

From these comments it suggests that the public identify with the ethos of the carnival and its place within mainstream culture. A theory which Bowdin et al (2011, p. 153) seemed to agree upon when noting, ‘the carnival has become more than just an event, it has become a way of life’. The origins of the carnival can be seen as being purely cultural with the carnival stemming from freed slaves in the Caribbean, make musical instruments out of materials they have around them, as any other instruments were banned by the British and the French.

Originating in 1964, the carnival is regarded the largest festival in Europe and is only 2nd in the world to the Rio de Janeiro Festival (The Notting Hill Carnival, 2012). The objectives of the event were to portray Caribbean people in a positive light, ‘uplifting the Caribbean community, build upon the new found sense of unity and begin the process of healing’ (Greater London Authority, 2004).

However it was suggested by Alleyne- Dettmeers (1996, p. 1) that this has been forgotten as she stated, ‘It is often forgotten that carnival at Notting Hill and those mirrored in other parts of Britain, is based on a historically and culturally-specific model, borne out of an unfortunate, yet relevant historical context: i. e. European expansion, colonization and slavery in the Caribbean islands, especially Trinidad and Tobago’.

The use of cultural tourism as a mechanism for promoting areas, has come under scrutiny in recent times due to the loss of authenticity, commoditisation and romanticization, factors which will be discussed theoretically and in the context of the Notting Hill Carnival further. The Commodified Event Increased competition, within the industry, has resulted in cities adopting brand strategies and participating in destination marketing (Evans, 2003) however it has been suggested that by branding events, events have become a reproduction of others and have actually lost the competitive advantage they possessed before (Harvey, 1989).

It has been discussed that places are becoming areas of consumption rather than production, a theory which was furthered by Richards (1995) who suggested that processes of serial reproduction may impact upon the city in the long term as events lose their competitive advantage, which they intended to enhance in the first place. It has been suggested that the Notting Hill Carnival has become a brand. The carnival organisers looked to rebuild its reputation in 2004 after a murder and violence during the carnival, with the objectives being, ‘to reposition the carnival as a cultural outdoor festival that is open to all, rather than a street party.

To build the carnival as a viable brand and support the search for credible sponsors’ (Hill, 2004). However in turning the carnival into a brand, it has become susceptible to commercialization, losing the cultural identity it possessed previously. It has been discussed that the carnival is losing its identity and ‘Caribbean flavour’ in becoming more contemporary with the presence of British black culture (Jasper, 2001). The emphasis has been on the culture of places being the reflection of its uniqueness and distinctiveness.

There has become more attempts to identify an areas cultural or heritage properties, which will set it aside from other places. Richards (1996) proposed that culture had become a product and not that of a process. A theory which Urry (1995) agreed with when he noticed the impact of commodification of a place, where the area becomes the product, that can be packaged, presented and sold, something which is at threat of happening at the Notting Hill Carnival. The tensions between the commercialisation and the authenticity of the carnival have been questioned due to funding issues within the management.

Unlike the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, which is thought to be the only carnival in the world to have official sponsors such as, You tube who broadcasted the event to the wider audience who could not attend (Woodroofe, 2012). Steve Pasca (2011), current carnival chair, noted that the carnival was ‘forced into a position to exploit commercialisation’. However Michael La Rosa (2011), a media expert, stated ‘there’s nothing wrong with entering the main stream, its what you enter the main stream with, is it authentic or is it something that is diluted’.

It has been implied that the marketing of the Notting Hill Carnival is a romanticised view, an event that is uplifting and joyful as not to remind people of its true past. A former chair of the carnival committee, Ansel Wang (2011) implied that the masquerade tradition had in fact just become an event to dress up in different clothing and enjoy a street party. The European Centre for Traditional and Regional Cultures considered events to be one of the highlights of cultural tourism (Richards, 1996) however such events are at risk of losing their authenticity due to commodification.

Mordue (1999, p. 631) noted that places could become ‘centres of spectacle and tourist consumption rather than places of material production’. While Wang (2000) proposed that commodified cultural events lack authentic experiences and that globalization has contributed to the modified production of cultural tourism for the purpose of the visitors.

An early definition of commodified events was given by Greenwood (1989, p. 178) when he noted they were, “a public show to be performed for outsiders who, because of their economic importance in the town, had the right to see it” (p. 78). Bruner (2005, p. 5) expanded upon this when he suggested “what is presented in tourism is new culture constructed specifically for a tourists audience”. Cultural identities are something that are developed over sustained periods of time. The development of media and the effect of globalisation are given as the reason why communities are losing their cultural identities. Clair Holder (2011), former carnival chair, believed that the carnival was a,’ part of national culture, national identity’. Place Image

The use of place image, whether organic or induced, is an essential part of a successful destination image being portrayed to the tourist. Place image can reflect the shared meanings and values of the area as its ‘currency of cultures’ as Morgan and Pritchard (1998 cited in Burns, 2010, p. 99) labelled it. Hall (1992, p. 14) further added to this when stating, ‘it is apparent that major events can have the effect of shaping an image of the host community or country, leading to its favourable perception as a potential travel destination’.

The Notting Hill Carnival aims to enhance the image of the city, especially in recent times as London witnessed violence and rioting, which was seen across the world due to extensive media exposure. Clary Salandry interviewed for the Guardian, post London riots, commented that the ‘carnival will show what our good kids do’ (Muir, 2011). Events can act as a catalyst in aiding a perception that a city is a nice place to visit and they intend to fulfil visitor experiences, making them stay longer in a specific destination (Getz, 1991).

By identifying the value of events in adding to the image of places and attracting tourists, it has indicated why cities compete for tourism in order to develop communities (Haider et al, 1993). The problem occurs when the event becomes detached from the original objectives, with these being fewer links to the locals ideas and identity, which may develop because of an increased image which is not similar to the objectives of the event (Pollard, 2004). Within the context of heritage and cultural tourism, place promotion produces issues and complications within communities.

The first issue is what is usable to the area to promote and the second is more political, in what message is going to be selected and conveyed. The decisions on what elements of the area are to be promoted can cause tensions within areas as some events are selected while others are not and questions begin to mount about why these events or locations were not promoted (Wright, 1985, Lowenthal, 1998). Ancil Barclay (2011), one of the co-directors of the carnival who quit in 2011, suggested that the carnival did not receive the same support as similar London events.

He stated, ‘it is still seen as just a Caribbean event and just not taken seriously’. However according to a strategic report delivered for the Mayor of London at the time in 2004 gave a strong suggestion about the future of the carnival, ‘It is a major world-class event that should be supported both politically and financially’ (Greater London Authority, 2004). The lack of economic support has resulted in smaller commercial sponsors taking up floats for advertising during the parade a clear sign of how the event has been modified from its origins(Jasper, 2001).

In the past it has been lead to believe that a places heritage and culture is the driving force for the economy however this has been exaggerated according to Graham, Ashworth and Tunbridge (2000). Such has resulted in investors from outside of the community, coming into the area looking to develop it. A term which has been used to describe these types of investors is cultrepreneurs, with a definition of their purpose being, ‘culturepreneurs promote highly professionalized events, in order to strength cultural and creative sectors within the urban sectors’ (Hagoort et al, 2012, p. 17).

It is clear that the Notting Hill Carnival is a huge cultural event, in both its size and its contribution to the economy. However it has managed to continue as an independent event and even though the future of funding towards to event seems unclear it should be agreed that such issues have not diluted the carnival completely in its traditions in representing the black community. It would seem that as the event is not official funding and has not obtained an official sponsor, the carnival board have control over its output.

The event has clearly had to develop as the scale of the carnival has increased and over the years such has been witnessed, however it can be credited with the success in addressing racism and integrating the diverse cultures within London. Now a large tourist event, the event would be seen to be retaining its cultural creditability and authenticity however the future of the event could be likely to become more commodified with the sale of intellectual media exposure.

It would seem from this report that it is difficult for major events like the Notting Hill Carnival to maintain there cultural and heritage traditions when events of there kind are looked upon as having a vast economic input to the area. However it would seem that the local authorities do not support the event by not offering funding that will maintain its origins and cultural background. This could have manifested from the violence that has been publicised at the event, which has meant the authorities do not want to be directly backing the event and promoting the place image in this way.

The event has changed over its history and although it has clearly been commodified, it has been unnoticeable unlike if there was major financial support that would develop the event a huge amount in commercial terms.

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