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Conserving culture and cultural heritage through inclusive and sustainable development

Sustainable cultural tourism puts cultural heritage and local communities at the centre of the decision-making process. This will drive good conservation practices and provide an authentic experience for visitors while supporting the local economy.

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The market for cultural tourism is significant, accounting for almost 40 % of all European tourism. Moreover, cultural tourists spend 38% more per day and stay 22% longer than other types of tourists in the destinations they visit. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation interest in cultural tourism will continue to grow and act as one of Europe’s key markets. Cultural tourism is marked by visitors’ eagerness to discover, experience, and learn about a particular destination. Whether sampling gourmet food, living with remote rural communities, or travelling Europe’s pilgrimage routes, interest in cultural activities is booming. An increasing number of tourists are therefore searching for a more personal and authentic experience that connects them to a specific place and culture. In short, they seek out attractions, products and activities that are unique and cannot be found elsewhere. This form of tourism also generates sources of income for local communities. In turn, it helps safeguard cultural treasures to support, strengthen and maintain cultural heritage, particularly in Europe’s rural and less-known destinations. But as destinations become increasingly popular, unchecked mass tourism can present major challenges. Overcrowding, increased levels of noise and pollution, damage to the built environment and disruption to residents’ way of life can rob destinations of their value and authentic character. The success of cultural tourism therefore largely depends on working with local communities to achieve benefits for everyone involved. Hence, there is a need to integrate cultural heritage, tourism activities and local communities in a sustainable way. By implementing a circular tourism approach communities can work with tourism operators and other stakeholders to reduce negative environmental impacts. This is achieved through waste reduction, resource conservation, green transportation and support for local products whilst promoting overall sustainability. Acknowledging the evolving challenges within the tourism sector, the pursuit of ongoing research and innovation is crucial for creating sustainable strategies that enable the industry to adapt and flourish amidst shifting environmental landscapes. The EU's Research and Innovation agenda emphasises the significance of cultural tourism, and it is centred around generating new knowledge and evidence-based solutions that address these challenges and promote sustainable cultural tourism. This new CORDIS Results Pack focuses on eight Horizon 2020 research projects that demonstrate the EU’s commitment to conserving Europe’s cultural heritage and transitioning to sustainable cultural tourism. It explores the potential of cultural tourism for regenerating and valorising cultural heritage and empowering local communities by creating sustainable jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurial activity. The pack will help policymakers to better understand cultural tourism, develop evidence-based policy options and give stakeholders greater insight into the latest research results. It will also help cultural tourism practitioners to fine-tune their activities based on the latest research and test new tools and solutions developed by the projects. This Results Pack is therefore aimed at contributing to new perspectives on and insights into cultural tourism and making the target audience more aware of the opportunities that this form of tourism has to offer. Be.CULTOUR focused on Europe’s remote, rural and less-known destinations, employing a circular tourism approach to reduce waste, conserve resources, promote green transportation and support local products. IMPACTOUR created a methodology and tool to measure and assess the impact of cultural tourism on regional European economic and social development. The INCULTUM project worked with communities in out-of-the-way regions to pursue sustainable bottom-up strategies for social, cultural and economic development that benefits both tourists and locals alike. RurALLURE developed a platform that allows travellers along Europe’s historic pilgrimage routes to customise their travel itineraries according to their interests and learn more about the surrounding cultural and natural heritage. SmartCulTour conducted field tests in six living labs and identified which co-created sustainable practices have a positive impact, especially in rural peripheries and the urban fringe. SMARTDEST set up eight city labs to conduct in-depth analysis of the social impacts of tourism, give a voice to local communities, and contribute to a more just and inclusive social and economic model. Meanwhile, SPOT explored emerging forms of cultural tourism, identifying opportunities and developing strategies that allow local people to gain benefits from their precious cultural assets. Finally, TexTOUR conducted eight cultural tourism pilots in deprived areas of Europe and beyond to create a methodology that enables communities to develop sustainable tourism based on local heritage.