Dispersed hotels as a way forward for development of sustainable rural tourism
In the last months our research interests have accumulated in different research topics related to rural areas and smart communities. Within the projects Smart Villages and LiveRUR we have established a valuable network of connections to local communities we will work with in the forthcoming years and we have already made some initial studies to gain an understanding of issues related to development of rural areas. One of the greatest pleasures of being a researcher is to carry out a field research and to work with people. When it comes to understanding implications of economic processes for communities, field work is of vital importance. In that way researchers can better understand the social, spatial and economic context of particular solution development.
One of the most promising solutions in the context of smart rural development is the development of sustainable tourism. Besides agriculture, development of tourism plays one of the most important roles in making rural areas more attractive place for living and working. This is particularly important for younger generations. Aging population in rural areas is one of the crucial problems Slovenia (and Europe) has attend to. In addition, due to continuous migration from rural to urban areas, many buildings remain unoccupied, and are often left to degradation and decay.
In Slovenia, Slovenske Konjice, Padna and Žalec have proposed advanced and sustainable solutions to approach these complex issues and they are developing dispersed/distributed/scattered hotels (ital. Albergo Diffuso) in their communities. The concept is actually not altogether a novelty and it was first developed in Italy. After earthquake-ravaged villages in the north of Italy in 1980s they developed a unique way to revive disaster-ravaged communities. Albergo diffuso was developed from existing houses, apartments and even stables which were reconstructed, renovated and converted to serve their new function – accommodation for tourists. By renovating the already existing infrastructure the dispersed hotel is not build anew but is already part of the local community and therefore offers its visitors the valuable experience of “living like the locals do”. Despite being scattered all over different parts of the village and different buildings, it provides all the services of a ordinary hotel such as shared reception, restaurant, room accommodation, cleaning and other services; everything with a strong flavour of localness. Usually dispersed hotels are established in small rural communities in villages or in the centres of small towns. Facilities are concentrated around the main building (e.g. reception) and usually they also have a common manager.
In Distributed hotel Konjice the reception is located in the Mansion Trebnik. There is also the restaurant Mali grof (eng. The Little Count) which offers local food and where most ingredients are produced by local farmers. The hotel also includes accommodation capacities on a small local farm Mala kmetija and wine grower’s mansion Zlati grič (eng. The Golden Hill). The hotel has developed strong connections with local and regional community, farmers, craftsmen, tourist workers and agencies but also with other tourist destinations, such as ski resort Rogla on Pohorje mountain. Distributed hotel Konjice is also the first operating distributed hotel in Slovenia.
Distributed-hotel-in-the-making is located in Padna, a picturesque Istrian village with only 180 inhabitants. Since 2012 they have started to receive visitors from tourist cruise ships which land in the nearby port Koper, however they could not provide any accommodation. The entire village Padna is protected as a cultural monument and is therefore subjected to the strict conservation and restoration rules. Due to building restrictions and the desire to conserve the authentic image of this small Istrian village they started to develop the concept of distributed hotel. In the project they will renovate old abandoned buildings and transform them into dispersed hotel units. The hotel is still in the process of making, but local community is already very much involved, contributing to the development of new local stories and to conservation of other local heritage and customs revival.
The second distributed-hotel-in-the-making will be located in Žalec. Žalec is situated in the Lower Valley of Savinja River and is well known as a centre of hop-growing and beer-brewing activities. The dispersed hotel will be located in the centre of the town and it will connect and incorporate the already renovated but empty buildings and apartments. Many local farmers, entrepreneurs and tourist workers are already part of the lively tourist activities in the town which host many day visitors. It is estimated that dispersed hotel is the main prerequisite to attract more overnight stays in the area.
The concept of a distributed hotel is therefore twofold. On one hand it is a model of hospitality and on the other, a model for sustainable development of tourism and countryside in general. By being completely integrated in the local environment, supporting and diversifying local economy the distributed hotels can create new, invaluable opportunities for local community and accelerate the development of local environments in the most sustainable way possible. Developed in such holistic way rural areas can become a place for new synergies between different generations and attractive place for living and working.