In this sense, history not only offers perspective on the past, but it also reflects the cultural conditions of the present. Almost a century ago, sociological pioneer George Herbert Mead developed the theory of symbolic interactionism. This proposed that personal identity is defined and refined through an iterative process, in which we repeatedly compare and contrast ourselves against other people or objects.
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Mead argued that history was a key element of this process, because we compare ourselves and others in the present to ourselves and others in the past. The concept of heritage refers to objects, ideas or traditions that have been inherited from prior eras or ancestors. Although history and heritage are certainly related, they are not identical.
The geographer David Lowenthal argues that heritage involves a selective and subjective interpretation of past events consistent with the post-modernist view of history , which is operative in defining collective identity consistent with identity formation in symbolic interactionism.
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Heritage tourism involves travel to historic sites such as Stonehenge or collections of historical artifacts such as the British Museum. It also involves the creation and operation of these sites or collections. This represents a distinct specialization in the academic discipline of tourism, with a vast body of literature and its own publications, such as the Journal of Heritage Tourism. A common theme in this scholarship is the role of heritage in the process of defining and celebrating the collective identity of communities and nations. Lowenthal is cited frequently in this regard. Mead is usually absent, but such discussions build upon his pioneering work, by arguing that the past is integral to symbolic interactionism.
In other words, a society defines its identity partly through the interpretation of historical events and artifacts. An interesting variant of heritage tourism involves historical role playing. This phenomenon combines travel with the reenactment of historical events or periods, often including elaborate costumes and interpretive presentations.
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This may involve a formal performance for an external audience such as a reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg , a group activity for the internal consumption of participants such as the Jane Austen Regency Ball in Bath , or even a private moment of reflection by an individual such as a passenger aboard the Venice Simplon Orient Express.
A number of scholars in different disciplines, ranging from Russell Belk in marketing to Jerome de Groot in history, have argued that historical role playing behavior has complex motivations. At a simple level, participants are seeking amusement in a format that is more immersive and sensory than a book or movie. At a deeper level, participants may be escaping from their mundane everyday lives into a fantasy world that is more satisfying or stimulating, or engaging in mythological rituals that help define or reinforce their sense of personal or collective identity.
Brand heritage is an emerging topic within the marketing discipline, which suggests that the historical status of older companies or products may be explicitly linked to their brand identity and consumer appeal. Activities related to brand heritage include uncovering aspects of heritage through archival and consumer research, activating that heritage through product design and marketing communications, and protecting that heritage through stewardship and attention to continuity.
My own prior scholarship on brand heritage some of which was conducted in partnership with Stephen Greyser at Harvard Business School and John Balmer at Brunel University in London has explored these themes extensively. This has included development of a theoretical model that applies the conceptual work of Mead to corporate brands, in an attempt to explain why consumers might find heritage to be a compelling value proposition. The model published in Corporate Communications divides the concept of brand heritage into several theoretical components.
Innate heritage refers to the historical aspects of the brand itself, such as the personalities of founders or iconic product designs. These are symbols used to activate associations with the company in order to support differentiation through claims about pioneership, dependability, or expertise. In this sense, heritage is an element of brand identity. Projected heritage refers to a psychological phenomenon in which consumers project their own historical associations onto a company or its products.
The brand becomes an instrument of existential definition in a process of symbolic interaction. In other words, the brand is merely a prop, used by consumers to help define or refine their own personal identities.
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A key element in projected heritage is nostalgia, which involves positive or bittersweet memories about or longing for moments in the past. In mythical heritage, consumers use branding elements to activate fantasies about historical events or eras that were not actually experienced by the consumers themselves. These could be real historical references such as travel along Route 66 during the s or fictional references with historical aspects such as the Harry Potter series of films. Before moving onward, it is worth noting that heritage tourism and brand heritage are not only related theoretically, but they also can be found together in the world of hospitality.
As noted in one of my prior articles for Boston Hospitality Review , historic hotels are businesses with historic brands and also physical structures that can be visited. Historic hotels are often destinations in themselves for enthusiasts of business, social or architectural history. This also applies to other segments of the hospitality sector that have physical characteristics including restaurants, theme parks, and cruise lines.
watch Cunard is one of the oldest and most famous passenger transportation companies in the world. It was founded in by Samuel Cunard, who was a Canadian living in London. Cunard emerged as the leader on the transatlantic route and its brand eventually attained iconic status, representing the glamor and exclusivity of a golden age of adventure and affluence. Among the famous ships in its combined corporate lineage were Lusitania first voyage , Titanic , Queen Mary , and Queen Elizabeth The earlier ships were the transportation method of choice for European nobility and American millionaires, while the later vessels also had associations with Hollywood movie stars.
Prior to the jet age, ocean liners were the primary mode of transportation across the Atlantic Ocean. However, after regular transatlantic flights were introduced in , the passenger shipping industry declined precipitously. Cunard survived by reimagining itself as a leisure cruise line, with the newly built Queen Elizabeth 2 as its flagship.
Nonetheless, the financial health of the company continued to stagnate, as it faced strong competition from newer and more aggressive operators. The Cunard brand was eventually acquired by the American shipping conglomerate Carnival Cruise Line in Carnival was founded only two decades earlier as a discount cruise line serving the Caribbean, but grew quickly into a portfolio of cruise brands in various product categories and geographic markets.
Cunard would be its marquis brand in the luxury segment. Carnival chief executive Micky Arison was well aware of the historical status of the company and its ships, having immigrated to the United States as a child aboard a Cunard vessel. Cunard was subsequently repositioned on the basis of its heritage, to offer a retrospective consumer experience involving classic design and traditional shipboard activities.
The reconstituted Cunard company built the new ship Queen Mary 2 as an homage to the great Cunard and White Star liners of the past. In addition to its classic appearance, the ship was designed with the scale and functionality of an ocean liner from a prior era, capable of withstanding the punishing conditions of the North Atlantic and constituting the largest passenger vessel ever built at the time of its launching.
A few years later, the company built the smaller ships Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth the third Cunard vessel to bear this name to complete its fleet.
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Cunard continues to offer regularly scheduled transatlantic service, as it has every year since , and enjoys the distinction of being the only modern cruise line to do so. Originally the entire fleet served the route connecting Liverpool and Boston throughout the calendar year. Today the route between Southampton and New York is served primarily by Queen Mary 2 and only during the summer season.
The value proposition for passengers aboard any modern cruise ship, regardless of destination, is multidimensional. Guests are motivated by a combination of hedonistic desires indulging in gourmet dining or spa treatments , nautical interests observing shipboard operations or the open ocean , practical considerations inclusive pricing systems or reduced baggage handling across multiple destinations , and simple curiosity. The transatlantic crossing aboard Queen Mary 2 offers two additional benefits, which are unique in the cruise industry. The first is functional, specifically the ability to travel from the United States to Europe on a regularly scheduled basis, without flying on an airplane.
Although this is a determinant factor in the buying decision for passengers with aviophobia , this market segment is small and cannot generate the demand necessary to fill the gigantic ship on a weekly basis. The second benefit is mythological, specifically the opportunity to travel backward in time, albeit in the imagination.
Queen Mary 2 resembles an elaborate movie set or an immersive ride at a Disney theme park, designed to elicit associations with a particular historical period the age of steam power and a distinct national identity British. The cues intended to activate such associations are everywhere. The exterior is painted in classic livery with a black hull, a white superstructure, and a red smoke funnel. Historical displays can be found throughout the ship. These include multiple ship models and nautical oil paintings, as well as the original silver trophy presented by the people of Boston to Samuel Cunard upon the arrival of Britannia in These panels include historical narratives and reproductions of images from vintage photographs, advertisements, and brochures in a manner reminiscent of a museum.
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The historical approach also extends to shipboard activities and behavioral programming. During the day, passengers can play shuffleboard on the upper deck, attend lectures about topics such as the Battle of Waterloo, and experience afternoon tea served by waiters in white gloves. During the evening, they can indulge in gourmet meals, enjoy ballroom dancing, and attend formal balls given periodically on many voyages.
The ship has a dress code for public areas and formal attire is recommended during the evening, with tuxedo rentals available onboard. Passengers are even encouraged in the dress guidelines provided with the boarding packet to wear military medals with their formal attire. Related shore excursions have recently included a tour of Highclere Castle, the real country estate used to portray the fictional Downton Abbey. Although some of these historical elements are shared by other Cunard vessels, the transatlantic voyage aboard Queen Mary 2 has special status, both in the minds of guests with historical interests and in the marketing communications from Cunard.
Passengers must consciously opt into this anachronistic and inefficient form of travel, rather than follow the crowd in the default method of air travel. To prepare for this article, the author conducted informal discussions with consumers during field research aboard Cunard vessels. This included dozens of passengers, of all ages, in all classes of service, aboard two different vessels, during three different voyages including two transatlantic crossings, over the span of two decades.
Although the majority of passengers were American, many were also citizens of the United Kingdom or British Commonwealth countries. This yielded results that were both interesting and consistent.