Tourism is a very important source of income for the developing economies especially in the region of South East Asia which is characterised from its very important natural and cultural resources. For example in Vietnam, the international arrivals growth rate was 8,9% over the past decade. However, the current tourism model in these countries is largely unsustainable (http://www.thanhniennews.com/society/vietnam-committing-tourism-harakiri-3119.html), fact which means that tourism industry may bring economic benefits to specific areas of these countries but it also creates major problems in the society and in the environment.
Because of this fact, and based on the principles of the Cape Town Declaration on Sustainable Tourism, there is a growing need to move the tourism industry of these countries towards a model of sustainable development (from an environmental, economic and social point of view) that will assess economic impacts before developing tourism, it will maximise local economic benefits by increasing linkages and reducing leakages, it will ensure that communities are involved in and benefit from tourism, it will include communities in planning and decision making, it will assist with marketing and product development and it will promote equitable business practices.
The role of alternative cultural tourism is very important in this respect. Besides the big monuments and famous sites that exist in these countries, there are plenty of cultural resources that remain unexploited. These include minor sights, modern culture (music, dance), local traditions, food, traditional community life, modern art etc. If all the tourism flaw in one country is directed towards few sites and towards activities that are not sustainable from an environmental, economic or social point of view, then the whole tourism industry becomes unsustainable. It has been proven that responsible tourism practices can bring benefits to the communities in all levels.
However, even if success stories and best practices exist, the model of tourism development based on alternative cultural tourism is not widespread. For this reason there is an urgent need to promote the concept of alternative cultural tourism to South East Asia and to train people for this purpose. The need is bigger when the focus is given to communities and people with fewer opportunities who are usually not involved in the tourism industry even if they could benefit from it in a great extent.
The young people have a major role to play in this respect first because the majority of the population in the South East Asian countries is comprised by young people and then because the young people are the most dynamic and innovative part of the economy. For the moment this potential has not been exploited a lot and many young people do not have exposure to social activities and ignore the cultural resources of their country.
This is why the youth organisations in the Asian countries are very important actors that, through the development of mutually beneficial cooperation with European organisations, could reduce the youth unemployment and support the sustainable economic development of their countries and regions. Alternative cultural tourism can reduce significantly youth unemployment also because it is an activity that does not require a high budget in order to be implemented and it could be also implemented by a group of young innovative thinking people.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to build the capacity of these organisations in the alternative cultural tourism sector through specifically designed training courses that will make them able to organise in practice successful alternative tourism activities, to promote the cooperation with European countries and to develop cooperation schemes that will benefit both the European and the Partner countries.
The promotion of the cultural tourism exchanges between Europe and Asia is also another reason which makes CulTY project necessary. This promotion has a huge economic potential for both continents. If it is combined with the principles of sustainable tourism described above, it is sure that it will bring a lot of benefits to the communities in both continents. However, this potential remains largely unexploitable. In the list with the top tourism source markets to Vietnam only France enters the top 10 sources and it is in the 10th place. The tourism flows to Europe are equally lower that they could. In an article entitled “Ten countries that deserve more tourists”, 2 of the project countries (India and Greece) appear in the list.
The promotion of alternative cultural tourism and the development of cultural tourism exchanges with Asia is also a priority in European countries. In Italy (and especially in the South of Italy where the project partners are coming from) youth unemployment is very high and also there are a lot of historical sites and cultural resources that have been overlooked. A similar situation is also occurring in Greece.