General

CultPlatform_21. The Danube Culture Platform

#13th Cultural Tourism Intervention:

The Danube is the second longest river in Europe, after the Volga River. It flows westwards through Central and Southeastern Europe and flows into the Black Sea after 2,829 km in the border area of Romania and Ukraine via the Danube Delta. Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade are located on the Danube. Thus, this long river traverses more countries and landscapes than any other river in Europe and, as an important axis of transport and travel, it connects various cultural and economic areas. For this reason, an intervention centred on the Danube’s networks needs to comprehend several cultural areas and different countries. Those involved are Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Luxembourg.

The aim of the CultPlatform21 intervention is to “work against forgetting and to create awareness of cultural diversity and history in the Danube region”. In fact, in the course of history, the Danube area has experienced a chequered past resulting in a culturally and historically rich but fragmented history. The (im)material cultural heritage is the (in)visible testimony to this and, as a non-renewable and irreplaceable resource. It forms people’s collective memory. Accordingly, the project is dedicated to the hidden, forgotten, invisible cultural heritage of the Danube region. The aim was to create a large platform for culture and tourism in the Danube area and initiate the development of some form of cultural tourism in an innovative way in order to involve and connect communities, organizations and tourists within the region. It sees hidden heritage as an interdisciplinary field contributing to the development of new cultural narratives. Eight pilot projects to create spaces of remembrance have been developed and implemented. Three used digital and technological methods, four were more artistic and creative interventions and one applied both tools. Among the main activities we highlight the (a) innovative strategy proposal for cultural routes and the creation of a Policy Learning Platform as a network for stakeholders; (b) the discovery of hidden heritage along the Danube, making the invisible visible through artistic and technological (3D applications) pilot projects; (c) contributing to narrate historic places and events in a contemporary innovative manner. More importantly, the core of the project is the Policy Learning Platform, a cultural policy network of the project partners that well represents the cooperative behaviour between culture and tourism.

The main issue was to discover places of history, find old and new stories to tell and develop artistic and technological pilot projects for descriptive mediation and support existing cultural routes by developing contemporary aspects. The overall intervention had a duration of 2.5 years (from 2017 to 2019). The Federal Chancellery of Austria, the Arts and Culture Division lead the project and the other nineteen partners (from eight countries within the Danube area) developed cooperation on culture and tourism. It was included in the Interreg European Strategy for the Danube Transnational Programme. The ideas that have been generated and tested during the project’s activity showed huge potential in the existing routes along the Danube. It had a positive impact on the local community. The intervention demonstrates that sustainable cultural tourism development requires collaboration and partnership between a variety of stakeholders from both culture and tourism. Working separately leads to missed opportunities and a waste of resources. Through the development of the Policy Learning Platform, CultPlatform21 showed how such a missing framework could be generated. Nevertheless, the project showed the beneficial outcomes of using art-based methods, such as storytelling, for interpreting cultural heritage and connecting it to people.

Ontourage (Flanders, Belgium)

#12 The chosen cultural tourism intervention involved seven heritage venues in the Belgian region of Flanders; each of them was selected due to their important cultural heritage. Some of them have a more tourism-related profile and are well connected to tourism markets (being a castle, fort, towers, etc.) while others do not (e.g. stations). The chosen venues where the events took place are Saint-Rombold’s Tower (Mechelen), Central Station (Antwerp), Fort Napoleon (Ostend), Saint Peters’ Abbey (Ghent), Gaasbeek Castle (Brussels), Liege-Guillemins Station (Liege), ZLDR Luchtfabriek (Zolder). For this reason, such a structural disparity leads the intervention to be achieved through multiple modalities. For example, the stations of Antwerp and Liege-Guillemins, while being impressive architectural buildings, and well-photographed and appreciated, have mainly a public transport function and not tourism-related. On the contrary, Fort Napoleon and Saint-Rombold’s Tower are actively managed by municipal tourist organizations, with a clear link between culture and tourism.

The intervention arose first as a passion project of the three central stakeholders: the Dj Nico Morano, interested in increasing his community/reputation further, the “CityCubes” experiential marketing agency, interested in building a portfolio of innovative marketing initiatives, and the “Arrowminded” project by Jeroen Bryon, a consulting business for heritage locations. They were all interested in expanding their network among cultural heritage venues and establishing a proof-of-concept for attracting younger people to local heritage. Since those three initiators are commercial enterprises, the main objectives were not necessarily linked to the disinterested development of cultural heritage sites. The focus of the cultural programme had a more commercial purpose. Indeed, the overall initiatives, if examined in the long-term, contributed to attracting younger people to the heritage attractions without renouncing a more business-minded strategy. The intervention consists of free Dj-sets played at selected heritage locations for a (randomly) selected group of people. The performances were captured via camera operators and were live-streamed, providing valuable footage for marketing purposes. The core of the intervention was very much aimed at marketing and branding. Accordingly, during the intervention, they provided high-quality live streams and after-movies that were promotionally used to shine a different light on the destination and its heritage.

The initiators agree on considering the initiative a success based on their initial objectives. From a heritage destination standpoint, Ontourage was considered successful for its novel way of connecting cultural heritage with younger generations, attracting the attention of national media. Another success factor was the driving passion of the initiators that, together with their complementary skills and expertise, make the intervention accessible and community-serving. Indeed, larger funding opportunities and a more long-term-oriented vision and strategy could strengthen the potential impacts of the artistic events. In the current case study, private businesses base their own existence on developing connections with people. Therefore, when it comes to connecting people to cultural heritage, it is possible to identify interventions where private businesses pursue their own interests and, intentionally or not, also play a role in getting people closer to a cultural heritage that would otherwise not be accessible or not even considered by specific groups of people. In the case of Ontourage, this happened unintentionally. Each cultural destination with an innovative designed intervention might create new opportunities for the community.

Second sub-regional SmartCulTour Workshop in Krk, Croatia on 20 October

From October 19th 2022 to October 22nd 2022 Krk, Croatia, was the host of the 15th International Conference for Cultural Tourism in Europe, organized by the European Cultural Tourism Network (ECTN) around the topic “Relaunching European Tourism through Cultural Heritage & Digitalisation”. Within the framework of this conference, on Thursday October 20th the SmartCulTour consortium organized its second sub-regional workshop on the tools and methods developed within the Horizon 2020 programme to support stakeholder engagement and community-supported development of cultural tourism initiatives.

Bart Neuts of KU Leuven presented the design process crafting stages and the double-diamond design model, Jessika Weber of Breda University of Applied Sciences gave a presentation on the SmartCulTour Game, Simone Moretti, also of Breda University of Applied Sciences, presented the dynamic House of Quality for supporting decision-making. Finally Blanka Šimundić of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Tourism of the University of Split, presented the process of indicator selection and impact measurement in order to measure and monitor the sustainability of cultural tourism.

was presented live and also streamed online by the organizers and was framed within other sessions organized by colleague Horizon-projects IMPACTOUR and ReInHerit. As such, the SmartCulTour tools and methods could be discussed within wider academic achievements of European research projects and useful synergies were created with other participants. The public included many important professional networks such as the European Travel Commission, Europa Nostra, the European Association of Archaeologists, interpret Europe, Europeana, the Centre for Industrial Heritage, representatives of the European Commission and a number of academics from various institutions.

The Pakruojis Synagogue (Lithuania)

#11 Pakruojis is a small town in the north of Lithuania, mostly known for Pakruojis Manor and the Pakruojis Synagogue, two buildings with strong cultural and artistic importance. Although nowadays there is no Jewish community, in 1710 Jews settled in the town and for a long time they contributed to the economy and social life, becoming part of the village’s heritage. In particular, the Lithuanian Jewish Community owned the synagogue building but they left it abandoned and unsafe. After some years of talks, the building was sold to the municipality with a 99-year lease under only one condition; that it should not be used for business and only for cultural purposes. The acquisition of the property enabled the municipality to invest in the renovation of the building and create a full cultural design inside. The main motivation was to combat antisemitism and preserve Lithuanian Jewish cultural heritage for the next generations, making it more accessible to the public at the same time. After the building restoration, the municipality organized sessions with the local community to include them in the design of the new cultural offer: to combat antisemitism, restore heritage, increase the number of visitors, and address social problems by providing education and cultural opportunities. Several benefits came about. Firstly, although no specific study had been conducted previously, there seemed to be certain economic benefits for local entrepreneurs, such as restaurants and fast food outlets due to the increasing number of visitors. Moreover, thanks to this intervention from the Pakruojis municipality, the history of an extinct community has been recovered with the restoration of the building. The synagogue has become a place for education, aggregation and cultural encounter and now plays a crucial role in the socio-cultural development of the local community. The availability of financial resources granted by the EEA Norway Grant has been fundamental for the final result. In fact, preserving and restoring tangible cultural heritage is not only about renovating a building. It is about interpreting the complex socio-cultural values that a place carries from the past and giving them new functions in contemporary society, possibly balancing its value between the local community good and its potential as a tourism resource.

The “Crazy Guide” of Nowa Huta (Krakow, Poland)

#10 Nowa Huta is a district of Krakow, created in the 1950s as a utopian socialist city. After the change of the political system in 1989, the town experienced unemployment, poverty, and socio-economic struggles with a communist heritage weighing on the social cohesion and dividing those inclined to reject and forget the communist past and those willing to value it. Today, with its unique architecture, Nowa Huta is the most populous district in Krakow and is home to 250,000 residents. The current intervention was initiated by a local entrepreneur in 2004. He got the idea of providing historical tours in Nowa Huta generating new tourism experiences from the communist past. He established a local tour agency called “Crazy Guides” aimed at offering alternative tourism experiences. By exploring the local environment, the Crazy Guides narrate ironically everyday life during the communist past, combining education, entertainment and experiences of iconic stereotypes, such as driving an old Trabant (an East German vehicle reminiscent of the communist period), eating cucumbers, drinking vodka or attending a communist disco. Nowadays, the entrepreneurial challenge has 11 employees, mainly young locals who are working as guides. Several small-business owners have been supporting the tourism strategy by adapting their own products to the historical identity of the place and/or providing the same atmosphere of “the old days”. Over time, its success triggered other entrepreneurs that started offering similar products for the city. Anyone interested can easily access the agency’s website (https://www.crazyguides.com/) and read more about the different selections of the available tour programmes, the presentation of the team and the story of the agency, the several testimonials from all over the world with coverage of international media. One of the important resources of this intervention is the distinct human capital of the guides. Their personal involvement and performance give exceptional character to the tours. The overall impact of the intervention is huge. It has managed to create a profitable product and job opportunities for young locals, boosting economic revitalization through tourism. Moreover, the initiative promotes the conservation of cultural heritage and manages to find an appropriate interpretation of a dissonant local heritage that is causing friction and divisions among residents. Cultural tourism interventions based on edutainment (which combines education and entertainment) supported by appropriate storytelling skills and narrative techniques – as demonstrated here – configure a possible solution for the interpretation of discordant and divisive heritage. They might even help to heal profound fractures within a community.

International Living Lab exchange in Huesca

From 26 to 27 October 2022 the international Living Lab exchange took place in Huesca. During the two days, the participants discovered the Aragonese province of Huesca with a specific focus on its cultural and sustainable tourism strategies aimed at promoting its rural landscapes and economies, the eno-gastronomic identity and all the best practices that are contributing to the development of the territory. Participants were accompanied by key actors from the regional tourism sector. Accordingly, representatives of regional tourism agencies as well as local mayors and private companies guided the activities towards the Province’s most peculiar tourism strategies.

Soon after becoming acquainted with Alquézar and its history of courageous revenge against phenomena of depopulation and isolation, the participants experienced the historical and cultural heritage of the centennial local olive varieties preserved in Buera. Likewise, the Alquézar walkways in the Vero River Canyon (Cañón del Río Vero) and the routes that reveal the Neolithic rock paintings, demonstrate how accessibility and protection could work hand in hand to define innovative strategies that do not diminish a destination’s intrinsic value of sustainability. Finally, participants learnt the entrepreneurial ideas of the “Ruta del Vino Somontano”, and heard more about the local eno-gastronomic identity. The latter, when properly communicated and valued, demonstrates the strong influence of the relationship between tourists and the territory.

All the activities have been coordinated to drive the progress of SmartCulTour forward. Each best practice proposed by the Living Lab exchange has been crucial to share innovative local examples that return new visions and knowledge to the international participants.

We thank you CIHEAM Zaragoza and TuHuesca (Turismo Provincia Huesca) for the event coordination.

Migrantour

#9 The first steps of Migrantour took place in Turin, a city in the north-west of Italy with a long history of migration and industrial production. Then, through different stages, Migrantour grew into a network that involves several European cities in Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, France and Belgium. All of them are experiencing challenges in the sociocultural integration of migrants and most of the time, this led to neighbourhood segregation. Therefore, specific ethnic groups became marginalized together with their values and traditions. Even the sociocultural heritage of these groups of “new locals” is often neglected by a mainstream view that, in the best case, is associated to a stigma and considers these areas dangerous, unattractive, and populated by the disadvantaged. Consequently, the culture of these groups of residents is rarely valued by socioeconomic initiatives that bring real value to their living conditions and to their sociocultural recognition in society. The idea that tourism could play a positive role in changing this situation is not new and examples of “ethnic neighbourhoods” becoming tourist destinations are reported by literature (Aytar & Rath, 2012). Nevertheless, these experiences have sometimes been controversial as, besides concrete opportunities for migrants, they were also promoting forms of “folklorization” of cultural differences, reducing migration to an object of leisure consumption. A spontaneous initial encounter between an anthropological perspective and the entrepreneurial vision of a tour operator in responsible tourism (Viaggi Solidali) sparked the interest in experimenting with a new type of responsible tourism. The idea focused on discovering the culture of specific areas of the city while increasing the knowledge of how migrations and several generations of migrants contributed to the evolution of the city and specifically to the transformations of certain neighbourhoods. Along this path, Migrantour offers “intercultural walks” facilitated by a new figure, the “intercultural companion”, who is a local resident with a migrant background. Migrantour routes let participants explore themes and narratives representing the story of the migrations that have transformed the area over time and the contribution that different generations made in terms of enriching the tangible and intangible heritage of the city. After the first experience in Turin, the experiment was successfully replicated in a few other Italian cities. Then, the expansion continued thanks to the support received from other international projects, local associations and tour operators. The impact of the intervention is economic because it creates a number of part-time jobs and the consequent increase in the monthly income of intercultural companions. The training received also contributes to their professionalization, which might help in getting other jobs. It also has some impacts on the neighbourhoods, specifically on the small businesses that are involved in the itinerary of an intercultural walk. Finally, it is “dramatically” increasing the number of tourists visiting certain zones. More vigorous are the social impacts. Intercultural companions reported that through Migrantour they were able to achieve results in terms of professional growth, social integration, self-esteem and self-realization of their capabilities. Their professional path within Migrantour makes them active citizens, more participative and more involved in society. Migrantour fights stigmas. It promotes relational dynamics between migrants, visitors and native residents. It allows territories to narrate and express themselves. Having a bottom-up approach, both in terms of content and organisation, helps to ensure flexibility, adaptability and replicability of the intervention in different contexts and the successful creation of a network.

Bibliography: Volkan Aytar & Jan Rath, Selling Ethnic Neighborhoods: The Rise of Neighborhoods as Places of Leisure and Consumption, eds, Routledge, New York, 2012.

The Huesca Living Lab benefits from the UNESCO capacity-building workshop on “Rethinking Cultural Tourism at your Destination”

On 17 October 2022, within the framework of UNESCO’s capacity-building programme on sustainable cultural tourism destination management for the benefit of the SmartCulTour Living Labs. The Huesca LL met with Peter Debrine, Senior Consultant to UNESCO on Sustainable Tourism. The workshop was held at the “Diputación Provincial de Huesca”, with 15 participants from the Huesca tourism sector representing local tourism promotion agencies, government delegates, entrepreneurs and tourism and cultural operators.  

The event opened with welcoming remarks by Alun Jones, Head of the Project Office of CIHEAM Zaragoza, and Costanza Fidelbo, Assistant Project Officer at the Culture unit of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe (Venice, Italy).

Participants benefited from the comprehensive training on new approaches and strategies for sustainable tourism promotion. In particular, Peter Debrine provided insights into the Destination Management Approach and the integrated benefits deriving from its use, particularly when transversally embedded into cultural tourism interventions.

Participants co-designed innovative cultural tourism routes across the region through tailored storytelling, to boost local tourism promotion. As a result, the 3 groups presented different yet interconnected cultural tourism itineraries that illustrate the complexity of destination thinking as well as its potential positive impact.

It is evident from Post-COVID that tourists are continuously seeking authentic, sustainable experiences. Therefore, selecting and communicating the right messages are crucial to the strategic development of the entire sector and can help make a destination «desirable».

The workshop also supported participants in drafting a tourism promotion strategy inspired by the destination approach. This strategy incorporated unprecedented cultural narratives and innovative ways to communicate them through digital media and marketing.

Participants in the UNESCO capacity-building workshop have inspired and developed an entrepreneurial vision. Understanding how tourism can be more sustainable and strengthen ties between tourists, nature and local culture through their collective efforts.

We are grateful to Peter Debrine for such an enriching training opportunity. To UNESCO for tirelessly perpetuating its vital mission, including upholding sustainable forms of culture-based tourism and to all the participants.

Storytelling Festival – Alden-Biesen (Belgium)

#8 Alden-Biesen lies in the eastern part of Limburg, a province in Flanders (Belgium). The environment is mostly rural and peaceful, attracting walking visitors and bike tourists. The Castle of Alden-Biesel (Vertelkasteel) is part of the cultural heritage of the area. Although it was built in its current form between the 16th and the 18th century, the castle actually dates back to the 11th century. Unfortunately, because of its border location, Alden-Biesel and its castle cannot easily be reached from Flanders. Accessibility is also limited. There is a train station in Bilzen, but the castle site is about 3 km from the town. For this reason, the main objective of the intervention was to promote the castle and make it feel more familiar to visitors, with an exciting cultural programming in the rooms inside. The focus chosen was education, targeting primarily schools, from kindergarten through to secondary schools and adult education. The most important activity that the castle organizes and that has become its brand image is the annual International Storytelling Festival. The festival started in 1996 and has become one of the biggest multilingual storytelling festivals in Europe thanks to the promotion of storytelling as an art and technique. It includes two events per year, one in January (for kindergarten and primary schools) and one in April (for high schools and adult education). What is special about the event is the fact that it is a pure storytelling festival: it is about the narrative, the spoken word, and the transmission of the unique artistic tradition of storytelling. It also addresses foreign languages, becoming the biggest multilingual storytelling festival in Europe. Over the years the castle has become a creative hub where imaginative people can meet and share knowledge with an enthusiastic audience in a wonderful historical setting. The impact of the event’s promotion is huge. The festival receives 12,000 visitors per year. Each of them generates an economic return and similarly, the art promoted by the storytelling leads to a cultural development for the whole region. The only drawback is the limited involvement of the local community, which of course can be improved easily in future editions. The importance of the intervention is that it teaches how rural areas are often rich in extraordinary, hidden pieces of cultural heritage. When used coherently and respectfully, they can provide unique opportunities to innovate the cultural offer of a region and position it in a specific niche of cultural tourism, thus improving its specificity and attractions.

Strengthening Capacities for Tourism Changes in the Western Balkans (CULTURWB)

#7 The CULTURWB Project involves three Western Balkan (WB) countries: Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Despite being very rich in cultural heritage, none of these countries is realizing their cultural tourism potential. There is a lack of adequate institutional frameworks and cooperation among stakeholders. The cultural sector lacks knowledge in project management, marketing, finances and tourism, while the tourism sector lacks knowledge in culture and heritage management. For this reason, the inspiration behind CULTURWB comes from the well-recognized need identified by all project partners of the region: to strengthen the cultural tourism industry and create and improve strategies for the further development of cultural tourism in these countries. The key stakeholders for the intervention were universities, cultural sites and institutions, tourists, non-profit organizations, students, cultural and tourism entrepreneurs, and managers. In the first phase, universities develop a Lifelong Learning programme (LLL) aimed at the skill enhancement of professionals from the cultural sector and an interdisciplinary Master’s programme that consolidates the fields of tourism management and culture & heritage promotion. The LLL objective was to equip graduate students with specific qualifications. For this reason, the university educational proposal was built together with local actors already involved in the tourism sector which had suggested the most suitable theoretical and practical norms to address. In the second phase, they created the CULTURWEB internet platform that serves as a hub of communication for all the experts from the cultural and cultural tourism sectors of the whole WB region and elsewhere. The project lasted three years and still continues to bear fruit. It is still too early to make a comprehensive evaluation of the project’s impacts. Nevertheless, the expected results will provide meaningful insights. In fact, by enhancing human capital knowledge and skills, CULTURWB is expected to generate a significant indirect economic impact in the long term. Strengthening the skill-set of current/future professionals will also provide them with more opportunities in the future, improving their living conditions. In the long-term the project might also strengthen attitudes towards safeguarding cultural heritage, enabling a better valorization of cultural resources and an increased awareness of the local culture. Also worthy of mention are the financial resources granted by the Erasmus+ programme. The financing was fundamental to overcome the structural lack of communication and cooperation among stakeholders in the cultural and tourism sectors.