#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.
#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.
#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.