Summer is approaching, and mountain and coastal resorts are preparing to welcome many tourists who are travelling again now that the pandemic seems to have calmed down. The Mediterranean basin is alive with cruises, the motorways with cars, the beaches with bathers and the shelters with hikers. Nothing can be taken away from these periods of relaxation, but tourism also has a major impact on the environment, and the terms 'sustainable tourism', 'slow tourism', or 'green tourism' are increasingly used in our vocabulary.
Sustainable tourism, as opposed to mass tourism in large destinations, is still relatively little practised, although it is gaining ground thanks to more information and initiatives at both national and European level. There are three main directions in which these projects are developing:
Eco-tourism focuses on visiting natural or little-known environments with the aim of supporting their preservation, through the payment of an entrance fee, donations, staying in accommodation run by local owners and not dedicated to mass tourism, buying local products, and where visitors have the opportunity to learn from their experience. The main objective of eco-tourism is to offer itineraries that deviate from the usual ones, as well as to discover local communities, the value of handicrafts, and to support tour operators who are not included in the 'big networks' frequented by the masses. The focus is not so much on profit as on conservation, community building and maintenance, and cooperation between visitors, local businesses, institutions, and tour operators. Profit is seen as a means of continuing to ensure quality experiences.
One of the most developed initiatives is MEET, a tourism network that includes protected areas and involves partners from Italy to Lebanon, via Spain, Albania, Croatia, Greece, France, and Tunisia. Recently, MEET has also started to collaborate with WWF's Travel section in order to present better sustainable and responsible experiences.
Enhancing cultural heritage
Cultural tourism is linked to the appreciation of the identity of a nation or a place. Culture is one of the main reasons to go on holiday, yet it often turns into an unthought-out visit to the most popular museum, with long queues and hurried tours. Making it sustainable means to enhance the importance of more hidden places, to bring about an appreciation of elements that are constitutive of culture but not so immediate, and to inform visitors about the history and context of the attractions visited. Another objective of sustainable cultural tourism is to ensure that culture has no season, which means that significant places in a country are open throughout the year and are appropriately presented during each season. Moreover, cultural tourism initiatives are often part of international projects, so that tourists can visit several cities that share the same history: for example, routes through the history of the Roman Empire, or war routes.
At the European level, the main promoter of initiatives that have to do with cultural tourism is ECTN (European Cultural Tourism Network), a network that gathers institutions and operators in the sector and that promotes the exchange of practices and knowledge in order to foster cooperation between cultural and tourist organisations in different countries, and the birth of new projects.
Accessible tourism was born as a promotion of equality in the tourism sector, guaranteeing the conditions for participation in travel to all interested persons, regardless of differences in terms of disability, age, or other types of limitations. The focus of accessible tourism practices is to meet the demand for experiences where visitors do not feel "up to scratch". A particular challenge in the field is making natural spaces, parks, forests, maritime and mountain areas accessible. While cities can be more easily adapted to certain needs, changing nature is not only more difficult, but often also unethical and at the risk of compromising its conservation and biodiversity. In general, initiatives in this field focus on creating maps displaying alternative routes, supporting local tourism businesses to renovate their premises and make them accessible, creating immersive (but digital) experiences, and, since it is still underdeveloped, organising networks and training events.
A good practice project is Appennini For All, which offers mountain tours for the disabled: on the one hand, thanks to the work of operators and guides with specific knowledge and able to organise overnight stays in facilities accessible to all and practicable routes, and, on the other, through the use of "mountain" wheelchairs with engines and characteristics that allow them to tackle uphill, uneven and dirt tracks.