Regional inequalities and rural depopulation are preoccupying topics that have during the last years been high on the policy agendas. International organisations have been taking into consideration these two challenges and are designing programmes or advocating for more policies in this area- including in relation to leisure. The OECD Rural 3.0 people-centred rural policy document captures a vision for rural development that considers economic, social and environmental objectives and places the needs of people at the heart of any policies developed to achieve these objectives.
How can leisure contribute to this conversation? Of course this is a wide question, but here he provide 2 examples of how rural geographies have been recently taken into account on the policy level, in relation to tourism and culture.
While tourism has been heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United National World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) announced in May 2021 a new initiative that will identify villages taking innovative and transformative approaches to tourism in rural areas in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The Best Tourism Villages was announced in the same time as the opening of the first UNWTO office in the Middle East (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) that will focus-among others- on the role of tourism in rural development.
A month earlier, UNTWO has teamed up with key institutional collaborators to launch the Global Rural Tourism Startup Competition, a new competition to identify the best ideas that will help rural communities recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the restart of the tourism after the pandemic, the competition aims to attract ideas and support entrepreneurs and enterprises that help build resilience in rural communities. The deadline for applications is 1st of July 2021.
When it comes to culture, the EU programme Voices of Culture the structured dialogue between the European Commission and stakeholders in Europe tackled in 2020 the role of c b ulture in non-urban areas in Europe. Culture was recognized as vital for sustainable rural development and a major catalyst in unleashing the potential in urban-rural and cross border cooperation. The brainstorming report that was published gathered the ideas of arts and culture organisations and starts with the affirmation that – as pronounced in the Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- equality of opportunity to participate in the cultural life of their community should not be defined by where we chose to live nor our ability to travel. Those participated in the dialogue discussed the urban-centric nature of cultural policy and explored the topic through three themes: developing culture in non-urban areas, rural areas burned by over-tourism and territories affected by depopulation.