In 2021 we were awarded with a Proof of Concept grant from the European Research Council (150K euros). We are currently using the grant to lay the foundation for the first non-profit policy advice agency specialized in media tourism, provisionally called the Erasmus Research Centre for Film, Heritage and Tourism (FIHETO). All research members are involved in this initiative, either as director, board member, or researcher.

Our goal is to provide municipalities around the world with a set of products and services to develop their media tourism industry in an environmentally sustainable, socially responsible, and culturally sensitive manner. While several agencies advising government departments on the industry exist, none of them adopt a critical and holistic (humanities) perspective and focus on the sustainability and inclusivity of media tourism. 

Previous research into media tourism has highlighted the capricious character of media tourism and the multiple concerns it has raised in terms of heritage mismanagement, social justice, and environmental degradation. For example, a recent global survey by TCI Research shows that media tourism has reached “unrivalled magnitude”, claiming that annually more than 80 million travellers select their destinations mostly on film and TV series. However, the same report also warns of “risks from over-tourism” due to the often-sudden increase in media tourism and advises that these risks should be managed “by guiding visitors in […] shooting locations in a sustainable way that includes residents and environmental concerns”. Above all, these studies bear witness to the need to carefully plan and design new strategies to stimulate media tourism in a sustainable way. While governments and municipalities are eager for policy instruments that can help them to promote sustainable forms of media tourism, there is no research-based policy advice agency yet specialized in this topic. 

Drawing on the definition given by the World Tourism Organization (n.d.), we understand “sustainable tourism” as a holistic type of tourism that “takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.” This requires city municipalities to take a wide array of data into account when developing (media) tourism policies. FIHETO will be the first humanities research-based policy development agency specializing in sustainable and inclusive media tourism policies by (a) supporting municipalities in creating tailored policies for sustainable and inclusive media tourism (service); and (b) providing municipalities with a customized interactive deep map of their cities in order to unlock their “imaginative heritage” (Reijnders, 2020) and promote sustainable and inclusive media tourism in an engaging and interactive fashion (product). Through the usage of these deep maps, our clients will participate in what we will call the creative tourism for change phenomenon: an approach to tourism that recognizes a place’s complexity, emphasizes that places matter, and acknowledges that a deeper, contextualized awareness of the place can lead to successful sustainable and inclusive growth for both visitors and locals. As such, FIHETO will offer unique services and products. 

In the years 2023-2024 we will prototype, test, and evaluate the product and services in real-life contexts, namely Jamaica and Barcelona. The active participation of our clients in the evaluation of what FIHETO will offer, will help us to develop these prototypes into commercially viable entities. The potential of FIHETO to help city governments around the world to develop sustainable and inclusive media tourism and, therefore, prevent environmental and societal problems that can be caused by media tourism is feasible because of the broad expertise of our team on media tourism in both Western and non-Western contexts. We have done extensive research into media tourism, in particular on cultural differences in the experience and impact of media tourism. This rich experience will be of the utmost importance for the foundation of FIHETO.

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