UNESCO contributes to sustainable cultural tourism development in two SmartCulTour Living Laboratories

Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, SmartCulTour – Smart Cultural Tourism as a Driver of Sustainable Development of European Regions – supports regional development of sustainable cultural tourism in European destinations with important tangible and intangible cultural assets. Since February 2022, as partner of the project and Work Package 6 leader, UNESCO has kicked off capacity-building actions in 2 of the 6 Living Labs, namely the Metropolitan area of Split and the Municipality of Utsjoki.

SmartCulTour has the overarching aim of developing sustainable cultural tourism in Europe. The project is being coordinated by KU Leuven, and implemented by the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe with assistance from various European Universities and research centres working in the field of cultural tourism.

As foreseen by the 8 Work Packages’ (WP) framework, and notably WP6, the project has established 6 Living Labs based on different geographic and typological coverage, the objectives of which are to: set up communities of practice, create bi-directional flows of information between multi-actor communities, develop capacities, identify successful practices and provide input and feedback to the tools developed within the project to boost stakeholders’ engagement and co-creation. This includes testing and trialing a set of service design and art-based methods, as well as the SmartCulTour Game and the SmartCulTour Platform.

Ultimately, the subject and programme of actions of SmartCulTour are defined in close consultation with the Living Labs’ stakeholders in a co-designing approach, focussing on the importance and safeguarding of the communities’ cultural resources while promoting sustainable development through appropriate tourism management.

City of Split metropolitan area – Croatia Living Lab

The Split Living Lab recognises living heritage as one of the resources for strengthening cultural tourism and active community participation. Therefore, UNESCO and the University of Split as Living Lab manager organised a series of workshops aimed at building the capacities of local stakeholders in strengthening the Intangible Cultural Heritage – tourism synergy, with special focus on “Community-based inventorying and awareness raising”, which were prepared and delivered by the UNESCO-trained facilitator, Tamara Nikolić Đerić.

The training programme was organised in a hybrid format and was divided into 4 parts. The first online theoretical workshop presented the Convention, its ethical principles and methods of participatory inventorying. The programme sought to answer how to ethically identify and inventory local knowledge for the development of cultural tourism.

© Tamara Nikolić Đerić – Local community member in Sinj demonstrating the production of opanci shoes during a field visit

During the second in-presence workshop, the Split Living Lab discussed inventorying with a special focus on community participation. Based on the participants’ inventorying activities, two intangible cultural heritage elements (Sirnica-making and Opanci-making) and two communities (Solin and Sinj) were identified as pilot projects, to be targeted for the development of an awareness raising campaign.

The third online meeting allowed participants to work on messages they would like to convey through the developed awareness-raising campaigns. The concepts of pride, continuity and intergenerational relations were widely articulated. On this basis, Duje Kundić, a Split-based artist and video-maker, and the pilot project members co-developed a scenario, carrying out and filming semi-structured interviews with community members.

The connection between the young artist and the more experienced members of the local communities was recognised as key to the success of raising awareness. “Relying on the power of intergenerational transmission, we hope that the results of this awareness raising campaign will be evident in the near future”, remarked a participant.

The attendants deemed the training effective in further developing sustainable tourism based on the valorisation of intangible cultural heritage, especially appreciating the use of the many case studies exemplified. This was demonstrated through the individual and collective feedback gathered from the participants, showing that they benefited from the organised workshops not only on a theoretical level, discovering new approaches in heritage safeguarding issues, community participation and development of sustainable tourism, but also on a personal and human level, as they felt engaged in safeguarding their own heritage.

© Tamara Nikolić Đerić – Local community in Solin preparing the traditional Easter cake during a field visit

From the capacity-building activities, we learned how to effectively preserve and develop our living heritage, and to promote a strong cultural identity among residents of different generations. The implemented activities will improve the preservation of the endangered intangible cultural heritage as an important factor not only of cultural and national identity. Within our broader efforts, we aim to enrich the local tourism supply highlighting these unique and invaluable cultural resources and attracting visitors from different cultural backgrounds, all in accordance with local sustainable development.

Monika Vrgoč, Director of the Sinj tourist board

Utsjoki municipality in Lapland – Finland Living Lab

The Utsjoki Living Lab participants, with support from the University of Lapland acting as local Living Lab manager, opted for a pilot capacity-building programme based on UNESCO’s approach to sustainable cultural tourism destination management. Since the region features a strong living heritage component, mostly linked to the Sàmi community, specific attention was devoted to ensuring that the tourism sector contributes to the sustainable safeguarding and promotion of intangible cultural heritage, thereby preventing over-commercialisation, misappropriation and de-contextualisation.

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

The discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of Utsjoki as a cultural tourism destination showed how the Sàmi culture can be identified as an attractor, even though the issues of misappropriation and misrepresentation were raised by several participants. What emerged, was that tourism is often too tailored to the visitors’ expectations and demand, in a way that disregards the will of local communities.

© UNESCO – 1st online session of the Capacity-Building Workshop

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. The friction caused by clashing tourist desires and local culture practices should be addressed through an active participation of the local community in policy discussions, co-designing what kind of tourism should be developed in the region and how it should be implemented.

Taking the results of the first workshop into account, a second online session was held on 25 May 2022, focusing on how to develop a strategy for the progressive development of sustainable cultural tourism in Utsjoki whilst ensuring added value through place-based products, experiences, and services.

The survey conducted among participants prior to the workshop helped identify the specific potential of Utsjoki as a cultural tourism destination. Due to its notable characteristic as one of the largest and quietest wilderness areas in Europe, not suffering from light pollution and mass tourism, it has an ability to create its own tourism pattern ‘from scratch’. Participants identified the uniqueness of Utsjoki, for the presence of trilingual and tri-cultural communities (Finnish, Sàmi and Norwegian), the opportunity to develop small-scale and off-the-beaten track tourism, and its unique nature and multidimensional possibilities, which are all important features that the local cultural tourism industry should further promote.

© SmartCulTour – Exploring Scheldeland the Church Huts during the international exchange visit in Utsjoki

The survey’s results provided a preliminary community-based mapping of local cultural resources, tourism attractions and experiences, highlighting its differentiation from other domestic and European destinations through a specific focus on the cultural and historical significance of the Utsjoki area. Marketing differentiation, especially from the broader area of Lapland, was recognised as one of the most urgent actions to be undertaken in order to boost sustainable cultural tourism in Utsjoki. In order to do so, it is crucial to identify relevant resources and to develop culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable offerings for travellers. This should be conducted as well as concentrating marketing efforts towards a highly targeted audience looking for authentic experiences and edutainment.

The final appointment with the Utsjoki Living Lab, scheduled in presence on 14 October, will focus on innovative ways to communicate with visitors, including through digital media, marketing and promotion tools. In October, UNESCO will also deliver similar capacity-building workshops in other 3 SmartCulTour Labs, and notably Huesca province – Spain on 17 October, The Rotterdam Metropolitan Region – the Netherlands on 20 October, and The Scheldeland region in Flanders – Belgium on 24 October.