sustainability

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.

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.

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.

Brabant Remembers – Living History Augmented Reality App (Brabant Region, Netherlands)

#5Brabant is one of the provinces of the Netherlands. It is located near the Belgian border in the southern part of the country. Its tourism offer mostly involves old and modern cities, monasteries, theme parks, and places connected to Vincent Van Gogh’s artistic expression and the heritage of WWII. In relation to WWII, historic war-related events ranging from mobilization for battles to liberation operations have taken place on Brabant soil. Brabant can therefore provide a very complete war narrative, with various locations or sites focusing on a specific theme. Now that the memory of the War is fading and becoming part of history, the intervention’s challenge consists of finding new ways in which people can still learn from this important and dramatic period. Here, new technology offers great opportunities. It can help produce more pleasurable experiences and create a solid link between WWII and younger generations. Furthermore, the use of personal connections (e.g. hearing personal stories) is a way to produce meaningful and memorable experiences for a wider audience who will easily empathize with the historical protagonists. These two insights form the basis of the intervention discussed here. It centres on the creation of the Living History Augmented Reality (AR) App through which people can visualize 11 personal war stories, at the site where the most important events in this part of history happened. The viewer can experience the story, be confronted with a dilemma/choice, and access additional information. The AR App does not stand in isolation. It is part of the broader Crossroads concept and foundation. Crossroads is a narrative concept that connects several WWII-related cultural institutions in Brabant. Crossroads becomes historical, geographical, and human with the ambition of “touching the people now with the crossroads of the past”. By using stories, emotions and symbolic value, historical events have turned into something memorable. The stories were collected in 13 workshops, organized in 2017 and 2018 at places with historic significance. In total, more than 1,000 stories were collected, of which, 75 were selected to become experiential stories thanks to the support of professional writers and artists. An initial analysis showed how, although the number of App downloads was less than expected (the promotional campaign was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic), all actors stated the overall positive impacts of the intervention. Accordingly, positive consequences were observed in the number of visits and the tourist development of the destinations involved in the project. Meanwhile, a huge social impact was achieved both during the story collection phase and during the community’s final response to it. In particular, culture and collective memory have been greatly enhanced and protected. Here, innovation and memory storage (aimed at its protection) represent an awaited meeting point between different generations who can now engage in dialogue with more accessible and experiential tools.

Brabant Remembers App simulation

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)