Become explorers again, at your own home or in remote places, by slowly gliding on the waterways. The interest in this type of experience grows for more active tourists but also for researchers. Niche areas like river tourism, in fact, are one of the most promising activites for tour operators and tourist destinations.
The other area, explains Jan Van Der Borg, coordinator of the Master’s Degree programme in Intercultural Development of Tourism Systems, is high-end luxury: “We are in a phase of polarization. The two strongest areas are luxury and low budget. Modest spending, however, does not mean low quality. In fact, tourists are looking for a unique and authentic experience. River tourism could become a form of experiential tourism around which valuable offers, compatible with the needs of the destinations, may be built.”
To rediscover the river landscape, researchers are working on the European Project EUWATHER, dedicated to numerous case studies in various countries including Italy. “The small rivers are depositors of culture, a century-old culture” explains Francesco Vallerani, geographer and coordinator of the Ca’ Foscari research group for the project. “They can be rediscovered from the testimonies of the past. Even the archives of the Veneto cities, they bring us back stories of journeys on the rivers and canals that once were routes for fishing, transport for goods and passengers. These water paths are now true oases on which to recover navigation with traditional vessels.”
The tourists’ pleasure to move by rowing on the surface of the rivers also affects the socio-economic fabric of the territory. It is proven, amongst others, by a Dutch case study. In the North of Amsterdam, the BroekerVeiling museum, by adding a small electric motor to traditional vessels that were once out of use and have now been recovered and offering half-day excursions and educational visits, has found economic sustainability.
Vallerani, a veritable hunter for river stories, lists the advantages and obstacles connected to river tourism: “Mid-way through the 18th Century, some English gentlemen published accounts of their river adventures, navigating for months along the European rivers. Now, as it was then, we can emulate some of the explorers’ endeavors, they used the rivers to discover unknown regions such as Latin America or Equatorial Africa. However, the magic vanishes when faced with obstacles that we have littered our canals with, such as new, lower bridges, or the abandonment of old navigation basins.”
On which courses of water could this sort of activity be developed? “The best candidates” – responds Vallerani – “are the small spring rivers like the Astichello river in the Vicenza province, the Lemene-Reghena system upstream of Portogruaro or the Stella river in Fruili. On these paths there have been some attempts in this sense. Developing the opportunity to travel through them, recovering traditional boats, also means being able to offer new work opportunities to lagoon boat-builders.”