Magical! Matera!! More-- imagine music filling the air and bringing the charm you see in this picture to a feverish boil. This weekend, January 19 bands and musicians from across Europe will converge in Matera to join local musicians celebrating Matera’s designation as a 2019 European Capital of Culture. This is but the first of many special celebrations to be held in Matera this year.
Matera - 2019 European Capital of Culture
This moniker—European Capital of Culture—is not a mere nickname or coinage of an advertising firm. Since 1985, the European Union has designated one or two places each year as a cultural capital and with the honor comes a purse for cultural development.
One might assume that the locals are thrilled with the expected inflow of tourists and Euros that comes with this status…
but then again….
As you soaked in this picture and read of a stream of festivities were you also instantly worrying if the crowds would be unbearable? Were you remembering war stories of how the only way to see art in the Uffizi Gallery is by holding your cellphone camera up high? Or maybe how you cycled in total darkness so you could get to temples on the far edges Angkor Wat before the daily masses made it unbearable?
Though you may have such flashbacks of trips from hell, take a moment to see it from the perspective of the locals.
There’s more than a name for this natural ambivalence about the expected hordes of tourists swelling on Matera’s streets. There is now a movement. It’s called the STOP OVERTOURISM! Movement and its energy comes, paradoxically, from the very travel professionals who stand to profit most from tourism swells. Tourists are of course welcomed. But maybe, goes the thought, our crowded planet needs to do a re-think of how we travel from place to place.
How fitting that this re-thinking picks Matera, a place long known for sustainability in farming and lifestyle, as an important marker in this marathon to re-define tourism.
To understand the STOP OVERTOURISM! movement more, Picture This Post (PTP) caught up with the movement founder, Lesley Pritikin, who happens to be a Chicago-born transplant to Italy, and who recently founded Divertimento Group (DG) to help create this sea change in tourism –in Italy and perhaps beyond.
PTP - What does your company do and what inspired you to launch this venture?
LP: The travel and tourism sector directly accounted for 3% of total global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017, translating to $2.4 trillion, a figure that could reach $3.5 trillion by 2027. This is good news for travel professionals, but for tourists and residents of favorite hot spots, more is not always better.
American friends and family members kept telling me Italy had changed. Too many lines, not-so-great food, not-so-friendly locals. But that was true in cities like Rome, Florence, Venice and in areas like the Cinque Terra.
I couldn’t figure out why American tourists had not yet discovered the many amazing, crowdless, off-the-beaten track places that I loved – for example, the Castelli Romani where I live. These “alternative” locations offer art, history, hospitality, great food and wine, and breathtaking natural beauty to match any of the popular “hot spots”.
…Cultural tourists usually want to live like a local. We take it one step beyond though—we empower the locals to decide how visitors should see their special place, their home, the places they love….
Does this mean that you create tours to lesser known places? Don’t cultural tourists want to see the popular hot spots too?
Divertimento Group’s LOCALS-FIRST tourism model engages proud local residents as designer-creators of unique itineraries that show-off the amazing, special places where they grew up.
Editor’s Note: Watch this moving video called “Enzo’s story” that so aptly conveys the spirit of the LOCALS-FIRST tourism model.
LP continued: Our STOP Overtourism Movement is not only concerned with where people go – but also with how they visit the places they want to go to. Even first-time visitors to Italy who want to see the usual hot spots can explore the cities in a new way – maybe off-season or at less crowded times. They can learn a lot about a location through contact with the residents - visiting monuments and museums is not the only way to experience a place. When we get to hear someone’s story, we get a deeper sense of place.
For example, visitors to Murano over the past 50 years saw glass blowing demonstrations that were touristy and commercially motivated. Visitors rarely had any contact with the glass blowers or the families who had been part of the glass art tradition for centuries. But in the LOCALS FIRST way of touring, you not only get to know the glass blowers themselves and meet their families but you also get to meet and know the newest generation glass blowers—many of whom have transplanted to the area to inject new energies and directions in treasured artisanal traditions.
How can Picture This Post readers plug into this movement and Divertimento Group styled tours?
One immediate resource I can point to is Rosanne Cofoid, owner of Hinsdale, Illinois’ La Dolce Via Travel (LDVT) , who is a huge supporter of the STOP Overtourism movement and the LOCALS-FIRST model. In fact, her DG- sponsored tour-- Beyond the Sassi where she took a unique trek on a Matera family’s farm to the ancient church on their property hidden within rocks including an extraordinary 5-course lunch served like a performance-art unfolding is just the kind of experience she is keen to help other American tourists have.
For more information –
Visit the Divertimento Group website
Visit La Dolce Via Italy Travel website
Photos courtesy of Divertimento Group.