9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN07 Sociology of Culture

2009-09-05 13:30:00 2009-09-05 15:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 13:30 - 15:00 Cultural Policies, Planning and Impact Building II, C4.07

The Re-creation of Coimbra┬┤s Touristic Imagery: a Process Based on Its Centuries-Old University as the Motor of Urban Tourism

Drawing largely on a recent research project, this paper explores the ongoing process of re-creation of Coimbra?s touristic imagery based on its cultural history.
Coimbra is the Portuguese University City par excellence. Its centuries-old university is the city?s premier historical resource, and is currently being submitted for inclusion in UNESCO?s World Heritage List. This process is part of a broad-reaching strategy that aims to increase the city?s touristic appeal. After a few failed projects for the promotion of a brand image (?National Capital of Culture? and ?City of Healthcare?), the city has now turned to the World Heritage as an attempt to find an imposing new brand identity.
This paper discusses the building of political consensus regarding this central goal, forged both at local and at national levels. Shared also by the majority of local population, the centerpiece of this consensus is the conviction that the recognition of the University by UNESCO will increase local tourist demand and multiply current tourist flows, by turning it into a sort of place-myth. Although the success achieved in similar cases reinforces this conviction, the difficulties involved are not to be underestimated, and the high expectations placed on the UNESCO?s recognition as a redeeming solution can be problematic.
In a context of intense inter-city competition, this case involves the re-recreation and the promotion of city?s imagery based on the exclusive use of its history and memory. Although this strategy is not amongst the most cited in the literature on creative urban action, we believe the use of university?s history may lead to an effective touristic remapping of Coimbra.
However, Coimbra has a limited and disconnected pool of cultural attractions, as well as serious shortcomings and logistic problems. Thus, we argue that the city should lead a more consistent strategy, investing simultaneously in the touristic (re)valorization of its other resources, and promote the region?s assets and resources. As other studies show, only an integrated approach can lead to a sustainable touristic action and serve as a sound basis for a project that will otherwise be nothing but an unrealizable dream of city renewal.