To further solidify Europe as the world’s number one tourist destination, new markets are continuously being explored. Building on the uniqueness and authenticity of remote destinations, Europe’s ‘Cultural Routes’ – which vary from medieval city trails to historic wine tours – represent an opportunity for innovation, creativity and small business creation.
Over the past two decades, Europe’s ‘Cultural Routes’ have shown great potential for creating small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and promoting Europe’s history-rich image. By incorporating parts of Europe which are largely unexplored – 90 % of the trails are in rural areas – Cultural Routes are a springboard to highlight the variety and complexity of Europe as a multifaceted tourism destination.
Currently the Cultural Routes feature 26 transnational itineraries selected and evaluated by the Council of Europe, which ensures that the Routes meet certain criteria. The Routes connect cities, villages and rural communities across the continent. Some of the more renowned routes include the Santiago De Compostela Pilgrim Routes, which feature around 1 800 historic buildings in Spain and France, and the Iter Vitis, which is based on the cultural history of vineyards and wine and runs through 18 countries. The Iter Vitis not only promotes vineyards as part of European identity, but also acts as a tool for sustainable development by safeguarding the landscapes pertaining to wine production.
Since 2010, the Cultural Route Programme of the Council of Europe has been supported by the European Commission thanks to a cooperation agreement signed by the two Institutions.
A 2010 study provided evidence of Cultural Routes’ ability to promote sustainable and quality tourism in Europe. The study, ‘Impact of European Cultural Routes on SMEs’ innovation
and competitiveness’, analysed how much Cultural Routes can benefit SMEs, especially in lesser-known destinations, by creating markets for SMEs’ products – markets that might not otherwise exist. After all, in many locations throughout Europe, the local culture and heritage are the main resource for development, and the study suggests that Cultural Routes help exploit these resources.
The European Commission is further supporting the European cultural itineraries with the ‘Crossroads of Europe’ annual fair, organised every year in a different country crossed by Cultural Routes. This initiative helps raise awareness about Cultural Routes and their potential for tourism among stakeholders, businesses, destination managers and national and local authorities. Strong partnerships with different authorities and stakeholders will help create a cohesive SMEs involvement strategy for the Cultural Routes.
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