Translocal Strategies for Experimenting
with Smart Tourism Labs in Zumaia:
The Case of the Basque Coast Geopark,
Basque Country (Spain)
Dr Igor Calzada MBA1 and Ana Arranz2
1 University of Oxford,
ESRC Urban Transformations & Future of Cities Programmes,
56 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS, United Kingdom
2 Translokal Academic Entrepreneurship for Policy Making,
2 Arritokieta 14, Zumaia 20750, Basque Country, Spain,
This paper presents a preliminary action research methodology based on living labs to overcome the
current and simplistic one-size-fits-all big-data-driven smart tourism policy approach. Located in Zumaia,
in the coast of the Basque Country (Spain), an experiment will be depicted innovative/democratic ways of
touristic policy-making practices at the local level in respond to an increasing trend of visitors. Given the
lack of attention about qualitative/ethnographic/strategic policy-making tools in the conventional
governance realm, this paper shows a contextually-based living lab experimental methodology to co-
create a prospective strategy building processes with local agents represented and fit in the multi-
stakeholders Penta Helix framework.
Keywords: Smart Tourism; Smart Destinations; Living Labs; Unesco Global Geoparks; Multi-stakeholders.
To cite this article:
Calzada, I. & Arranz, A. (2017), Translocal Strategies for Experimenting with Smart Tourism Labs in Zumaia: The Case
of the Basque Coast Geopark, Basque Country (Spain), paper accepted and published in the Proceedings in the 1st
UNWTO World Conference on Smart Destinations, Murcia (Spain).
1. INTRODUCTION: TRANSLOCAL STRATEGIES TOWARDS SMART TOURISM
Despite the geopolitical world context, which is characterised by increasing boundaries to human mobility
in an uneven realm full of walls and borders, the current pattern of tourism has not been diminished. In
fact, translocal mobility, reflecting a wide range of motivations, emotions, tools, destinations and
strategies, provides new opportunities to analyse, experiment and propose new smart policies that
facilitate the transition to unexplored tourism models. Particularly remarkable are the experiences in
many places regarding the role of tourists as visitors and locals as residents in experimental interventions
for empowering local communities in remote coastal regions. This is the case of the coastal village of
Zumaia (Basque Country) in Spain, which is establishing a new participatory local strategy for tourism
after two remarkable events with clear tourism-related consequences for the community: first, the
success in attacting and gaining 50% of visitors to the high-valued geological area of the Basque Coast
, particularly also known as the flysch, and second, the filming of scenes from Season 7 of
the blockbuster TV series Game of Thrones in the surroundings of the village. This paper thus will depict
the specific current touristic, social, economic and political context of Zumaia to better understand the
project that has recently kicked off: ‘Experimenting with Smart Tourism Labs’. This project, based on
ethnographic and strategic techniques derived from action research, aims to set up a participatory
itinerary while implementing a prospective view by considering a wide range of stakeholders . The multi-
stakeholder scheme will follow the Penta-Helix framework by encompassing local authorities, the private
sector, academia and research centres, civil society and social entrepreneurs and activists. Ultimately, the
inner perception and outside projection of the touristic assets shared by residents and visitors contribute
as much as activities and the infrastructure in the village do toward establishing a credible translocal
tourism strategy. Nevertheless, it has been suggested that Zumaia be developed as a ‘smart destination’
without input from the different stakeholders. As such, ‘smart’ technological solutions that take
advantage of the so-called Open Data or Big Data, in the era of ‘dataism’, have not always been focused
on necessities and usability. In order to shed some light on this debate, this paper will present some
preliminary methodological guidelines to undertake the aforementioned action research project in the
village of Zumaia. By blending hospitality management, experience economy, ‘knowmads’ and millennials
and by connecting talent and sustainable tourism, among other trends, this paper explores the
opportunities for Zumaia in the Basque Coast Geopark by setting up a ‘Smart Tourism Lab’. More broadly,
the ‘Smart Tourism Lab’ will consider the village itself as an open platform merging technological
ownership, local economy, culturally-rooted tradition, inclusive identity, international openness, political
bridging (social capital), and social innovation for setting up an innovative touristic prospective strategy.
As a preliminary statement for the 1st UNWTO World Conference on Smart Destinations, it should be
noted that ‘smart tourism destination management has become more complex since current
developments in technology have empowered the collective integration of resources for value co-creation
by all actors within the smart tourism destination ecosystem’ (Boes et al., 2016). However, in some cases
of ‘smart tourism’ (Gretzel et al., 2015), ‘smart destinations’ (Gobierno de España & Segittur, 2015) and
‘sustainable tourism’ (Buckley, 2012; World Summit on Sustainable Tourism 2015), there is evidence of
socio-political, socio-technical and socio-economic misalignments in the relationship between the locals
(residents, or simply, citizens) and the visitors (or simply, tourists). The most paradigmatic case these days
seems to be Barcelona (Adjuntament de Barcelona, 2016; Cócola, A., 2015; Llambea, 2016), but already
there are other well-known cases such as the 2020 Tourism Strategy of Copenhagen that branded itself as
‘The End of Tourism as We Know It’ (Wonderful Copenhagen, 2017). The fact is that beyond the
technodeterministic imperative of the ‘smartness’ in our hyper-connected societies these days (Calzada et
al., 2015), there is an urgent need for experimental policy-making processes between tourists/visitors and
locals/residents (Thackara, 2017). Actually, the next post-crisis economic model should embrace such a
socio-technical complexity, instead of simply reducing it (Thackara, 2005 & 2015). In this regard, the
Basque Coast UNESCO Global Geopark. http://geoparkea.com/?lang_code=en
popular geographer David Harvey recently visited Barcelona in order to engage publicly with local
stakeholders in analysing the urban side-effects of gentrification in Barcelona, given the way in which the
so-called ‘sharing economy’ companies such as Airbnb and Uber, among others, have been operating
(Stone, 2016). Hence, there is a correlation between certain ‘smart’ interventions and the not-always-
positive side-effects for the city, and particularly, for certain segments of the population (Harvey, 2016).
Generally speaking, ‘smart tourism’ (OECD, 2016; UNWTO, 2016; World Tourism Organization, 2016) has
emerged as a concept that enables destinations to build their local economies in relation to global
exchange/competitiveness patterns based on the interoperability of systems and co-creation of tourism
products between all stakeholders. These patterns, based on emergent smart cities and smart living
developments, take city principles to urban or rural areas and not only consider residents but also tourists
in their efforts to support mobility, resource availability and allocation, sustainability and quality of
life/visits. The smart city idea from the critical social innovation perspective means that a new paradigm is
required when bottom-up interventions are the key governance challenge in the postgrowth era (Calzada,
2016; Calzada et al., 2015). The need for a new paradigm is apparent in the effects of some disruptive
private initiatives such as Uber and AirBnB, among others, which are altering the traditional dynamic
between the locals/residents and the trans-locals/tourists by combining the practice of travelling, the
changing nature of the mobile way of living and new understandings of the place itself (Peretta, 2014).
Smart strategies can bring together the need to use technological innovations to develop regional socio-
economic development of territories towards social innovation and governance and create value to all
stakeholders. As such, new patterns of using technology, travelling and even living are increasingly
producing a large number of apps, software applications for user engagement, bottom-up decision-
making pervasive processes, user-driven innovation platforms, collective intelligence initiatives and
crowdfunding projects (Eatwith, 2016; Hjalager, 2015; Minube, 2016; Refuga, 2016; Sustain Green, 2017).
In this context, the availability of data and, more particularly, the governance models of these data are
part of the new condition in cities and of being citizens, regardless of whether or not those are
locals/residents or visitors/tourists.
This paper addresses a specific research and policy intervention called ‘Smart Tourism Labs’ in the village
of Zumaia, Basque Country (Spain). The principal aims is to innovate with the local actors different
meanings of translocality
. As Brickell et al. (2011) stated, ‘translocality consists of a multi-scalar
repertoire of connections between here and there that span across imaginations, practices and affects’.
2. STATE-OF-THE-ART: PROSPECTIVE TOURISTIC INNOVATION
According to OECD (2016), ‘rapid growth in international tourism flows, new consumer trends,
digitalisation of the economy, security issues, and adaptation to climate change are among the major
challenges facing the tourism sector. These will require active, innovative and integrated policy responses
to ensure that tourism remains a competitive sector and continues to deliver economically and
sustainably in the years to come’.
UNESCO Global Geoparks (Basque Coast UNESCO Global Geopark, 2017; Farsani, et al., 2011; Geoparkea
Euskal Kostaldea Costa Vasca, 2012; Geoparkea Euskal Kostaldea Costa Vasca, 2012; UNESCO Global
Geopark, 2017; UNESCO Global Geoparks & United Nations, 2016) offer an opportunity to provide a
network of unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance
are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development and to
provide to local people a sense of pride in their region and a means of strengthen their identification with
the area. While developing geotourism, the establishment of geoparks can generate new job
opportunities, new economic activities and additional sources of income, especially in rural regions
(Farsani et. al, 2013). Rural coastal regions show an outstanding context to promote sustainable
development goals while blending the rural and the urban in a new mix (Andersen et al., 2016).
Particularly, the Basque city-region (Calzada, 2011) presents a mountainous landscape that merges the
rural and the urban in a new innovative and sustainable outcome: RUrban.
Saxena (2016) has studied the way rural tourism could be promoted from the marketing perspective.
However, in the case of this paper, in Zumaia, and also in many small coastal rural villages in Europe,
smart tourism should be more about gaining strategic and prospective capabilities and scaling them up,
rather than just about ‘foreigner’-franchised smart-technology-in-the-box purchases. Thus, in this paper
the focus is on experimenting a prospective touristic innovation within the key stakeholders in the village.
According to Boes et al. (2016), smart tourism refers to the fastness and the value of co-creation, which
requires collective leadership constructively engaged with the local community by ensuring a highly
representative participation and deliberation process and regularly monitorised action plan. It is
noteworthy then, how in a remote and ‘isolated’ country such as Iceland, which was hit dramatically by
the financial crisis (Casado et al., 2015; Iceland Academy, 2016; Jóhannesson, 2010), the prospective
touristic innovation has been developing for years through an avant-garde proposal flavoured with Open
Data platforms and initiatives.
3. CONTEXT: RURBAN LOCAL LIVING LABS & EXPERIMENTAL COMMUNITIES
This article aims to incorporate the intervention via Living Labs to the socio-territorial feature of the
rurban community. Associated with the Open Social Innovation, ‘Smart Tourism Lab, ZumaiaLab’ aims to
set up an experimental community to discuss, debate, prototype and deliberate touristic products,
initiatives, services, platforms, technologies and ideas that will encourage co-creation, user engagement,
citizen testing and experimentation facilities targeting innovation in the field of tourism.
The notion of the Living Labs was coined by Professor William Michell from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT) in Boston. People from the world outside were invited into living laboratories where
ethnographers and other researchers observed how they used newly invented information technology.
Later on, the concept has moved out of the laboratories and into the real world. There have been
numerous attempts to define what a Living Lab is, but there is no firm consensus in the literature. We see
living labs as innovation platforms where the stakeholders develop and exchange ideas in a community. In
the context of the Smart City debate (Keith et al., 2016), an slight evolution from smartness to
experimentation, as something already given or produced for us, can be noticed. As such, ‘smart citizens’
are already being considered as decision makers rather than just data providers (Calzada, 2017).
In the regional context of the Basque Country in Spain, and after gradually overcoming the dramatic
consequences of the political violence (Voltes-Dorta et al., 2016), in order to understand the socio-
political challenge at the micro/community level and to suggest an experimental implementation
considering the mutual stakeholders’ interdependencies, a dynamic strategic intervention has been
suggested in the coastal village of Zumaia by having an experimental community at the heart of its
Zumaia is located in the cross-border Euroregion Euskadi-Navarre-Aquitaine, in the region of the Urola-
Coast in Gipuzkoa (Eusko Jaurlaritza/Gobierno Vasco, 2012; 2014; 2015). Zumaia is lapped by the sea and
nestled in the bay formed by the mouths of the rivers Urola and Narrondo. With a population of around
9,800 inhabitants, it is configured as a rural area with a high density of population and a GPD per capita of
35,742 € with an unemployment rate of 10.55%. Above 70% of the population uses the Basque language
(Heller et al., 2014) and demonstrates a strong sense of identity in relation to the territory, the natural
environment and traditions. Zumaia, being part of the Basque Coast Geopark, has a natural protected
area with a highly valued geological heritage: 13 km of cliffs with a spectacular formation of rock layers
known as flysch deposits. It has excellent transport links and is close to the three Basque capitals; San
Sebastian is only 30 minutes by car and Bilbao, 50 minutes.
The type of seasonal tourism predominant in the region is beginning to congest and change the habits of
mature destinations like San Sebastian. The high attractive value of Zumaia makes it one of the local
destinations that absorb part of these visitors. Just as British in rural France spend much time and effort in
trying to become ‘local’ (Brotherton, 2015), the visitors respect with the environment and community. In
fact, the challenge is becoming quite straight-forward: how to ‘localise’ visitors through their temporary
and partial experience by achieving a richer, mutually ‘profitable’, whatever it is, visit and the local
scenery enrichment? On the other hand, during the year there is a type of targeted tourism connected to
knowledge and research. We can argue that the first one is more leisure-oriented tourist ideal-type
(experiential tourist) and the second one is more knowledge-driven tourist ideal-type (cognitive tourist).
At present, a turning point and urgent policy response is required regarding the exponential and rapid
growth of the local, national and international visitors in the last years as consequence of the promotion
in the UNESCO Global Geoparks
network and, short term, the expected increase due to the super-
production of the worldwide well-known cinematographic series called Game of Thrones
2016), among other international and national blockbusters.
Guaranteeing regional coordination of hospitality management and the tourism experience, the
government and public agencies, mainly the UNWTO, the UNESCO Global Geoparks, the Basque Coast
Geopark, the Basque Government, the San Sebastian Metropolitan area, the Coast Community of Urola
and the City-Council of Zumaia, have developed strategies that comprise a consolidated tourism model
defined by gastronomy, beaches, heritage and traditions, festivals, fishing, sport, tourism of health, routes
and guided tours (Dwyer et al., 2012). Of particular interest are the strategies implemented by the Basque
Coast Geopark, which carries out its educational mission through the Interpretation Centre Algorri. The
creation of innovative local enterprises, new jobs and high-quality training courses has stimulated new
sources of revenue, generated through geotourism, while the geological resources of the area are
protected (Farsani et al., 2010).
List of UNESCO Global Geopark http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/earth-
Mapped: Every single Game of Thrones filming location. Season 1-6. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-
Figure 1: 69 EU Geoparks Network
Having tested the success of the Basque Coast Geopark, with an increase of 50% in visitors during the
summer period of the previous year, Zumaia is preparing itself to open the debate on a tourist model that
ensures the coexistence of locals and tourists in an open and participatory manner. It hopes to become a
sustainable smart destination and places its attention on experiences that unfold in remote places like
New Zealand, turned into a case of reference for becoming a filming location of the Lord of the Rings
(The Lord of the Rings Filming Locations, 2016) and the international experience in planning and
management of sustainable tourism destinations in Iceland (Iceland Academy, 2016; Jóhannesson, et al.,
4. SCIENTIFIC & POLICY INTERVENTION: SMART TOURISM LABS, ZUMAIALAB
Considering the socio-demographic features of the village (Urola Kostako Udal Elkartea & Gura Market In,
2016; Zumaiako Udala & Elhuyar Aholkularitza, 2016), a living lab intervention has been designed as the
most suitable model of socio-territorial action. Thus, living lab inteventions usually include the following
features and principles (Guimont et al., 2016; Evans et al., 2017; Karvonen et al., 2014, Urban
1. A technology infrastructure
2. An ecosystem of stakeholders who can interact to develop and assess products, services, processes or
3. An innovation process that is as open as possible
4. Users playing a key role as co-creators of the products, services and technologies being developed
5. A human-centric design approach that involves ethnographic observation, empathy and rapid
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Filming Locations. New Zealand. http://www.newzealand.com/au/feature/the-lord-
6. Sustained and meaningful interaction and community involvement
7. Consideration of users’ natural environments
Given the process involving a different range of stakeholders in the village, context management
platforms for tourism applications (Buján et al., 2013) could be considered initially. However, the focus
will be on the new tools and apps for travelling, and particularly, regarding the segment of population
known as ‘millennials’ due to their particular attitude towards new technological prototypes as early
adopters (Barton et al., 2013; Phocuswright, 2016; Wang & Xiang, 2012), new patterns of mobility known
as ‘knowmads’ (Moravec, 2013) and new values in life in general (Sinek, 2016). This segment of
population will be particularly observed ethnographically as testers but also as decision makers and
prosumers as well.
The project will carry out an action research methodology based on triangularisation techniques that
intertwine, on the one hand, a strategic and prospective policy formulation and active co-design with
multi-stakeholders, and on the other hand, an ethnographic approach of place from local and global
codes (translocal). The desinged dynamic encourages a certain kind of participation that searches for
diversity, heterogeneity, and quality of the opinions, more than in an agreement. A particular
ethnography will be produced about ‘millennials’, mobile technologies and entrepreneurial attitudes of
the local young population and also visitors by attempting to build bridges and create a natural
interaction between them.
Applying the 5-Systems
(Calzada, 2015) framework to the local touristic ecosystem will allow us to
analyse the systems, factors and indicators involved in co-designing contexts that guarantee the touristic
innovation with a constructive dialogue between stakeholders in the Smart Tourism Labs called
ZumaiaLab. The 5-System is an holistic framework to identify innovative processes and to formulate
policies by considering systemically the whole range of socio-territorial governance systems.
5. INTERVENTION PROJECT & ACTION RESEARCH METHODOLOGY: EXPERIMENTING WITH SMART
TOURISM LABS IN ZUMAIA
The design of the Smart Tourism Lab for Zumaia that arises in this project is fundamentally driven by the
idea of fostering a transformative alliance in the policy field of tourism. As such, altering the dynamics in
the deliberative process and setting up a collaborative platform to show, disseminate and test ideas and
initiatives will revolutionise the touristic strategy for Zumaia.
The current tourism model for Zumaia needs to innovate so that business and destination can evolve and
advance in terms of sustainability, reputation and technology. The laboratory itself is presented as an
environment where cooperation is enabled to innovate in the macro, meso and micro scales within the
territorial systemic framework from the perspective of open social innovation (Calzada et al., 2013),
sending out international signs (global) which includes elements of its Idiosyncrasy with a locally-rooted
In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to lay emphasis on connecting cutting-edge trends that are
modifying the way we understand tourism, mobility and the human experience in places:
1. Knowledge Exchange: based on an unlimited and open access information about destination with
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Online Educational Resources (OER) and Augmented Reality
(AR); with the substantial participation of people with knowmads and millennial profiles.
Calzada, 2015. Available at: http://cityregions.org/the-future-of-city-regions/analytical-approach (accessed on 7th
2. Experience Tourism: working concepts such as online reputation, hospitality management, internal
perception, and external projection.
3. (Un)plugging: in terms of the extent to which ICT enriches or ruins the vacation experience (Calzada
et al., 2015).
4. Connecting Talent: leveraging the value of local and social entrepreneurship as generator of
employment and business opportunities.
5. Smart Tourism: exploring business intelligence, data analytics and open data platforms, with a special
consideration of the technopolitics of data regarding privacy, data literacy, self-tracking devices and
To assess the impact of touristic activities and how these impacts influence visitor experience and locals’
perception, a systemic approach is used because it provides an understanding on the relationship
between tourism and its social ecosystem in Zumaia, and thus offers tools needed to clarify the complex
realm of the touristic experience.
The methodological procedure is made up of the following components:
Identify and select key variables
Determine causal relationships between key variables
Define success goals
Determine system success indicators
Formulate possible policy actions
Regarding the research design: a survey answered by 100 respondents and a selected group of 50 in-
depth interviews will be carried out to achieve the research objectives. The survey is divided into five
parts by following the 5-System framework (Calzada, 2015). The first part, URBS, will revolve around
sustainable natural environment, urban system and the human geography. The second part, CYBER, will
revolve around physical, digital and social connectivity. The third part, CIVITAS, is related to social-cultural
issues where multiculturalism, talent, entrepreneurship and local communities are directly connected to
the tourism. The forth part, POLIS, will ask respondents about the identity, glocalisation, civic
participation, and territorial regulation. The last part, DEMOS, is focused on striking a balance about the
other previous four systems.
Likewise, non-locals and experts in tourism will be engaged in the entrepreneurial activities of ZumaiaLab.
Among others, locally-based entrepreneurial initiatives or start-ups will be used to discuss the strengths
and threats of tourism complexity and learn from similar experiences to be considered adaptively in
Zumaia. So far, this article has already mentioned some examples: Iceland Academy
by Inspired Iceland,
The future of dining is here by EatWith
, Donde empiezan los viajes by minube
, Travel with entrepreneurs
and Carbon Footprint Credit Card by Sustain:Green
The ZumaiaLab workshop sessions will invite a selected group of participants by being representatives of
the five entities that comprise the Penta-Helix framework:
1. policy-makers and politicians
3. academics and technologists
4. citizens (civil society)
Iceland Academy by Inspired by Iceland. http://inspired.visiticeland.com/academy
The Future of Dinning is Here by EatWith. https://www.eatwith.com
Donde empiezan los viajes by minube. http://www.minube.com
Travel with entrepreneurs by REFUGA. https://refuga.com
Carbon FootPrint Credit Card by Sustain:Green. http://sustaingreen.com
5. professionals, social entrepreneurs, and activists
The intervention will select among 34 SMEs, 60 equipment services, 232 shops and professionals, 43
associations, several academics and politicians and visitors. This, allows us to make an ethnographic
observation to describe the relationship between visitors and locals and thus extract some policy
6. PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS: KICKING-OFF
Based on the preliminary informal pre-test carried out and after gathering some insights so far:
1. Different reactions could be expected regarding the strategic effect of tourism on the village.
2. On the positive side-effects, the current situation offers unexplored local business opportunities
to locate Zumaia on the world map: to value geological heritage and to open new scenarios for
innovation in relation smart destination.
3. On the negative side-effects, it was mentioned the lack of foresight to anticipate the increase of
the number of tourists/hikers is already a fact. As such, it could be perceived a sort of mistrust
about the hype of new technologies as tools that could hypothetically bring benefits, contribute
to the protection of the natural environment and landscape, reduce the waste generation and
ultimately cause a remarkable loss of self-identity due to an invasion of visitors.
4. An evidence-based observation suggests that for certain stakeholders, touristic innovation is
subject to and dependent on the rhythm of the public calls.
5. The way in which participation and deliberation in a laboratory process is seen represents highly
positive attitudes, even after years of political and communitarian confrontation.
6. The internal perception on the current touristic model is divided.
7. The opportunity to build a collective intelligence by bridging heterogeneous stakeholders in the
village shows an overall agreement.
The impact on the village represents the first priority for locals. And despite the positive effect on the
economic revenue for the local finances, the environmental concern and the strong seasonality of the
incomers emphasise the requirement for a deliberative touristic governance model, based on forward-
looking strategies reinforced by smart destination policies, ultimately fixed by the taxpayers.
7. FINAL REMARK: BEYOND DATA-ISM
To conclude, this paper has been based on the preliminary intervention that will take place in the specific
location of Zumaia in the Basque Country (Spain). Despite the increasing trend towards a more data-
driven society and policy, this paper, by contrast, has just focused on the contextual particular conditions
and the stakeholder ad-hoc composition of the location. Although the data-rich policies are required in
tourism, this paper advocates that a more experimental, innovative and thus, democratic policy-making
tools and methods should complement the current explosion of dataism (Calzada, 2017). After having
researched internationally other models of touristic policy-making, we could argue that Spain and the
Mediterranean countries particularly, could run the risk to invest in the second bubble after 2008 crisis.
We are referring to the bubble of data without literacy, accountability and public deliberation. Especially
in the tourism, where the so-called sharing economy multinational giants, such as Uber and Airbnb, are
socially gentrifying (and as a consequence, spoiling) internationally well-known touristic hubs by altering
their original and authentic territorial DNA. Hence, place matters, and will do matter more in the future, if
touristic policy just focuses on the aggregation of data, without ‘unplugging’ its ‘smartness’. It is worth to
begin with experimenting which kind of places, tourism wants to build.
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