UNESCO tailors capacity-building opportunities to the SmartCulTour Living Labs to foster cultural tourism for a sustainable future

Following an awareness-raising webinar in April, UNESCO is launching bilateral consultations with SmartCulTour’s Living Labs with the aim of identifying tailored capacity-building opportunities for each of them. SmartCulTour – Smart Cultural Tourism as a Driver of Sustainable Development of European Regions – is an EU Horizon2020 project coordinated by the KU Leuven university 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.
As leader of the Work Package on “Sustainable cultural tourism laboratories (Labs)”, WP6, UNESCO coordinates 6 Living Labs: the Rotterdam Metropolitan Region (Netherlands), the Scheldeland region in Flanders (Belgium), the Utsjoki municipality in Lapland (Finland), the Huesca province (Spain), the City of Split metropolitan area (Croatia), and the City of Vicenza (Italy). This includes supporting the Living Labs in their establishment, organization of activities and operational functions, including through tailored capacity-building opportunities.

UNESCO provides support in the identification of meaningful activities, methodologies, and interventions to be implemented in each of them. Within this framework, UNESCO is also responsible for raising awareness and developing capacities of concerned stakeholders for the implementation of relevant international standards, using the methodologies and tools developed in the framework of the Organisation for sustainable cultural tourism management and development. Such mission appears even more relevant in face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has provoked a rapid decline of tourism in most countries, affecting the ability of cultural sites, attractions and experiences to function properly. The situation remains volatile with different countries and regions experiencing a different scenario of impact and recovery.

Concurrently, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided momentum to rethink existing models and steer post-COVID efforts towards cultural tourism that defines the destination, whilst reflecting UNESCO’s values and providing benefits to communities. The rebound of tourism should be an opportunity to spur innovation and test new approaches to support communities in the recovery; it should transform destinations away from outdated and unsustainable models. Since the early days of the COVID crisis, UNESCO has been working on the identification of new measures for a responsible and sustainable restart of cultural tourism, in the conviction that destination management will need to adapt, and that knowledge sharing and learning will be needed to allow for more resilient responses from local communities.

Destinations should be able to shape their respective tourism sectors, customising them to balance competitiveness with the needs and priorities of local communities and the sustainability of cultural resources, through a comprehensive Build Back Better (BBB) vision.

To stimulate discussion on these subjects, UNESCO organised an online awareness raising webinar on 27 April. The webinar focused on UNESCO’s capacity-building opportunities for the SmartCulTour Living Labs. The programme included informing Living Labs’ stakeholders about the different capacity-building opportunities that UNESCO will offer throughout the project’s lifespan. Attending participants comprised SmartCulTour Consortium partners, Lab Managers, and local stakeholders from the 6 Living labs.

This awareness-raising webinar was intended to give participants an overview of the tools, measures and approaches that UNESCO has developed to support the sustainable management of cultural resources at territorial level, with a focus on cultural tourism development and an outlook towards the post COVID-19 recovery. In particular, the panellists presented some specific methodological approaches that can be functional to the sustainable integration of culture and tourism into local development interventions, and notably introduced UNESCO’s vision on sustainable and resilient cultural tourism, the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) approach and the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).

To complement the webinar, an additional presentation was made available by UNESCO on its approach to destination management, alongside concrete tools supporting its design and implementation.

Following up to these activities, UNESCO has launched a series of bilateral consultations with all Living Labs, to further discuss specific needs and priorities and identify tailored capacity-building activities to be implemented. Capacity-building actions will start at the end of the year and are expected to run throughout 2022. They will address local skills gaps, aimed at empowering local stakeholders by equipping them with the knowledge and tools that may support the planning and design of interventions contributing to the sustainable development of cultural tourism at the destination level, both within and beyond the lifecycle of the Labs. Each capacity-building package will be designed in accordance to the local cultural resources that are more relevant to the Living Lab destination and its local community, adopting a two-folded approach towards protecting cultural and social values while promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth.