Developing the St. Francis Way united communities, hospitality and tourism service providers, and institutions to conserve and promote an intangible asset.
The concentration of tourist flows to key attractions creates pressures there (parking, crowds) while neglecting the potential of villages and the region’s natural and cultural assets.
The solution was to expand and improve the offer with slow and sustainable tourism products to attract walking, cycling and horseback tourism, beyond the usual towns and to create new business opportunities in rural areas.
Creating new itineraries required many factors:
- Plan, map and add infrastructure to blend tangible assets (paths, the villages and cultural sites they pass) associated with St. Francis and intangible ones (the meaning associated with his life);
- signage and maintenance must meet quality and safety standards for walkers of different abilities, cyclists and animals;
- strategic partnerships with stakeholders: tourism board; clubs of hikers, cyclists, equestrians; public and religious institutions; trade associations.
- cooperation among hospitality and tourism service providers to set minimum standards for walkers, cyclists, equestrians;
- work with public transit network (including electric vehicles, bike sharing)
- marketing and promotion, to tourists and also for locals in areas the route crosses.
Stakeholders: Umbria Region (Agriculture, environment, tourism, commerce, infrastructure), religious institutions, municipalities, SMEs, Ministry of Cultural Heritage
Beneficiaries: Tourists, Tourism and other SMEs especially in rural and mountain areas.
Investment over 10 years of about 1M € for signage, trail safety and maintenance, mapping, water supply at rest areas. Promotion (brochures, maps, fairs and press tours, website, etc) about 40K € per year HR: many hours from volunteers. 3 people (very part time) oversee project and manage promotion.
Evidence of success
Implementing the route has benefitted a range of stakeholders, from the hikers using it to providers of hospitality services, religious communities, the volunteers and towns involved.
From 2015 to 2017, visitor traffic on the Way increased by 35%, with a tripling of those from Netherlands, Germany and USA.
The route has attracted Italian national funding, and awards from the Green Road (2015) and the European Cultural Tourism Network’s top Destination of Sustainable Cultural Heritage (2018).
Challenges: Working with different government units and some reluctant entrepreneurs for planning; Maintenance of the routes
Lessons: Involve local associations to manage routes, tourism SMEs to set the route and publishers specialized in hiking and cycling tourism
Define sustainability indicators
Potential for learning or transfer
We believe this approach can be adopted and adapted to many other contexts, because it does not depend on a specific characteristic in our area, but in identifying the intangible idea and then creating an itinerary to valorise it.
Many steps and considerations are needed to build a slow tourism itinerary and it is a long process which must involve many contributors and someone with the vision, will and resilience to coordinate them and keep driving the project forward.
The stakeholders and partners should contribute not only opinions and guidance but also specific skills (planning, infrastructure, marketing) needed to implement the project and to manage, maintain and promote it after it is “open for business”.
Note that the financial investment seems high, but the route is 270 km long. Costs such as signposting and improvements to make the route safer and to create a water supply at rest areas will of course vary.
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