Cultural sensitivity as a tool for sustainable tourism

Until lately, cultural sensitivity has been a little-used concept in tourism research and development although it is highly relevant in tourism settings where different cultures meet, collaborate and live together. It is needed for both hosts and guests and enhances the well-being of both. Here it is discussed from the point of view of tourism entrepreneurs who want to actively incorporate respect for local cultures in their business activities.

We usually associate vacation with passive pastime. It seems to look exactly like this: taking a nap, lying on the couch in front of the TV, «hanging out» on the phone, lying in the sun on the beach.

The basic premise of cultural sensitivity is that there are differences between cultures. In its simplest form, cultural sensitivity is one’s ability to sense cultural differences. Cultural sensitivity can also be understood as a way of relating to cultural differences, meaning a way of thinking and talking about cultural differences and of behaving towards them.

A culturally sensitive person recognizes that cultures are different and respects these differences. For example, in Finland, there are three indigenous Sámi cultures, North Sámi, Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi, and in Sweden, Norway and Russia, there are even more Sámi cultures. A culturally sensitive person understands that there are differences between these cultural groups and takes them into account in everything she or he does concerning the Sámi.

Stereotypes are an example of not recognizing and respecting cultural differences, making them an example of cultural insensitivity. For example, indigenous peoples are often marketed to tourists as primitive peoples living outside modernity and wearing colourful costumes – and tourists often expect to see this. On the other hand, there are tourists who do not want to see stereotypical images of local cultures. They want to have their stereotypes challenged and get to know the local cultures in other ways. They are an ideal target group for culturally sensitive tourism companies who want to break down stereotypical images of local cultures in their products and marketing communication.

Recognition of and respect for local worldviews, cultural values, beliefs and traditions are a vital aspect of culturally sensitive tourism. Local livelihoods and the use of local land and water are examples of issues that are often important to local people. They are part of the local culture. Cultural sensitivity means that, in tourism product development, the local culture and nature are not only resources but also something to which the products have to be adjusted. A culturally sensitive person cares about local people, their lives and their cultures. To respect local cultures is also to be interested in them and willing to learn more about them.

Culturally sensitive tourism should result in mutual understanding and cultural exchange, which help to promote equity within partnerships or relationships as well as to create shared values and benefits for all parties. It is an important constituent of culturally sustainable tourism.

Interested to learn more? Check the free self-study online course on cultural sensitivity in Arctic tourism and the website of the ARCTISEN project (Culturally sensitive tourism in the Arctic). You are also welcome to join the free webinar ‘Exploring the meanings and practices of cultural sensitivity in tourism’ which will take place next 29 April at 14-16 UTC (15-17 CET). Registration here: Meeting Registration – Zoom

SmartCulTour will participate in a webinar on Rural tourism and marketing

Rural Connections is a set of three webinars involving RURITAGE and a group of European rural projects. The main objective of this series is to exchange knowledge and best practices between EU projects working on different aspects related to rural development, with the view to support RURITAGE partners in the implementation of their rural regeneration action plans. On 12 April four projects will join on a free webinar to share knowledge on Rural Tourism & Marketing: SmartCultour project will present the tools being used to identify needs and good practices around developing sustainable cultural tourism on the local level; EUROPETOUR project will demonstrate the urgency for interdisciplinary cooperation and the importance of valorising the intellectual property rights; SPOT project will illustrate an ongoing collaboration with Regional DMO, local DMO and the local Tourist Observatory (LMR); and IMPACTOUR will demonstrate how cultural tourism is leading to sustainable economic and social development; present policies, governance and business models that are being used to promote cultural tourism as well as tools for cultural tourism impact assessment to foster and forecast impact of tourism strategies.

You can register for the webinar and watch live on Facebook!

Transforming Tourism for a sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive post COVID-19 world

SmartCulTour partner UNESCO Regional Bureau has contributed to the organization of the ongoing Peer Learning Roundtable Session 2-3: Transforming tourism for a sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive post COVID-19 world within the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the UNECE Region, which took place on 11 March 2021.

The tourism sector has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis has exposed the existing vulnerabilities of many tourism destinations. This peer learning session discussed how the crisis offers an opportunity for the transformation of the tourism sector with a focus on building more resilient and sustainable communities and businesses through innovation, circularity, digitalization, and partnerships.

Tourism is closely linked to several SDGs and its significance both in terms of potential and risks to sustainable development is high in many countries of the UNECE region. The sector is critically important for the world economy; in 2019 the sector accounted for some 330 million jobs worldwide, equivalent to one in 10 jobs globally. While tourism is directly reflected in the targets of three SDGs (8,12,14), it can contribute to all of them. For example, nature-based tourism contributes to reducing poverty (SDG1) and inequalities (SDG10) through employment and its value chain linkages in local economies; climate action (SDG13); biodiversity conservation and natural and cultural heritage (SDGs 11 and 15) – while providing livelihoods and empowerment for women, rural communities and indigenous peoples. The tourism sector has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis has exposed the existing vulnerabilities of many tourism destinations. In our world that continues to use natural resources unsustainably, the crisis offers an opportunity for transformation with a focus on building more resilient communities and businesses through innovation, circularity, digitalization, sustainability, and partnerships. The planning and monitoring of recovery and related investments by the public and private actors are critical in steering tourism models into sustainability and capturing opportunities for biodiversity conservation, climate action and circular economy. Coherence of policies, inter-sectoral coordination and cooperation of various actors are key to transforming tourism.

Here you have the full recording of the session:

Webinar to launch the book “Rethinking Cultural Tourism”

ATLAS Cultural Tourism Group and SmartCulTour are organising the launch of the book “Rethinking Cultural Tourism” by Greg Richards. The publication of the book represents a key moment of reflection after 30 years of research by the ATLAS Cultural Tourism Group. When this project was launched in 1991, culture and tourism were relative strangers – now they seem to be inseparable partners – both equally hard hit by the pandemic. The SmartCulTour Horizon 2020 project, of which this book is part, is also therefore searching for new concepts of cultural tourism for the future.

The book develops a new approach to cultural tourism, rethinking cultural tourism as a social practice, combining practice theory and interaction ritual theory, and explores how actors utilize their competences to shape meaning from cultural resources, and in doing so produce both intended and unintended outcomes. These outcomes in turn influence continued participation in the rituals of cultural tourism and the development of places and moments in which cultural tourism occurs. This novel practice approach stimulates a reappraisal of cultural tourism, in which traditional high culture attractions are supplemented by popular culture events, contemporary creativity and the consumption of everyday life through new styles of tourism, and new forms of delivery and management.

«Rethinking Cultural Tourism» will be published by Edward Elgar on April 28th, 2021. The celebrate the launch veterans of the ATLAS Cultural Tourism Project and SmartCulTour members are invited to reflect on the value and meaning of this book for academic and professional audiences. The implications of the book for the future research agenda of ATLAS will also be discussed.

The webinar will take place on Friday 21 May 2021 at 14.00 CET and speakers include the author of the book, Greg Richards (Breda University of Applied Sciences and SmartCulTour), Jan van der Borg (University of Leuven and SmartCulTour), Melanie Smith (ATLAS Cultural Tourism Group and TBC) and Carlos Fernandes (ATLAS Cultural Tourism Group):

14.00 Opening and Introduction
14.05 Overview of the book «Rethinking Cultural Tourism» by Greg Richards
14.30 Discussion of the book by invited guests:
>Jan van der Borg
>Carlos Fernandes
>Melanie Smith
15.00 Questions and open discussion with the audience

Participation is free and registration for the webinar is required; you have the details here: Rethinking Cultural Tourism

Inception Meeting to present the Living Lab of Huesca

On 4 March 2021 an online meeting was held to launch the Huesca Living Lab, one of the six Living Labs set up in Europe for the European project SmartCulTourfinanced by the European Commission in the framework of the H2020 Programme. The aim of the Living Labs is to encourage networking between stakeholders of the territory in the tourist sector to generate and identify good practices and innovative solutions for sustainable cultural tourism that can be exchanged with other European regions. To quote Raúl Compés, Director of CIHEAM Zaragoza: “This European project, in particular the Living Lab of Huesca, poses a good example of how to apply the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to the land of Aragon”. Compés also pointed out that SmartCulTour will facilitate the exchange of innovative tourist strategies between different European countries and share examples of Huesca’s good practices in cultural tourism. The meeting was organized by CIHEAM Zaragoza, coordinator of the Living Lab, and was held online with 35 experts in sustainable cultural tourism and cultural and rural development. It presented the main objectives and the Living Lab concept, characterized by a participatory approach that enables stakeholders to play an active role in the development of their Living Labs.

Following the presentation, Fernando Blasco, manager of TuHuesca and direct collaborator with the SmartCulTour project, provided contextual information about the tourist sector in the province of Huesca, pointing out the challenges faced as a result of the current pandemic. The Living Lab of Utsjoki (Finland) also presented their work, giving an idea of the international component of SmartCulTour.

Each Living Lab is set up as a practical community made up of local experts and a wide range of sectors and stakeholders in the field of tourism. The Living Labs have been chosen based on criteria of geographical relevance and representativity of different models of sustainable tourism.  During the project, each Living Lab will implement, test and assess new forms of managing sustainable cultural tourism by identifying and replicating good practices in the sector, through serious games, arts-based methods, services and social design techniques to improve collaboration between the culture sector and the tourist industry to develop a capacity-building process. The other Living Labs are situated in Rotterdam (Holland), Scheldeland (Flanders, Belgium), Utsjoki (Lapland, Finland),  Split (Croatia) and Vicenza (Italy).

SmartCulTour featured in the Culture and Public Policy Tracker

This month’s issue  of the Culture and Public Policy Tracker is dedicated to Cultural Tourism, how cultural tourism has grown to be a powerhouse for sustainable development, and what countries are doing to harness their cultural assets through tourism. This issue examines some of the major challenges, risks and opportunities for cultural tourism development, and what steps governments are taking to transition to more sustainable models of tourism development – today and in the post-COVID-19 context. Besides, SmartCulTour project is featured in the section related to «Regional Perspectives – Europe and North America».

The monthly online Culture and Public Policy Tracker aims to monitor the role of culture in public policy, including in the broader context of delivering on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Tracker builds on the ministerial dialogues launched in the framework of the Forum of Ministers of Culture, as well as the Culture & Covid-19: Impact and Response Tracker whose aim was to serve as a reactive monitoring tool to capture trends and measures at cultural policy level in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide.  

You can read the article here: Cultural Tourism

Lapland Living Lab inception meeting

The inception meeting of the Lapland Living Lab was held on 12 February in Holiday Village Valle in Utsjoki with 8 on-site participants and 4 online participants. The meeting started with an introduction to the SmartCulTour project. Followed by this, UNESCO gave a presentation about their role in the project, which is to provide their own expertise in the development of sustainable cultural tourism to fit local needs in Utsjoki and other living labs of the project.

The participants wished to hear from UNESCO about how they have developed sustainable cultural tourism in the rest of the world, for example in tourism companies in other countries. These will be discussed in the future meetings.

Taking a participatory approach, we engaged the participants in discussing the development of sustainable cultural tourism using a number of design activities. A SWOT matrix was used to present the identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the tourism development in the Utsjoki living lab. We were able to identify the main needs for developing cultural tourism in Utsjoki.

The participants shared some existing good practices around the development of sustainable cultural tourism. A tree tool was used to evoke creative thinking on the opportunities and imagination of sustainable cultural tourism for the future of Utsjoki.

The participants saw the need to develop cultural tourism in Utsjoki, as it would bring new content to the municipality’s tourism and would not be as seasonal as nature-based tourism. We were able to discover the main needs and problems, for example, tourists don’t have enough information about existing services in Utsjoki, how to act in natural surroundings, how to dress appropriately, etc. The participants highlighted that one of the possible solutions would be an App that can gather all the necessary information about Utsjoki in the same place. That would make it easier for tourists to access the information.

The municipality of Utsjoki to launch EU funded H2020 Sustainable Cultural Tourism Living Lab on 12th February 2021

On 12th February 2021, the municipality of Utsjoki will launch a European Living Lab on Sustainable Cultural Tourism. The Utsjoki Living Lab (LL) will be one of six Living Labs across the Europe Union funded by the H2020 research programme – SmartCulTour. A number of issues of concern to the local cultural tourism community will be discussed during this first meeting, including the impact of COVID-19 on the local cultural and tourism industry and how to re-build the local tourism economy over the coming years.
Each of the six Living Labs have been chosen owing to their geographical relevance and to represent a variety of different forms of sustainable tourism. During the project, each LL will implement, test and evaluate novel ways of managing sustainable cultural tourism development through experiments, serious games, arts-based methods, service or social design techniques to enhance collaboration between the cultural sector and the tourism industry, in order to facilitate a process of capacity building. The other five SmartCulTour Living Labs are located in Rotterdam, Scheldeland in Flanders-Belgium, Utsjoki in Lapland-Finland, Huesca in Spain, Split in Croatia and Vicenza in Italy.
To be held hybridly by the University of Lapland, the LL of Utsjoki will bring together over Utsjoki local (and national) experts in sustainable tourism, regional development and culture.

For further information:
Please contact: Hong, Li,, +358444744335.
SmartCulTour Living Labs:
H2020 SmartCulTour project:
SmartCulTour Brochure:

Deliverable 2.2 – Future of cultural tourism for urban and regional destinations

The main objective of this Deliverable is to sketch what the future of cultural tourism could look like.

Cultural tourism was until recently so popular that it became a threat to host cities like Dubrovnik, Venice and Barcelona, but it has heavily been affected by the disruption caused by COVID-19, despite having shown a strong resilience during earlier (almost) equally massive disruptive events like 9/11, the tsunami in South East Asia of 2004, or the economic crisis of 2008.

Looking towards the future of cultural tourism destination, the challenge is now to develop cultural tourism in a way that ensures an effective ‘community resilience’ and, at the same time, contributes to long-term sustainable development and heritage protection. This is particularly important in an increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) environment. While the term VUCA originates from the military, it well describes the peculiarity of our present times, already before this world pandemic. To survive in such environment, cultural tourism destinations and cultural tourism operators have to better develop their abilities to deal with disruptive changes and unexpected situations and become more aligned with local interests.

This makes even more difficult to predict the future of tourism. Any speculation about the future of cultural tourism, any attempt to outline hypotheses about the evolution of cultural tourism destinations, is confronted with the speed and the complexity of changes happening in the current world. What happens in a country, in a region, in a city, often has significant consequences for individuals, economic operators and institutions located in other places.

Globalisation processes, experience and creative economy, digital technology evolution and changing perspectives on sustainable development have been identified as macro-trends that have been contributing to shape cultural tourism. Based on their influence on relevant cultural tourism stakeholders (such as cultural tourism demand, supply and governance actors), four possible scenarios have been sketched, identifying four different typologies of future cultural tourism.

The four typologies of future cultural tourism are described presenting the opportunities of each scenario, but also mentioning what the possible risks of a specific type of evolution are. The overall picture shows the urgency to redefine what constitutes success in cultural tourism, shifting from growth in the number of tourists to more sustainable objectives connected to the SDGs, the quality of cultural experiences, the quality of life and liveability of a destination, for both tourists and the local residents.

You can read the full report here: Deliverable 2.2

A digital response system to mitigate overtourism. The case of Dubrovnik

A research article has just been published in the Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, authored by Nicola Camatti, Dario Bertocchi, Hrvoje Carić and Jan van der Borg, partner of SmartCulTour Project.

The article titled “A digital response system to mitigate overtourism. The case of Dubrovnik” provides an in-depth analysis of this correlation through the case study of Dubrovnik. The study applies a TCC calculation model that is able to quantitatively include the main effects of overtourism. The paper illustrates how these results can be used to automate specific decongestion policies by conceptualising a digital response system for real-time intervention to mitigate the undesirable effects of overtourism.

The article can be accessed here