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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SmartCulTour (Smart Cultural Tourism as a Driver of Sustainable Development of European Regions)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2020-12-31

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, the first period saw the formal establishment of the different management boards. A Data Management Plan established a strategy to protect collected data and ensure maximal open access. From a communication standpoint, the consortium wrote a first version of the Dissemination and Exploitation of Results Plan, which will be revisited multiple times throughout the project lifespan. Connections were made with other European Horizon 2020 projects, leading to a shared Special Issue in the journal Sustainability.

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. Academic outputs for these deliverables have been submitted and are awaiting publication. 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, standardized data collection for a longlist of 106 cases throughout Europe took place. This led to a taxonomy of intervention types and scopes, and a final selected shortlist of 18 cases for further in-depth analysis. The final analysis, as well as all underlying data will be available in the first quarter of 2021.

Work Package 4 identified a recommended set of destination indicators to measure aspects of sustainable development, cultural tourism, and resilience. These indicators were then collected on the level of LAUs and NUTS-2 regions for the SmartCulTour Living Labs. Throughout this data collection process, various rounds of simplification were needed due to unavailability of datasets. This led to the identification of an ideal - theoretical - set, and a practically available set, the former indicating data needs that should be focused on by policy makers and statistical agencies while the latter being practically useful for evaluating the state of destinations.

Preliminary steps were taken to establish stakeholder relationships in the Living Lab areas, preparing for a proper roll-out of these communities-of-practice in 2021. These stakeholder relationships were achieved via multiple meetings and, in various cases, involving stakeholders directly in aspects of data collection. From a process-perspective, the consortium developed standard Terms of Reference that broadly establish the goals, methodologies and procedures to be followed in the SmartCulTour Labs. In 2021, these will be translated to Lab-specific Terms of Reference to allow for a true community-driven focus and co-creative goal setting.
Since many of the outputs so far where of a more theoretical, conceptual nature, wider societal implications are expected only later in the project. From a more academic perspective, a thorough overview of state-of-the-art knowledge on cultural tourism, sustainable development measurement and the concept of resilience within the framework of cultural tourism has been submitted. While many sustainability-models and indicator sets exist, 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.

The taxonomy of interventions of Work Package 3 will lead to a practically relevant inspiration guide for regions interested in developing cultural tourism. Through the extensive case study analysis, a variety of development tools will be proposed, coupled with an analysis of key success factors and barriers, and potential impacts on sustainable development and regional resilience. 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. This empowerment will ensure that also after the project's lifespan, the Living Labs remain vibrant communities.
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