The tiny state San Marino with its challenging hills and narrow cobbled streets is an unlikely place for such a project. Nonetheless the world’s oldest republic, which is proud of its reputation for freedom feels that simply everyone, whatever their disabilities should have the right to explore its fabulous UNESCO World Heritage sights.
Under the title “Freedom without Barriers” San Marino will make a bid for accessible tourism when the UNWTO conference takes place in the mountaintop republic next springtime.
And nothing could be beyond a community, which, with a tiny population of just 13,000 during the Second World War, gave shelter to, and fed some 100,000 refugees.
The accessible tourism project: “Freedom without Barriers” is just one of the new projects recently unveiled by the young new Minister of Tourism Theodore Lonfernini. Seeing tourism as a strategic asset, the minister is seeking to develop it for the benefit of both tourists and the local population.
The key tourism challenge that the state faces is the fact that, although some 2 million tourists visit a year, the vast majority come from the nearby coastal resorts like Rimini and just stay for a day, if that.
Explained the state’s Director of Tourism Gloria Licini in an exclusive interview: “Stay tourism is our biggest opportunity.” Although San Marino has 1,300 beds, they only have an occupancy level of some 50% and the state is to examine opportunities of creating more 4 star, and possibly 5-star accommodation.
San Marino also plans to capitalize on their enormous tourism assets to make this move away from day-trip tourism to higher margin, longer stay tourism and fill up those beds.
The government has taken a stake in nearby Rimini airport (now Rimini San Marino) and has partnered in various projects to market the beautiful hillsides and mountaintop towns of the region. An example of this involves its co-created citadel San Leo (another 1500-year old mountaintop creation but not a republic) in an initiative to promote the beautiful and historic Montefeltro region.
A key component of San Marino’s tourist offer, of which they are very proud, is food – really sustainable food. A new booklet has been produced to highlight locally-produced specialities ranging from cheese to wine, meat and honey amongst other delicacies.
So the state is visiting trade markets all over the world – from Russia to Brazil with its message – come direct, stay longer, enjoy more.
And who could believe that the feistily-independent republic won’t make its tourism strategic asset pay its community and visitors, real sustainable dividends.