sustainability

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)

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.

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).

SmartCulTour celebrates the World Environment Day

World Environment Day on 5 June is the biggest international day for the environment. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and held annually since 1973, the event has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people from across the world engaging to protect the planet.

On this occasion, our colleagues from the Scheldeland Living Lab have prepared the following text:

The great poet Emile Verhaeren called it ‘Wild and beautiful river Schelde’. His grave monument can be found in Sint-Amands, one of the many places where our new festival STROOM will be held during its first edition. The river was a source of inspiration for him more than a hundred years ago, and the Schelde remains so today.

Water is the origin of all life on our planet. It has an unprecedented power that gives life, and in the case of the Schelde Valley, nourishes a magnificent nature reserve. But water can also be devastating, as we saw last summer in the east of our country.

The Schelde valley is the setting for the Sigmaplan, the water management plan to protect our regions from flooding. As such, it is at the center of the climate discussion, a discussion that cannot be held by scientists and politicians alone. To really turn the tide, a broad social movement is needed. The indispensable voice of the artists can be heard within this movement.

STROOM originated with the Ghent Festival of Flanders, a festival that has kept its finger on the pulse of society for 65 years. Once again, we are linking our broad view of the world to our own environment and tackling a relevant theme. The Schelde region is our dream biotope for this new project.

Together with Rivierpark Scheldevallei, we are unlocking the hidden pearl of open space where nature and heritage abound. We follow the meandering river Schelde between Ghent and Antwerp. The journey takes us past picturesque villages and magnificent castles, which are connected by beautiful walking and cycling paths. STROOM lets artists speak, in a unique symbiosis between nature, culture, heritage and tourism. Together with the public and numerous local partners, we look forward to a sustainable future for this area, for our country and for the planet.

Veerle Simoens (Artistic and General Manager)

Sophie Detremmerie (Festival manager)

Utjoski, Scheldeland and Huesca Living Labs share success stories of sustainable cultural tourism

On 24 and 25 May, Utjoski’s living lab hosted one of the six exchanges programmed between the LLs of the SmartCulTour project. On this occasion, the Huesca and Scheldeland living lab managers and main stakeholders visited Finland to learn the methodologies and see the interventions made by their Finnish counterparts first hand. This was a great opportunity to share unique experiences to enrich and improve the quality of tourist services in the project’s regions.

On the first day, one of the main stakeholders of the Utsjoki living lab gave their visitors a guided tour to see the cultural and tourist attractions of the area and learn more details, in particular about the Sami culture that the Utsjoki LL is focusing on in their analysis. In the afternoon, the group tested the Placemaking Method for the first time in the project. The method uses a working dynamics approach to favour connexion between tourists and their surroundings and enhance the services they demand and the experiences they enjoy at their tourist destinations.

The next day was devoted to a working session with some of the LL stakeholders, giving the Spanish and Belgian teams the chance to learn more about the work in Utsjoki and exchange opinions with the Finnish participants. They all took part in a working meeting focused on improving tourist proposals previously designed for the territory. They also examined the major results of the tourist survey to identify the strengths and weaknesses of Utsjoki as a sustainable cultural tourist destination.

Scheldeland will be hosting the next exchange in June later this month, followed by another exchange in Huesca in October 2022.

UNESCO kicks off capacity-building actions in the Split and Utsjoki Living Laboratories

As foreseen by its role as leader of WP6, UNESCO has kicked off capacity-building actions in two of the six SmartCulTour Living Labs (LLs): the Metropolitan city of Split and the Municipality of Utsjoki. The subject and programme of the actions were defined in close consultation with the LLs stakeholders, with a co-designing approach.

The Split Living Lab recognized living heritage as one of the resources for strengthening cultural tourism and active community participation. Accordingly, UNESCO and the University of Split (as the LL manager) organized a series of workshops aimed at building the capacities of local stakeholders in strengthening the ICH-tourism synergy, with special focus on “Community-based inventorying and awareness raising”, which were prepared and delivered by the UNESCO-trained facilitator Ms Tamara Nikolic Djeric.

The training programme was organised in a hybrid format and was divided into four parts. The first online theoretical workshop presented the Convention, its ethical principles and methods of participatory inventorying, seeking to answer the question on how to ethically identify and inventory local knowledge for the development of cultural tourism.

During the second in-presence workshop, the Split Living Lab continued the discussion on inventorying with a special focus on community participation. Based on the participants’ inventorying activities, two ICH elements (Sirnica-making and Opanci-making) and two communities (Solin and Sinj) were identified as pilot projects for the development of the awareness raising campaign as second part of the workshop.

The third online meeting offered participants the opportunity to work on messages that they would like to convey through different awareness raising campaigns. The concepts of pride, continuity and intergenerational relations were widely articulated.

On this basis, the pilot project members and Duje Kundić, a Split-based artist and video-maker, met for the fourth workshop. Prior to the field-work, a scenario was developed, and semi-structured interviews undertaken with community members during the first shooting. The connection between the young artist and more experienced members of the local communities were recognized as key to awareness raising. “Relying on the power of intergenerational transmission, we hope that the results of this awareness raising campaign will be evident in the next future”, said the participants.

In the Municipality of Utsjoki, which also features a strong living heritage component mostly linked to the local Sàmi community, Living Lab participants opted for a pilot capacity-building programme on UNESCO’s approach to sustainable cultural tourism destination management, with a focus on how to ensure that the tourism sector contributes to the sustainable safeguarding and promotion of ICH, thereby preventing over commercialization, misappropriation and decontextualization.

During the first online workshop, held on 26 April 2022, Mr Peter Debrine, former coordinator of the World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism programme, delivered two introductory sessions, focusing respectively on “Understanding Tourism at your Destination” and “Communicating with visitors and heritage interpretation”. The presentation focused on UNESCO’s approach to destination management as a way to secure benefits for communities, safeguard their living heritage and enhance its values. For this to be achieved, it is key to invest in storytelling, namely the idea of a destination and its community telling their own story.

The presentation was followed by a participated discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of Utsjoki as a cultural tourism destination. The Sàmi culture was identified as an attractor, even though the issues of misappropriation and misrepresentation were raised by several participants. What emerged from their voices is that the tourism offer is too often tailored on visitors’ expectations and demand, in a way that disregards the local communities’ will. This is the case, for instance, of husky rides and igloos, which are widely requested by visitors although not being part of the Sàmi culture. These frictions should be addressed through an active participation of the local community in policy discussions on how and what kind of tourism should be developed in the region.

Taking the moves from the results of the online workshop, a follow-up session with the Utsjoki Living Lab will be held on 25 May next, focusing on how to develop a strategy for progressive change and add value through products, experiences, and services, as well as on innovative ways to communicate with visitors, including through digital media, marketing and promotion tools.

Local community in Solin preparing the traditional Easter cake during field visit. Photo credit: Tamara Nikolic Deric
Local community member in Sinj demonstrating the production of ‘opanci’ shoes during field visit. Photo credit: Tamara Nikolic Deric
Split workshop on community-based inventorying in developing sustainable cultural tourism led by Tamara Nikolic Deric, facilitator for the implementation of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Photo credit: Ante Mandic
1st online session of the capacity building workshop on sustainable cultural tourism destination management for the Utsjoki Living Lab. Photo credit: Costanza Fidelbo.

State-of-the-art in European cultural tourism policies and practices: Second SmartCulTour Webinar

It is generally agreed upon that cultural heritage can be an important strategic resource for a destination and provide both economic and non-economic benefits for local communities and visitors alike. However, strategies with regard to cultural tourism development remain somewhat scattered and tangible, readily available evidence on the benefits often remain ideological, anecdotal or local. Within this webinar, we focus on a broader analysis of cultural tourism policies, policy responses to Covid-19 and success conditions of different types of cultural tourism interventions. Lessons learned on both success conditions and barriers of implementation can serve further policy recommendations.

The webinar is jointly organized with the SPOT project and will be held next 20 June from 11:00 to 12:30 (CET). Speakers include Bart Neuts (KU Leuven, SmartCulTour), Milada Šťastná (Mendel University, SPOT), Alun Jones (CIHEAM Zaragoza, SmartCulTour), Claire Wallace (University of Aberdeen, SPOT), John Shaddock (University of Aberdeen, SPOT) and Simone Moretti (Breda University of Applied Sciences, SmartCulTour).

You can register and read all the details here: Webinar

Split Living Lab hosts an exchange visit

From 11 to 13 May, the Living Lab of Split organized an exchange, within the framework of the SmartCulTour H2020 Project, with Lab managers and stakeholders from Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Rotterdam and Università Ca’Foscari (Venezia) Vicenza Living Lab. The objective of this visit was to exchange experiences and discuss some of the challenges that local stakeholders face. The two-day event included a visit to the beautiful city of Sinj and the fantastic Stella Croatica experience centre in Klis. The next exchange will take place in June organized by Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Rotterdam.

You can read the details of this experience on Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Rotterdam