I Stakeholder Cooperation for Socio-economic Development
The Seven Sisters of Piedmont A Case Study of Potentially Worthwhile Cooperation
Sabrina Latusi and Massimiliano Fissore
In destination management debate, policy-makers and researchers are moving toward the concepts of sustainability, ethics and identity as important strategic elements in fostering and developing the wellbeing of stakeholders (e.g. Franch Sc Martini, 2013; Su, Huang, S. Sc Huang, J., 2018). Sustainability is based on a humanistic vision of management, whereby places with a value-based perspective can combine economic, social, and environmental goals.
This perspective is promoting interest in a slow way of life and driving the growth of slow food, slow cities and slow tourism (Heitmann, Robinson Sc Povey, 2011). Slow tourism is a new frontier in tourism and destination management, particularly challenging for places with a historical, cultural and environmental heritage wishing to generate wellbeing for their stakeholders (e.g. Fullagar, Markwell Sc Wilson, 2012; Lowry Sc Lee, 2016).
This kind of heritage and positioning usually characterizes small, underestimated, and unrecognized places. When such places act independently, their small size makes for difficulties in visibility and consumer recognition. Therefore, cooperation among places (small cities, villages, cultural and natural beauty spots, etc.) seems to be the best way to pursue sustainable growth. Indeed, cooperation would seem to make it possible to overcome difficulties in the management and development of small places.
However, the application of the slow philosophy in tourism development and destination management has been studied mostly at a city level, in relation to Cittaslow (e.g. Mayer Sc Knox, 2006; Nilsson, Svard, Widarsson Sc Wirell, 2011; Ekinci, 2014), at a regional (de la Barre, 2012; Murayama Sc Parker, 2012) and national level (Serdane, 2019). Research on opportunities and challenges for using slow philosophy in tourism development at a network-based geographical scale (i.e. nonstandard region) is lacking in the academic literature. Networking can make for a viable and sustainable way of emerging in the slow tourism context by focusing strategies on cooperation (e.g. Guercini &£ Tunisini, 2017; Buffa, Beritelli & Martini, 2018).
The purpose of the chapter is to fill up this gap and, to this end, the following central research question is posed:
To what extent is cooperation among small-scale cities a valuable way to pursue slow tourism development as a mean to enhance dignity and well-being for the tourists and the local communities?
From this basis, specific sub-questions can be distinguished:
To address these issues, the study investigates an Italian local area known as ‘Sette Sorelle’ (Seven Sisters). These seven small cities (Alba, Bra, Cuneo, Fossano, Mondovi, Saluzzo, and Savigliano) in the province of Cuneo (in Piedmont) show a relatively low tourism demand. They have little-known natural and cultural elements that can represent great potential for a sustainable tourism development according to a slow philosophy. These municipalities share a cultural and historical common denominator that could support networking among them and their actors and facilitate the identification of common goals. These cities could grow together, improve their citizens’ quality of life, and become a valid alternative to other more well-known nearby destinations (e.g. Monferrato). Therefore, the Seven Sisters case represents a suitable context to explore cooperation and networking management in slow tourism development.
The chapter is organized as follows. First, an introductory theoretical discussion regarding the main topics under consideration (cultural slow tourism, nonstandard regions, and cooperation) is undertaken. Next, the methodology is presented, including the research context of the Seven Sisters. The opinions of local stakeholders on the development of the Seven Sisters are then analyzed, highlighting potential advantages and pitfalls. The chapter concludes by summarizing the main empirical findings, underlining the contribution made to existing knowledge.
2. A Theoretical Humanistic Framework for Cultural Slow Tourism in Nonstandard Regions
Humanistic management is a people-oriented management, showing care for people flourishing and well-being (Mele, 2016). It is a concept of management that upholds unconditional human dignity within an economic context (Mele, 2003; Spitzeck, Amann, Pirson, Khan & Von
Kimakowitz, 2009). The concept calls for a new vision of business: “serving the societies in which business operates, increasing their citizens’ quality of life” (Spitzeck, 2011, p. 51). This humanistic-oriented ethics pursuing dignity and well-being should be considered not only as a trend but also as a need for management (Dierksmeier, 2011). Re-thinking economics, business, and management from a humanistic perspective is particularly relevant in the tourism industry (Cynarski Sc Obodynski, 2004). This orientation calls for a tourism impact that socially, culturally, and environmentally is neither permanent, nor irreversible (Beech Sc Chadwick, 2006), allowing citizens (tourists, local communities, workers, etc.) a healthy, productive, and pleasant life.
In recent years, quality of life and well-being have become an important area of investigation in tourism research (Jepson, Stadler Sc Spencer, 2019). Indeed, there has been a shift in the value of tourism toward more subjective elements, such as sustainability, wellness, well-being, and quality of life (Perdue, Tyrrell Sc Uysal, 2010). According to Uysal, Sirgy, Woo and Kim (2016), systematic reviews of quality of life studies in tourism, tourists’ experiences and activities contribute to positive affect in a range of life domains and have a significant effect both on tourists’ overall life satisfaction and on well-being of residents of host communities too.
Recently, sustainability and personal/social well-being have become driving forces underpinning new forms of tourism, among which is slow tourism (Moore, 2012; Oh, Assaf Sc Baloglu, 2016).
2.1 Cultural Slow Tourism
The phenomenon of slow tourism needs to be understood in the sociocultural context of slow movement (Fullagar et al., 2012). The slow movement is a lifestyle revolution (Honore, 2005), a change of mindsets and a re-evaluation of life priorities (Heitmann et al., 2011). The new priorities include a slower approach to life, that strives for simplicity, mindfulness, and embodied experiences to facilitate renewal, revitalization, and self-enrichment (Howard, 2012). In the context of tourism, these new priorities translate to engaging with local people, preserving cultural traditions and natural resources, and making meaningful connections with heritage, places, and environment (e.g. Gibson, Pratt Sc Movono, 2012).
Slow tourism is an umbrella term encompassing various tourism types (Serdane, 2019), such as responsible tourism (Timms Sc Conway, 2012) and ethical tourism (Clancy, 2015). Several authors also link slow tourism with sustainability (e.g. Sidali Sc de Obeso, 2018).
From a humanistic perspective, previous studies show that slow tourism has the potential to improve the quality of life for both inhabitants and tourists (Hatipoglu, 2014; Presenza, Abbate Sc Micera, 2015) and enhance local community’s empowerment (Conway &c Timms, 2012; Park 8c Kim, 2015). Slow tourism prioritizes social, cultural, and environmental well-being and sustainability along with quality of experiences (Mayer et al., 2006; Heitmann et al., 2011; Ekinci, 2014). According to Timms and Conway (2012, p. 398), the slow-tourism model “offers a more sustainable tourism product that is less alienated (and alienating), more culturally sensitive, authentic and a better-paced experience for hosts and tourists alike”. It can foster a sense of place and assist in the forging of individuals’ and groups’ identities (Park & Kim, 2015).
Therefore, slow tourism has the potential to enhance dignity and wellbeing for the tourists but also for people involved in such industry and for local communities (Caffyn, 2012). In essence, slow tourism can be considered part of a humanistic practice.
In slow tourism, history, heritage, and culture play a significant role as drivers of local sustainable development and well-being (e.g. Santagata, 2002). These intangible assets are relevant to both internal and external stakeholders. They are the foundations of the sense of belonging and pride of the inhabitants. In the meantime, they are crucial to the narrative of the place (Jensen, 2007), contributing to the perception of the destination as unique and to the sense of authenticity experienced (Heitmann et al., 2011). Moreover, a virtuous circle may develop because local residents play an important role in creating an appealing atmosphere for tourists. In turn, tourists’ feedback can lead to a stronger appreciation of local culture and heritage among local inhabitants, strengthening their sense of identity (Nilsson, Svard, Widarsson & Wirell, 2007). Therefore, the interaction among culture, identity, and image is relevant (Kavaratzis & Hatch, 2013) in a humanistic perspective.
Culture can support the processes of place identification, that is, identification of the place as such, being identified as belonging to the place, and identification with the place (Kalandides, 2012; Boisen, 2015). Culture can represent a unifying element promoting place attachment, place recognition, and distinctive place positioning, combining a set of diverse resources (monument and heritage sites, cultural events, cuisine, traditions, etc.) in a complex interaction of values, stories, emotions, expectations, and experiences.
In slow tourism, the focus is on quality rather than quantity. This does not mean fewer experiences (Heitmann et al., 2011) but a valuable variety of experiences. Therefore, the development of tourism using slow philosophy requires cooperation among local stakeholders to provide a comprehensive tourism offering (Beritelli, 2011). Nevertheless, studies on slow tourism from the supply-side perspective are limited and mostly focused on a city level (Serdane, 2019). Cooperation among different places remains a topic largely unexplored in the application of the slow philosophy in tourism development and destination management.
According ro Park and Kim (2015), from a tourism destination perspective, slow tourism is particularly suitable for small-scale cities. Cooperation and networking among these realities can overcome the difficulties they encounter, when acting independently, in acquiring visibility and consumer recognition. This leads to the topic of nonstandard regions.
2.2 Nonstandard Regions and Cooperation
It is a shared opinion that a place exists as an entity if there are people who agree on its existence (Boisen, 2015). Such recognition is relative to a spatially defined area that may, or may not, be limited by administrative- based borders. In the latter case, a new geographical entity emerges, although not institutionally acknowledged, since the recognition of the place transcends the administrative-based borders of the individual territorial units that together—sharing an identity/image—form the place itself (Metzger, 2013). This creates what is known as a nonstandard region (e.g. Terlouw, 2009), something proper to the public realm but also a matter of concern to other economic and social actors (Lucarelli, 2018). This is because a number of local stakeholders can shape the identity of a nonstandard region.
Indeed, there has been a change in the distribution of responsibilities over different scalar levels of spatial authority (from supranational to municipal) and between the public and private sectors. This can be seen as a community empowerment: local communities acquire rights and power to collect resources for their needs, and rethink management to achieve autonomy and self-reliance and to maximize their quality of life (e.g. Scheyvens, 2002). Consequently, local authorities have become increasingly responsible for, and directly involved in, their own economies (e.g. Brenner, 2004) to secure the welfare and well-being of their inhabitants. This increased responsibility is a strong incentive for local authorities to understand interactions among places and to engage in cooperation, prioritizing collaborative strategies over competitive ones. The relational and collaborative space emerging from cooperation crosses the established administrative-based borders and makes these existing borders less important (Deas & Lord, 2006).
However, since nonstandard regions are composed of distinct political and administrative units, their sustainability and evolutionary dynamics cannot be taken for granted (Pasquinelli, 2015).
According to Boisen (2015), collaboration is a valuable issue, and the resulting nonstandard region becomes a better place if the individual territorial units involved share a common denominator relevant to their internal and external stakeholders. This common element could be socioeconomic, cultural, or historical. It should strengthen the value proposition of the area, its distinctiveness, and identity, and it should support a vision for a shared future. “Although this theoretically makes sense, this is not always the case in practice” (Boisen, 2015, p. 19).
In some cases, these new regions are the result of incentives and funding schemes; in other circumstances, they are formed through coalitions of companies, institutions and public authorities in an area dominated by one or more strong business sectors. There are other cases that result from a relational and collaborative space chosen as a model to support regeneration plans. This can occur through re-positioning and re-branding strategies, according to criteria of effectiveness and efficiency. Outside these cases, since the network is not a region from an administrative perspective, political interest in the network project can be very weak (Boisen, 2015). In fact, “who wants to be a politician in a region that does not exist?” (Berg & Lofgren, 2000, p. 10 as cited by Pasquinelli, 2015).
The geographical focus of the research are seven small-scale cities in the province of Cuneo, historically known as the ‘Seven Sisters’. The province of Cuneo, also called ‘La Granda’, is located in the northwest of Italy and is characterized by the heterogeneous and varied nature of many of its attributes, notably the environment, culture, and gastronomy.
The territory is divided into three main parts, where the sister-cities are located: the Langhe and Roero hills, with Alba and Bra; the mountains area, with Cuneo (the county seat), Mondovi and Saluzzo; and the plain, with Savigliano and Fossano.
Each one of these seven cities has a unique identity and some specific quality that distinguishes it from the others. At the same time, the cities share a historical and cultural heritage and are tied by a common thread of shared values. Consequently, they are similar enough to be considered sisters.
This territory is an important gastronomic center, especially renowned for wine, meat, truffles, chocolate, and cheese. In particular, Alba and the surrounding Langhe hills have achieved international recognition. While mainly based on agriculture, the economy is also characterized by the presence of important industrial sectors, which are well spread on the local area, giving to every sister-city a business support.
Historically, the Cuneo region and its cities owe their origins to a common cultural element: the aristocratic heritage and the centuries as part of the Savoy dominion.
Nevertheless, the territory is characterized by an intrinsic heterogeneity. This element reinforces the sense of identity and reciprocal diversity of each sister-city and is even a ground for dualism inherited from the past.
There is a dualism in the origins of the cities and their historical alliances: Cuneo and Mondovi as free commons; Saluzzo, Fossano, and Bra as aristocratic feuds; Savigliano and Alba as minor centers. Central to these differences are the different alliances among families and regions (the Kingdom of France, Monferrato, the Papal State, and the Floly Roman Empire). Over time, these differences were largely reconciled when the province of Cuneo was acquired by the Sabaud State.
The characteristic territorial heterogeneity gave rise to an interesting cultural flowering that manifested itself in architectural and artistic works, dialects, local cuisine, etc., which fostered interchange among the Seven Sisters, leading to collective growth and local pride.
3.2 The Seven Sisters as a Potential Nonstandard Region
The Seven Sisters share a long history, but nowadays they could be seen as a dormant place. Flowever, because a place can emerge as a result of social processes, “dormant places can be brought back to life if they are relevant enough to contemporary people” (Boisen, 2015, p. 15).
Following this approach, the Seven Sisters could become a nonstandard region if the seven municipalities were to engage in a cooperative approach to sustainable economic and social development. The cities could be partners in a network that blurs their administrative boundaries and creates a new relational and collaborative space. Therefore, the network could become a platform for imagining new strategic trajectories to conceive and implement local, sustainable development policies (Pas- quinelli, 2015), fostering the well-being of the region and its inhabitants.
Moreover, this network of seven municipalities has real potential as a cultural slow-tourism destination. The area is already familiar with slow philosophy (e.g. the headquarters of Slow Food is located in Bra) and the preservation of cultural heritage.
Through promoting the symbolic associations that characterize the network, every single node of the network (i.e. each sister-city) can be enriched by new values and perceptions released by the network itself and by other nodes (Pasquinelli, 2017). The network of the Seven Sisters could, therefore, become an interesting slow-tourism alternative to more renowned destinations.
Nevertheless, networking requires a strong commitment and a vision shared by all the stakeholders involved. Usually, stakeholders (especially policy-makers) adopt a collaborative approach when it represents a real added value and possibility for growth, dealing with issues that cannot be addressed within pre-existing administrative-based borders (Boisen, Terlouw & van Gorp, 2011).
Considering the historical and cultural heritage shared by the sister- cities and their potential as a slow-tourism destination, this study selected the Seven Sisters to deepen the issue of networking in slow-tourism development. The Seven Sisters nonstandard region is in a latent stage, and this makes this case a unique opportunity to explore what can facilitate and/or hinder the blossoming of an effective network. The main topics discussed are:
The study adopted a qualitative research methodology because the interest was on deeply exploring a particular case, not still object of analysis (Ritchie, Lewis, Nicholls & Ormston, 2003), related to network-building in the humanistic tourism perspective and local, sustainable development.
In-depth, semi-structured interviews with local stakeholders were conducted face-to-face during April and May 2019, in separate sessions lasting 45 minutes on average. The interviews were digitally recorded. In advance of the interviews, participants were informed about the privacy policies and the confidentiality of their interviews.
Eighteen stakeholders were contacted, with a response rate of 72%. They were selected using theoretical sampling (based on the theoretical needs of the study) and snowball sampling (research participants recommended other potential participants) (Patton, 2002). Being interested in understanding the advantages and obstacles to cooperation in slow- tourism development, the respondents were recruited among actors with political and managerial decision power.
Key informants were divided into institutional and non-institutional actors (Table 2.1). The institutional informants were members of the city councils of each of the sister-cities, while the non-institutional actors were members of important local cultural and socio-economic associations, foundations, and organizations, involved in the territorial development. The division between institutional and non-institutional actors was considered useful in examining different sensitivities to topics such as sustainability, slow tourism, and networking. Each sister-city was represented by at least one institutional actor and one non-institutional actor.
Although the bottom-up approach is a viable option for implementing the slow philosophy in tourism development, private tourist operators and the local community were not considered because network-building and cooperation among municipalities requires as a preliminary condition the commitment of the political and institutional representatives (Boisen, 2015). At the same time, the non-institutional actors were considered because of the supportive and influencing role they can play in the network project.
Table 2.1 Institutional and non-institutional stakeholders interviewed
Source: Author’s own elaboration
The interviews were transcribed with a view to conducting two text analyses: the first entailed thematic analysis of data with a systematic read and reread to sum up relevant themes (Boyatzis, 1998; Fereday & Muir- Cochrane, 2006) and a subsequent rationalization of key elements; the second was conducted with Т-Lab software, employing statistical and lexical methods to highlight the relevance and frequency of words and topics.
The use of Т-Lab software helped to highlight the frequency of the lemmas1 used, the keywords, and associations between them. Some grouping with an internal homogeneity and an external heterogeneity became necessary to avoid fragmentation resulting from the use of synonyms (Lancia, 2012).
The most relevant keywords related to the topics analyzed in each question are represented in radial diagrams showing, for each lemma, the grade of association with the others considered significant by the software applying a chi-square test [p < 0.05). The distance between keywords and other lemmas is proportional to the grade of association: the shorter the distance, the greater the correlation.
The analysis is divided into three sections that deal with themes, potentialities, and obstacles related to cooperation among the sister-cities.
4.1 Issues and Objectives for Cooperation Among the Sister-Cities
With reference to potential cooperation among the Seven Sisters, the majority of actors, both institutional and non-institutional, stressed the same principal topics as a focus for their policies and efforts: the outdoors, gastronomy, events, and culture. At first glance, the presence of the three pillars of tourism attraction emerges: nature, food, and culture. These elements are united by the concept of cooperation, and they are implemented according to slow tourism and local identity perspectives.
It is interesting to note that the majority of actors interviewed consider nature and landscape conservation as the main themes of a shared development among the Seven Sisters and the principal area where slow- tourism policies can be jointly implemented. The following comments exemplify this:
Relating to slow tourism we go after all the aspects of the outdoor because it is a part of our territory.
About slow tourism there is a real chance to work together with the upcoming project on bike routes of the outdoor tourism, where we are trying to work on the territory.
Looking at the radial diagrams of the keyword ‘Slow Tourism’ there is a confirmation of that association (Figure 2.1). The outdoor activities are always connected, both for institutional and non-institutional actors, to the words ‘Slow Tourism’. Other interesting co-occurrences emerging from slow tourism are ‘important’ and ‘potentiality’, highlighting the centrality of considering economic and socio-cultural growth only if it involves a sustainable base and a humanistic perspective.
The diagram results, crossed with the text analysis, reveal that slow tourism led by outdoor aspects tend to be more important for institutional actors than non-institutional ones. The latter tend to have a broader vision rather than a specific target related to slow-tourism perspectives. The centrality of the outdoors for policy-makers probably reflects the fact that interviewees had in mind the financial support given by the European Union and other institutions to improve cycle paths and hiking trails, or other investments in sport and nature, rather than supporting culture and tradition.
The priority given to the outdoors by institutional actors is confirmed by the ‘Issues’ radial diagrams (Figure 2.2). Policy-makers associate ‘issues’ with ‘nature’, ‘beauty’, ‘mountains’, and ‘water’, while non-institutional actors tend to be more concerned about the seemingly
less distinctive lowland sister-cities of Savigliano and Fossano. Non- institutional stakeholders talk about ‘storytelling’ and ‘experience’, highlighting the importance of communication messages targeting the new frontier of experience in tourism management.
The ‘Identity’ radial diagrams show the institutional actors’ focused view of the Seven Sisters’ identity, compared with the more holistic view of the non-institutional actors (Figure 2.3). The former underlines the importance of gastronomy and agriculture as identity elements. For non- institutional actors, ‘Identity’ is more strongly related to other words such as ‘diversity’, ‘cultural’, ‘citizens’, ‘Saluzzo’, ‘find’, and ‘objective’. A search for convergence among the lemmas shows that ‘citizens’ are the basic social elements of the ‘identity’ of the Seven Sisters. This ‘identity’ becomes an ‘objective’ and is based on the ‘cultural’ aspects and the ‘diversity’ of resources, with a specific link to ‘Saluzzo’ as the cultural heart of the province of Cuneo.
4.2 Potential Advantages of a Shared Network Perspective
With reference to the potential advantages of cooperation and networking, text analysis results converge toward branding and communication as key elements that can advance the progress of the Seven Sisters. The majority of actors sees the benefits of working together under the ‘Seven Sisters’ brand, considering place branding helpful for a stronger distinctive image and more efficient communication. The creation of a distinct presence of the ‘Seven Sisters’ brand in the hearts and minds of people could attract new slow tourism. This would be welcomed by local inhabitants and could attract new citizens. One of the non-institutional actors clearly quoted:
If the sister-cities work on simplify what they want to communicate, something meaningful and significant for the local identity of each Sister, this will help the creation of a place brand hanging together seven ‘characteristics’ completing each other.
The system of statistically significant associations with the lemma ‘Advantages’ confirms and supports the text analysis (Figure 2.4). For city managers, ‘identity’, ‘coordination’, and ‘costs’ are co-occurrences, while for non-institutional actors the main words are 'unique concept’, ‘communication’, ‘collaboration’, ‘beauty’, ‘levels’, and ‘gastronomy’. This highlights the possibility to ‘communicate’ a ‘unique concept’ through ‘collaboration’ among the sister-cities, based on the ‘beauty’ of the places and ‘gastronomy’. Policy-makers are more concerned about costs; consequently, they see coordination as a cost-sharing opportunity.
4.3 Obstacles to Cooperation in the Creation of the Seven Sisters Network
A convergence around three main problematic issues in creating a sustainable network among the seven municipalities emerges from the interviews.
The first is parochialism, meaning mental closure and the tendency to see only very local questions about one’s own city. The main fear is: ‘Why should I help the others to succeed, and what is in it for me?’ The problem is a difficulty in seeing the big picture, in working toward cooperation with one’s neighboring cities. In particular, there are two competing attractions: the mountains (near Mondovi and Cuneo) and the Langhe hills (near Alba). An institutional respondent commented:
There’s a really strong parochialism among us, the Seven Sisters. We do not feel it among us [intending Cuneo and Mondovi], but between us and Alba. Citizens of Alba are in their own way.
Indeed, the Langhe territory seems to converge more toward collaborations with other nearby areas such as Monferrato (having common environments and culture) and Turin (one of the strongest cultural poles in Italy).
When there are two strong magnetic poles with opposite energies, it can seem difficult to foresee any kind of collaboration. This makes it difficult to see that the area’s attractions could complement one another in a broader mosaic encompassing a worthwhile, sustainable horizon.
The second issue is local politics. Some of the sister-cities are in the hands of opposing political parties, and this can cause rivalry and mistrust. Different opinions and approaches to the same topic can make it difficult to build a shared vision of the future and a long-term perspective on development.
The last obstacle is logistics and infrastructure. In fact, the province of Cuneo suffers from a lack of motorways linking the eastern and western parts of the region. Railways are in need of modernization, and the tunnel connecting the area with France is blocked because of subsidence. All the stakeholders agree on this point, and the following question arises: ‘Why cooperate if the infrastructure cannot support tourism?’ Both institutional and non-institutional actors do not seem to understand that cooperation is the starting point to overcoming these deficiencies.
As shown in Figure 2.5, institutional actors associate the words ‘parochialism’, ‘infrastructures’, and ‘rivalries’ with the lemma ‘Problems’, confirming what emerged from critical analysis. Institutional actors also point out the words ‘not easy to reach’, highlighting logistics and infrastructure as major local problems. Non-institutional actors link
Figure 2.5 Problems: radial diagrams for institutional (a) and non-institutional (b) actors
Source: Author’s own elaboration ‘Problems’ with ‘attraction’ of customers and related revenue and investments, and with the word ‘distant’, which is again connected to the infrastructural issues. These types of problems call for ‘reflections’ at different ‘levels’, underlining the multi-scalar nature of place governance.
The chapter discusses the potential for local tourism development based on a slow positioning and networking among small-scale cities. The potential nonstandard region of the Seven Sisters has been analyzed through key informant interviews. It has been highlighted that sustainable forms of tourism, such as slow tourism, fit with the humanistic management philosophy, having a common body of values. Slow tourism embraces and amplifies people flourishing and well-being, that are core values in a humanistic perspective. Nevertheless, the slow-tourism model seems not easy to be implemented at a network-based scale.
Both institutional and non-institutional interviewees agree that slow tourism makes for common ground among the sister-cities and uniqueness in tourists’ perceptions (Heitmann et al., 2011). Nature, landscape, culture, and tradition are seen as areas of potential collaboration and joint policies that could favor sustainable growth and improve overall well-being. Through collaboration, it could be possible to define a unique brand (the ‘Seven Sisters’) and obtain a distinctive positioning. In addition, cooperation could create cost efficiencies in branding and communication.
In essence, the sister-cities share an historical and cultural common denominator relevant to their internal and external stakeholders, that could strengthen the value proposition of the area, its distinctiveness, and identity (Boisen, 2015). From a humanistic perspective, collaboration among the sister-cities in slow-tourism development is perceived as a valuable way to make the resulting nonstandard region a better place, improving the quality of life for both inhabitants and tourists.
The creation of a network requires strong commitment among participants, who must perceive the relevant advantages of sharing efforts and investments. They must share a common vision of the place and of its future positioning too. Nevertheless, network- and dialogue-based strategies among the sister-cities are limited by parochialism and power fragmentation. The interviewees agree that dialogue and relations are compulsory elements for cooperation, but there is a convergence of opinions that parochialism and individualism are the main obstacle for ‘growing together, growing stronger’.
Therefore, the lack of convergent interests and the persistence of parochialism hinder the creation of the Seven Sisters network tied to a humanistic perspective for its goals (i.e. to promote slow tourism as a means to enhance the dignity and well-being of tourists, of people involved in the industry, and of local communities) and its modalities (favoring cooperation vs. competition). The existing literature supports the idea that the most relevant limitation to cooperation are financial issues and loss of political power (e.g. Boisen, 2015; Berg & Lofgren, 2000), but in the Seven Sisters case these factors do not clearly emerge as a major concern.
The research reveals different opinions between institutional and non- institutional actors. Non-institutional actors consider the Seven Sisters as a region with geographical and cultural fluidity, where differences among sub-areas are a strength rather than a limitation. They highlight the three pillars of nature, food, and culture as the basis of the Seven Sisters’ value proposition, where the identity of each sister-city is maintained and reinforced as a part of an overall mosaic. Cultural and humanistic aspects, particularly stressed by non-institutional actors, seem to be less important for policy-makers, who tend to focus more on nature-oriented policies.
In conclusion, in the case of the Seven Sisters, two different visions emerge. Non-institutional actors seem ready to act and play a role in a wider context (the network), whereas institutional players are still trying to frame a position and to overcome internal rivalries. The Seven Sisters case confirms that political interest in a network project can be very weak when a cooperative strategy is not motivated by access to public incentives and funding programs, a strong business sector driving local development, and the need for territorial regeneration and requalification (Boisen, 2015).
The chapter addresses a topic so far unexplored. It is subject to limitations that provide avenues for further studies. Future research may involve other categories of stakeholders, such as members of the local business community, citizens, and tourists. Future research can build upon the findings of the present study to investigate the topic in other contexts. As suggested by Ekinci (2014), a comparative study would also be beneficial.
1. Group of words with the same lexical root or belonging to the same grammatical category.
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