Route-based tourism as a driver of sustainable tourism development: highlights from the Italian project “Atlas of Paths”

di Simone Splendiani, Fabio Forlani e Angelo Presenza

Long abstract presentato al INVTUR online conference 2021, 6-7 maggio – Università di Aveiro (Portogallo)


Route-based tourism, considered as a sub-category of slow tourism (Lumsdon e McGrath, 2011; Oh et al., 2014), is gaining increasing interest all over the world. This is due to several factors that affect both the demand and the supply sides. From the tourists’ point of view this kind of tourism is considered able to offer authentic experiences and intensive emotions through the self-rediscovery (Murray and Graham, 1997; Fernandes et al., 2012; Soulard et al., 2019). Moreover, on the supply side, route-based tourism represents a sustainable development practice not only from an environmental point of view, but also from a social one, thanks to the involvement and promotion of the host communities (Briedenhann and Wickens, 2004; Lourens, 2007; Jimura, 2016; Kato and Progano, 2017, Cardia, 2018). However, there are few studies that have investigated the Cultural Routes’ governance and the related development strategies even if effective destination governance and management are universally recognized as key-drivers for successful implementation of tourism projects (Antonson and Jacobsen, 2014). The study aims to bridge this gap through an exploratory investigation on the cases included in the “Atlas of Paths”, a project developed in 2016 by the Italian Minister of Tourism in order to enhance the national Routes. The objective is to identify the governance models currently in use, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses, suggesting some theoretical considerations for a future development.


The purpose of the survey is to analyze the organizational aspects of governing bodies that manage the Routes, as well as the strategic and operational dynamics. Semi-structured qualitative interviews have been carried out based on an ad-hoc survey protocol created by the research group. The questions are related to the organizational form, the typology of the stakeholders involved (public/private), the relations among members and the strategic planning activities. All the people in charge of the 46 Paths included in the Atlas were contacted via email to schedule a telephone appointment and 32 interviews have been completed.

Main Results and Contributions

Focusing on the juridical form, it emerges a clear prevalence of non-profit organizations, often formed by a very simple structure constituted just by a president and a partners’ council. These organizations are usually participated by both private and public members, with variable importance. There are also several cases of Routes managed by Foundations, with similar governance characteristics of non-profit associations. On the other hand, it is also interesting to highlight cases without independent juridical form but controlled and managed directly by the Regions according to a top-down logic.

Concerning the Route governing body and how it exercises its leadership, it emerges that in the vast majority of cases (30 out of 32 respondents) it is about collegial boards. However, situations managed by individuals who are passionate and deeply connected to the territory are encountered. These people have taken care of the launch and of the first Route development very often.

The relationships within the organizations and the activity planning procedures have been investigated. All the interviewees declared to have collaborative relationships with the other members of the board, sometimes informal. However, cases of formal compliance of procedures emerge, and they are characterized by the use of financial statements and budget as a crucial stage for the strategic planning.

Finally, during the interviews it emerged that – despite the weaknesses in governance models – the Cultural Routes represent anyway great opportunities for development and economic growth, especially for marginal areas and at risk of depopulation. In such contexts, the presence of the Paths can determine the stability of the economic and social system, as well as positively influence the sense of openness of a resident community.


The first limitation of the research lies in its exploratory nature, which necessarily requires further investigation. Another one concerns the decision to analyze only the Paths included in the Atlas even though in Italy many more similar projects can be found. Finally, it would have been appropriate to compare the Italian experience with those of other world countries.


The research highlights that the Routes are very often led by the passion of the founders, according to a not-entrepreneurial logic and with a weak commercial orientation. However, this does not exclude the need of a greater attention to the new tourists’ desires, realizable with suitable governance models and effective strategic planning methods. These managerial innovations could take the Italian Cultural Routes towards the achievement of long-term results, bringing a significant contribution to the improvement of one of the most promising Italian tourist offer for the coming years.


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