European Historic Houses and Airbnb team up to educate private owners on heritage tourism

There are thousands of historic houses in Europe, but maintaining them isn't an easy job. Image: Canva

Private owners of historic houses would strongly benefit from levelling up their skills to preserve and maintain their historic houses in Europe reckons umbrella organisation European Historic Houses (EHH). To top up their existing educational activities for private owners, the organisation announced a sponsorship with Airbnb. Together with EHH’s educational course HERIT, the workshops sponsored by Airbnb combine theoretical knowledge with practical skills to give private owners even more tools to make something out of their historic houses.

The European Historic Houses is an umbrella association covering 27 national associations of privately-owned historic houses. The organisation defends the preservation, conservation and transmission of heritage houses and represents 50.000 of them throughout Europe.

Why is it so important that private owners of historic houses learn these skills themselves, and not just leave the maintenance to heritage professionals and consultants? “Contrary to what most people think, owners of historic houses are often not rich people. Maintaining such a building comes with high costs, and it requires specific skills”, says Alfonso Pallavicini, Executive President of EHH. The umbrella organisation noticed that without specific training on for example digital tools, fundraising and marketing, owners find it difficult to preserve and maintain their homes. Which would also cause an additional, far larger problem.

These heritage buildings form the face of Europe

Alfonso Pallavicini, EHH Executive President

“Despite that around 50% of European historic houses are privately owned, they certainly are used by everyone”, argues Pallavicini. “You might not be able to enter every single house, but these heritage buildings form the face of Europe. The reason Europe is a popular tourist destination has to do with that it’s a big open-air museum with so many historic houses. So it’s key these are well-preserved because tourism can bring a lot of positive things.”

Combining theory and practice

Alfonso Pallavicini. Image: EHH

EHH’s focus on education for homeowners was already in the works long before contact with Airbnb. “Although they are completely different programs, these workshops will allow us to build on top of our other education project: Heritage Efficient through Relevant IT use (HERIT)”, explains Pallavicini. The Erasmus+ funded project (started in 2021) functions as an online course open for everyone, focused on teaching private owners of historic houses about possibilities in business development, useful digital tools, but also information on legal frameworks on cultural heritage they have to deal with.

The training is based on a learning model extended over 4 to 5 weeks, and which requires a commitment of up to 3 hours per week. Upon completing the online modules, participants will be awarded a HERIT Training Certificate of Attendance.

“HERIT provides them with the theoretical basis”, says Ewelina Oksiuta, EHH’s Head of Office. “But you need to combine that with a practical part as well: and that’s where Airbnb steps in with their experience in tourism.” The first workshop (on 23 May in Brussels) is a straightforward example of that: “The workshop revolves around using digital tools such as AI or social media to maximise the visibility of a heritage house.”

But it’s also meant to create a focus on potential future topics by having a large brainstorming session. “Apart from learning digital skills, the workshop aims to identify what the needs of owners are for future workshops. Think of fundraising or marketing for example”, Oksiuta explains. “There are many different owners of historic houses, but the problems they face are often similar. The key is to come up with solutions for common problems that different owners experience.”

Interest from Airbnb

Ewelina Oksiuta. Image: EHH

Airbnb’s interest in heritage started with the launch of the successful ‘historical houses’ category on its website. They also donated a total of around €10 million to several historic houses associations around Europe. “That’s where we first got into contact with them, they were already working with a few of our member associations”, remembers Oksiuta.

They quickly noticed that there was a similar interest. “Our main goal is to promote and raise awareness on the subject of historic houses, and that includes helping owners maintain their buildings. Tourism and education are a part of that”, Oksiuta says. As Airbnb already launched a ‘Heritage Academy’ – which includes a toolkit and advice on how to become a Historical Homes Host – EHH’s educational goals and Airbnb’s offer to sponsor workshops turned out to be a good match.

See for yourselves

While not everyone is happy that the American company has taken an interest in European heritage, Pallavicini points out that philanthropy is common in the heritage sector. “We are here to help private owners to maintain and preserve their historic houses. Yes, we are very grateful to Airbnb, but they also know that our task and views as EHH do not change”, explains Pallavicini. “It just means that we have the same interest and goals at this moment in time: they help us, we help them. And a sponsorship definitely doesn’t mean that the sponsor gets to decide what you should do, that’s not how it works.”

If anything, Pallavicini and Oksiuta reckon that people themselves should attend the first workshop with Airbnb, on 23 May during the final HERIT conference. “You can see for yourselves what kind of discussions people have there. It’s about learning crucial skills and about solving problems private owners are experiencing.” From the same day on, HERIT will be officially available. However, it is already accessible through early bird access. “It gives you a good idea of what skills are taught and what owners need in order to make something of their historic house.”

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