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When cultural tourism and sustainable development go hand in hand

To achieve sustainable cultural tourism beyond urban centres, we must embrace all four pillars of sustainability, says a new study.

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How can sustainable cultural tourism support inclusive and sustainable development in remote and peripheral areas? Researchers supported by the EU-funded TExTOUR project have the solution, and it involves more than participatory processes. In their study, the researchers explain that while participatory processes – methods enabling the active participation of all members of a group in decision-making processes – are necessary, they are not enough to ensure sustainable cultural tourism planning. For this to happen, cultural tourism needs to include the four pillars of sustainable development: economic, cultural, environmental and social sustainability. In other words, all four pillars must be applied both in practice and theory at each step of a participatory process to fully achieve sustainable cultural tourism development. The study authors introduce a specific participatory methodology for cultural tourism called the Sustainability-Driven Participatory Process (SDPP) that has been developed and tested in eight case studies across Europe and beyond. The SDPP “enables the inclusion of all four pillars of sustainability … at every step of the co-creation process,” reports the study. It goes on to say: “The SDPP expands the traditional tourism planning framework by developing and integrating different activities and tools intended to foster and ensure reflection and hands-on decision making about sustainability and its different and interrelated facets at each step. The participatory process is designed to be either initiated by governmental bodies or by other local actors who are interested in the development of local sustainable tourism development in the region. This adapted participatory planning methodology supports developing a more robust and holistic perspective on sustainability-driven cultural tourism development and, as such, it has the potential to support those seeking ways to plan and develop local heritage-based tourism sustainably and inclusively.” The SDPP and tools presented in the study are based on three replicable steps intended to strengthen cultural tourism in a sustainable, diverse, inclusive and innovative way. “The paper specifically focuses on three activities designed for the participatory workshops: the co-mapping exercise, the Action Co-creation, and an adapted Business Model Canvas, providing an analysis of how those contribute to an innovative participatory process, constantly considering the four pillars of sustainable development.”

Developing cultural tourism in Narva

One of TExTOUR’s eight case studies is in Narva, a little-known region on the border between Estonia and Russia. The Narva pilot includes the city of Narva and the post-industrial Kreenholm district. Kreenholm was one of the largest textile manufacturing companies in Europe and Tsarist Russia from the 19th to the 20th century. The factory and its surrounding residential and utility buildings formed a town within a town. However, while the industry may have flourished during the Soviet regime, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the global shift of textile industries left many vacant spaces in Kreenholm, which is now part of Narva’s high-value cultural heritage. As part of TExTOUR (Social Innovation and TEchnologies for sustainable growth through participative cultural TOURism), a thematic route has been developed around Kreenholm. The new route was opened on 13 July 2023. As described in a recent news item, while exploring the streets of Kreenholm, visitors can scan a QR code available on signs placed along the route and listen to or read information about objects and buildings of interest in English, Estonian or Russian. The 3.5-km route includes 18 sites and takes about an hour to complete. For more information, please see: TExTOUR project website


TExTOUR, tourism, cultural tourism, sustainable cultural tourism, sustainable development, sustainability, participatory process

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