By André Francischetti Moreno
An 800 kilometers coastline, olive groves leading to timeless cities of unscalable heritage value, mountains, cliffs, sanctuaries, home of Virgil, shelter of three UNESCO world heritage sites and an inspiration for one of the most representative Italian songs Nel blu dipinto di blu. Apulia is the most dynamic region in Southern Italy and is precisely located in the “heel” of the Italian “boot”. In recent years, it has become a trendy destination for tourists interested in exploring more in depth a country that keeps enchanting the world with its culture, nature and history. Emphatically, both culture and tourism have been an essential and interlinked part of the shift away from a primary-based economy, representing a big asset for regional economic growth. Rather than a natural coincidence for a gifted region, however, increased tourism has been the result of several projects sponsored by the European Union and the Italian government aimed to deal with important local challenges for international markets.
The first challenge for a further tourist development was the relative remoteness of Apulia regarding the main Italian destinations’ circuits, such as Venice, Florence and Rome. The second was the presence of small and medium sized tourism enterprises with difficult representation in the global market due to a lack of resources or willingness, thus problematizing the matching between single suppliers (e.g. hotels) and smaller suppliers (e.g. Bed and Breakfasts) with international tour operators involved in the organization of travel for foreign tourists. Additionally, a lack of highlight to the treasures of the region, seasonality, lack of private investment and infrastructure problems were also key issues to solve. A myriad of important projects was designed to address these matters, nevertheless in this text we are going to focus on two of them: “Buy Puglia” and the “PiiiL Culture” plan.
Buy Puglia was a Cohesion Policy program largely funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), lasting from 2007 to 2013. Its main goal was to give visibility to local sellers in national and international markets to attract foreign buyers. Pugliapromozione, the agency responsible for implementing the project, promoted exhibitions, trade sector initiatives to expose regional products, and provided educational tours, familiarizing tour operators with tourist attractions. The heart of Apulia´s strategy focused on two pillars, these being culture and tourism. Firstly, the action was based upon promoting culture as a place-branding and tourism attractor, strengthening the idea of culture as an employment generator tool and building competitive advantage. For tourism, the rationale was based upon reducing seasonality and attracting foreign investment via tourism promotion, diversification of the offering (from romantic routes to a sports destination), restoration of key monuments, fostering and supporting employment, and stimulating a more widespread growth of tourism including in less popular areas. Additionally, the ERDF invested heavily in ports, airports and in the restructuration and linkage of cultural and environmental heritage, becoming an important regional driver of economic activity for both employment and the overall economic development of the region.
Besides, in coherence with the EU strategy “Europe 2020”, which emphasizes a European agenda for growth and jobs in the coming decade, Apulia became a model of cultural planning by implementing the “PiiiL Culture” plan. As the name suggests, it is an economic development policy based on culture which aims on achieving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. With an investment of 400 million euros for ten years, beginning in 2017, the region government decided to focus on the “PiiiL” acronym: Product (building a cultural product of quality), Identity ( defining identity as rooted, authentic, half-caste, open and plural), Innovation (regarding both product and its shaping), Enterprise (from volunteering to a new business culture) and Work (without good employment there is no economy of culture). Also, in partnership with the Apulian Film Commission Foundation, the Regional Ministry for Tourism changed the traditional approach on the promotion of specific areas (i.e. Salento and Vale d´Itria) towards the promotion of the brand “Apulia” and “Apulia and cinema” in Italy and abroad. The “PiiiL Culture” is planned triennially and favors public-private partnerships, innovation, internationalization, valorization of urban and suburban areas, use of underused spaces and the growth/formation of the public through cultural activities.
Today, international flights land in the main airports of Puglia in Brindisi and Bari, and the official tourism website of the region offers ready-to-take itineraries and tips on things to do, where to go and events to attend. If you have any social media, you may also use the hashtag #WeAreInPuglia to discover new places and find more about the experience of other people who visited those. Abraham Lincoln once said that the best way to predict the future was to create it, and Apulia, supported by the European Union and the Italian government, is building it in a sustainable, inclusive and attractive way.
PiiiL CULTURA IN PUGLIA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.piiilculturapuglia.it/.
Your key to European statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/europe-2020-indicators.