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Sustainable Accommodation in a Fragile Tourist Destination: The Matera Case

Tourism in the Mediterranean Sea

ISBN: 978-1-80043-901-6, eISBN: 978-1-80043-900-9

Publication date: 1 March 2021


The accommodation sector has a strong impact on the host destination in terms of waste production, use of natural resources, physical impact on landscape and natural environment, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. (Hall et al., 2016). For this reason, the increasing attention to sustainability, also in the tourism sector, requires us to rethink the planning of the tourist accommodation development with reference to this approach. Moreover, it is necessary to take into consideration some important emerging trends in tourist consumption, in particular the greater interest in experiential holidays, the deep impact of sharing economy and the phenomena of ‘home stay tourism’ and ‘living like a local’. All of these are significantly orientating the demand and the offer towards a greater attention to authenticity (Grayson & Martinec, 2004; Paulauskaite, Powell, Coca-Stefaniak, &, Morrison, 2017; Tussyadiah & Pesonen, 2016a and 2016b; Tussyadiah & Pesonen, 2018).

The sustainability, environmental, socio-cultural and economic dimensions must be respected to develop forms of sustainable accommodations (Boley & Uysal, 2013; Elkington, 1997, 1998, 2004; Farrell, 1992). They have to be respectful of local communities and their identity and culture, not going beyond the host environmental and social carrying capacities (Graefe & Vaske, 1987; Hernandez-Maskivker, Ferrari, & Cruyt, 2019; Van Der Borg, 1992; Van der Borg, Costa, & Gotti, 1996; Vargas-Sánchez, Porras-Bueno, & de los Ángeles Plaza-Mejía, 2011). Those aspects must be referred not only to environmental ecosystems (Buckley, 2000; Sánchez-Cañizares, Castillo-Canalejo, & Cabeza-Ramírez, 2018) but also to the art, cultural heritage and local socio-cultural tissue of the destination (García-Hernández, la Calle-Vaquero, & Yubero, 2017). This is especially true in tourist destinations that are characterized by a remarkable fragility and sensitiveness. As explained by Jeong, Zielinski, Chang, and Kim (2018, p. 2), sensitive tourist destinations are areas that support responsible tourism, but do not necessarily have all the characteristics of ‘ecotourism’ or ‘responsible tourism’ destinations, as provided in their common definitions (Dolnicar & Leisch, 2008). Responsible tourism is a kind of tourist behaviour that occurs when tourists understand the impact of their behaviour on the environment and local people, and abide by the socio-cultural and environmental norms of the site (Jeong et al., 2018, p. 1).

Our research is focused on Matera. This southern Italian town, which has been the European Capital of Culture in 2019 and World Heritage Site since 1993, has an ancient and very peculiar history. It is a complex urban cave situated in a deep natural canyon, continuously inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. Today Matera, which has frequently been the location of important movies, is a successful international tourist destination and has shown an uninterrupted increase in tourism over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, this rapid tourist growth is threatening the town centre and its surroundings that are part of a protected area. In fact, the dimensions of visitors' flows are endangering a delicate destination with a fragile equilibrium, together with its priceless cultural heritage, traditions and way of living. In addition, it is giving rise to a residents' negative attitude towards tourists. For all these reasons, investments should be made to favour the development of different types of tourist accommodations (e.g. diffuse hotels or some forms of sharing accommodations) that are respectful of local economy, physical environment and cultural heritage as well as of the host community and its culture, traditions and identity (Gilli & Ferrari, 2016).

In this analysis a qualitative approach was adopted by carrying on face-to-face interviews with stakeholders. The main aims were to study to what extent tourist accommodations are perceived as sustainable by the main stakeholders' categories in Matera today, how their sustainability could be improved and if town innovations in this field already exist or could be promoted.



Iaffaldano, N., Ferrari, S. and Padula, G. (2021), "Sustainable Accommodation in a Fragile Tourist Destination: The Matera Case", Grasso, F. and Sergi, B.S. (Ed.) Tourism in the Mediterranean Sea, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 167-184.



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