January 23, 2021

Sustainable tourism and the contribution of creative activities


hirley Nieuwland, a PhD researcher at Erasmus University Rotterdam, who also interviewed Rumi Kunst Instituut for her research, has now published her findings in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism. In her research project she discusses the role of creative entrepreneurs in urban tourism development and stretches the importance of diversity and inclusiveness in urban development as well as tourism strategies.

Tourism in creative areas

Many cities want to develop sustainable tourism using creative strategies. One way to do this is by attracting tourists that explore the city beyond its most touristic places, for example by visiting more local and creative areas. This study investigates the role of creative entrepreneurs in the tourism development in Rotterdam, one of the largest cities in the Netherlands. Interviews were conducted with creative entrepreneurs, such as gallery owners or artists with a local shop, at different locations in Rotterdam that could potentially target tourists. Rumi Kunst Instituut participated in this research as we offer Ebru / Paper Marbling workshops to tourists via Airbnb Experiences. Questions were asked about the role in urban development and tourism, the level of interaction with tourists and how tourism development in Rotterdam is viewed in general. The study indicates that such sustainable tourism strategies only work when a diverse group of local residents are addressed and feel involved.

Tourists from around the world enjoy Ebru / Paper Marbling workshops at our studio

Creative entrepreneurs in urban tourism development

The study reveals that creative entrepreneurs mostly saw a role for themselves in urban development by making certain areas of the city more attractive with their businesses. At the same time they recognized some of the negative consequences of this (for example rising housing prices due to popularity). Apart from making certain areas more attractive, they did not see a specific role for themselves in tourism. The majority of the creative entrepreneurs focus on local people first, tourism is only considered a nice bonus. They could therefore be part of a sustainable tourism strategy because it does not lead to touristification of the city (e.g. only souvenir shops). An authentic city culture is developed and at the same time it brings financial benefits to the entrepreneurs. At the same time however, the entrepreneurs noticed that in creative areas that are more popular with tourists (but also with locals), like Witte de With, global companies such as Starbucks or Ben & Jerry’s appear. Local creative entrepreneurs now consider these areas as less authentic and creative. As these companies do not benefit the local economy they also consider this less sustainable. The consequences of urban (tourism) development based on creativity, such as rising rents or the arrival of international companies like Starbucks in popular areas, thus need to be considered when creating sustainable urban tourism strategies.

The importance of diversity and inclusivity

Many entrepreneurs pointed out that the urban development strategies mostly target creative and higher educated people to come to the city. Local neighbourhoods that are most interesting to visit for tourists all have one thing in common: they are gentrifying. The neighbourhoods that have been regenerated are precisely the ones that are most often recommended as a place to visit for tourists. Therefore, they feel that many locals do not feel included or benefit from these developments. The hip and creative initiatives appeal only to this specific group of locals and tourists. Local entrepreneurs that do not fit in this group are not likely to benefit. Moreover, the inequality that was already present in Rotterdam seems to be growing even bigger. This leaves us to question who benefits from these creative urban development strategies and the related type of tourism.

It thus seems that creative entrepreneurs who focus on engaging with the city and local people first, could lead to more sustainable tourism. However inclusivity of the diverse groups of residents and entrepreneurs in the city needs to be considered to avoid exclusion and growing inequality. Furthermore, this study shows that urban development strategies and tourism strategies are highly connected. This means that both urban development as well as tourism should be more inclusive to the diversity of residents in a city. This way more people can feel at home in the city, and more people can benefit from the urban (tourism) development strategies.

Shirley Nieuwland regularly writes about her research findings on her website We as Rumi Kunst Instituut were excited to participate in her research, for more information about this study, have a look at her blog post.


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