In the UK we know that the arts and theatre are a tourism driver. We grandly presume everyone speaks English and where they don’t our global tourism market manages to choose West End Shows or visual attractions which don’t require them to be native speakers of the language of our tiny island. We are also very lucky that when we go on holiday we expect to be, and usually are, understood by speaking out own language.
I was struck going round the World Travel Market at Excel in November how many Countries did not consider it a driver to talk up their contemporary live performance or theatre. When I go to a Country I will always try and find the local theatre, or to try and find a local creative hub where I can see or hear the arts. Yes I will go to the cathedral or museum or place of special historic interest, but a driver for me is the arts of the country. However I need help, because when I get there I may not understand the language of the work.
Last month I took a mini break with my daughter to Vilnius in Lithuania. I checked out the local Opera House and found, to my delight, that they had a zarzuela opera called Zarzuela which gathered some of the best of the Spanish operatta style from the 1910-30s and wove a boy meets girl, another boy meets girl, and a older man meets older woman old fashioned story to create a new work. Now I don’t speak Lithuanian and I don’t speak Spanish. I suspected there would be surtitles. The theatre found us two tickets and I settled down expecting to be watching a Spanish operetta with Lithuanian surtitles and understand very little.
I was delighted to open the programme and see that all the articles and synopsis were bilingual Lithuanian and English. And then even more welcoming was to see the surtitles ran in both Lithuanian and English. My daughter and I settled down to enjoy the young opera singers delivering this new work in an absolutely packed house.
2023 is Vilnius’s 700th anniversary and there are big celebrations planned. This beautiful City has had a dark Soviet past which is shared with visitors in the decision to turn the old Gestapo/KGB headquarters and prison into a study of the suffering and heroism of those who fought to refind the freedoms of the people from 1939 to 1991. The City is rich in wonderful churches and buildings which have been reawakened since 1991. There are an absolute mass of small art galleries and contemporary art shops. The main contemporary art gallery also interprets each painting with bilingual side notes. We felt welcomed everywhere and totally comfortable navigating this beautiful small City.
I was taught early on working in Estonia, and now visiting Lithuania, that whilst most adults have been forced to learn Russian during the occupation of their countries, no-one will want to speak this language. They don’t expect us to learn Estonian or Lithuanian, and English is the language they use to welcome tourists and anyone who wants to share the freedom and creativity of these re-awakening countries.
As I continue working with Saudi Arabia, and consult with Korea on K-Musicals and global export I am struck by three things:
- Those countries who embrace their contemporary live performing arts as a driver for business and tourism tap into a rich stream of potential visitors.
- Those who help us to understand our way around exhibitions and theatre performances with the use of English (and maybe in time Spanish and Mandarin) will be able to welcome a much broader audience to share in the experience.
- And the final step is for them to share this information on websites and guides, and ensure it is a key point for all travel trade and tourism partners to share with their clients at events like the World Travel Market.
Broadway has Susan Lee’s ShowTrans as a headset service across its major shows. It knows that the world goes to New York to see a show. Some theatres I have been to in Europe and Japan/Korea have as standard printed synopsis sheets of their long running shows for guests who may need them. Some, but not many, have websites which have full bilingual schedule and introduction information.
I hope, at next year’s World Travel Market, I will be able to find loads about the arts alongside ancient heritage and sport/scenery for many countries. I hope to find websites which help me as an English speaker to navigate the arts scene to find out what is playing in the local theatres and local language. It will enrich my interest in a Country and make me even more likely to visit and celebrate all that I find on my travels.
PS please always help me find the most unusual museum or place to visit – The Owl Museum in Tokyo, the Pencil Museum in Keswick, maybe the Whisky Bar in Vilnius or the tiny crypt museum below St Peter and Paul Cathedral, and of course Our Lord in the Attic in Amsterdam. I keep looking for out-of-the-way delights.