Tourism and innovation networks for cultural heritage: Kick-off meeting of the Be.CULTOUR project

4 March 2021: the kick-off meeting of the new European research project coordinated by CNR IRISS of Naples (Italy), entitled “Be.CULTOUR: “Beyond CULtural TOURism: human-centred innovations for sustainable and circular cultural tourism”, funded by the European Commission with 4 million euros for the next three years. Submitted in March 2020, the project, designed with a large consortium of European and non-European partners, won with the highest score out of 86 proposals.

Massimo Clemente, director of the CNR-IRISS and expert in “Urban planning and landscape enhancement”, emphasises: “the aim of the project is to overcome the serious crisis that has afflicted the tourism sector by activating a “circular” and sustainable model of cultural tourism; it will trigger a process of economic, social, cultural and environmental regeneration starting with six European and non-European pilot areas: the regions of Basilicata in Italy, Aragon in Spain, Västra Götaland (Gothenburg) in Sweden, Larnaca in Cyprus, Vojvodina in Serbia and finally the cross-border area of north-eastern Romania and Moldova”.

The CNR IRISS team coordinating the project is strongly interdisciplinary: Antonia Gravagnuolo (Be.CULTOUR project coordinator and researcher at CNR IRISS), and Alessandra Marasco (CNR IRISS researcher in service management innovation and expert in collaborative innovation and service experience design in cultural tourism). Coordination of the project is supported by Luigi Fusco Girard (professor emeritus of the University of Naples Federico II and associate professor at CNR IRISS) and Alfonso Morvillo (research manager at CNR IRISS and expert in tourism economics, editor of the annual Italian Tourism Report). The working group can count on Marco Fasciglione (jurist and CNR researcher specialising in the international protection of human rights, environmental protection and the protection of migrants).

The Basilicata Region, which is particularly involved in the initiative, will be represented by the Territorial Promotion Agency (directed by Antonio Nicoletti), which operates as an instrumental body in tourism promotion.

The partners will be supported by the ‘ Iniziativa Cube ‘ which will develop innovative financing instruments for the selected circular solutions.

The global tourism crash has caused dramatic losses since 2020 and the whole industry is in crisis. UN World Tourism Organisation indicates a 60% decrease in international tourism, and between 840 and 1000 billion euros losses for the global travel industry. In addition, a reduction of 60% – 90% of bookings in Europe has been estimated, compared to similar periods in previous years, with an expected loss of 6 million jobs. All operators in the tourism industry are suffering, with their revenues reduced by 85% to 90% by 2020 (European Commission).

However, the current crisis can also be an opportunity to make the tourism industry more resilient and strengthen the green and digital transformation of EU tourism, maintaining Europe’s position as a leading destination and maximising the industry’s contribution to growth and jobs. Sustainable recovery requires affordable and more sustainable transport, better connections, smart management of tourist flows, diversification of the tourism offer, development of sustainability skills for tourism professionals and increased efforts to raise awareness of the variety of landscapes and cultural diversity across Europe. Last but not least, cultural tourism will require special attention to the issue of health safety by adapting local contexts for the protection and peace of visitors, but also by providing updated information and risk management systems ensuring a high level of safety even in temporary emergency situations.

In the current context of uncertainty, the Be.CULTOUR project led by CNR IRISS responds to the need to develop innovative approaches to promote a balanced and sustainable development of cultural tourism in European and non-European urban areas and regions by fostering cooperation at local, regional and cross-border level.

The “human-centred” circular economy model already developed within other CNR IRISS European projects such as “CLIC” and the innovation approach centred on “collaborative networks”, will support the testing regions in the development of their strategic Action Plans. At least 18 innovative solutions will be developed to valorise Europe’s immense cultural and natural heritage, a potential driver of sustainable development even in the most peripheral and marginal areas, centring the visitor experience on Europe’s historical and cultural roots “deposited” in the existing cultural heritage.

The “place”, understood as genius loci, the ancient spirit of the site expressing its “intrinsic” value, and the people as co-creators of its uniqueness, culture, art, tradition, folklore, productions, spirituality, as well as its “unique” daily life, are the focus of Be.CULTOUR, which aims at implementing a long-term “circular” development project in the pilot areas involved.

A further 12 European regions and cities will be added to the 6 pilot test areas that are already project partners thanks to a European call for proposals that will be opened in the coming weeks. Other regions will then join the Be.CULTOUR network and will be actively involved and invited to share their best practices by participating in the co-creation, peer-learning and capacity building activities of the project.

The Be.CULTOUR Consortium comprises 15 partners, including research institutes, local governments such as municipalities, provinces and regions, private companies, foundations, non-profit organisations.