Here are some reviews of the books, as well as readers' reactions
Review in New Theatre Quarterly
"Employing the subversive techniques of live art and practice-as-research, the Handbook asks visitors to 'take back the power' and force open the contradictions constituted by heritage's packaging of the historical landscape.
...Crab Man provokes visitors to engage all their faculties, smelling, touching, moving, and listening to what heritage presents so as to identify with its gaps, errors and impossibilities and transgressing the false objectivity of place and space.
... offers a rhetorical as much as a practical attack on heritage's claim over the past"
"In its amusing and anarchic style, the book might, with some luck touch the imagination of other disaffected visitors ... perhaps entering the backpacks of heritage insurgents with no scholastic ambition"
"offers a cogent reminder of alternative modes of understanding that begin with action and end in new thought"
Read the full review at NTQ
Review by Phil Dickinson, Associate Chair and Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at Bowling Green State University
"Counter-Tourism is a fascinating and visually striking book, and speaks eloquently to Smith's twinned preoccupations with modernity's centripetal and centrifugal forces and his own relationship to the avant-garde's long and embattled history. These preoccupations are marked in the disrupted, disruptive contrast between the silky weightiness and smoothness of the Triarchy Press binding and the illustrations—all 170 of them, mostly in color, many of them sight gags (site gags?), all of them fancifully mapping a relationship to their associated text. This is the aesthetics of montage and juxtaposition writ large; image and type vie for attention and short discursive excursions on tactics, interventions and infiltration are given individual headings or, depending upon their objective, collective designations ("Picnic Hampered," "Stem Cells"). The resultant mixture of fragments, short polemics, aphoristic declarations, puns, and whimsically titled passages and paragraphs ("Edgy," "Flow," "Perspective," Pattern," "Shred," "Viewing Point," "Occult") are deployed in such a way that they threaten—almost—to terminally short-circuit the usual scholarly demand for a unitary "rational, domestic, sociological or accidental" explanation for the cultural and historical processes that Smith wants to foreground. But this is not a scholarly book, not at least in the usual sense of that term, although a casual reader shouldn't let the anecdotes, burlesque, photographs, reminiscences, puns, sight gags, and pranks that spill across the pages of this book deceive her; much like his avant-garde forebears, and with more than a little nod at the long, subversive history of British comedy, Smith's ideas may be wrapped in the pleasing, absurdist garb of pastiche and parody but he is always deadly serious. "We are in a war of meaning and memory," he reminds us (205). So make no mistake--Counter-Tourism is a knock-down, drag out affair, as white-knuckled a struggle with the dead weight of a reified past as you are likely to find.
Read the full review
Review in Museums Journal
How can you resist a book entitled Counter-Tourism, A handbook for those who want more from heritage sites than a tea shoppe and an old thing in a glass case?
...The guide is a gentle plea for us all, visitors and heritage professionals alike, not to take ourselves quite so seriously.
...The language is funny and irreverent - I even laughed out loud once or twice, not my usual reaction when reading books on museums or heritage.
...Heritage sites and museums that have the ability not to take themselves too seriously would do well to take on some of Crab Man's ideas, especially those on multiple meaning and injecting fun into visits. Evem better, they could stock the pocketbook in their shops and just let visitors get on with it."
Read the full review
Review in Third Way Magazine
Smith observed that visitors to historic houses most strongly respond to artifacts to which they feel they have family connections So he suggests this tactic for palaces: point at golden thrones, silver maces, full-sized billiards tables and stuffed alligators and shout loudly to each other, 'Your granny had one of those!' Or another personalised tactic for monuments: fall asleep and write a guidebook to the dreams you have there.
Read the full review
Review in the London Evening Standard
Give London’s sights some tourist terror
The jaded London tourist will have a lot of fun with the Counter-Tourism Handbook, a pamphlet born of frustration at blue plaques and overpriced flapjacks. Its author, who calls himself Crab-Man, hopes to “hypersensitise you to the gaps, incongruities and inadvertent poetics of old places”. Visit a garden centre as if it were a botanical garden, he advises. Visit gift shops as if they were museums (and vice versa, I’d add). Best of all: “Take the Heritage Industry at its word — BE Romans! Triumph over Evil! Be as overexcited as all the adverts invite you to be and THEN see how they cope with you!”
Worth a try.
Review at Goodreads
From an early age I’ve always been vaguely suspicious of information provided at heritage sights. Somehow they seemed a little too clean cut. It’s said that history is written by the winning side and like the arch artifice of television editing, a heritage centre or sight can tell you anything it likes. This is true in particular if those who run it have some sort of axe to grind or money to be spun.
But now the tourist strikes back. Counter Tourism The Handbook penned by Phil Smith AKA Crab Man is a mine of alternative ways of circumnavigating the heritage industry’s prescribed narratives and looking at building, spaces and areas themselves in a new light of your own creation.
Crab Man himself worked in the industry for a number of years so he is in a pole position to give incites into the strange way it works. One of the most outrageous things he encountered was when he was involved in a WW2 display and was asked not to mention Nazis or Jews in case it upset or insulted anyone! That strikes me as being rather like the National Marine Aquarium getting asked not to mention the sea.
Often times it seems like the most interesting things at a sight are the things not on the tour itself, the things you are not supposed to see. In one account Crab Man and a friend, whilst walking in the grounds of a castle, stumbled up on the spooky ruins of a US military hospital...
Another bugbear is the restrictions put on places that are supposed to exist for the recreation of the public. Bemoaning the restricted access to Stonehenge (oh how they danced) it suggested that the reader put up a box office at the faux stone circles that councils have a fad for erecting on roundabouts and charge for entrance, keeping the visitors well away from the stones of course.
The handbook is liberally peppered with top tips for the budding counter-tourist such as visiting historical sights in period costume but just acting normally...
The whole raison d'être of counter-tourism is a fight against the singular narratives about things and places in favour of multiple narratives the visitors bring themselves. The thing that is stressed the most is that it is the visit itself, not the actual place that is important. 10/10
Read the full review
Review at enfolding.org
"Here is a treat for anyone who has wandered round a historic site, bored by the expected and provided routes and interpretations. Counter-Tourism by Crab Man (Triarchy Press2012) is a challenge, an invitation and a license for the gentle naughtiness of doing the unexpected thing.
Walking through the rooms of some stately home at your own unpredictable speeds, seeing how much dust you can collect, wandering round the outside of a property….the principles embedded here are about independence, imagination and personal experience. A lot of these activities remind me of how young children get to know a place. They wander. They run or walk or just stop and look under beds and wonder about secrets, treasures and horrible hidden stories.
That sense of childish exploration is what makes these ideas interesting for me from a magical perspective. There are activities here that might help us step out of our own preconceptions of a site and meet it afresh. We might find new experiences that could shape words or ceremonies or suggest new places for meditations. Simply reviewing how we meet a site – whether it is one we know well or one we are encountering for a first time, there is an opportunity for improvisation, ideas to structure an intriguing walking meditation or to encourage a mindful awareness."
Read the full review/interview at enfolding.org
From a review at Art Officially Sweetened
Adamant that “beauty and heritage are far too important to be left to the heritage industry,” Crab Man (the books side-scuttling tour guide) sets about reinventing “heritage” through stripping the industry of its claim to neutrality and creating a new script that encourages subjectivity, controversy, and exploration. Crab Man does not allow the reader to interpret the book as: an academic essay on tourism, a political manifesto, or a simple handbook containing a clear chronology of definitive answers; instead he constantly shifts tone and subverts conventions. Sometimes Crab Man speaks with humour, sometimes anger, and even at times arousal, but he constantly inventive, inquisitive and inspiring.
To clarify, Crab Man is not against heritage; he is against how the tourist industry presents a dull and limited view of heritage through adhering to a standardised script. The result is that visitors become passive like emotionless zombies and Crab Man warns “if the past eats your brain, your vacant smile will be taken for customer satisfaction.” His less than affectionate term for heritage site management “morticians,” alludes to heritage museums as tombs, isolated from human activity, the artefact’s place of origin, and the engaging discourse heritage deserves. Instead we are encouraged to “save yourself the entrance fee,” particularly since he believes the main reason for heritage museum attendance is “oppressive obligation.”
Read the full review
Review from Creeping Toad
Here is a treat for anyone who has wandered round a historic site, bored by the expected and provided routes and interpretations. Counter-tourism is a challenge, an invitation and a license for the gentle naughtiness of doing the unexpected thing.
Read the full review
From Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (on Facebook):
“Counter-Tourism! Buy the book! Just think what we could do in Poland with this approach. I love Mytho Geography. A whole new take on the world. Always fresh. Counter-Tourism is one of their projects. Great way to shake loose entrenched forms of heritage tourism. What might this look like in Poland?”
A Costumed Interpreter writes
"I’ve been reading Counter Tourism The Handbook, and while I want to celebrate it, there are already some points which I disagree with. Its not surprising, Phil Smith is out to subvert “the Heritage Industry” and that is an industry that pays my salary so, you might think, I’m exactly the sort of person that should be offended. But I’m not offended, I’m disappointed.
Lets start with a positive. Take this from page 15:
“No matter how ‘counter’ you are being, you’re still some kind of tourist. For a long time the prevailing attitude was that ‘tourists’ were bad things. Passive dupes of a giant industry tramping over cultures they didn’t understand. “We are travellers, they are tourists.” But there is another opinion – that toursists are people who pick and choose what and how they experience, who mix and match things and their feelings about them, making up their own leisure and heritage as they go along. That for all the packaging (and the extreme and green alternatives), tourists are pilgrims, up for transforming themselves.”
This came at just the right moment when I was beginning to think, “this is fun but he he saying that most visitors are dupes, and only people like him really know how to visit places?” It reassured me that the handbook is exactly what it purports to be, a guide to getting more out your visit, for everyone."
Read the full review on Matthew Tyler-Jones's blog
Review from Richard Freeman on Goodreads
“From an early age I’ve been vaguely suspicious of information provided at heritage sites. Somehow they seemed a little too clean cut. It’s said that history is written by the winning side and like the arch artifice of television editing, a heritage centre or site can tell you anything it likes. This is true in particular if those who run it have some sort of axe to grind or money to be spun.
But now the tourist strikes back. Counter Tourism: The Handbook penned by Phil Smith AKA Crab Man is a mine of alternative ways of circumnavigating the heritage industry’s prescribed narratives and looking at building, spaces and areas themselves in a new light of your own creation.
Crab Man himself worked in the industry for a number of years so he is in a pole position to give insights into the strange way it works. One of the most outrageous things he encountered was when he was involved in a WW2 display and was asked not to mention Nazis or Jews in case it upset or insulted anyone! That strikes me as being rather like the National Marine Aquarium getting asked not to mention the sea.
...Another bugbear is the restrictions put on places that are supposed to exist for the recreation of the public. Bemoaning the restricted access to Stonehenge (oh how they danced) it is suggested that the reader put up a box office at the faux stone circles that councils have a fad for erecting on roundabouts and charge for entrance, keeping the visitors well away from the stones of course.
The Handbook is liberally peppered with top tips for the budding counter-tourist such as visiting historical sights in period costume but just acting normally or asking the tour guide if the ever used Wikipedia.
The whole raison d'être of counter-tourism is a fight against the singular narratives about things and places in favour of multiple narratives the visitors bring themselves. The thing that is stressed the most is that it is the visit itself, not the actual place that is important. 10/10”
Read the full review
And read the review of the PocketBook by the same reviewer
The cheeky little brother of Counter-Tourism The Handbook, this pocket book actually gives you 55 counter-tourist tricks to use on days out. It’s a cut to the case version of the larger book, possibly for kamikaze counter-tourists.
Here are some of the wonderful tips there in...
When you get home from a pre-historic sigh, make some new earthworks in your back garden.
Exchange a kiss with a statue.
Take the Heritage Industry at its word-BE Romans! HOP! STEP BACK in time! TRIUMPH OVER EVIL! Be as over-excited as the adverts invite you to be and THEN see how they cope with you!
Go with a friend. Wear sunglasses. Close your eyes, while your friend leads you round the site, whispering lies about what they see. Then swap roles.
Visit the gift shops as if they were the museums.
As well as tips the book also lists some of the outrageous things the Industry says about itself. Some of the best hyperbole includes...
“Speed boat trips. View History, Beauty & Wildlife at speeds of up to 60 mph”
“Hop on one leg in beautiful surroundings.”
“Our friendly team of butches...”
“Mediaeval jousts-as seen on TV”
The best however is to be found on the Counter-Tourism website
“Meet Gilbert the station master and his pet frog.”
Word has reached:
Alternative Walking and Trekking in Colombia
Review by Shirley Brown:
“1. everything about the concept of walking sideways makes me smile
2. I carry the perfectly-sized counter-tourism pocketbook in my handbag, and it inspires me wherever I am.
3. I love the way in which you have transformed interaction with the streets into continuous theatre by giving it a virtual proscenium arch/picture frame.”
Review by Lindsey Holmes for Insights (The Journal of IMTAL Europe -International Museum Theatre Alliance):
"Do you read the panels when you go into an exhibition? You know the ones; they are designed to be easy to read and understood and they set the context for the objects you're about to see. Well, I have a confession to make. I don't. Sometimes I feel a little bad about this; after all, someone's spent a good deal of time writing this stuff And sometimes I feel like I'm a rebel, that I'm breaking the mould - stand back world, I'm blazing a new path! But now I wonder if my zero tolerance policy on panels is in fact because I have always been a counter-tourist."
Read the full review/interview in Insights
Review at Creeping Toad:
"People explore places in their own ways and these books champion that independence.Counter-tourism offers visitors some sneaky alternatives to the often controlled and sanitised experiences we are offered at sites, inviting us to find our own ways of getting to know a place. And for all those professionals who reckon they've got their interpretation processes sussed, these books challenge us to explore sites in new ways, offering activities to shake conceptions a bit. "
Read the full review at Creeping Toad
So have a read, have a think, wander, try and do, use these activities or just relax into some new ones of your own – as an interpreter, as a visitor or simply as someone out to get to know this world we walk on.From Kellie Groft on Facebook
"I have this [pocket]book and love it. For people who desire to experience their surroundings on an alternate level. Practical, or sometimes quirky suggestions and ideas are given to heighten the experience of the life surfer. Beautiful art, photos, and illustrations."
From Nicolas Granger-Taylor (on Facebook):
“Counter-Tourism: The Handbook introduces a whole new way of approaching heritage sites and landscapes. London counter-tourists will find themselves led in procession through the fountains at Somerset House, walking a drovers’ road into the capital with a stuffed goose, studying snipers’ positions around Horse Guards Parade, or enjoying sites - such as Thomas Wilson’s Pyramid of Death near Primrose Hill - that never quite made it. Or they may just partake of a little dusting in Buckingham Palace. It’s tourism, Jim, but not as we know it.”
Review of The Pocketbook from Deep Fun:
“Counter-Tourism: 50 Odd Things to do in a Heritage Site (and other places) is a brilliantly playful guidebook for those who wish to depart from the far too beaten track and take themselves to happier places within. It’s the exact size that one would expect from a guidebook. It is artistically formatted, colorfully printed, glossily covered, and filled with enticingly vivid, oft humorous prose – precisely as one would hope were one looking for a finger-friendly pocket guide to accompany and inform one on a journey to and from somewhere of greater loveliness or richer past.
...This little book is a gateway to fun. It gives you license that you never thought you needed to enjoy your next vacation or museum visit or tour through a neighbor’s home. I mean, enjoy, have fun, find delight. It is a gift. A gift you should give to yourself, recommend to anyone who is about to tour something, suggest to every travel agent in your known universe.”
Read the full review by Bernie DeKoven - Deep Fun
Review of The Handbook from UCSHeritage:
"I have been much taken with the approach of Phil Smith (alias Crab Man) in the recently published ‘Counter Tourism: a handbook‘. I am brave enough to admit to a little academic jealousy here, as it is a book I rather wish I had written, as I have a habit of looking at sites the ‘wrong way’, or from angles that shouldn’t normally interest the visitor...
Smith approaches the visit to heritage sites in a creative response / reaction mode, against the management of visitors by site managers, which in many cases for operational management purposes are expected to conform within the relevant authorised heritage discourse...
An interesting and thoughtful exploration of the relationship between the advocates of the Crab Man approach and ‘managers’ of sites comes at the end of the handbook, and is great way into thinking about the interplay between site operational management and site interpretation and presentation."
Read the full review by: Ian Baxter - UCSHeritage
Review of The Handbook from Mysterious Planet:
Confronting the everyday with its own marvels
"After working at heritage sites for some years, Phil Smith came to feel that he had always been 'among ruins' there. No matter how well signed, interpreted or managed, or how conserved they might be, heritage sites were all 'places of waste, decay, remains, excretion, horror and disgrace, bodies from which life is gone (but whose death is hidden) and which are kept unnaturally propped up, their parts kept moving on a life-support machine long after their life has departed'.
Strong feelings, strong words. So performance artist Phil did something about it. He launched 'counter-tourism', a caustic concept involving a pun which implies the heritage industry inflicts a kind of institutionalised historical terrorism on the public. One can see what he means.
...The underlying strategy is to undermine the familiar forms of sanitised heritage tourism and have them re-enacted by visitors so as to enter the realm between how things are and how they might be, and realise hidden transformative potential. Essentially, tourists are pilgrims, up for transforming themselves in some way, says Phil. But visitor centres are just 'machines for the contraction, disguise, obscuring and hollowing out of the places they propose themselves as portals to'.
The Handbook... simply teems with piquant philosophical asides and tactics you can try – an inspiring cornucopia of the absurd which, as Carl Jung said, is one and the same as the highest truth.
Hijack heritage sites to make new meanings. Pick through the ruins, poke into corners, ask awkward questions. Intervene. Infiltrate. Confront the quotidian with its own marvels. Curve a cacophony of conventional tourism into a spiral of new perspectives and experiences. It's an exhilarating idea. One simply cannot do justice to it all in an article like this."
Read the full review by: Geoff Ward - Mysterious Planet
And this is a representative sample of the responses we got when we asked readers for their reactions to an early proof of the Pocketbook:
“Funny, original, subversive. I like the title with its satirical echo of the 'war on terror'. I like the surreal peremptory injunctions. A bit situationist? The book works on different levels. I think you could use some of the ideas in it to make a heritage site visit more interesting for bored children/ teenagers but there's also a subversive critique of how our history is interpreted and presented to us through the heritage industry.”
“Very playful and surprising, random.”
“Fun! Slightly whimsical?”
“I found myself laughing, smirking a lot, from the picture on the front page all the way through. I thought, ‘Yes, I would do that’ for some of the 50 points. Others, I'd be too embarrassed to do, but would enjoy seeing someone else do!”
“It's funny, especially the pictures.”
“Not worth publishing”
“I thought it was unusual and thought provoking.”
“Fifty years ago and more, I used to go to Stonehenge before the heritage industry fenced off the stones. Now I want to go to Lanhydrock (NT) in Cornwall with an understanding of why I don't want to go there.”
“It refreshed the muscle of my scepticism, which is vital in the body politic.”
“What a good idea.”
“It is stupid, and the visual form is too popular.”
“Really quite excited - I couldn't stop reading!”
“It’s warm, funny wry and naughty. Really enjoyed it.”
“What a wonderful and refreshing way at looking at things.”
“I like the directions to walk differently. So much of tourism is at the same brisk pace to a photo site, and then brisk walk to the next item to observe.”
“I particularly liked the ones involving romance and intrigue, imagining secret liaisons, etc.”
“I loved it all.”
“Brilliant - it made me laugh!”
“I want to give everyone I know a copy! Friends with young children are a must, but also people with a little bit of an adventurous spirit waiting to be let out. I'd also like to give a copy to my granddad as he'd love the slightly subversive nature of some of the acts.”
“I always appreciate ways to instigate a new way of engaging with the world, particularly those that would excite my children.”
“I like the way reading the book makes you question the face value of things and wonder what other meanings they might have intentionally or otherwise.”
“Psychogeographical subversion for the 21st century!”
“Loved it!! 2nd order cyberneticians would be proud of this take on our Heritage system. The book shouts loud and clear that this is our Heritage system so let's take it back. Especially timely, as this is the year of our dear queen's diamond jubilee.”
“I find this whole ethos of counter-tourism exciting and inspiring. Places (even modern ones) clearly have their own personalities and encouraging an individual, intimate relationship with those personalities is literally magic made directly accessible!”
“It took me back to my childhood and going for walks with my wonderful father who saw things differently and absurdly. Brilliant and refreshing.”
“Great little book, like nothing I've seen before. Funny and thought-provoking.”
“I didn't like the idea at all.
Buy a copy of Counter-Tourism: A Pocketbook
Buy a copy of Counter-Tourism: The Handbook
The Pocketbook and The Handbook