sustainability

Culture: A year into Covid-19

At the outset of the pandemic, UNESCO took decisive steps to combat the impact on the culture sector through strengthening global policy dialogue and promoting the continued access to culture. In April last year, when UNESCO convened 130 ministers of culture in an online meeting to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the sector, it activated and laid down the foundations for an ongoing global policy dialogue with its Member States to carry forward consolidated action in ensuring the sector is supported in crisis response strategies.

Monitoring the impact of the pandemic has been essential to gauge the needs and gaps, and help Member States in shaping appropriate policies. This is also why UNESCO mobilized a broad network of actors within the scope of its work in culture to better understand the situation in order to develop adequate responses. UNESCO launched a wide range of monitoring tools to guide policymakers and practitioners in the various dimensions of cultural policies.

This month special issue of the UNESCO Culture & Public Policy Tracker titled «Culture: A year into Covid-19» was initially published last April as a weekly global policy monitor and later consolidated into a monthly format beginning in September 2020. The past year has seen each of UNESCO’s Culture Conventions and programmes develop unique monitoring mechanisms to track the impact of the pandemic, ranging from monitoring World Heritage site closures, to carrying out surveys amongst Member States, site managers, living heritage bearers, and local authorities, among others.

The monthly Tracker is produced by UNESCO to monitor culture in public policy with regards to the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. It highlights developments within national and regional contexts, as well as emerging debates on culture’s contribution to sustainable development. Drawing on a variety of sources, it provides a broad overview of cultural policy trends worldwide at the national, regional and international level and looks at ways in which countries integrate culture into other policy areas.

You can read the details and download the special issue here: https://en.unesco.org/news/tracker-culture-public-policy-special-issue

Online aanvangsmeeting om het Rotterdamse Living Lab te presenteren

Op 15 april 2021 werd een online bijeenkomst gehouden om het Living Lab van Rotterdam te presenteren aan verschillende stakeholders uit de regio. Het Living Lab Rotterdam is een van de zes living labs die deelneemt aam het Europese project SmartCulTour, dat door de Europese Commissie wordt gefinancierd in het kader van het H2020-programma. Het doel van de living labs is het aanmoedigen van netwerken tussen belanghebbenden uit het toeristische werkveld om zo tot goede praktijken en innovatieve oplossingen voor duurzaam cultureel toerisme te komen, die tegelijkertijd ook kunnen worden uitgewisseld met andere Europese regio’s.

In samenwerking met citymarketingorganisatie Rotterdam Partners werden voor de ‘inception meeting’ personen uitgenodigd die in hun dagelijkse werk of leven te maken hebben met toerisme, evenementen en leisure maar ook bijvoorbeeld met stedelijke planning. Zo waren onder andere Theater Zuidplein, Rotterdam Festivals, Gemeente Rotterdam en IFFR aanwezig bij de online sessie. Met totaal 15 participanten ging de online meeting van start met een leuke opwarm oefening: ‘’Laat aan de hand van je Microsoft Teams achtergrond zien wat jij onder Rotterdams cultureel toerisme verstaat.’’ Dit leverde een divers palet aan kleurrijke achtergronden op en zorgde daarnaast ook voor een mooi openingsgesprek waar de verschillende participanten van elkaar hoorden wat Rotterdams cultureel toerisme voor hen inhoudt.

Vervolgens gaven Ko Koens en Bert Smit van Breda University of Applied Sciences een uitleg over SmartCultour en de nut en noodzaak van living labs. Ko Koens: ‘’ Om een living lab te laten slagen is het noodzakelijks om de juiste deelnemers aan tafel te hebben die kennis hebben van kansen, mogelijkheden en problemen in wijken en daarnaast kennis hebben van toerisme, cultuur, stadsontwikkeling en infrastructuur. We kunnen niet wachten om de komende tijd met jullie op een interactieve en leuke manier aan de slag te gaan.’’

Om de daad bij het woord te voegen was het volgende onderdeel van de meeting het maken van een moodboard in de app ‘mural’. De deelnemers van de meeting werden uitgedaagd om een collage te maken met foto’s die voor hen Rotterdams cultureel toerisme vertegenwoordigden. Er ontstonden interessante borden, die even later met elkaar werden vergeleken en besproken. Zo merkten de deelnemers op dat op de foto’s die eerder waren geselecteerd door de labmanagers en projectleiders onder andere de maritieme cultuur, die juist zo belangrijk is voor Rotterdam ontbrak. Daarnaast kwamen de deelnemers tot de conclusie dat de 174 nationaliteiten die Rotterdam rijk is juist ook het cultureel toeristische beeld van Rotterdam bepalen.

Tot slot werden interessante interventies op het gebied van cultureel toerisme uit andere steden gedeeld. Zie bijvoorbeeld onderstaand afbeelding die genomen is in Den Bosch tijdens het Jeroen Bosch jaar in 2016. De deelnemers komen begin juni weer bij elkaar in een ontwerpsessie. De focus ligt dan ook op hoe toeristische visie en strategie werkelijkheid worden in een bepaalde wijk of misschien juist wel hoe de werkelijkheid van de wijk en de stad zou moeten leiden tot een zich continu ontwikkelende toerisme strategie.

Photo Jherominus Bosch year 2016. Credits: Brabants Dagblad

Online inception meeting to present the Living Lab of Rotterdam

On April 15, 2021, an online meeting was held to present the Rotterdam Living Lab to various stakeholders from the region. The Living Lab of Rotterdam is one of six living labs participating in the European project SmartCulTour, funded by the European Commission under the H2020 program. The aim of the living labs is to encourage networking between tourism stakeholders in order to develop best practices and innovative solutions for sustainable cultural tourism, which can also be exchanged with other European regions.

In collaboration with city marketing organization Rotterdam Partners, people who in their daily work or life are involved with tourism, events and leisure but also for example with urban planning, were invited to the ‘inception meeting’. Theater Zuidplein, Rotterdam Festivals, the municipality of Rotterdam and IFFR, among others, were present at the online session. With a total of 15 participants, the online meeting started with a fun warm-up exercise: «By using your Microsoft Teams background, show us what you mean by cultural tourism in Rotterdam. ‘’This resulted a diverse range of colorful backgrounds and also provided a nice opening discussion where the various participants heard from each other what Rotterdam Cultural Tourism means to them.

Next, Ko Koens and Bert Smit of Breda University of Applied Sciences explained SmartCultour and the use and necessity of living labs. Ko Koens: «For a living lab to be successful, it is necessary to have the right participants at the table who know about opportunities, possibilities and problems in neighborhoods and also have knowledge of tourism, culture, urban development and infrastructure. We can’t wait to get to work with you in an interactive and fun way in the near future.»

To suit the action to the word, the next part of the meeting was to create a mood board in the app ‘mural’. The participants of the meeting were challenged to make a collage with photos that for them represented Rotterdam’s cultural tourism. Interesting boards emerged, which were compared and discussed with each other a little later. For example, the participants noted that the photos previously selected by the lab managers and project leaders lacked, among other things, maritime culture, which is so important to Rotterdam. In addition, the participants came to the conclusion that the 174 nationalities that Rotterdam abounds also determine the cultural tourist image of Rotterdam.

Finally, interesting interventions in the field of cultural tourism from other cities were shared. See for example the image below taken in Den Bosch during the Jheronimus Bosch year in 2016. The participants will meet again in early June in a design session. The focus will then also be on how tourism vision and strategy become reality in a particular district or maybe even how the reality of the district and the city should lead to a continuously evolving tourism strategy.

Photo Jherominus Bosch year 2016. Credits: Brabants Dagblad

Inception Meeting to present the Living Lab of Scheldeland

On 15 March 2021, the inception meeting of the Scheldeland Living Lab, one of six Living Labs established throughout Europe as part of the SmartCulTour H2020 project, was organized. This Living Lab will specifically focus on three municipalities within the wider tourism region of Scheldeland, namely Bornem, Dendermonde, and Puurs-Sint-Amands.

Due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the first meeting took place online and was organized by Toerisme Vlaanderen, coordinator of the Flemish lab, with further cooperation of KU Leuven as consortium partner. The initial meeting brought together 18 stakeholders, representing the heritage and tourism representatives of the three municipalities, the directors of the local cultural centres, representatives of the regional and provincial boards of tourism, the coordinator of Regional Landscape Schelde-Durme and various heritage experts.

After an initial round table and brief introduction to the project goals of SmartCulTour and the link of the Living Lab with other work packages and European collaborators, appreciative inquiry techniques were used to establish shared meaning of the region. People were asked what connects them personally to the place, with aspects such as the tides of the river and associated nature, and heritage – particularly Medieval castles and forts dating back to the world war – being top of mind.

Next, in smaller groups, participants were asked to think about an ambition and goal for the project, as well as criteria with which a potential successful project should comply. Finally, the brainstorm technique OPERA was adopted to come to a commonly shared project focus. This technique consists of five phases: (1) Own suggestions, (2) Pair suggestions, (3) Explanations, (4) Ranking, and (5) Arranging. After 15 initial suggestions, which due to many overlaps could be reframed into four clear propositions, the final focus for the project was decided as:

“The poetry of coming and going, linked to the ebb and flow of the Scheldt river as hook for the tourism development. The regional characteristics of the tidal river are translated through region-specific heritage such as the industrial heritage, the steam train, and the forts and castles.”

Inception Meeting to present the Living Lab of City of Split metropolitan area

The Inception meeting and the establishment of a Sustainable and resilient cultural tourism Living Lab (LL) was held on February 11, 2021. The session was led by Dr Ante Mandić, the LL manager and Dr Lidija Petrić, the WP and team leader at the Faculty of Economics, Business and Tourism, University of Split.

The LL was established as a part of the SmartCulTour HORIZON2020 financed project discussing how cultural tourism can foster sustainable and resilient development of European regions.

LL are community-based and objective-driven entities, incorporating multi-stakeholder participation and engagement and representing the perspectives and interests of all the key actors of the destination. The concept uses place-based community and participatory stakeholder approaches to identify local needs and main intervention priorities. This LL focuses on creating an incentive environment for the development of cultural tourism.

Engaging local stakeholders, including tourism boards, tourism businesses, cultural institutions, NGOs and communities, this LL will foster co-creation, co-innovations and bottom-up solutions to design and inaugurate interventions for leveraging cultural tourism at the destination level.

Currently, the LL involves fifteen stakeholders who actively participate in the development of LLs long-term goals and priorities.

Following the fruitful discussion during the inception meeting, the stakeholders were invited to participate in the focus groups to discuss the current state and the future of cultural tourism development. More information about the conclusions of the focus groups and the goals and priorities with this LL you can read in our next post.

System Dynamics Approach to TALC Modelling

Tourism and tourist destinations are researched from many standpoints and by many scientific disciplines. However, most of them have generally taken a reductionist approach, with both tourist destinations and tourism not effectively understood as complex phenomena. In this article authored by Marko Hell and Lidija Petric (Department of Tourism and Economy at the University of Split, Croatia, partner to SmartCulTour project) a system dynamics approach to TALC (tourist destination [area] life cycle) modelling is explored.

The system dynamics applied in this research on modelling a tourist destination (area) life cycle (TALC) contributes to understanding its behavior and the way that information feedback governs the use of feedback loops, delays and stocks and flows. On this basis, a system dynamic three-staged TALC model is conceptualized, with the number of visitors V as an indicator of the carrying capacities’ dynamics and the flow function V(t) to determine the TALC stages. In the first supply-dominance stage, the model indicated that arrivals are growing until the point of inflexion. After this point, arrivals continue growing (but with diminishing growth rates), indicating the beginning of the demand-dominance stage, ending up with the saturation point, i.e., the maximum number of visitors. The simulated TALC system dynamics model was then applied to five EU destinations (Living Labs) to explain their development along the observed period (2007–2019). The analysis revealed that all observed Living Labs reached the second lifecycle stage, with one entered as early as in 2015 and another in 2018. Lifecycle stage durations may significantly differ across the destinations, as do the policies used either to prevent stagnation or to restructure the offer to become more sustainable and resilient.

You can read the full article here: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/13/9/4803/pdf

Second Living Lab workshop in Utsjoki

SmartCulTour project partner ULAP held the second hybrid workshop on 21 April 2021 in their Utsjoki living lab with the local stakeholders to discuss and generate ideas for developing sustainable cultural tourism in Utsjoki.

The workshop started with a warm-up activity in which the participants got to know each other through bodily performance to share a place that was meaningful to them. SmartCulTour partner CIHEAM Zaragoza was invited to participate in the workshop to present Huesca as a living lab with similar needs and challenges around rural tourism destinations and to share their local tourism initiatives. The workshop focused on discussing how sustainable cultural tourism could contribute to the development of Utsjoki and generating ideas to develop sustainable cultural tourism in Utsjoki. Service design and art-based tools and methods were used to engage the workshop participants in exploring the potential of cultural tourism in Utsjoki. Participants collected and shared photos of local places where they deemed unique. Using a storytelling template, the participants came up with ideas for further developing the unique local places into culturally interesting places with stories and senses. The workshop closed with participants planning the next steps for the next workshop.

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.

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

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).

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.