3.2. In-Depth Analysis of Results for Small Cities and Their Creative Tourism Development Potential
As indicated above, small cities mostly perform worse than larger cities in some areas described in the C3 index. However, they show encouraging results in some items, that suggest important advantages for the development of creative tourism. The strengths and weaknesses detected can give relevant insights for planning adequate strategies and overcoming potential limitations.
Cultural Vibrancy: The smallest cities have higher cultural vibrancy. The Sub-index Cultural Vibrancy score is the result of the weighted average of two equally weighted dimensions: “D1.1 Cultural Venues & Facilities” and “D1.2 Cultural Participation & Attractiveness”. It approximates the cultural features of a city in terms of cultural infrastructures and participation in culture. We observe that the small cities group (group 5) presents the highest mean for this sub-index (29.26). However, the estimated bootstrapped confidence intervals reveal that the means of the different groups are not statistically significant (all intervals overlap). That is, we cannot reject that the score mean of group 1 (26.26), group 2 (26.57), group 3 (24.16), and group 4 (26.46) are statistically lower than the small cities group (group 5). In spite of the absence of significance, this finding has important implications. The smallest cities have levels of cultural infrastructures and cultural participation at least as good as the big cities. However, we must be cautious about this result; the good performance of the smallest cites may be related to how dimensions D.1.1 and D.1.2 were constructed. These dimensions are constructed by considering indicators per capita. For instance, one of the indicators of dimension D.1.1 is “Theatres”: number of theatres in the city divided by the total population and then multiplied by 100,000. Relativizing in per capita terms could be artificially increasing the scores of the smallest cities.
From the point of view of creative tourism and its cultural dimension, smaller cities have been shown to have a favorable inventory of cultural infrastructures together with higher cultural vibrancy in some cases [8
], which can be a powerful magnet for creative travelers. This abundance of already existing resources can offer a solid basis upon which to develop city strategies, progress, and growth. Thoughtful cultural programming can be an excellent way for small cities to be put on the map and avoid copying bigger cities [7
]. Cultural events are particularly interesting, as they are highly important resources for creative development everywhere, helping develop economic and cultural links between locations and communities [1
]. They provide excellent opportunities for focusing on different cooperative creative networks and all aspects of the tourism industry, offering a perfect connection between creativity and tourism. Likewise, they can increase the possibilities of creative outcomes [23
]. Additionally, they can contribute to drawing attention to their city and improving its reputation in collaboration with the entire city, especially entrepreneurs [23
An interesting aspect of creative tourism events is that attendees are usually a combination of residents and tourists; thus, events offer the perfect context for the interaction between the two, becoming the perfect scenario for creative tourism development.
To be successful, it is essential to have collaboration, attention to practical details, a clear vision, and a realistic place-making strategy [23
]. Additionally, strong leadership is fundamental for the planning and implementation of creative-based strategies [10
] and the promotion of creativity-generating activities, based on tourists becoming fully immersed in some sort of interactive tourism experience [24
]. In addition to being interactive, experiences need to be authentic [27
]. For this reason, tourism providers and local leaders should be aware of the risk of creating new experiential spaces, as they can convey a loss of authenticity and distort the essence of creative tourism experiences [28
]. These experiences tend to leave deep imprints on participants and a profound influence on their memories, level of satisfaction, and behavioral intentions (revisit intention and positive word of mouth). If a high-quality experience is provided, tourists are more likely to revisit and recommend the destination [29
When we talk about creative tourism products, it is essential to take into account that in order to be considered creative and effective, the product has to be more than “new”; furthermore, it has to include the different features mentioned earlier, mainly, learning, emotional involvement, interaction, and co-creation [25
], provided in an authentic atmosphere. The common aim is that the resulting activity becomes a memorable experience for the tourist.
For successful creative experiences, the generated products play an essential role. They can be marketed using specific strategies [33
] aimed at making the most of tangible resources, which usually involve the implication of manual activities (cooking, handicrafts) versus intangible resources including inherited expressions and traditions (rituals, social practices, festive events, and so on). Accordingly, creative tourism proposals will frequently depend on the ability of a destination to boost added value to their cultural heritage and natural resources to attract visitors and transform destinations. The prospective actions require a thoughtful analysis of all the elements that come into play to produce something unique, interactive, experiential, and co-creative based on authenticity. To achieve this purpose, both the tangible and intangible aspects of culture must be fully respected [34
Creative Economy: The more populated the cities, the higher the contribution of cultural and creative sectors to the city economy. The biggest cities in terms of population show a higher and significant score in the sub-index “Creative economy”. They are able to generate more employment and innovation.
Regarding the results of the creativity economy indexes, small cities are the ones that present more limitations, but also greater challenges. Research has shown that knowledge and innovation have become decisive competitive factors needed for their transformation into creative cities [23
]. Especially in small places, creativity can be crucial for reviving economies [36
], and there is abundant research that corroborates the important link between creative economy and small cities [10
]. The economic potential of the tourism industry is indisputable, with a very significant impact on many other sectors. For this reason, creative tourism may be a development tool to foster the creative economy in small town settings. It can become an essential economic driver for the local economy, favoring the entrepreneurial vocation of the population [4
], the establishment of start-ups and spin-offs in creative industries [5
], and the attraction of lifestyle entrepreneurs [37
] who base their activity on their hobbies and interests, generally based on different types of creative products and approaches developed and built upon sharing their knowledge and passion with others [38
]. Creative people settled in small urban areas tend to have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, favoring new cultural, creative businesses and new jobs that, in turn, attract more creative people, associations, and businesses. Thus, they can be valuable agents for job creation and growth in small communities [10
]. Additionally, the atmosphere this creates is highly suitable for building the perfect scenario for creative tourism.
On the other hand, creative tourism offers new possibilities of economic growth by recovering different areas and resources and making destinations more attractive [40
]. Likewise, it fosters the use of alternative public spaces as opposed to the most frequently visited landmarks, contributing to the revitalization of other parts of the destinations and controlling overcrowding in emblematic spots. The fact that creative tourism does not necessarily imply the development of significant infrastructure or large investments is of special relevance. New projects are frequently based on exploiting the numerous authentic resources that are available, applying creative formulas in order to attract both professionals from the creative sector and creative tourists in search of stimulating integrative experiences. Thus, creativity dominates the entire process, providing new opportunities for destinations and their residents, helping creative professionals to make a name for themselves, and awakening and fostering tourists’ creative potential [34
Enabling Environment: Big cities have a statistically higher score in the “Enabling Environment” sub-index. That is, the most populated cities (population greater than 500,000 inhabitants) have tangible and intangible assets that statistically attract more creative talent and stimulate cultural engagement to a higher degree than cities with a population below 250,000 inhabitants. Big cities attract significantly more human capital and education, and, above all, they offer much better local and international connections.
Several authors have highlighted the important role of a creative-friendly education system in encouraging creative people to settle down [10
] and develop creative minds and talents [41
]. According to our results, city size does seem to be significant in education. However, it is worth observing the score and confidence interval associated to the dimension “D.3.1 Human Capital & Education” for the small cities group: 18.38 and [13.43,24.70]. This score is higher than that corresponding to the group of medium-sized cities (16.99), although it is not statistically higher. The width of the confidence interval for the group of the small cities indicates that there is a high level of heterogeneity within this group. We can find small cities that present an extremely low score (e.g., Pula, Croatia, has a score of 0.35 in dimension D3.1) along with cities with an extremely high score (e.g., Leuven, Belgium, has a score of 56.32 in dimension D3.1). Such a high level of variability may be due to the fact that many small cities have historic iconic universities (Santiago de Compostela, Spain; Coimbra, Portugal; Cambridge, UK; Leuven, Belgium), demonstrating that knowledge, scholarship, and creativity can flourish in small places as well. Today, many small cities have colleges dependent on main universities or newly created universities. Using this knowledge structure to collaborate with other cultural and creative industries, creating ties between higher education and the creative economy [42
], may be an effective way to fuel the city’s creative potential and generate a vital and stimulating atmosphere that can attract visitors.
For many scholars, there is a clear link between creativity and urban contexts, which significantly attract the so-called creative class [43
]. Likewise, tourists perceive creativity more easily in places with a multicultural, diverse, and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Montalto et al. [8
] indicate that large cities are the ones that rank higher in the intercultural component associated to creativity. Although our results corroborate this finding, we do not find significant differences in the scores of dimension “D3.2 Openness, Tolerance, and Trust” among the different population groups. Within the context of creative tourism, small cities can be excellent scenarios for creative development as interaction, participation, cooperation, integration, and emotional involvement can naturally occur in smaller places favoring multiculturalism. In this way, creative tourism can foster intercultural exchange and make cities more tolerant [44
]. By participating in creative activities, tourists in small cities can have a completely different experience, with the option to be integrated in the daily life, culture, and traditions of their destination. Likewise, tourists have more contact with locals, establishing an enriching participative interaction between both [34
]. In the same way, tourism providers and tourists enrolled in creative activities can generate valuable cooperative interactions that contribute to making tourists proactive agents of tourism experiences [30
]. By sharing their experiences, tourists become part of the host community and have a positive impact on the vitality and ambience of destinations.
Regarding local and international connections, dimension “D3.3 Local & International Connections”, there are significant differences in the performance of cities according to size. Small cities clearly rank lower than bigger cities, so clearly some remedial action could be taken to boost creative tourism development. Small cities have clear disadvantages, as part of their idiosyncrasy lies in their locations in more peaceful and nature-connected areas, far from the fast-paced atmosphere of motorways, high-speed trains, and airports. However, if transport connections are an issue when attracting potential creative entrepreneurs, promoters, and tourists, local authorities should assess the situation and consider adequate strategies to improve them. Local authorities could also try establishing collaborating networks with neighboring cities for educational and cultural facilities [23
] or through the integration of international networks such as the UNESCO network of creative cities, which stimulates the economic, cultural, social, and creative development (URBACT) of small cities. This is a specific European program that fosters integrated urban development and favors creative network actions. It is essential for small cities to participate in international networks combining local and global spheres [10
]. Collaborating with other cities through the available European networks is fundamental for stimulus and success [7
According to the scores and bootstrapping results for dimension “D3.4 Quality of Governance”, quality of governance is not one of the strengths of small cities, but their performance is not worse than medium, large, and extra, extra-large cities, which indicates the commitment of local authorities. The governance dimension is fundamental for small creative cities, and local policies should provide specific infrastructures and support schemes to attract creative people [10
] and foster creativity in the knowledge economy, always in close collaboration with local parties [23
]. On the other hand, there should be a specific local policy that favors the collaboration and cooperation with creative tourism promoters, as its absence may constitute a limitation for creative tourism development [46
]. Authorities should be aware of the creative potential, uniqueness, and assets of their cities and avoid the standardization of urban development [47
]. On the contrary, they should base their public policies on new challenges, strategies, and measures [48
] and define context-specific policies adapted to their precise situation [10
]. Hence, local leadership is fundamental to promote creativity-based strategies [41
Although the cities’ living conditions and quality of life have not been included in the final version of the C3 Index, it is important to emphasize their relevance in the case of small cities. The developers of the C3 Index also considered different indicators to approximate cities’ living conditions and quality of life, such as the number of dwellings lacking basic amenities or the average indicators, which were not retained because of problems they displayed: they did not fit in the overall framework based on theoretical considerations and/or in the statistical analysis, or they presented poor data coverage. The higher quality of life there can attract the creative class and artists to start and bring up their families, attracted by a pleasant atmosphere and good access to knowledge and culture [7
]. Quality of life, based on competitive advantages such as well-being, sustainability, and social inclusion, is a very important characteristic defining small cities. This combination of social, cultural, and environmental assets appeals to creative people and entrepreneurs, who are attracted by a more balanced and inspiring work–life relationship [10
]. Their presence will contribute to transform the city and become part of their creative evolution. Local authorities can bring about quite a change to channel creative people’s desire for more adequate places to develop their projects by facilitating and supporting infrastructures for entrepreneurship, frequently linked to under-utilized historical and industrial heritage [10
]. The resulting creative, stimulating atmosphere will equally appeal to creative travelers.