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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SmartCulTour (Smart Cultural Tourism as a Driver of Sustainable Development of European Regions)

Reporting period: 2021-01-01 to 2021-12-31

According to the European Commission, cultural tourism accounts for 40% of all European tourism. If managed correctly, tourism can bring socio-economic benefits to a region and its residents. Large regional differences do, however, exist and unbalanced tourism development has given rise to a new research agenda that focuses on the potential development of peripheral tourist areas (cities, sites, regions, or neighbourhoods). The increase of experience-oriented cultural tourists, who seek to immerse themselves in ‘authentic’ local life and its environment has created new opportunities for such destinations. In particularly, rural destinations and declining cities can benefit from this trend. Interestingly, many underdeveloped destinations are located in the near proximity of presumably overvisited destinations and could, to some extent, help to alleviate the burden. At the same time, these cultural tourism development efforts need to be framed within the local community context in order avoid the pitfalls of unsustainable development and contribute to resilient communities.

Within this reality, SmartCulTour's overall objective is defined. SmartCulTour will propose and validate innovative, community-led interventions directed at sustainable cultural tourism; cultural tourism that supports the sustainable development of all European regions rich of tangible and intangible cultural assets, in particular rural regions and cities, and contributes to their resilience and inclusiveness.
The project will focus on:
i. Concepts: By developing new –and/or upgrading– contemporary definitions of (sustainable) cultural tourism, cultural tourism destinations, sustainable development, and resilience;
ii. Measurement: By identifying and testing a framework of sustainability and resilience indicators and a Decision Support System for measuring and monitoring cultural tourism and its impacts;
iii. Procedure: By testing and presenting innovative and creative tools for stakeholder engagement, particularly art-based methods, a serious game and service design;
iv. Outcome: By recognizing state-of-the-art and innovative cultural tourism interventions through existing case studies and by trialling specific interventions within six community-led Living Labs.
On a project management level, a Data Management Plan established a strategy to protect collected data and ensure maximal open access. This was reflected in the Open Research Data provision, which outlined the available resources (to be found at and which will be updated throughout the project. The second period also delivered a first policy report, summarizing the findings from WP2 and WP3 for policy perspectives. From a communication standpoint, the consortium wrote a Dissemination and Exploitation of Results Plan, which has since been updated multiple times (last update January 2022). Connections were made with other Horizon 2020 projects, leading to a shared Special Issue in the journal Sustainability while the consortium presented on a number of conferences and workshops and started a SmartCulTour Webinar series in 2021.

An extensive literature review led to the development of a conceptual framework, providing definitions and theories on the concepts of cultural tourism, sustainable destinations, and resilience of tourist regions, while a second deliverable focused on identifying typologies and potential future trends and directions within cultural tourism. Extending the focus towards state-of-the-art examples of cultural tourism interventions, that might prove insightful for the Living Labs in particular, and the wider community in general, data collection for 107 cases took place. This led to a taxonomy of intervention types and scopes, and a final selected shortlist of 18 cases.

WP4 identified recommended indicators for sustainable development, cultural tourism, and resilience. These indicators were collected on LAU and NUTS-2 level for the SmartCulTour Living Labs and statistically analyzed to identify important relations between cultural tourism, sustainable development and resilience. The indicators were further included in the SmartCulTour Platform, combining project-collected variables with data from Eurostat and the World Economic Forum, among others. The Platform is available since 2021 and will be further improved throughout the project.

Six Living Labs were established as communities-of-practice, with standard and Lab-specific Terms of Reference establishing their goals, methodologies and procedures. Each Living Lab has to date organized a number of online, real-life and hybrid meetings that will continue in 2022. During the co-creation process, arts-based and service-design methodologies for stakeholder integration - among which, the SmartCulTour Game - have been proposed and used.
From an academic perspective, an overview of state-of-the-art knowledge on cultural tourism and sustainable development measurement was an important deliverable. Furthermore, the literature review can serve as a repository while also critically analyzing best practices and offering suggestions for a multi-dimensional indicator selection. In effect, a significant amount of indicators is, as of yet, unavailable on local level. This is an important limitation for sustainable destination management, since impacts are more often than not incurred predominantly locally. Only collecting indicators on higher (national or NUTS-2) level, would potentially lead to false, or incomplete conclusions and obfuscates potential strong local differences. Therefore, the SmartCulTour focus is placed on these local effects and differences, ultimately leading to a state-of-the-art, multilayered decision-support system, combining both traditional data and big data analytics in a widely available SmartCulTour Platform.

The taxonomy of interventions leads to a practically relevant inspiration guide for regions interested in developing cultural tourism. Through the extensive case study analysis, a variety of development tools are being proposed, coupled with an analysis of key success factors and barriers, and potential impacts. Such overview can assist local communities rich in heritage, but potentially lacking resources to properly study opportunities. Via implementation of this inspiration guide in the Living Labs, and a further practical experimentation with selected interventions, the results will furthermore move beyond the theoretical and achieve real impacts in the Living Lab participating regions. These Living Labs will thus be true communities of practice, whereby local community members, entrepreneurs and policy makers receive support, training and capacity-building but allowing for ownership of the interventions to remain in their hands.

Furthermore, the exemplar SmartCulTour Living Labs and the identified, described and specifically designed arts-based and service design methods - such as the SmartCulTour Game - used within the Labs for co-creative stakeholder engagement can offer a template for destinations and policy makers to set up future communities-of-practice and facilitate bottom-up development. Such strategies would then hopefully contribute to more sustainable and resilient tourism destinations that serve the quality of life of residents as well as providing excellent tourist experiences and ensuring solid economic foundations.
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