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In this article I will present you not only transformative experiences in five European Capitals of Culture, but I will also take you “behind the scenes” to learn about the co-creation process laying behind each experience that I had the honor to follow as part of my job 🙂

This year I’ve had the pleasure to work on a super interesting European project called Cultour is Capital in collaboration with Destination Makers, a destination marketing agency focused on promoting under-the-tourist-radar destinations.
I started my collaboration with Destination Makers about a year ago working on co-creation workshops on the topics of outdoor and transformative travel.
This opportunity came into my life totally unexpected as I had never worked as a professional trainer in this field and it was a true surprise. I like to take on challenges so I was not afraid when I was asked to hold 6 hour workshops including team work exercices on travel design.
After the first two positive experiences the next step was Traces, Cultour is Capital project aiming at creating transformative experiences in the European Capitals of Culture.
I still remember when I received this job offer, I was about to leave to Vietnam for a 2-week group tour I was leading, I ‘ve been asked simply if I was able to deliver the workshops in English and I naturally replied “Yes, of course”.
I didn’t know this would have represented a big chapter of my professional life and, maybe, I didn’t need to know back then because it was just perfect as it was.
Once I came back from Vietnam I soon realized I was involved in a big project, and I was expected to hold the T-Labs (transformative travel co-design labs) in 5 different European cities, I was simply over the moon! I was about to do what I love the most: travelling and share my experience and passion for transformative tourism.

The first city I visited was Rijeka in Croatia, 2020 Capital of Culture, and in just less than a month I visited Gelsenkirchen (Germany), Burgos (Spain), Matera (Italy), before the lockdown cancelled my trip to Kosice (Slovakia) that was supposed to be my last workshop and I had to adapt all my work in less than a week to be done online. Luckily it all worked out fine though I am not particularly tech-savvy and Zoom by then was not part of our everyday life yet.

t-lab traces cultour is capital
t-lab traces cultour is capital

This experience has been very important for my career in the training field and also personally empowering, giving me the right self-confidence to think bigger than what I am used to.
This week the project has come to an end and I have participated to the final presentation that has resulted in an online platform called Game of Traces, where all the experiences I have participated to co-design are on display.

I am so proud to see this year work online and I suggest you to take a look to these wonderful transformative experiences in five different locations I am sure you wouldn’t expect 😉

What is a ECoC?

European Union has launched the ECoC program in the ’80s and since then have awarded each year two cities to be the European Capitals of Culture.
This means the cities will showcase their cultural heritage and development through a series of events that draw a lot of attention also on their tourism potential.
Becoming a Ecoc is not an easy task though, cities need to comply with a series of criteria and present a detailed project able to represent their cultural heritage and development. The Member State publish a call for applications 6 years before the title year, and throughout this long period the selection and implementation process take place.

rijeka tour

How does transformative travel relate to European Capitals of Culture?

Transformative travel is the new trend of the last few years that have shifted the attention of a trip from the destination to the motivation.
Why people are travelling has become the main quest for destinations and tour operators all over the world who are no longer promoting “experiences” but an opportunity to “transform” something in your life (learn more about transformative travel).

European Capitals of Culture are usually dedicated to promote the cultural and artistic background of cities that are not the mainstream capitals for tourism.
TraCEs project has enabled to highlight the strong interaction between two transformative industries such as tourism and culture, that too often are dealt with separately but can indeed walk side-by-side.
For me it was super interesting to see how new innovative experiences came out from the intertwine of these two fields, working with professionals, tourism businesses, cultural associations, students, artists, who all joined to give birth to new ways to live and explore their cities.

Transformative experience co-creation labs

The local panoramas were all very different, with some cities already showcasing a strong tourism identity, such as Matera and Burgos, or the Ruhr area in Germany that have in recent years rebranded from a industry-based economy to a sustainable tourism destination.
It was interesting to learn about this cities I didn’t know and together with the participants to the T-Labs work out which are the strong selling points, the target and related travel motivations we wanted to aim at, and together come up with brand-new and fresh offers.

In each city I have held a 6-hour workshop where I have introduced some basic concepts about sustainable, responsabile and transformative travel, how to choose the right target for our product, the importance of designing experiences that take into consideration the traveller’s motivations, how to create valuable and innovative experiences.
The main part of the T-Labs have been dedicated to team work where local tourism businesses, associations, cultural and art operators, worked together to design new transformative experiences. Thinking outside the box was probably the main challenge but the cooperation between tourism and cultural operators have enabled great ideas to come up.
After the T-Labs we kept in touch for month with all providers to implement the experiences that have been “tested” by Margherita by The Crowded Planet blog, who have described all of them on the platform where also an overview video for each offer is available.

What can you experience in the European Capitals of Culture?

matera tour

Explore Matera with all your senses creating your own story of the city. A tour between imagination and creativity that takes you beyond the historical heritage of the popular “sassi di Matera”, listening, reading, drawing your personal perception of this enchanted city.

A true live-like-a-local experience that will allow you to live the slow-pace life of a small village of Southern Italy. You will mingle with the locals, learn about local products (and some Italian language), but most importantly, you will be welcomed not only as a guest but as a temporary citizen.

Sometimes you just need to change perspective, and that’s what this tour of Burgos is all about. Burgos boasts a rich history that is usually told by its imponent cathedral, the medieval knight El Cid, the Camino de Santiago, but this tour allows you to discover the city through the womens’ eyes, because Burgos history has been chracterized by many relevant female figures. And so is still today, boasting several women entrepreneur you will be able to meet to share this new perspective of the city.

Imagine to wake up each day in a different time period and do not know what to expect from your day. That’s what Kosice offers you, a blind date with the best cultural, historical, social experiences in town.
From the prehistoric era, through the Middle Ages, to the retro period up to the contemporary time, Kosice will reveal a surprise after another.

When thinking of Croatia most people would imagine a sailing boat trip or lazy sunbathing on a gorgeous beach, whereas Rijeka offers a city-break for people interested in bettering their body and mind wellbeing, discovering the city while getting to know the basics for tailormade physical exercise matched with active relaxation, and a healthy diet based on genuine products.

Big cities are usually popular for being cultural and artistic hubs, boasting plenty of possibilities for museums, art galleries, events, and even shopping.
Hamm offers a new way to explore the city through its sounds, changing your perspective and being the protagonist of your personal audio experience of Hamm.

Most people probably wouldn’t even know where Gelsenkirchen is, some football fans may know it because of an important German team, the Schalke04, based here. This tour has been one of the project bets because it may not appear much of a transformative experience, but I can prove you wrong because football (and sport in general) has the power to connect people fostering the sense of community and belonging. That’s exactly what this tour throughout the city’s spots related to the Schalke’s team is about.

Game of Traces and the CulTourist passport

On the Game of Traces platform you can view all tours and transformative experiences currently available in the five European Capitals of Culture that have participated to the project, but where in the future more cities may join too 😉

You can have a interactive experience requesting your CulTourist passport, a virtual passport where you can save your favourite experiences while organizing your trip, and check in once you are in the destination receiving stamps on your passport!

I can’t wait to be able to travel to be back to these cities and try all these wonderful transformative experiences myself 🙂

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