Ivana Dimitrijević, AIRTH intern
Emerging in 1980s Italy, Albergo Diffuso is an early example of a successful sustainable practice in tourism. Albergo Diffuso aims at utilizing the idle accommodation capacities, such as abandoned houses or old inns, usually in remote and touristically non-popular settlements. The aim is to diversify the touristic offer, help and involve local communities, disperse tourists more evenly throughout the country and provide less of an impact for the environment. Also, despite it being based on private business ownership, community participation is crucial for implementation of Albergo Diffuso.
Description of the destination or original product
Albergo Diffuso means “scattered hotel” in Italian, and refers to a single hotel unit whose rooms are located in different buildings across the town (old houses, farmhouses, abandoned factories etc.), usually in radius of several hundred meters from its central hub/reception. By re-utilizing the already existing infrastructure for tourism development, it prevents unnecessary building and helps incorporate tourism in the unchanged local landscape and society.
Process that led recognition that change was necessary
The Albergo Diffuso concept originates from the Italian countryside, which was rich in medieval architecture and wonderful landscapes, but was remote and out of touristic maps of the time. However, the particular event which triggered the innovation was the terrible earthquake that struck the northern Friuli Region, near Venice, in 1979. There was a need to rebuild tourism all over again, and as fast as possible. Therefore, it can be said that the unused touristic potential was what enabled the emerging of Albergo Diffuso, but the natural disaster was what provoked its definition.
The idea was to activate the touristic potential by engaging locals in entrepreneurial activities. Also, as the owners were most often locals themselves, with tight bonds among the other members of the community, this meant that the community was deeply involved in tourism planning. Using many buildings for a single hotel was possible only if the community was ready to welcome tourists, help provide them with basic services (such as food, guidance, cleaning…) and thought this would contribute and/or not affect their landscape in any negative way.
This is how not only tourists got an opportunity to access the Italian countryside, but the community got an opportunity to earn more, incorporating the new tourism economy in traditional economies, such as handicrafting and agriculture. Also, the presence of tourists incited the revival of traditional festivals, crafts and events, which now got a new audience.
Process that facilitated change
Perhaps the best proof that this innovation was bottom-up directed, is the fact that the first time local authorities regulated this way of business was in 1998 in Sardinia, almost two decades after the concept was originally invented. However, with time local authorities got involved and even helped develop some of the initiatives.
Another thing that helped Albergo Diffuso come into being was the participation of scholars and creation of associations of Alberghi Diffusi across the country. This helped the accumulation and sharing of knowledge about the successful and unsuccessful practices, thus shaping the Albergo Diffuso we know today. Professor Giancarlo Dall’Ara is one of the most important Italian scholars known for studying the Albergo diffuso phenomenon, and he is also the chairman of the National Association of Alberghi Diffusi. This is a good example of how important innovation synergies between academia, business, etc. can be.
The first implementation of the Albergo Diffuso happened in San Leo (Montefeltro) in 1989, under a project called “Tourism”, under guidance of the aforementioned Giancarlo Dall’Ara. Since then, three common paths of Albergo Diffuso development were established. The first path, or one of the three ways Albergo Diffuso can be established is through a private initiative. The second path comprises an initiative comming from the DMO. The third path is creating Albergo Diffuso by combining several small businesses in one, large company.
Depending on the local context and time, these paths vary and change. However, it seems that this concept mostly stays related to Italy, and hasn’t really spread beyond its borders. This might be due to the fact that the way it was conceptualized is tightly connected to the Italian cultural and social context, its architecture and art.
For Italian tourism, Albergo Diffuso is a success story, an early example of sustainable practices in tourism, dating in time when the concept of sustainability was only being created and was far from official agendas. Following a natural disaster, it brought about an innovation which insisted on many stakeholders involvement: local community, authorities, DMOs, private businesses, tourists, natural environment… This contributed to it being recongized as a community-based and sustainability oriented accommodation concept. In a country as experienced in tourism as Italy, this was an optimal solution for preserving beautiful landscapes, medieval architecture and art, while at the same time developing new forms of sustainable tourism. Since 40 years ago, this has proven to be a quite efficient way of bringing people from cities back to the countryside, connecting demand and supply in tourism, new and traditional economies, reviving local tradition and culture.
Furthermore, National Association of Alberghi Diffusi is not the only association of this kind. Recognizing the importance of Albergo Diffuso for their development, several municipalities have founded the Associazione Borghi Autentici d’Italia. The aim is to guide development and help create optimal conditions for local private initiatives which seek to challenge the economic decline with development of tourism. This organization puts a strong emphasis on the joint participation of the community, local authorities and private sector.
There is also a sister phenomenon to Albergo Diffuso, named Borgo Albergo, which signifies an accommodation unit using a network of rooms and houses sometimes far away from each other, without hotel services but utilizing centralised booking platform.
Confalonieri, M. (2011). A typical Italian phenomenon: The “albergo diffuso.” Tourism Management, 32(3), 685–687. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tourman.2010.05.022