RegenerAction 2022: Tourism as a driving force for restarting the Italy of beauty and care

The Challenge: Return to accessible, sustainable, and regenerative tourism

As a world leader for the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to its cultural, historical, and natural wealth, for Italy, tourism represents an undisputed pivot on which the Country System is based. A feature that contributes almost 7% to the national GDP and with customer flows of about 437 million visits generating nearly 14% of the total added value and employment when considering the direct and indirect effects of the tourism sector. At least this was the situation until 2019.

The forced closures and restrictions introduced by the pandemic were a serious blow to an industry that relies on mobility and cultural exchange. The ISTAT data estimate a 38.4% drop in the number of tourists in the area’s accommodations compared to 2019 levels. It is time to make tourism accessible again.

In this sense, environmental, political, social, and economic security are key elements for both tourists and local communities. Added to these are food and housing security on the ground and the protection of socio-cultural heritage from environmental threats and overtourism. Technology is also a current and real challenge: by making tourism a key player in the digital transition, it is possible to scale new opportunities for the dissemination and popularization of the area’s cultural, natural, and artistic heritage and initiatives.

The current challenges of tourism also include making it a tool for sustainability. Sustainable does not mean inaccessible and low quality. Reviving slow and local tourism to discover the traditions, flavors, and beauty of the area means recognizing that quantity and speed are not synonymous with quality. This requires an enhancement of national economic competitiveness. Finally, tourism today urges regeneration. The enhancement of the territory, the regeneration of villages, and the encouragement of slow forms of tourism can and must become the cornerstones of new national policies. These are the current challenges that tourism, in order to become accessible, sustainable, and regenerative again, will have to face.

Quality, innovation, regeneration: the potential of slow tourism

As United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, stated, “Tourism can be a platform to overcome the pandemic. By uniting people, tourism can promote peace, solidarity, and trust.”

The period of forced closure in the tourism industry, triggered by the pandemic, highlighted the need to change our approach towards this sector, including adopting more sustainable forms of tourism that respect the enormous natural, cultural, and artistic heritage we have. While the pandemic has led to a decline in tourist visits all over the world, especially for countries such as ours, that used to subsist on this sector, it has also led to millions of people coming back to forms of slow, grassroots tourism. We are talking about tourism capable of bringing back human and universal values: care, listening, attention, respect, reciprocity. Tourism that respects, not distorts, the territory and those who inhabit it, a tourism that brings us closer to the Earth, in all its aspects. Tourism of the roots and territories that enhances and ensures territorial economic development, transforming itself into a tool for knowledge and direct experience of local realities, traditions, food and wine prides, but that at the same time “makes artistic and artisanal heritage accessible, allowing the rediscovery of knowledge,” as pointed out by Stefano Pisani, mayor of Pollica and coordinator of the Italian network of cities of good living, Slow Cities.

Tourism, with its dynamism and mobility, can be a leading sector for innovation, social policies, and social regeneration if an approach that is attentive to the person, to relationships, and to the community prevails by fostering social justice through welcoming migrants and facilitating real integration within local communities, especially the most marginal, forgotten, or isolated ones such as those in small villages, tourism assumes a strategic role in the political choices of Italy, the Mediterranean, and Europe.

European strategy toward smart, sustainable, and responsible tourism

Shortly before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission had published a European Industrial Strategy, a handbook on strategies to be adopted for the transition to a sustainable society, in line with the ideas of the Green Deal. The goal was to facilitate Europe’s green and digital transition and make it more competitive and self-reliant in 14 areas, including tourism.

However, the pandemic has led to a complete reassessment of the European and global industrial systems, resulting in the reevaluation of the European tourism strategy. To cope with the industry’s losses, in April 2022 the European Union updated the tourism directives by opening bridges of dialogue and collaboration with different stakeholders involved – a key step in an industry that spans several areas such as tourism.

Tourism, as the sector most affected by the pandemic, has thus become, in the updated strategy, the priority sector to be reformed. Ecological acceleration, digitization, and stakeholder involvement in the European Commission’s initiatives are the pillars on which the EU has chosen to base the European Agenda for Tourism 2030/50, jointly developed by the Commission of member states.  The approach advocated by the Commission places at the center of the digital and ecological transition of tourism cooperation between the industry, public authorities, social actors, and all other indirect players in the sector to listen to needs, requirements, and demands so as to propose and implement policies that meet the needs of the workers and communities involved.

The sharing of ideas and values, a key point of the European strategy, will also be facilitated by the creation of an online platform, which the Commission expects to launch by the end of 2022 and which will be capable of bringing the various players in the tourism sector into a dialogue. In addition, to create a sustainable and resilient Europe, the EU has chosen to annually reward cities that stand out for smart tourism through the European Capital of Smart Tourism, now in its third year. It is an initiative that aims to reward those cities that represent a model for tourism in the fields of digitization, sustainability, accessibility, creativity, and respect for cultural heritage. Certainly, an economic incentive for the recovery of the sector, but also a necessary enhancement of experiences capable of combining quality, empowerment of the territory and communities, heritage preservation, and slow-tourism. Like the European Capital of Smart Tourism, the NextGenerationEU, policy also provides an economic contribution to the realization of 11 macro-objectives in the tourism sector, such as the development of green communities and the enhancement of Agriculture and Rural Landscapes.

The Union’s approach is thus directed toward tourism that is not only sustainable and digital, but also responsible, capable of understanding the needs of the territory and citizens, and responding to them appropriately. This goal, for the European Commission, is achievable only through efficient use of local resources, including local farms and producers, but also stakeholders, young people and communities, and local and regional policy makers.

Tourism not just to visit but to regenerate the environment, community, and economy

For development to be truly sustainable and achieve forms of collective prosperity, it is necessary to remember that there is no economic improvement in a degraded environment. There is no effective tourism strategy in places where the inhabitants are not happy and there is nothing authentic left to tell. There is no investment capable of working on its own, without someone on the ground willing, able, and competent to make it pay off in a meaningful and heartfelt way. There is no population growth in a place where there are no services or cultural stimuli.

Starting from the Mediterranean Diet, an undisputed example of a real and integral balancing of different complexities, Future Food started from from Pollica, a cultural and natural jewel in the heart of the Mediterranean but also a place that is a victim of progressive forms of depopulation and unregulated tourism, to prototype and co-create the first model of integral and integrated development.

Since 1961, Cilento has lost about 57,000 inhabitants. Population decline triggers the dangerous circular pattern of marginality, which in turn weakens the population structure, the potential for consumption and income generation, the local service system, agricultural and production practices due to labor shortages, and the cultural, environmental, and social elements underlying the Mediterranean way of life.

Restoring a phenomenon of “restanza” is certainly one of the pivotal goals of the Paideia Campus, along with the need to promote a new model of tourism: conscious, careful, slow, responsible, and sustainable. In fact, the summer invasion by Italian and foreign tourists completely disrupts the rhythms of the village and the nature of the area, while winter is characterized by prolonged months of almost total abandonment. Suffice it to say that in Campania gross bed utilization was 0.9 percent in April 2020 to a high of 43.9 percent in August 2020 and even 71.2 percent in August 2019.

With these premises in mind and in order to promote a widespread regeneration of the territory by putting its communities at the center, Pollica 2050 is the project through which, together with the local community, the Future Food Institute acts to restore a model of responsible development by fostering the virtuous encounter between territory and people, care and beauty. How?

  • By promoting new forms of tourism focused on biophilia, wellness, and longevity.
  • By directly involving and stimulating the local community to take care of its beauty and commons, telling its own story, making itself an educating community.
  • By providing training programs for the local population to hone skills and strengthen the hospitality sector, but also to nurture a healthy “heritage pride,” a flywheel for communicating and making the most of one’s homeland. This was the basis of the “Trame Mediterranee” project, which begins in schools with innovative internship programs to train young explorers, storytellers, and ambassadors of the Mediterranean identity. Equally, these goals have also been realized in the Benessere Giovani program, a training course designed for the youth of Pollica to develop entrepreneurial ideas and to develop a sense of agency by meeting directly with the custodians of the territory’s environmental, food, and cultural biodiversity. These are all crucial aspects of protecting and at the same time making Italy’s heritage, archaeological sites, and historic buildings usable, but above all creating awareness.
  • Disseminating tourist information, e-commerce, and interactive technology to explore the territory and literally immerse oneself in an experience that smells of history, art, culture, science, and taste.
  • Facilitating forms of food and wine tourism and experiential tourism, based on moments of conviviality and focusing on the supply chains and stories of producers.

This is the kind of tourism that can become, for these communities, a valuable lever combining regeneration of the social fabric with support for the local economy and better preservation of the natural heritage, especially as places of privileged access to wild and cultural nature.

In fact, tourism is rooted in culture. This complementarity is part of Future Food’s vision regarding the regeneration of land and territory, which can only be achieved through a combination of social, political, and institutional tools that connect different dots. Future Food’s collaboration with The Fork Organization to rethink the Museum of Mediterranean Diet in Pioppi is an example of this intersectionality. Through a Boot Camp aimed at enhancing the role of the Museum, a repository of stories and memories of the territory related to the values and concept of the Mediterranean Diet, culture and tourism enter into dialogue for regenerative action.

At the same time, it is crucial to ensure dialogue and coordination between local and national strategies. For this reason, the Future Food Institute’s engagement has also branched out within the meetings of the G20 and the States General of Tourism, facilitating debates and dialogues on new strategies and sustainability of the Italian tourism offer, facilitating collaboration on multiple levels of institutional and local actors.

Cities, towns, and villages, and the natural and cultural riches they contain, should no longer be conceived limitedly as tourist reception places, “containers” of seasonal and passing events, but as places in which to listen directly to stories, savor foods and traditions, learn knowledge and crafts, living – as well as visiting – what these places have to offer, culturally, naturally, and humanly. To embrace integral ecology, beauty and collective well-being must be restored. This inevitably comes through responsible tourism.

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