Build on sustainable tourism sector

Tourism sector in Europe contributes significantly to economic growth and employment. The sector generates over 10% of the EU GDP (directly and indirectly) and employs about 5% of the labour force*. Yet, reckless and short-sighted management of cultural and historical heritage in the regions can diminish tourism’s positive impact on their economic development.

CERTESS project logo imageINTERREG IVC projects allow regions to develop strategies and exchange innovative ideas on how to push tourism industry towards sustainability. Policymakers can learn from a number of inspiring good practices which for example foster entrepreneurship in the tourism sector, protect and valorise cultural heritage, improve accessibility to historical monuments, all with a particular focus on sustainability.

CERTESS project site visit in RomaniaProtect your heritage

The projects AT FORT and CERTESS emphasise the need for common understanding of the value and vulnerability of cultural heritage sites in order to facilitate their sustainable re-use not only for touristic purposes. For example a partner in CERTESS, the region of Transylvania (Romania), set up an info-point network along the route of fortified churches which made the management of those routes better organised and more sustainable, and also more popular among tourists.

The lack of facilities and services leading to low economic activity in many rural and scarcely populated areas is behind the project HISTCAPE. It aims at identifying remedies to it through preserving and enhancing the use of historical assets of small towns and villages. One good practice comes from Álava County (Spain) where an urban planning society ARABARRI coordinates urban planning and heritage protection in 25 rural historical towns, renovating infrastructure, improving public spaces and restoring relevant monuments.

The project CHARTS looks into the management of cultural destinations with a special focus on the challenges posed by the climate change and the recent economic crisis. In Wales (UK) they developed a risk assessment methodology to predict the impact of climate change on the historic assets which underpins the development of specific policies relating to historic assets and any mitigation measures.

The protection and survival of Europe’s heritage sites is at the heart of the project HERITPROT, dealing with fire risk assessment and prevention. The partnership looked into good practices that make fire-fighting, rescue, and damage prevention of historical values easier. The partners developed a mandatory safeguard plan for public historical buildings and a training programme with a protection plan operation. In Vilnius (Lithuania) there is now thanks to the project a list of priority buildings for fire safety, which should increase the fire-fighters’ reactivity.

Make tourism sustainable

Many projects emphasise the need for a tourism sector which is both eco-friendly and economically viable. There are three main pillars when it comes to sustainability: economic, environmental, and social.

PRESERVE project Greek good practiceThe project PRESERVE seeks to link environmental interests with economic development. According to the project, only holistic approach to developing a cultural heritage strategy in regions can ensure its contribution to their development. For example, in Chaeronea city (Greece) at the Plutarcheio Historical & Cultural Park they linked the cultural and natural landscapes in a way attracting tourists to engage also in agro-tourism and sport activities, which further strengthened the local economy and community. An example from Abruzzo region (Italy) shows how a tourism and territorial marketing plan ‘Abruzzoshire’ brought investment to the region, helped restore dozens of historical buildings and led to the overall revival of the local economy.

In the same vein, the project RURALAND aims at promoting innovative and competitive regional rural development policies. For example, in Jämtland (Sweden) the GASTUR project linked tourism to the local artisan food production as it helped several small-scale food producers become tourism entrepreneurs attracting tourists to their distinct products.

HYBRID PARKS project Polish good practiceThe project HYBRID PARKS looks at how local and regional development policies can ensure that parks are used in a more sustainable way. For example, a good practice from Silesia (Poland) - Silesian Botanical Garden - demonstrates how a former missile station can turn into a peaceful place and an important and highly attractive regional subsystem contributing to environmental protection, ecological education, tourism and recreation.

VITOUR LANDSCAPE project imageThe project VITOUR LANDSCAPE has a different take on the issue of sustainability. It focuses on innovative approaches concerning the preservation of wine growing landscapes. For example, in Lavaux (Switzerland) they protect the vineyards against soil erosion with a specific plant strategy. In Wachau (Austria) the VITOUR LANDSCAPE project helped the region improve their transport and mobility system, which made the access and the use of the UNESCO World Heritage valley more sustainable.

Become more accessible

Accessibility to cultural and natural heritage is not only a question of transport, though. The project TOURAGE suggests ways to improved competitiveness, growth and job creation through wider access to tourism services. In regions that face unfavourable demographic changes such as ageing population, senior citizens represent a consumerist group of emergent business opportunities to tourism industry, be it linked to health, wellbeing or culture. For example, the West Region of Ireland helps tourism enterprises and tour operators make their offer more attractive and better known to seniors. The Irish internet based marketing and branding idea providing thematic tourism offers (e.g. cultural, wellbeing, religious, etc.) inspired North Karelia (Finland) to start development of a web portal 55plus (a working title) on domain.

The projects e-CREATE and DANTE have the same intention to increase the accessibility of tourism services with the use of information technologies. For example, the Malopolska Regional Development Agency (Poland), an e-CREATE partner, set up an e-service for tourism operators, a virtual tourist guide that promotes their services and attracts tourists. Moreover, electronic exchange of data helped Malopolska region better manage its touristic routes and enhance their use.

INTERREG IVC projects demonstrate that regions looking for untapped sources of economic growth may find them in their tourism sector. Whether targeting different consumer groups or using diverse technological tools, the key message is to tap the cultural and natural heritage resources in a sustainable way.