Smart Cultural Tourism as a Driver of Sustainable Development in European Regions

SmartCulTour (Smart Cultural Tourism as a Driver of Sustainable Development of European Regions) is an EU Horizon2020 project coordinated by the University KU Leuven to support regional development in European regions, including those located in rural peripheries and the urban fringe, through sustainable cultural tourism. Partners of the project include UNESCO, several universities across Europe and research centres in the field of cultural tourism. Launched in January 2020, the project will run until June 2023.

The 4-year project aims at redefining cultural tourism through a contemporary lens, including the measurement of supply, demand and impacts, and at providing European regions with strategies that engage stakeholders in co-creating smart cultural tourism practices. The kick-off meeting took place on 30 January 2020 in Leuven, Belgium.

Through working in and with 6 living-labs, the project will develop and evaluate novel ways of managing sustainable cultural tourism through experiments, serious games, arts-based methods, service or social design techniques that enhance collaboration between the cultural sector, local communities and the tourism industry.

The living-labs are: the Rotterdam Metropolitan Region (Netherlands), the Scheldeland region in Flanders (Belgium), Utsjoki municipality in Lapland (Finland), Huesca province (Spain), City of Split metropolitan area (Croatia) and the City of Vicenza (Italy). UNESCO is in charge of coordinating activities at field level in the Living Labs, supporting their establishment and operationalisation including through tailored capacity-building activities. The living-labs are expected to create a community of practice and allow a bi-directional flow of information between multi-actor communities, also with a view at identifying successful practices and providing input and feedback.

Vicenza, Italy

The project will also develop tools and methodologies to support strategic planning and management for fostering sustainable cultural tourism at the local level. For instance, a Sustainability/Resilience/TALC (SRT) Framework of indicators will be applied for assessing the impact of cultural tourism at the destination level, verified through data collection. This tool aims to provide a comprehensive measurement framework for cultural tourism’s supply, demand and impacts.

A decision-support system (DSS) will be developed for wide-scale monitoring purposes across European regions to support knowledge-led destination management. The decision-support system will synthesise both traditional and non-traditional data sources, the latter particularly related to big data analytics, thereby assisting smart regional development. Finally, a toolkit will be designed to help destinations implement local actions towards sustainable cultural tourism development.

Split, Croatia

In this first year of implementation, the project already delivered tangible results in terms of theoretical development and academic publications. This includes a comprehensive review of literature on cultural tourism concepts, trends and current management challenges and an outlook towards the future of cultural tourism in Europe, considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic-related restrictions on the sector. Within this framework, a comprehensive desk research was carried out to identify significant sustainable cultural tourism policies, their impacts and critical success factors, inspiring a series of possible local interventions.

Based on this research, a taxonomy of cultural tourism interventions was produced, identifying 18 best practices in the region to be explored more in depth. So far, over 100 cultural tourism interventions have been carried out in the European region in more than 30 countries, including 12 countries under the geographical purview of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and North Macedonia.

Huesca, Spain