Humanistic tourism between culture and sustainability. The museum experience becomes a destination

How will tourism change after the pandemic? It will definitely be a more humanistic tourism that will have experience and not consumption at its center. And museums will play a central role.

The new scenarios that await us after the Covid-19 pandemic, the most difficult and complex since the end of World War II, force us to rethink the management models, functions, problems, needs, but also opportunities that museums can bring, to the “new world.” People’s daily lives have been irreversibly disrupted. Among the most sensitive and hotly debated topics in the second part of 2019 and throughout 2020 are the relationships between culture, museums, territory, and tourism, that is, how to rethink the offerings for an already evolving tourism that was changing the way we think about and organize travel. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the scenarios will be further revolutionized: 2021 is partially compromised, but paradoxically it gives us time to rethink, for the three-year period 2022-2024, the offerings, the modes of reception, and the benefits that there could be by uniting with unprecedented tour building museums-territory-tourism.

If we thought of the “pandemic centrifuge” as a kind of enzyme that, within in a chemical reaction, speeds up the response of compounds (socio-cultural cluster) by intervening in the processes that regulate their spontaneity, through reduction of activation energy. In the world of tourism, a change was taking place based on two main directions: revising relations with mass tourism, most often “hit and run,” no longer thinkable for our cities of art, and listening even more to the needs of travelers who could find in our country the most appropriate context for the essence of the new tourism.

The nature of tourism finds its genesis in the desire for travel, in the aspiration for discovery, in the desire for awe and wonder, in the natural need for knowledge and self-knowledge, but above all in the quest to break out of the gilded cage of a comfort zone that prevents one from feeling the beating heart. “Tourism in any form is an essential part of the broad process of searching for meaning: a search for self with others and elsewhere. ”1 Now, however, the cage is far from golden. Most people will have to face, all at once, problems they were not used to: stress, anxiety states, frustration related to the loss of economic power, disorientation and even loss of identity related to the disappearance of existential reference points.

The first thing my team and I did was to ask, question and listen to people who travel, used to moving even more than once a year, in Italy and other countries. Some were already known and profiled, while others heard for the first time through digital platforms. The first real surprise was in the comparison between the old thematic knowledge questionnaires and the new ones, which we intentionally proposed identical to the previous ones. After a free interview about anthropological, sociological and economic changes related to the pandemic, the questionnaires were 79% identical to the previous ones. A portion of people, unconsciously, were not accepting the change and, in their hearts, perhaps, hoped that everything was reversible. This leads us to think that individuals will have to find themselves and recognize themselves precisely during the first few trips in order to focus on the inevitable changes that will pace their existence differently.

We have deduced that the logic of mass tourism is bound to be challenged, at least in the first restart period, because the pandemic will leave behind a trail of “cause-effects” that, having entered people’s habits, will remain there for a long time. In general, the demand for large cruise ships should decrease (although a more restrained pricing policy, supported by health-protecting services, could leave everything unchanged) and the range of large trips should shrink by focusing more on neighboring territories, the use of own means of transportation (the sale of caravans and trailers has increased), attention to sustainability, and the demand for relaxation and well-being. Smaller, lesser-known, unique locations linked to sustainability and “slow tourism ”2 should be preferred to the more emblazoned destinations that suffer from the well-known “hit and run” phenomenon. No more little time in many places, more to share a status symbol on social media than to participate a real experience, but more time in fewer places to get in touch with the culture, customs and habits of the local people.

In summary:

  • Travel will be associated more and more with a “digression from the everyday,” with concepts such as well-being, tranquility, carefreeness, health, inner involvement, simple and original experiences, and immersion in authentic worlds that so many remember a plunge into the essentiality of the past;

  • The destination will have the more appeal the more experiential variables it can offer: contact with nature and outdoor activities (hiking, running, biking, rafting, theme parks related to environmental visual art) could become decisive elements in the choice;

  • The “how” will be just as important as the “where”: the choice of means of transportation (private car, motorcycle, caravan or trailer will become the number one priority over public means such as airplane, ship and train), the type of accommodation facilities and the preparation of the “open” travel schedule will condition the scouting of the final destination;

  • Places in the same region and country will again be favored at the expense of exotic destinations or far-flung locations.

Within the unprecedented strategies proposed by Unconventional Marketing, in the new humanistic and holistic era, territories return to being a somewhat special brand, a human brand, and they do so by enhancing relational assets and communication among people.3 A concept that comes to us from the Human to Human (H2H) Marketing devised by Bryan Kramer that is structured around four basic points: people want to be an active part of something bigger than themselves, they want to return to ancestral emotions, they want to feel included, they want to understand, to share and to allow themselves the opportunity to vary program in the run should there be something interesting, unanticipated, worth thinking about to be experienced in the “here and now.” Territorial strategies will be increasingly based on culture and the “new sustainability” (economic, social, environmental, health and well-being) that is enhanced through intangible responses to emotional and thinking needs. The result will be tourism offerings that will no longer correspond to a product to be consumed on a time-limited basis, but to a true intangible good, nourishment for people’s intellectual, emotional, cerebral, spiritual and ethical needs.4 New tourism offerings will not be able to ignore the new lifestyle of travelers and the attention paid to the environment and nature, minimizing the impacts of tourism activity and, wherever possible, developing environmental awareness and ecological competence. Similarly, forms of social tourism will also have to be taken into consideration: not only to comply with the “World Code of Tourism Ethics” and to allow the most fragile and vulnerable people to move in freedom, but also to foster social cohesion with inclusive proposals capable of breaking down all barriers, improving the relationship between travelers and local communities and stimulating international solidarity.

Visitatori alla Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo di Brescia dopo la riapertura del 18 maggio
Visitors to the Tosio Martinengo Picture Gallery in Brescia after the reopening on May 18.

The transformation of tourist destinations, from something to be contemplated and collected as a status symbol to something to be experienced in symbiosis with the territory and the community that inhabits it, sets new goals on the need to evolve both the strategies of the new territorial marketing and the increasingly tailor-made offers connected to a new concept of universal well-being5. Never before, therefore, not only can the museum become one of the destinations of the tourism offer, but it can occupy a central coordinating and reference role for slow tourism .

Every tailor-made cultural offer becomes an experience if it stimulates people to share an opportunity for growth and discussion, a chance to socialize and feel increasingly part of the territory. An original event shared between museums and the territory can become a “pretext to attract the attention of tourists who will not be there by chance. ”6 New museum concepts become destinations the moment they focus on the emotional and inner fulfillment of visitors through increasingly original platforms of experiential well-being: the human element becomes the undisputed focus of the new tourist and museum experience. The real goal is no longer the spectacularization of a one-time engagement suitable for a mass audience, but the loyalty to a place that is part of the lifestyle of a general public. We could speak, in this case, of “integrated tourism”: a proposed tourist experience aimed at having a positive effect on people’s quality of life that is complemented by the services and opportunities offered by a dynamic and cohesive museum system. In the museum, people can find themselves, recognize themselves in a context perceived as familiar and welcoming.

When does a museum become a destination?

  • When it is connected to other places of culture in the area (museum system, cultural network, cultural cluster)

  • when it cares about the health and well-being of visitors

  • when it shares thoughts and actions that include social responsibility and environmental sustainability

  • when it acts as a digital and interactive InfoPoint for tourists already in the area (touch monitor connected to customizable themed tour building proposals)

  • when they create partnerships with tour operators by helping to create thematic packages that are offered to tourists before they decide on a destination

  • when they help create engaging and attractive digital content to send to a mailing list that can turn the loyal visitor into a tourist (bringing the destination into people’s homes)

  • when it relates in a virtuous and interactive way with: public offices dedicated to tourism, stakeholders, destination managers, tour operators, tour guides, hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, artisan stores, stores, private companies in the area of any commodity sector, organizers of excursions outside urban centers.


1 Rachid O., So many lives, Rome, Playground Editions. 2007.

2 Slow Tourism is an international movement that provides responsible travelers with tools and services to make sustainable trips in maximum harmony with nature, culture, food and wine, and local traditions. A tourism mode that enhances the soul of places less traveled by mass tourism in which arts and lifestyle emerge from an authentic world.

3 B. Kramer, Sharing the power of exchanging information, stories and emotions, Florence, Giunti Psychometrics, 2019.

4 P. Galeri, op. cit, p. 222.

5 J. Ejarque, The successful tourism destination, Marketing and Management, Milan, Hoepli, 2015, p. 12.

6 R. Cercola - F. Izzo - E. Bonetti, Events and territorial marketing strategies. Networks, actors and relational dynamics, Milan, Franco Angeli, 2010, p. 21.

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