Matera, Capital of Culture 2019 in a Day: Is Quality Experiential Tourism at Risk?

Although usually it’s the more famous cities that get designated as the European Capital of Culture for a certain year, sometimes the award goes to less-known destinations. Matera is the Capital of Culture in 2019, a destination in Italy that exists in the shadows of its much better-known counterparts like Milan, Rome or Venice. Yet, the city has much to offer.

Matera: Capital of Culture 2019

Although virtually unknown to many, if not most, visitors to Italy, the Matera is a truly fantastic destination for cultural and experiential tourism. In fact, its historic city center is home to prehistoric cave dwellings that date back 8,000 years, known as the “Sassi”. The Province of Matera is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited areas, which is the main reason it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a cultural highlight and feature if ever there was one!

That being said, however, Matera has had its couple of moments in the global spotlight before. For example, it was featured in famous movies like Wonderwoman and The Passion of the Christ. And now, with the designation of Matera as European Capital of Culture 2019, this small city finds itself in the focus of the international tourism industry.

Major publications like The Guardian, Forbes and the New York Times have dedicated articles to Matera so far. It’s only a matter of time before large numbers of international tourists descend onto the city.

A (Welcome?) Boost to Experiential Tourism in Matera

The almost-certainly increase in visitation numbers will unquestionably boost the local economy. But at what cost?

Matera lies in the Basilicata province in Southern Italy, which is surrounded by more famous regions like Calabria, Puglia and Campania. Especially Campania already draws in thousands upon thousands of visitors. This is, after all, the location of the glorious and world-famous Amalfi Coast, Naples and Pompeii.

From these popular tourist destinations in Italy, it’s only a short trip to Matera. Since visiting Matera is easily combined with a tour around Southern Italy, a lot of visitors use large, national or even international companies to create their trip. Since it’s pretty easy to visit Matera on a day trip from, say, Sorrento or Naples, this poses a threat to the quality of a visit to Matera.

While some tourists might say it’s better to get a quick taste of a destination than nothing at all, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Simply zipping through an ancient, historically rich and culturally wealthy destination like Matera is not doing it justice. Sure, people will get to take a couple of selfie and buy a souvenir, but they’ll never really experience the place. There won’t be time to visit local bakeries or restaurants, to go on an in-depth guided tour, to meet locals,…

It’s not because a destination like Matera, European Capital of Culture 2019, gets more attention that this improves the quality of tourism there. Additionally, as a result of Matera’s convenient location as a day trip or passing-through destination, many local businesses, travel agents and tour operators get bypassed and don’t share in the profits.

If your clients care about the sustainability of their destinations and enjoy experiential tourism, you should cater to those desires and work with local companies.

At Artès, we can help you with this. Our detailed and in-depth “stories to live together” take your clients on an immersive tour through a destination. These “stories” are also highly customizable and can be adapted to meet your customers’ needs. Our professional bilingual partners will guide you around the area. Check out our tours in the Basilicata region or request information about Matera specifically here.