The tourism industry and creativity have a long-lasting connection, grounded in travellers' constant quest for ever more authentic and fulfilling experiences which move away from what was a once favourite mass tourism experience. Yet, the concept of creative tourism in itself remains somewhat unclear, which means that local and regional authorities have an opportunity to define how they can make their distinction within the field. What is certain, however, is that at the core of creative tourism there are two key issues: the active participation of travellers in the community they are visiting and the acquisition of informal learning experiences from that exchange.
"The logic is simple: tourists can acquire authentic and fulfilling experiences by being actively engaged in the development of the place they are visiting"
Europe is a continent of rich historical, cultural and environmental diversity and each of its regions has something characteristic and special to offer to its visitors. Engaging visitors in the activities of the local community and enabling them to experience the daily life of people who live in a certain place is something that has a strong and steady marketing potential. On the other hand, we are witnessing a situation in which many local traditions and practices are disappearing and beautiful regions across Europe remain underdeveloped.
The logic is simple: tourists can acquire authentic and fulfilling experiences by being actively engaged in the development of the place they are visiting. Aside from humanising the relationship between visitors and locals in one of the world's largest and fastest growing industries (with a controversial record of environmental and cultural sustainability), creative tourism thus puts the tourist as a consumer in the role of a creator of historical, social, cultural and economic value.
As for the local communities, we can say that the development of creative tourism provides cities and regions with an opportunity to profile themselves and stand out in an increasingly saturated and competitive global market. And to do that, they only need the already existing resources, such as their cultural heritage, natural environment, knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit.
An important aspect of creative tourism is its sustainability. In fact, this kind of tourism stimulates small and local businesses and does not produce any negative impact on the local culture and environment. On the contrary, it stimulates the growth and diversification of economic activities in the region and provides opportunities for the development of cultural and creative sectors, services, industries related to the cultural heritage and environment and many other fields depending on the local context. Furthermore, it stimulates the consumption of local goods and development of businesses operated with the use of local knowledge and by local people.
One could argue that creative tourism represents a step forward in the development of cultural tourism, adapting it to contemporary social and economic structures. Also, by promoting sustainability, creativity, cultural exchanges, smart specialisation and the development of small businesses, this type of activity complements a whole range of European policy priorities.
Nevertheless, creative tourism does not necessarily have to be anchored in cultural heritage. Depending on the context, some cities increasingly profile themselves as creative hotspots and places of encounter for talented people with similar interests. By doing so, these places are creating a new identity for themselves through interaction and the exchange of ideas and skills between creative visitors and the local community. Based on the experiences of several European cities, we can argue that another aspect of creative tourism is its potential to attract talent and a new creative class of people to a certain region.
The nature of tourism has changed and people want to come away with something tangible. The idea of learning the craft of pottery making in one region, photography in another, preparing regional food or running a marathon, helps us define what we can provide to an audience which appreciates such activities. Mass tourism will always have its own market, but creative tourism has the capability of being specialised, focussed and in tune with the local town, city or region. Most importantly, it creates local jobs, which is a vital need if we are to emerge from the current crisis.