Cultural Tourism Interventions

Bornem Castle: Upgrading of historical exhibits and creation of a visitor information centre – Scheldeland LL intervention

Bornem Castle (also known as Castle Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde) has a more than thousand year history, starting with a wooden guard tower, evolving into a motte castle and finally a stone castle. The current castle was completely rebuilt at the end of the 19th century and has been the property of the family de Marnix since 1773, currently still being occupied by count John de Marnix. Given that the castle is under private ownership, opening up the castle and castle grounds for visitors is not straightforward. The project that is the focus of this practice abstract was the development of a visitor centre, and the improvement of the museal exhibits of the castle, with an eye on improving visitor accessibility and linking the castle of Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde with a wider network as part of the «Castles of the Scheldt» project. The project coordinator worked in close collaboration with the local destination management organizations and the private owner of the castle, with project subsidies coming from the Flemish policy level, in order to balance project objectives with private interests and respect for privacy of the castle occupants. The Philips de Marnix-exhibition, focussing on the history of the family’s ancestor that was the right-hand man of Willem of Orange in the 16th century, and the private collection of Brueghel the Elder engravings, were updated to modern interpretation standards and through the new visitor centre, visitors receive the historical information of the castle, the wider region of Bornem, and the other sites of the project. The information centre also serves a starting point for guided tours that are offered from the 1st of April to the 15th of November. Importantly, the visitor information centre also serves as a central node in another tourism-recreational product: the prospective National Park «Valley of the Scheldt» (i.e. «Rivierpark Scheldevallei»). Bornem Castle serves as one of the access gates to the prospective national park, thereby linking this unique cultural heritage site with a nature-focused tourism experience as well. The intervention shows how collaborative efforts between private-public partners, supported by a shared higher-level vision can overcome initial difficulties to open up accessibility to cultural heritage. Furthermore, by envisioning the visitor information centre as a node in both a larger castle route and as an entrance gate to a prospective national park, the attraction becomes elevated and the potential positive impacts for the region increase accordingly by creating routes, rather than singular point attractions.

CultPlatform_21. The Danube Culture Platform

#13th Cultural Tourism Intervention:

The Danube is the second longest river in Europe, after the Volga River. It flows westwards through Central and Southeastern Europe and flows into the Black Sea after 2,829 km in the border area of Romania and Ukraine via the Danube Delta. Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade are located on the Danube. Thus, this long river traverses more countries and landscapes than any other river in Europe and, as an important axis of transport and travel, it connects various cultural and economic areas. For this reason, an intervention centred on the Danube’s networks needs to comprehend several cultural areas and different countries. Those involved are Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Luxembourg.

The aim of the CultPlatform21 intervention is to “work against forgetting and to create awareness of cultural diversity and history in the Danube region”. In fact, in the course of history, the Danube area has experienced a chequered past resulting in a culturally and historically rich but fragmented history. The (im)material cultural heritage is the (in)visible testimony to this and, as a non-renewable and irreplaceable resource. It forms people’s collective memory. Accordingly, the project is dedicated to the hidden, forgotten, invisible cultural heritage of the Danube region. The aim was to create a large platform for culture and tourism in the Danube area and initiate the development of some form of cultural tourism in an innovative way in order to involve and connect communities, organizations and tourists within the region. It sees hidden heritage as an interdisciplinary field contributing to the development of new cultural narratives. Eight pilot projects to create spaces of remembrance have been developed and implemented. Three used digital and technological methods, four were more artistic and creative interventions and one applied both tools. Among the main activities we highlight the (a) innovative strategy proposal for cultural routes and the creation of a Policy Learning Platform as a network for stakeholders; (b) the discovery of hidden heritage along the Danube, making the invisible visible through artistic and technological (3D applications) pilot projects; (c) contributing to narrate historic places and events in a contemporary innovative manner. More importantly, the core of the project is the Policy Learning Platform, a cultural policy network of the project partners that well represents the cooperative behaviour between culture and tourism.

The main issue was to discover places of history, find old and new stories to tell and develop artistic and technological pilot projects for descriptive mediation and support existing cultural routes by developing contemporary aspects. The overall intervention had a duration of 2.5 years (from 2017 to 2019). The Federal Chancellery of Austria, the Arts and Culture Division lead the project and the other nineteen partners (from eight countries within the Danube area) developed cooperation on culture and tourism. It was included in the Interreg European Strategy for the Danube Transnational Programme. The ideas that have been generated and tested during the project’s activity showed huge potential in the existing routes along the Danube. It had a positive impact on the local community. The intervention demonstrates that sustainable cultural tourism development requires collaboration and partnership between a variety of stakeholders from both culture and tourism. Working separately leads to missed opportunities and a waste of resources. Through the development of the Policy Learning Platform, CultPlatform21 showed how such a missing framework could be generated. Nevertheless, the project showed the beneficial outcomes of using art-based methods, such as storytelling, for interpreting cultural heritage and connecting it to people.

Ontourage (Flanders, Belgium)

#12 The chosen cultural tourism intervention involved seven heritage venues in the Belgian region of Flanders; each of them was selected due to their important cultural heritage. Some of them have a more tourism-related profile and are well connected to tourism markets (being a castle, fort, towers, etc.) while others do not (e.g. stations). The chosen venues where the events took place are Saint-Rombold’s Tower (Mechelen), Central Station (Antwerp), Fort Napoleon (Ostend), Saint Peters’ Abbey (Ghent), Gaasbeek Castle (Brussels), Liege-Guillemins Station (Liege), ZLDR Luchtfabriek (Zolder). For this reason, such a structural disparity leads the intervention to be achieved through multiple modalities. For example, the stations of Antwerp and Liege-Guillemins, while being impressive architectural buildings, and well-photographed and appreciated, have mainly a public transport function and not tourism-related. On the contrary, Fort Napoleon and Saint-Rombold’s Tower are actively managed by municipal tourist organizations, with a clear link between culture and tourism.

The intervention arose first as a passion project of the three central stakeholders: the Dj Nico Morano, interested in increasing his community/reputation further, the “CityCubes” experiential marketing agency, interested in building a portfolio of innovative marketing initiatives, and the “Arrowminded” project by Jeroen Bryon, a consulting business for heritage locations. They were all interested in expanding their network among cultural heritage venues and establishing a proof-of-concept for attracting younger people to local heritage. Since those three initiators are commercial enterprises, the main objectives were not necessarily linked to the disinterested development of cultural heritage sites. The focus of the cultural programme had a more commercial purpose. Indeed, the overall initiatives, if examined in the long-term, contributed to attracting younger people to the heritage attractions without renouncing a more business-minded strategy. The intervention consists of free Dj-sets played at selected heritage locations for a (randomly) selected group of people. The performances were captured via camera operators and were live-streamed, providing valuable footage for marketing purposes. The core of the intervention was very much aimed at marketing and branding. Accordingly, during the intervention, they provided high-quality live streams and after-movies that were promotionally used to shine a different light on the destination and its heritage.

The initiators agree on considering the initiative a success based on their initial objectives. From a heritage destination standpoint, Ontourage was considered successful for its novel way of connecting cultural heritage with younger generations, attracting the attention of national media. Another success factor was the driving passion of the initiators that, together with their complementary skills and expertise, make the intervention accessible and community-serving. Indeed, larger funding opportunities and a more long-term-oriented vision and strategy could strengthen the potential impacts of the artistic events. In the current case study, private businesses base their own existence on developing connections with people. Therefore, when it comes to connecting people to cultural heritage, it is possible to identify interventions where private businesses pursue their own interests and, intentionally or not, also play a role in getting people closer to a cultural heritage that would otherwise not be accessible or not even considered by specific groups of people. In the case of Ontourage, this happened unintentionally. Each cultural destination with an innovative designed intervention might create new opportunities for the community.

The Pakruojis Synagogue (Lithuania)

#11 Pakruojis is a small town in the north of Lithuania, mostly known for Pakruojis Manor and the Pakruojis Synagogue, two buildings with strong cultural and artistic importance. Although nowadays there is no Jewish community, in 1710 Jews settled in the town and for a long time they contributed to the economy and social life, becoming part of the village’s heritage. In particular, the Lithuanian Jewish Community owned the synagogue building but they left it abandoned and unsafe. After some years of talks, the building was sold to the municipality with a 99-year lease under only one condition; that it should not be used for business and only for cultural purposes. The acquisition of the property enabled the municipality to invest in the renovation of the building and create a full cultural design inside. The main motivation was to combat antisemitism and preserve Lithuanian Jewish cultural heritage for the next generations, making it more accessible to the public at the same time. After the building restoration, the municipality organized sessions with the local community to include them in the design of the new cultural offer: to combat antisemitism, restore heritage, increase the number of visitors, and address social problems by providing education and cultural opportunities. Several benefits came about. Firstly, although no specific study had been conducted previously, there seemed to be certain economic benefits for local entrepreneurs, such as restaurants and fast food outlets due to the increasing number of visitors. Moreover, thanks to this intervention from the Pakruojis municipality, the history of an extinct community has been recovered with the restoration of the building. The synagogue has become a place for education, aggregation and cultural encounter and now plays a crucial role in the socio-cultural development of the local community. The availability of financial resources granted by the EEA Norway Grant has been fundamental for the final result. In fact, preserving and restoring tangible cultural heritage is not only about renovating a building. It is about interpreting the complex socio-cultural values that a place carries from the past and giving them new functions in contemporary society, possibly balancing its value between the local community good and its potential as a tourism resource.

The “Crazy Guide” of Nowa Huta (Krakow, Poland)

#10 Nowa Huta is a district of Krakow, created in the 1950s as a utopian socialist city. After the change of the political system in 1989, the town experienced unemployment, poverty, and socio-economic struggles with a communist heritage weighing on the social cohesion and dividing those inclined to reject and forget the communist past and those willing to value it. Today, with its unique architecture, Nowa Huta is the most populous district in Krakow and is home to 250,000 residents. The current intervention was initiated by a local entrepreneur in 2004. He got the idea of providing historical tours in Nowa Huta generating new tourism experiences from the communist past. He established a local tour agency called “Crazy Guides” aimed at offering alternative tourism experiences. By exploring the local environment, the Crazy Guides narrate ironically everyday life during the communist past, combining education, entertainment and experiences of iconic stereotypes, such as driving an old Trabant (an East German vehicle reminiscent of the communist period), eating cucumbers, drinking vodka or attending a communist disco. Nowadays, the entrepreneurial challenge has 11 employees, mainly young locals who are working as guides. Several small-business owners have been supporting the tourism strategy by adapting their own products to the historical identity of the place and/or providing the same atmosphere of “the old days”. Over time, its success triggered other entrepreneurs that started offering similar products for the city. Anyone interested can easily access the agency’s website (https://www.crazyguides.com/) and read more about the different selections of the available tour programmes, the presentation of the team and the story of the agency, the several testimonials from all over the world with coverage of international media. One of the important resources of this intervention is the distinct human capital of the guides. Their personal involvement and performance give exceptional character to the tours. The overall impact of the intervention is huge. It has managed to create a profitable product and job opportunities for young locals, boosting economic revitalization through tourism. Moreover, the initiative promotes the conservation of cultural heritage and manages to find an appropriate interpretation of a dissonant local heritage that is causing friction and divisions among residents. Cultural tourism interventions based on edutainment (which combines education and entertainment) supported by appropriate storytelling skills and narrative techniques – as demonstrated here – configure a possible solution for the interpretation of discordant and divisive heritage. They might even help to heal profound fractures within a community.

Migrantour

#9 The first steps of Migrantour took place in Turin, a city in the north-west of Italy with a long history of migration and industrial production. Then, through different stages, Migrantour grew into a network that involves several European cities in Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, France and Belgium. All of them are experiencing challenges in the sociocultural integration of migrants and most of the time, this led to neighbourhood segregation. Therefore, specific ethnic groups became marginalized together with their values and traditions. Even the sociocultural heritage of these groups of “new locals” is often neglected by a mainstream view that, in the best case, is associated to a stigma and considers these areas dangerous, unattractive, and populated by the disadvantaged. Consequently, the culture of these groups of residents is rarely valued by socioeconomic initiatives that bring real value to their living conditions and to their sociocultural recognition in society. The idea that tourism could play a positive role in changing this situation is not new and examples of “ethnic neighbourhoods” becoming tourist destinations are reported by literature (Aytar & Rath, 2012). Nevertheless, these experiences have sometimes been controversial as, besides concrete opportunities for migrants, they were also promoting forms of “folklorization” of cultural differences, reducing migration to an object of leisure consumption. A spontaneous initial encounter between an anthropological perspective and the entrepreneurial vision of a tour operator in responsible tourism (Viaggi Solidali) sparked the interest in experimenting with a new type of responsible tourism. The idea focused on discovering the culture of specific areas of the city while increasing the knowledge of how migrations and several generations of migrants contributed to the evolution of the city and specifically to the transformations of certain neighbourhoods. Along this path, Migrantour offers “intercultural walks” facilitated by a new figure, the “intercultural companion”, who is a local resident with a migrant background. Migrantour routes let participants explore themes and narratives representing the story of the migrations that have transformed the area over time and the contribution that different generations made in terms of enriching the tangible and intangible heritage of the city. After the first experience in Turin, the experiment was successfully replicated in a few other Italian cities. Then, the expansion continued thanks to the support received from other international projects, local associations and tour operators. The impact of the intervention is economic because it creates a number of part-time jobs and the consequent increase in the monthly income of intercultural companions. The training received also contributes to their professionalization, which might help in getting other jobs. It also has some impacts on the neighbourhoods, specifically on the small businesses that are involved in the itinerary of an intercultural walk. Finally, it is “dramatically” increasing the number of tourists visiting certain zones. More vigorous are the social impacts. Intercultural companions reported that through Migrantour they were able to achieve results in terms of professional growth, social integration, self-esteem and self-realization of their capabilities. Their professional path within Migrantour makes them active citizens, more participative and more involved in society. Migrantour fights stigmas. It promotes relational dynamics between migrants, visitors and native residents. It allows territories to narrate and express themselves. Having a bottom-up approach, both in terms of content and organisation, helps to ensure flexibility, adaptability and replicability of the intervention in different contexts and the successful creation of a network.

Bibliography: Volkan Aytar & Jan Rath, Selling Ethnic Neighborhoods: The Rise of Neighborhoods as Places of Leisure and Consumption, eds, Routledge, New York, 2012.

Storytelling Festival – Alden-Biesen (Belgium)

#8 Alden-Biesen lies in the eastern part of Limburg, a province in Flanders (Belgium). The environment is mostly rural and peaceful, attracting walking visitors and bike tourists. The Castle of Alden-Biesel (Vertelkasteel) is part of the cultural heritage of the area. Although it was built in its current form between the 16th and the 18th century, the castle actually dates back to the 11th century. Unfortunately, because of its border location, Alden-Biesel and its castle cannot easily be reached from Flanders. Accessibility is also limited. There is a train station in Bilzen, but the castle site is about 3 km from the town. For this reason, the main objective of the intervention was to promote the castle and make it feel more familiar to visitors, with an exciting cultural programming in the rooms inside. The focus chosen was education, targeting primarily schools, from kindergarten through to secondary schools and adult education. The most important activity that the castle organizes and that has become its brand image is the annual International Storytelling Festival. The festival started in 1996 and has become one of the biggest multilingual storytelling festivals in Europe thanks to the promotion of storytelling as an art and technique. It includes two events per year, one in January (for kindergarten and primary schools) and one in April (for high schools and adult education). What is special about the event is the fact that it is a pure storytelling festival: it is about the narrative, the spoken word, and the transmission of the unique artistic tradition of storytelling. It also addresses foreign languages, becoming the biggest multilingual storytelling festival in Europe. Over the years the castle has become a creative hub where imaginative people can meet and share knowledge with an enthusiastic audience in a wonderful historical setting. The impact of the event’s promotion is huge. The festival receives 12,000 visitors per year. Each of them generates an economic return and similarly, the art promoted by the storytelling leads to a cultural development for the whole region. The only drawback is the limited involvement of the local community, which of course can be improved easily in future editions. The importance of the intervention is that it teaches how rural areas are often rich in extraordinary, hidden pieces of cultural heritage. When used coherently and respectfully, they can provide unique opportunities to innovate the cultural offer of a region and position it in a specific niche of cultural tourism, thus improving its specificity and attractions.

Strengthening Capacities for Tourism Changes in the Western Balkans (CULTURWB)

#7 The CULTURWB Project involves three Western Balkan (WB) countries: Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Despite being very rich in cultural heritage, none of these countries is realizing their cultural tourism potential. There is a lack of adequate institutional frameworks and cooperation among stakeholders. The cultural sector lacks knowledge in project management, marketing, finances and tourism, while the tourism sector lacks knowledge in culture and heritage management. For this reason, the inspiration behind CULTURWB comes from the well-recognized need identified by all project partners of the region: to strengthen the cultural tourism industry and create and improve strategies for the further development of cultural tourism in these countries. The key stakeholders for the intervention were universities, cultural sites and institutions, tourists, non-profit organizations, students, cultural and tourism entrepreneurs, and managers. In the first phase, universities develop a Lifelong Learning programme (LLL) aimed at the skill enhancement of professionals from the cultural sector and an interdisciplinary Master’s programme that consolidates the fields of tourism management and culture & heritage promotion. The LLL objective was to equip graduate students with specific qualifications. For this reason, the university educational proposal was built together with local actors already involved in the tourism sector which had suggested the most suitable theoretical and practical norms to address. In the second phase, they created the CULTURWEB internet platform that serves as a hub of communication for all the experts from the cultural and cultural tourism sectors of the whole WB region and elsewhere. The project lasted three years and still continues to bear fruit. It is still too early to make a comprehensive evaluation of the project’s impacts. Nevertheless, the expected results will provide meaningful insights. In fact, by enhancing human capital knowledge and skills, CULTURWB is expected to generate a significant indirect economic impact in the long term. Strengthening the skill-set of current/future professionals will also provide them with more opportunities in the future, improving their living conditions. In the long-term the project might also strengthen attitudes towards safeguarding cultural heritage, enabling a better valorization of cultural resources and an increased awareness of the local culture. Also worthy of mention are the financial resources granted by the Erasmus+ programme. The financing was fundamental to overcome the structural lack of communication and cooperation among stakeholders in the cultural and tourism sectors.

Hôtel du Nord (HdN) Cooperative (Marseille, France)

#6 The Hôtel du Nord (HdN) Cooperative operates within the northern districts of Marseille, where the poorest neighbourhoods of the city are to be found. This area is considered the most violent centre of the city’s drug trade and most of the negative stereotypes are becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, weighing heavily on the future development of the area. For this reason, the northern district was excluded from the official and promotional representation of the city, which is why the Hôtel du Nord (HdN) Cooperative decided to take on this challenge. The HdN Cooperative has 80 members, 51% of whom are residents in the area. Its membership policy is open and voluntary, with a democratic decision-making process. Each member contributes to the broader cooperative purposes, and also helps in the organization of both tourist activities and community-empowerment strategies. In fact, in order to provide an alternative narrative for these neighbourhoods, the Cooperative organizes heritage walks, guided tours, accommodation services, and sale of local and artisanal products. Everything contributes to the improvement of the overall poor living conditions, reduction of discrimination and poverty, promotion of the social value of the local heritage and the strengthening of social ties. Indeed, the impacts generated by the Cooperative activity are evident. The intervention primarily benefits the district economically, thanks to the involvement of tourism, but, more importantly, HdN has become a source of local pride and community social cohesion. The social impact is due to the fact that, via the Cooperative, a growing number of residents from other areas are re-discovering the northern districts. They now feel safe crossing the streets and can appreciate the renewed narratives of those spaces. This success was facilitated by strong synergies powered by committed stakeholders. Furthermore, the adherence to the Faro Convention and to its three key principles (right to heritage, sustainable management and democratic governance) has helped to strengthen the entire process.

Brabant Remembers – Living History Augmented Reality App (Brabant Region, Netherlands)

#5Brabant is one of the provinces of the Netherlands. It is located near the Belgian border in the southern part of the country. Its tourism offer mostly involves old and modern cities, monasteries, theme parks, and places connected to Vincent Van Gogh’s artistic expression and the heritage of WWII. In relation to WWII, historic war-related events ranging from mobilization for battles to liberation operations have taken place on Brabant soil. Brabant can therefore provide a very complete war narrative, with various locations or sites focusing on a specific theme. Now that the memory of the War is fading and becoming part of history, the intervention’s challenge consists of finding new ways in which people can still learn from this important and dramatic period. Here, new technology offers great opportunities. It can help produce more pleasurable experiences and create a solid link between WWII and younger generations. Furthermore, the use of personal connections (e.g. hearing personal stories) is a way to produce meaningful and memorable experiences for a wider audience who will easily empathize with the historical protagonists. These two insights form the basis of the intervention discussed here. It centres on the creation of the Living History Augmented Reality (AR) App through which people can visualize 11 personal war stories, at the site where the most important events in this part of history happened. The viewer can experience the story, be confronted with a dilemma/choice, and access additional information. The AR App does not stand in isolation. It is part of the broader Crossroads concept and foundation. Crossroads is a narrative concept that connects several WWII-related cultural institutions in Brabant. Crossroads becomes historical, geographical, and human with the ambition of “touching the people now with the crossroads of the past”. By using stories, emotions and symbolic value, historical events have turned into something memorable. The stories were collected in 13 workshops, organized in 2017 and 2018 at places with historic significance. In total, more than 1,000 stories were collected, of which, 75 were selected to become experiential stories thanks to the support of professional writers and artists. An initial analysis showed how, although the number of App downloads was less than expected (the promotional campaign was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic), all actors stated the overall positive impacts of the intervention. Accordingly, positive consequences were observed in the number of visits and the tourist development of the destinations involved in the project. Meanwhile, a huge social impact was achieved both during the story collection phase and during the community’s final response to it. In particular, culture and collective memory have been greatly enhanced and protected. Here, innovation and memory storage (aimed at its protection) represent an awaited meeting point between different generations who can now engage in dialogue with more accessible and experiential tools.

Brabant Remembers App simulation