Alberghi Diffusi: A new paradigm of hospitality from Italy to Japan
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
In my life, I was lucky enough to travel a lot, and I can confirm this aphorism of Marcel Proust with my personal experience. My trips stimulated my vision and expanded my perceptions, helping me to open my mind and to change the person I was in the person I am. Among thousands of travel aphorisms available online, one by Herman Hesse also struck me. He argued that it is necessary to sleep in a local house to discover the deeper meaning of a place.
When we are travelling, we often stay in hotels with a lot of attractions. We invest time trying to find the best hotel with all the comforts, big screens, abundant breakfast, a swimming pool, a gym. We travel to escape the routine of our life in the city, to explore new places and meet new people. And then, we end up staying at the hotel, because it has all the activities concentrated in one place. Probably we have travelled for hours and reached exotic locations far from home. And then, we end up visiting only the hotel's swimming pool and gym. The same swimming pool and gym that we could find in our city, without the need to travel so far.
So, what is the purpose of a trip if we don't truly feel our destination? A journey is not just about finding the right hotel, with the perfect view and the best comforts. The most exciting part of a trip is that of knowing different cultures, interacting with local people, savouring local foods, feeling the scent of a place, and taking this incredible experience with you, once back to everyday life.
What is more stimulating, captivating and intriguing than enjoying the comfort of a hotel-quality accommodation - while staying in a local setting - and contribute to revitalizing abandoned places in the countryside? Besides, 'Why to stay in a hotel when you can stay in a village?', asks Giancarlo Dall'Ara - president of the Italian Association ADI (Alberghi Diffusi Association).
In 1980, a new concept of hospitality was born in Italy, that of the Albergo Diffuso (widespread hotel). Its philosophy is based on the economic revitalization of unused houses spread within a city, managing them as a single hotel business. This idea - proposed the first time by professor Giancarlo Dall'Ara of the University of Perugia - stem from the need to restore and revive some Italian cities after the strong earthquake that occurred in northern Italy in 1976. At that time, professor Dall'Ara proposed to renovate deserted houses and empty shops, setting them up as small parts of a large but separate hotel. With this system, guests are invited to stroll around the small towns and contribute to its revitalization.
The inhabitants themselves become protagonists, offering the travellers authentic hospitality and a complete experience of the local history, culture and traditions. The concept of Albergo Diffuso has allowed over the years to revitalize entire rural areas, providing a precious additional income to their inhabitants. Thanks to this smart approach to tourism, it was possible to restore splendid yet abandoned villages, contributing to reduce their depopulation and offering to the new generations the opportunity to start their own business right at their birthplace.
In 2006 the National Association of Diffused Hotels (ADI) was founded, with Giancarlo Dall'Ara as president. Over the years, ADI has offered a sustainable development model and generated a massive flow of tourists. Today ADI has 150 facilities in Italy, and this concept is spreading to the rest of the world. After the first experiments in Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, the widespread hotel concept arrived in Japan last year. The "Alberghi Diffusi Japan" association was established, to promote the revitalization of local communities throughout the country.
Yakage-ya Inn and Suites - inaugurated in 2018 in the prefecture of Okayama - boasts the primacy of the first certified "Albergo Diffuso" in Asia. This village, full of inns, was once a place of passage along the route of the ancient capital Edo. In 2012 Adachi Seijii, a private entrepreneur decided to restore the old local tradition according to the concept of widespread hospitality. Seiji san went to Italy to deepen his knowledge of widespread hotels and, in 2014, he started to renovate a Ryokan and some adjacent houses. In 2016 he opened his own business with shops and restaurants, thanks to a public contribution.
After Yakage-ya, Enso Ango born in Kyoto. Created with five independent structures - with each building combining Japanese and Swiss minimalist design – this diffused hotel encourages travellers to experience the city fully and profoundly understand its lifestyle and culture.
Recently, I had the chance to meet Akinori Hasegawa, the passionate executive director of Alberghi Diffusi Japan - as well as director of "The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan" association. During a delicious Italian dinner, Hasegawa san told me about his vision and future projects for ADI Japan. In a recent interview, he commented on the current situation in Japan as follows: 'In the Japanese countryside, we are experiencing a depopulation. Everyone is running away, and there are many empty houses. In the last three years, we have been organizing conferences on widespread hotels to import this model. We must learn the Italian spirit of hospitality. Italians are naturally predisposed to tourism. They are first in the world, and we want to bring this spirit here in Japan'.
After the examples of Yakage and Kyoto, last year also the prefecture of Kumamoto showed a strong interest in the Italian models of agritourism and the widespread hotel. The Italian Ambassador to Japan Giorgio Starace commented: "Italian tourists ask for new destinations - not only the usual ones like Tokyo - just as Japanese in Italy look for small towns, and also choose Italian tourist routes often not travelled by the Italians themselves".
Therefore, the recent trend in global tourism is that to broaden the range of tourist destinations - when the situation will allow it - including small towns, those that no one ever talks about, but which can offer unique experiences.
Over the past thirty years, I have travelled extensively, sometimes exploring places I had never heard of. I discovered different existences, met people who told me about their life, offered me foods that I did not know before. All those magnificent experiences, I will always carry in my heart. I believe that the real luxury is to be found in the authentic experience of places, those places that make us understand that the most beautiful things are sometimes the simplest, and that we often find them in tradition.