The European Capitals of Culture initiative launched in 1985, and since then has encouraged people to go and explore places that previously might not have been on their travel bucket list. A 2017 study found that being designated as a Capital of Culture leads to an 8% increase in overnight stays during the year in which the designation applies. Some cities have then gone on to experience longer term touristic benefits, notable examples being Essen, Guimarães, Salamanca and Tallinn.
In the early days, the EU-inspired programme selected one city a year. But these days there are two Culture Capitals a year. In 2018, for example, the honour is being shared by Maltese capital Valetta and Leeuwarden- Fryslân in the Netherlands.
Celebrating its selecting, Valetta’s residents started partying on January the 14th, culminating in the opening ceremony on the 20th of January, during which Valletta officially received its title. An important part of Maltese tradition, for example, is the festa; a traditional Maltese event where families, friends and communities meet to rejoice in their cultural heritage.
Nearly 3,000 kilometres north of Valletta, Leeuwarden-Fryslân was inaugurated as the second European Capital of Culture on Friday the 26th of January, with all primary school classes singing a song composed for this occasion to honour the Frisian way of life. The opening weekend then proceeded with flash mobs, choirs, fanfares, stories, orchestras and brass bands to showcase the theme of “Iepen mienskip”, or open community.
One important change, since 2004, is that the selection of each European Capital of Culture is no longer based purely on existing cultural infrastructure but on the potential for socio-economic development and cultural transformation. This change means that cities that could never have hoped to be selected ahead of the likes of Venice or Amsterdam now have a chance to generate their own cultural tourism profile