Maurizio Davolio, president of the Associazione Italiana Turismo Responsabile (ISTO member), participated in the group of experts evaluating the applications to the European Capital of Smart Tourism and Eden. From this position he writes some insights about sustainability in European cities.
The shortlists of the cities that will compete for two prestigious prizes announced by the European Commission have been communicated to the public: European Capital of Smart Tourism (for cities with over 100,000 inhabitants) and Eden (for cities with up to 100,000 inhabitants).
The selected cities are the following: Bordeaux (France), Copenhagen (Denmark), Dublin (Ireland), Florence (Italy), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Palma de Mallorca and Valencia (Spain); Gürsu (Turkey), Middelfart (Germany) and Thisted (Denmark).
Cities that have adopted positive measures to qualify their tourism offer in terms of sustainability (both environmental and social) and to make the territory and services accessible to people with disabilities, have innovated in terms of digitization and creativity, in particular in cultural life and in the enhancement of their heritage could participate in the two competitions (and will be able to participate in the future).
The candidate cities had to, by sending adequate documentation, demonstrate their commitment, describe the measures adopted, mention the results acquired also through the presentation of statistical data. Each individual application had to be evaluated by a couple of experts, chosen for professional skills and specific experience. The prizes will then be awarded through a subsequent comparative evaluation of the cities that have become part of the two shortlists.
I had the honor of being part of the group of experts who evaluated the applications. I only dealt with sustainability, while other colleagues dealt with other important aspects such as accessibility, digitalization and creativity. This experience allows me to develop some considerations and reflections.
First of all, I noticed that there are now hundreds of cities in Europe, large and small, which have undertaken challenging paths to qualify their territory and their services in terms of sustainability. It is a clear and unambiguous process, already well defined in the present and definitely projected into the future.
The range of initiatives and actions is very wide and varied and includes interventions on mobility (roads, pedestrian areas, electric or hybrid means of transport, construction of cycle paths), on urban furnishings and public green areas (parks, gardens, recovery of abandoned buildings), on energy (use of renewable energy sources, actions for saving consumption), on water and waste management, in addition to the adoption of policies to counter or prevent overtourism phenomena (in the organization of events, the enhancement of suburbs and surroundings, targeted promotion, deseasonalization).
What struck me most, beyond the quality of the measures adopted, are the extremely positive procedures followed by several public administrations: not only the fairly obvious involvement of representatives of the tourism industry in decision-making processes, but also of other important components of the civil and social life: cultural, sporting and recreational associations; the world of school; sometimes the entire population. Tourists are also often involved, through interviews and the collection of observations and proposals.
In many cities committees, permanent working groups, mixed commissions are established and operate, which collaborate in the elaboration of multi-year plans by making collective choices which, as shared through participatory processes, have strong possibilities of being really implemented and of producing effective impact and results.
Several cities participate in European projects and have the opportunity to interact with other cities, to reflect on common problems, to exchange good practices and replicable experiences. The two awards reveal their strategic importance for the development of tourism in Europe based on sustainability, accessibility, technological and product innovation. The choices of sustainability do not derive only from an ethical approach that is widely shared but also from assessments related to competitiveness, taking into account the orientations and sensitivities of the tourism market, which is increasingly attentive to these aspects.