(ANSA) - Sant'Agata Feltria (Rimini), January 10 - Italy is dotted with hundreds of remote, sparsely populated historic villages that have fallen into disrepair as new generations moved to the cities to find work and live modern lifestyles. Enter Giancarlo Dall'Ara, a marketing professor at Perugia University who has long been convinced that these villages, with their medieval architecture and fast-disappearing popular lore, are worth saving. A proponent of alternative approaches to hospitality, who uses key words like Memory, Gift, Storytelling, and Webs, he came up with the ingenious idea of the scattered hotel (albergo diffuso), a simple, non-invasive and sustainable concept in tourism. Dall'Ara's notion is that rooms are scattered in different buildings within the town, but run by a manager working out of a central reception area, who is on hand to answer questions, make recommendations and arrange bookings. The guestrooms are all within walking distance of the concierge and common areas, while traditional meals may be served at a café or delivered to guests' rooms. This allows visitors to imbed themselves in village life, while enjoying all the amenities of a hotel. Scattered hotels, says Dall'Ara, are healthy for the host villages, because they act as social, cultural and economic stimuli. He calls them ''drivers of development,'' because everything is sourced on site, involving the residents and local producers, and preventing depopulation. Scattered hotels are also ecologically and culturally sound, because they don't call for new construction, but rather, for the restoration and preservation of centuries-old architecture. ''Reconverting an existing room into a hotel room is far more sustainable than building a new hotel. Of course all renovations try to be sustainable, and to preserve the original materials as far as possible,'' said Dall'Ara, founder and president of the National Association of Scattered Hotels (Associazione Nazionale degli Alberghi Diffusi - ADI). ''A scattered hotel generates a local chain of production, keeps the building stock viable, and brings tourists in as temporary residents, not just visitors passing through". The remoteness of these villages, which once drove the younger people away, has now become their strength, says Dall'Ara. Here is where some of the old ways of cooking, weaving, and storytelling are still preserved, and this cultural wealth is the mother lode for unorthodox travelers, who yearn for authenticity and like to move off the beaten paths. Many of them, says Dall'Ara, are from Northern Europe and the US. Tourist operators in Germany regularly organize stays in scattered hotels, which are also featured in guides like Lonely Planet and Guide Routard. Sardinian regional authorities first recognized scattered hotels in 1998. Eleven years later, a UN Development Programme (UNDP) convention in Budapest gave Dall'Ara's concept an award for best economic growth practice capable of being transmitted to developing countries. In Assisi in 2010, ADI received a prize for Italian responsible tourism, and in London, Dall'Ara garnered the World Travel Market (WTM) Global Award, given yearly to original thinkers in the tourism industry. In June of this year, the Touring Club published the first national guide to scattered
hotels. There are now 56 official scattered hotels in 16 Italian regions, up from 47 in June, with 100 more in the works, according to Dall'Ara. He added that the concept has begun to spread abroad, in places like Croatia, Switzerland, and the former Soviet bloc countries. His hope for the future is that the government will take it on as a 'made in Italy' model worth promoting.
By Stefania Fumo. Sant'Agata Feltria (Rimini)