International Festival of Masquerade Games Surova (Bulgaria, Pernik Region)

#3 Pernik, in central-western Bulgaria, is a post-industrial town facing issues of rapid depopulation due to unemployment and lack of opportunities. Despite not being a famous tourist destination, Pernik is well-known for the International Festival of Masquerade Games, the most important event in the region. It takes place every year on the last weekend of January. Nowadays, more than 100 groups from Bulgaria and other countries, with more than 6000 (up to 9000) masked performers take part in the Festival, while national and foreign media actively cover the events. Each edition attracts approximately 250,000-300,000 visitors. It lasts three days and its core attraction consists of the parade of masquerade groups along the roads of the city centre which, ultimately, culminates in the main square where the stage is set up. Today, the Festival can be considered an umbrella intervention, encompassing both cultural tourism interventions and interventions that, instead, mainly target the local community. For instance, during the month of January, museums, art galleries, and cultural community centres usually put on exhibitions related to the Surova tradition. Here, the local community has an essential and active role in the organization of the Festival-related events and takes action voluntarily to support the organization. Local businesses are also involved. Some of them are willing to make financial donations and give their support to strengthen the event and cooperate in its development. In addition, since 2015, the NGO “Local Heritage” has been working in the field of heritage conservation with the aim to support the Festival through communication and dissemination activities. For instance, in 2019, the same association organized workshops to make traditional Survakari masks and created an interactive website to present the masquerade tradition and the Survakari identity. Of course, the overall intervention had a huge impact on the territory. The arrival of approximately 300,000 visitors generates a positive economic impact and, at the same time, enhances socialization among people from different social, professional, and age groups, strengthening social cohesion. In particular, the Festival offers the opportunity to become more acquainted with the cultural specificities of different regions, contributing to intercultural dialogue. There might also be, to some extent, an impact on socio-demographic trends, due to the increasing number of foreigners settling down in the villages around Pernik, attracted by the Festival and the local cultural heritage. Finally, although the Festival has to improve its strategic vision to preserve the sustainability of the entire event, the constant passion, commitment, and resources invested by local administrative entities and cultural institutions have been decisive for the socio-economic benefits generated by the Festival. Their actions have certainly been inspired by the peculiar participatory approach that allows for a continuous flow of inputs from the local community.

City Museum Lier (Belgium, Kempen Region)

#2 Lier is a small town located in a mainly rural region in north-eastern Belgium, in the province of Antwerp. Although it is characterized by a huge potential of historic and cultural heritage, Lier is too small to compete with the cultural centres nearby, or with other tourist players in the region. Moreover, many of the local cultural organizations active in the area have been working just locally, addressing the local community and remaining unknown to tourists from outside. The question raised at the start of this intervention was precisely what role Lier, as a small town, could play culturally. In this regard, the main objective of the intervention was to create a new museum for the town (merging the two that already existed) and, through a bottom-up approach, to select a more authentic characterization of the museum’s cultural offer. In 2015, the board of the (already existing) museums asked the citizens what, in their opinion, was typical of Lier. The survey received more than 1,000 replies. The important findings showed that what most characterized the town were the historic buildings, the atmosphere of the city, and it’s being quiet and green. For this reason, soon after such a great response, an open call selected 30 locals to form the new local community steering committee in order to process and fine-tune all the answers, lead recommendations, and act as museum ambassadors. The impact of the intervention was mostly socio-cultural and the best results concerned the achievement of a greater awareness of the local tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Locals recognized the change that occurred and, consequently, they became more responsible for the museum that they felt as theirs own and for the unique local culture it contained. The entire process has benefitted from the people’s involvement. The participation, engagement, and support of the local community have been crucial for the development of Lier’s tourism.

Historic Villages of Portugal (Beira Interior)

#1The first intervention will take place in the Historic Villages of Portugal in the region of Beira Interior. The area is facing several socio-economic challenges such as declining populations mainly due to a lack of opportunities for locals, especially the younger generations. At the same time, the richly diverse landscape and the quality of the wine-making tradition attract tourists both in winter and in summer, moved by their curiosity to admire a magical snowy or sunny landscape while sipping a glass of good wine. For this reason, tourism could be an important strategy to tackle the issues that have been undermining the area. The chosen intervention was designed by a conglomerate partnership composed of the Federal Government of Portugal, the local region, municipalities, and private agencies, all supported by the funding of the European Union. The initial basic aim was to restore ancient villages and promote heritage tourism in Beira Interior. Subsequently, the project was extended, embracing a more comprehensive strategy to generate more revenues and opportunities for residents through cultural tourism and mitigate depopulation. During the first stage of the project, the implementation followed a more top-down-directed approach which seriously lacked co-creation mechanisms to involve residents in the decision-making process. Consequently, a critical review of the intervention led to a more inclusive approach, recognizing locals as active partners of the initiative. The overall intervention achieved important objectives. First, the tangible heritage was successfully restored and preserved. The quality and diversity of investments in the renovation of historical buildings and revitalization of the villages have had a huge impact on the visibility and notoriety of historic villages and the entire Beira Interior region. Besides, the cultural promotion effect strongly increased the sense of belonging and pride in the community. Also, the contribution to socio-economic development improved living conditions and opportunities for residents. Since 2005, local tourist offices have recorded almost continuous growth in the number of annual tourists which, at the same time, created new jobs, especially in the sector of rural tourism, gastronomy, handcrafts, local products, and tourist entertainment. Although the initial top-down phase did not consider (enough) the needs, constraints, and specificities of the local community, a more inclusive decision-making process will make every intervention more effective.

Historic Village of Portugal, Almeida (Beira Interior)

Cultural Interventions in Europe

Eighteen Cultural Tourism interventions in Europe

A variety of governance settings as well as business investments and ONG planning are aimed at implementing bottom-up initiatives involving local communities in the managing of cultural tourism and destinations. Each intervention contributes to the sociocultural, environmental, and/or economic performance of a destination, and to the dissemination of good practices and experiences to generate even better impacts. For this reason, SmartCulTour identified eighteen Cultural Tourism interventions which were subsequently inserted in a unique Portfolio of Cultural Tourism Interventions to increase their visibility as crucial sources of inspiration for upcoming initiatives. In keeping with their essential purpose, each initiative has been placed in one of five categories:

  • To protect, restore, safeguard and promote;
  • To develop and innovate;
  • To interpret, understand, and disseminate;
  • To involve and connect;
  • To manage and influence.

Read them above 👆🏽 

15th ECTN Conference in Krk, Croatia

From 19 to 22 October 2022, SmartCulTour will present and be a key protagonist of the 15th Conference for Cultural Tourism in Europe. The event will be held in Krk, Croatia, on the Adriatic Sea. The annual theme chosen by the ECT Network is about the relaunch of European Tourism through “Cultural Heritage” and the opportunities offered by the technological advancements of “Digitalisation”. Indeed, SmartCulTour’s findings and studies strongly believe that heritage and culture, as drivers for sustainable tourism, can work side by side in a complementary relationship with innovation, digitalisation, creativity, and tourism product development. The European Cultural Tourism Network “ECTN”, as well as SmartCulTour people, is willing to disseminate and improve sustainable cultural tourism by sharing experiences and encountering different European supporting practices. Finally, at the end of the Conference, the ECTN will award the Prize for “Destination of Sustainable Cultural Tourism 2022”, a special occasion to discover new experiences, research, and practices about tourism.

Exploring Scheldeland during international exchange visits

From 20 to 22 June, the Scheldeland Living Lab received representatives of the living labs of Huesca and Utsjoki as part of the SmartCulTour project. These exchange visits form part of the SmartCulTour goals of knowledge dissemination, cross-border collaboration and the sharing of best practices in sustainable cultural tourism development.

Together with local stakeholders of Scheldeland, Griet Geudens of Visit Flanders and Vanessa Ágata de Abreu Santos and Bart Neuts of KU Leuven welcomed the visitors and guided them around the three partner municipalities of Bornem, Puurs-Sint-Amands and Dendermonde, focusing on particular cultural heritage venues, key natural resources and slow transportation modes that serve as a connector of potential network nodes. The living lab managers and other delegates got to visit these sites and carried out brainstorming sessions to look at opportunities, potential and possible thresholds.

After a challenging arrival due to a security personnel strike at Brussels Airport and subsequent rerouting of flights, on Tuesday 21 June a full day was scheduled. After an introduction to the Scheldeland Living Lab and an ice breaker exercise between the participants, an electric bicycle tour took the visitors via multiple points of interest in Puurs-Sint-Amands and Bornem. Via the bicycle tour, the delegates were introduced to the extensive cycling node network in Flanders. First stop was the Fortress of Liezele, a fortification built in 1908 and now housing multiple recreational and tourist attractions in and around the fortress such as a B&B, an escape room, a museum, an ice skating pond (in winter), a barefeet walking path and various walking routes. Next, the group cycled to castle D’Ursel, built in 1761 and now serving primarily as an event location, and its castle park and further via the Scheldt dykes to the Notelaer, a beautiful pavilion in neoclassical style with a magnificent view on the river Scheldt and also originally belonging to the duke of D’Ursel. In summertime, temporary accommodation is offered at the pavilion in the form of five tree-hung tents.

From there, visitors made their way to the castle of Marnix de Sainte-Alegonde. While the location had been home to fortifications and castle-structures since the 10th to 11th century, the current castle is a romanticized rendition from the end of the 19th century. Closeby, the abbey of Bornem has been renovated and redeveloped to house a museum collection and offer both residential accommodation as event areas, with the immaculate library being a particular highlight of the tour.

After lunch, the group cycled to the village centre of Sint-Amands, on the Scheldt bank. Here they were introduced to the development plans of the village, and its central focus on both the tidal nature of the river and the artistic heritage of Sint-Amands, visible by both its link to historic writers and by some creative architecture in the village centre. From there, the bicycles were loaded onto a wagon of the steam train Puurs-Dendermonde and representatives got to ride on the renovated carriages and visit the steam locomotives and other carriages that are being restored and operated fully by volunteers. Participants were given an introduction to the organization and its working and participated in an exercise to map the sensory experiences of the trip.

On Wednesday 22 June, the representatives visited the city of Dendermonde where they received a guided tour and introduction to the legend of the horse of Bayard which is central to a procession being held every ten years, as well as some notable heritage sites such as the meat halls, the cloth halls (nowadays the city hall of Dendermonde), the justice palace and the beguinage, and the Dendermondse painting school. Afterwards Vanessa Ágata de Abreu Santos ran a workshop inviting the participants to conduct an emotions mapping exercise as part of a cultural mapping methodology.

El Living Lab de Huesca celebra su 4ª reunión

La 4ª reunión del Living Lab de Huesca, que se celebró ayer 13 de junio, tuvo como objetivo identificar oportunidades de innovación en el sector turístico; idear soluciones/servicios turísticos sostenibles aplicables al territorio de Huesca; construir prototipos de soluciones/servicios turísticos sostenibles y sentar las bases de una futura «Estrategia de Desarrollo Turístico Sostenible para el Territorio de Huesca».

La sesión se dividió en dos grupos de trabajo y se estructuró en dos fases. En primer lugar, los participantes identificaron y definieron áreas de oportunidad concretas para diseñar servicios turísticos sostenibles y basados en las personas, a través de diferentes técnicas de creatividad para idear soluciones en función de las áreas de oportunidad. Después, los grupos transformaron estas ideas en conceptos de servicio y prototiparon los conceptos para compartirlos y evaluarlos junto con los demás grupos. Finalmente, debatieron sobre las necesidades comunes para implementar los conceptos de servicio en la futura «Estrategia de Desarrollo Turístico Sostenible del Territorio de Huesca».

Como resultado de la sesión, se propusieron dos iniciativas: una centrada en un divertido modelo de fin de semana de naturaleza en familia y otra en una relajante experiencia gastronómica con los niños. Ambas se seguirán desarrollando en futuras reuniones del Living Lab.

SmartCulTour celebrates the Sustainable Gastronomy Day with a recipe book

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN General Assembly work to facilitate the observance of Sustainable Gastronomy Day, in collaboration with Member States, UN organizations and other international and regional bodies, as well as civil society, to observe the Day in raising public awareness of its contribution to sustainable development.

The UN General Assembly adopted on 21 December 2016 its resolution A/RES/71/246 and designated 18 June as an international observance, Sustainable Gastronomy Day.

The decision acknowledges gastronomy as a cultural expression related to the natural and cultural diversity of the world. As the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding across the globe, sustainable gastronomy – celebrating seasonal ingredients and producers, preserving wildlife as well as our culinary traditions – is today more relevant than ever.

As stated by the UNWTO, gastronomy is about much more than food. It reflects the culture, heritage, traditions and sense of community of different peoples. It is a way of promoting understanding among different cultures, and of bringing people and traditions closer together. Gastronomy tourism is also emerging as an important protector of cultural heritage, and the sector helps create opportunities, including jobs, most notably in rural destinations.

In SmartCulTour we wanted to pay a very special tribute to our local culinary traditions and have put together a booklet including recipes from the 6 Living Labs in the project: Huesca (Spain), Rotterdam (The Netherlands), Scheldeland (Belgium), Split (Croatia), Utsjoki (Finland) and Vicenza (Italy).

4th Huesca Living Lab meeting

The 4th Huesca Living Lab meeting, which took place on 13th June aimed to identify opportunities for innovation in the tourism sector; devise sustainable tourist solutions/services applicable to the territory of Huesca; build prototypes of sustainable tourist solutions/services and lay the foundations for a future «Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy for the Territory of Huesca».

The session was divided into two working groups and was structured in two phases. First, the participants identified and defined concrete areas of opportunity to design sustainable, people-based tourism services through different creativity techniques to devise solutions according to the areas of opportunity. Later, the groups transformed ideas into service concepts and built prototypes of concepts to share and assess together with the other groups. Finally, they discussed common needs for implementing service concepts in the future «Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy for the Territory of Huesca».

As a result of the session, two initiatives were proposed: one focused on a fun family nature weekend model and the other on a relaxing gastronomic experience with the kids. Both will be further developed in future Living Lab meetings.

International visitors in Rotterdam

From 1 to 3 June, the Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Rotterdam received an international visit! Representatives of the living labs from Split and Vicenza visited our city as part of the European project SmartCulTour. Within SmartCultour the sustainable development of cultural tourism is central. This development takes place in six European living labs and the Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Rotterdam is one of them.

Exchange

The exchange of knowledge and experience takes place between the living labs in Rotterdam, Split and Vicenza. Between 11 and 13 May the programme manager of the living lab Iris and Joël Ferdinandus of Rotterdam Partners visited the region and the city of Split. Curious about their visit? Read more about their experiences here. Each of the visits focuses on a different theme related to cultural tourism. In Rotterdam the focus was on placemaking, monitoring and benchmarking. The living lab managers and other delegates carried out assignments around these themes and, of course, held various discussions.

To the coast!

On Thursday 2 June, a full day was scheduled. First of all, a visit was paid to the Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Rotterdam, located in Rotterdam South. The lab managers and stakeholders visited the different lab spaces and had the opportunity to ask questions about the ins and outs of the lab. Subsequently, the neighbourhood was introduced using the place exploration & sense making map by colleague Roos Gerritsma. This map gives users who do not have much background information about an area a better idea of it. With the help of questions that stimulate the senses and various assignments, users can form an image and even make recommendations about what should change in a neighbourhood or area in order to get a movement going.

After a morning in Rotterdam Zuid, the participants took the brand-new Hoekse metro line to Hoek van Holland. Hoek van Holland is one of the areas the Rotterdam lab focuses on during SmartCulTour. This coastal area is located 32 km from the centre of Rotterdam but is part of the municipality. After a delicious Dutch lunch, the participants were given a short introduction about the area and the current research by lector Ko Koens, researcher Annemarie van Klaveren and social designer Siobhan Burger. Using the place exploration & sense making map in Hoek van Holland, a better picture was painted of which challenges still exist in this area and ways of monitoring visitors and visitors to this area in a creative and qualitative manner were proposed.

Green & Creativity in Bospolder-Tussendijken

On Friday 3 June, the day will start in a completely different district of Rotterdam, namely Bospolder-Tussendijken. This is also one of the areas that the Rotterdam lab focused on within the framework of SmartCulTour. As a resident of the district, Joël Ferdinandus gave an extensive tour of the district, which borders on the historic Delfshaven district that already attracts many visitors. During the tour, the participants saw that BoTu has a lot to offer: diverse cultural offerings, food and drink from a hundred different countries, greenery and activity. After the tour, the participants discussed the challenges in the district and how this area can attract more cultural tourists in the future.

Valuable knowledge

The exchange has provided many new insights into the field of cultural tourism, visitor management, city marketing and hospitality. These insights will be included in the projects and collaborations that the Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Rotterdam is running.