Grassroots Tourism: A New Wave from Matera

Grassroots Tourism: A New Wave from Matera

In October 2023, Grassroots project hosted a 3-day hackathon in Matera to select tourism business ideas to incubate.

When we think of the term grassroots, we often picture local movements driving change from the ground up, different from the top-down decisions of traditional power structures. And this is exactly the philosophy that has recently inspired one of Materahub’s most impactful projects: Grassroots, an initiative for young entrepreneurs in eco-health tourism.

Funded under the Erasmus+ program, Grassroots aims to introduce new entrepreneurial models, skills and collaborative learning to empower young entrepreneurship education in eco-tourism, sports, street food, street art, and digitalisation. In October, the project hosted a 3-day hackathon in Matera to select tourism business ideas to incubate.

The true watershed criterion for the selection was that the ideas had to address social, environmental, and economic challenges across various cities.

Materahub selected two projects from this hackathon to incubate: an AI chatbot guide and a living history experience, whose development and business definition were duly supported by our project manager Sara Simeone.

and TADA! the next time someone tells you that European projects are pointless, direct them to this article because what follows is truly inspiring.

Living Histories, an immersive touristic experience

The first idea selected emerged from the urgent need to alleviate the massive tourism flows in the historical centre of Matera, promoting tourism dispersal to lesser-known parts of the city and offering more interactive, transformative, and unconventional experiences. This concept, which aims to turn Matera into a vast open-air museum, was created by Raffaele Giannella drawing inspiration from international organisations like L’alternative Urbaine (France), CreativiViaggi (Italy), and Tikitut (Sweden), but also local experiences such as “Fuori Traccia – Insoliti itinerari materani” by Il Vagabondo (2017), and last but not least, “People, Places, Purposes”: 5 routes, which let visitors experience an unexpected Matera, off the usual routes during the year of Matera European Capital of Culture (2019),  ‘Clean Game’ within Fusion Urban Games Festival to discover the city in a playful way (2019).

Straight after the hackathon, in May 2024, the first test of ‘Living Histories’ took place in Matera. The experience featured 9 stops highlighting architectural, sociological, cultural, and natural points of interest in the Serra Venerdì neighbourhood. The guide also provided historical photos from the 1950s, before the tragically famous imposed evacuation of the historical houses (Sassi), to compare the past and present states of various buildings.

To engage participants, there were quizzes at intermediary and final stops to test their retention of key information, with a small prize for the winning team.

While the initial test was complimentary, the goal is to evolve Living Histories into a sustainable business. This involves further testing, engaging local narrators, and potentially using tools like Thinglink to create alternative guided tours.

An AI Guide to Hidden Gems of Matera 

The second project which emerged from the hackathon and was chosen as part of the incubation programme was developed by Alina Dumitru and aims to develop a chatbot powered by Artificial Intelligence to aggregate local providers of alternative experiences. The goal is to enhance the visibility of local attractions and offer tourists instant recommendations and valuable information.

The idea emerged after Alina, originally from Romania, spent three months in Matera and observed the overwhelming concentration of tourists in the city centre. While this is understandable given Matera’s beauty, the city has so much more to offer beyond the typical tourist hotspots. It felt essential to highlight these hidden gems and alleviate the pressure on over-visited areas.

With invaluable guidance from Sara and collaboration with local programmer Matteo, Alina transformed a bold vision into a working prototype in the months following the hackathon. The chatbot isn’t just another platform; it’s a revolutionary tool that leverages cutting-edge technology to create a sustainable, interconnected local network.

The goal is to go beyond traditional Google searches, providing a more meaningful and impactful way to discover Matera’s hidden gems. The first test run took place during the Grassroots Tourism Hackathon in Brussels from May 28-30, 2024, with another planned for mid-fall involving local stakeholders.

Stay tuned to Grassroots channels for updates on these exciting developments in Matera’s tourism landscape.

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