Exploring Scheldeland during international exchange visits

From 20 to 22 June, the Scheldeland Living Lab received representatives of the living labs of Huesca and Utsjoki as part of the SmartCulTour project. These exchange visits form part of the SmartCulTour goals of knowledge dissemination, cross-border collaboration and the sharing of best practices in sustainable cultural tourism development.

Together with local stakeholders of Scheldeland, Griet Geudens of Visit Flanders and Vanessa Ágata de Abreu Santos and Bart Neuts of KU Leuven welcomed the visitors and guided them around the three partner municipalities of Bornem, Puurs-Sint-Amands and Dendermonde, focusing on particular cultural heritage venues, key natural resources and slow transportation modes that serve as a connector of potential network nodes. The living lab managers and other delegates got to visit these sites and carried out brainstorming sessions to look at opportunities, potential and possible thresholds.

After a challenging arrival due to a security personnel strike at Brussels Airport and subsequent rerouting of flights, on Tuesday 21 June a full day was scheduled. After an introduction to the Scheldeland Living Lab and an ice breaker exercise between the participants, an electric bicycle tour took the visitors via multiple points of interest in Puurs-Sint-Amands and Bornem. Via the bicycle tour, the delegates were introduced to the extensive cycling node network in Flanders. First stop was the Fortress of Liezele, a fortification built in 1908 and now housing multiple recreational and tourist attractions in and around the fortress such as a B&B, an escape room, a museum, an ice skating pond (in winter), a barefeet walking path and various walking routes. Next, the group cycled to castle D’Ursel, built in 1761 and now serving primarily as an event location, and its castle park and further via the Scheldt dykes to the Notelaer, a beautiful pavilion in neoclassical style with a magnificent view on the river Scheldt and also originally belonging to the duke of D’Ursel. In summertime, temporary accommodation is offered at the pavilion in the form of five tree-hung tents.

From there, visitors made their way to the castle of Marnix de Sainte-Alegonde. While the location had been home to fortifications and castle-structures since the 10th to 11th century, the current castle is a romanticized rendition from the end of the 19th century. Closeby, the abbey of Bornem has been renovated and redeveloped to house a museum collection and offer both residential accommodation as event areas, with the immaculate library being a particular highlight of the tour.

After lunch, the group cycled to the village centre of Sint-Amands, on the Scheldt bank. Here they were introduced to the development plans of the village, and its central focus on both the tidal nature of the river and the artistic heritage of Sint-Amands, visible by both its link to historic writers and by some creative architecture in the village centre. From there, the bicycles were loaded onto a wagon of the steam train Puurs-Dendermonde and representatives got to ride on the renovated carriages and visit the steam locomotives and other carriages that are being restored and operated fully by volunteers. Participants were given an introduction to the organization and its working and participated in an exercise to map the sensory experiences of the trip.

On Wednesday 22 June, the representatives visited the city of Dendermonde where they received a guided tour and introduction to the legend of the horse of Bayard which is central to a procession being held every ten years, as well as some notable heritage sites such as the meat halls, the cloth halls (nowadays the city hall of Dendermonde), the justice palace and the beguinage, and the Dendermondse painting school. Afterwards Vanessa Ágata de Abreu Santos ran a workshop inviting the participants to conduct an emotions mapping exercise as part of a cultural mapping methodology.

4th Huesca Living Lab meeting

The 4th Huesca Living Lab meeting, which took place on 13th June aimed to identify opportunities for innovation in the tourism sector; devise sustainable tourist solutions/services applicable to the territory of Huesca; build prototypes of sustainable tourist solutions/services and lay the foundations for a future «Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy for the Territory of Huesca».

The session was divided into two working groups and was structured in two phases. First, the participants identified and defined concrete areas of opportunity to design sustainable, people-based tourism services through different creativity techniques to devise solutions according to the areas of opportunity. Later, the groups transformed ideas into service concepts and built prototypes of concepts to share and assess together with the other groups. Finally, they discussed common needs for implementing service concepts in the future «Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy for the Territory of Huesca».

As a result of the session, two initiatives were proposed: one focused on a fun family nature weekend model and the other on a relaxing gastronomic experience with the kids. Both will be further developed in future Living Lab meetings.

Utjoski, Scheldeland and Huesca Living Labs share success stories of sustainable cultural tourism

On 24 and 25 May, Utjoski’s living lab hosted one of the six exchanges programmed between the LLs of the SmartCulTour project. On this occasion, the Huesca and Scheldeland living lab managers and main stakeholders visited Finland to learn the methodologies and see the interventions made by their Finnish counterparts first hand. This was a great opportunity to share unique experiences to enrich and improve the quality of tourist services in the project’s regions.

On the first day, one of the main stakeholders of the Utsjoki living lab gave their visitors a guided tour to see the cultural and tourist attractions of the area and learn more details, in particular about the Sami culture that the Utsjoki LL is focusing on in their analysis. In the afternoon, the group tested the Placemaking Method for the first time in the project. The method uses a working dynamics approach to favour connexion between tourists and their surroundings and enhance the services they demand and the experiences they enjoy at their tourist destinations.

The next day was devoted to a working session with some of the LL stakeholders, giving the Spanish and Belgian teams the chance to learn more about the work in Utsjoki and exchange opinions with the Finnish participants. They all took part in a working meeting focused on improving tourist proposals previously designed for the territory. They also examined the major results of the tourist survey to identify the strengths and weaknesses of Utsjoki as a sustainable cultural tourist destination.

Scheldeland will be hosting the next exchange in June later this month, followed by another exchange in Huesca in October 2022.

Training of Trainers sessions in Huesca

The SmartCulTour project held a two-day Training of Trainers sessions in Huesca, Spain. The sessions were planned for project partners working with their Living Lab stakeholders and tourism development. The aim was to offer more hands-on and practical training for multiple tools created and developed in the project. Let’s look at how the sessions were organized and facilitated from the WP 7 point of view, who took responsibility for the training.

The SmartCulTour project has constructed various tools and methods for developing sustainable cultural tourism. Most of them are already published separately as part of the Set of Service Design and Art-Based Methods for Co-Design and Stakeholder Work in Cultural Tourism or as part of the SmartCulTour Dashboard and the SmartCulTour Game. We selected ten tools and methods and planned a workshop structure where participants systematically progressed from one tool or method to another, utilizing and constructing the data and insights from one tool and using them in a next. The workshop was an overview of a design process, starting from the discover phase and ending in the developing phase.

Pictures: Bert Smit, Iris Kerst and Mira Alhonsuo.

There were multiple purposes for the Training of Trainers session. First of all, we aimed to apply service design and art-based tools developed for the SmartCulTour project. We selected several tools and methods from the toolkit of Set of Service Design and Art-Based Methods for Co-Design and Stakeholder Work in Cultural Tourism. We also clarified when and which tools can be used in which phase of the development process. During the practice-based hands-on work, we exchanged ideas on using the tools for different Living Lab purposes. We also evaluated the tools and methods for further development and the final deliverable 7.3. In addition, the final goal of the Training of Trainers sessions was to get to know each other and introduce some tips for facilitating co-creation workshops. The picture below illustrates the ten different tools and methods presented and trained during the sessions and the design process the tools belong to.

Diagram: The ten tools and methods in the Double diamond design process.


We focused on the Huesca region during the intensive two days while training the tools and methods. It was a logical choice because we were located in the area. Having at least a little bit of a concrete context around us made the training more focused. Let’s take a closer look at what happened during these two days.

Day 1

The first training day was organized in Loarre, the beautiful rural village in Huesca province. We started the Training of Trainers session with the Placemaking method not previously described in the Service Design and Art-Based Methods toolkit. The method involved a pre-assignment sent to participants two weeks earlier. We asked participants to record a 360-degree, 1-minute video of a location that is somehow significant to them. At the beginning of the workshop, we utilized the placemaking method as a stakeholder engagement action. The participants first introduced themselves and explained why the place in the video was meaningful for them. Then the video was shown. The placemaking was a great starting point for getting to know each other and understanding different levels of meaningful places of others. It was fascinating to hear very personal stories from the participants.

After the placemaking, we introduced the Double diamond design process and clarified where the tools and methods belong. We also introduced the Huesca region and the challenges highlighted from the Living Lab data of Huesca. Also, the SmartCulTour Platform was presented from the viewpoint of Huesca region dashboard. This introduction gave participants an understanding of what kind of material they will be working with over two days. As an example of the materials, we pre-developed four tourist personas utilized in follow-up methods.

We then went through the system mapping and visitor flow mapping, both introduced in the Service Design and Art-Based Methods toolkit. Here, we grouped the participants into teams of four people. They got their destination in Huesca region and utilized personas as a part of the tools. The system maps are overviews of tourism, cultural, historical, and entrepreneurial destination resources, which are visualized on a geographical map of the destination. Those can be understood as a library of exciting places, sights, and events that form the cultural tourism system. Visitor flow maps provide a sequenced overview of touchpoints (or activities) that tourists combine while visiting (an area of) a destination. Together these two tools provided insightful knowledge of Huesca region.

We focused on playing the SmartCulTour Game at the end of the day. It was the first time playing and evaluating the game for almost all of the partners. The playing took quite a lot of time, but it was indeed worth it. In particular, Living Lab managers need to understand the game structure from the perspective of both the player and the facilitator. Most participants noticed that taking on the role of a particular type of stakeholder helps to empathize with their stakes and stakeholding issues in cultural tourism development.

Day 2

We started our next day by traveling from Loarre back to CIHEAM Zaragoza, where we held our morning program. We started the day by introducing the House of Quality method, utilizing the data from the previous day. The House of Quality method was presented using clear examples, which offered an in-depth understanding of using the method. As a result of the House of Quality, some first ideas for cultural tourism interventions were presented, then used in the following tools: Ideation washing machine and Multi-method process flow. The ideation washing machine was a new meth We started our next day by traveling from Loarre back to CIHEAM Zaragoza, where we held our morning program. We started the day by introducing the House of Quality method, utilizing the data from the previous day. The House of Quality method was presented using clear examples, which offered an in-depth understanding of using the method. As a result of the House of Quality, some first ideas for cultural tourism interventions were presented, then used in the following tools: Ideation washing machine and Multi-method process flow. The ideation washing machine was a new method for the partners and used for the first time in tourism development. It aims to give very out-of-the-box ideas combining interventions from House of Quality, keywords of meaningful place in the Placemaking method, and an extra, an action or object that makes a person feel happy or joyful. Combining these three elements, the ideas were brainstormed a little differently than usual. The teams chose one of the ideas and developed it further by using the Multi-method process flow. The method helps participants consider the unique local assets they identify as culturally interesting ones, employing stories and senses to design a sophisticated experience for cultural tourists.
The final tool we used was Destination Design Roadmapping. The tool was used to support destinations to make conscious choices to set up a roadmap to prioritize the implementation of interventions based on resources under development and identified with system mapping. As an overall objective for tourism in destinations and using Destination Design Roadmapping, we can achieve: recent experiences/offerings, value proposition portfolio, experience supporting features, and support resources.


The two-day intensive program was certainly very tiring for many partners. Still, we received a lot of positive and enthusiastic feedback. Many of the methods were seen as valuable and helpful in our Living Lab locations. The application of the tools and methods was also considered during the days and afterward. The WP7 team evaluated the tools and methods using a survey sent to all participants after the Training of Trainers. The tools will be customized based on wishes and ideas, then introduced and described more in-depth in the final SmartCulTour Toolkit on cultural tourism policy development. The tools will assist development of policy recommendations and guidelines for cultural tourism, based on relevant stakeholders’ perceptions of key issues and opportunities. In addition, the WP7 will provide a Training aid for implementing the SmartCulTour Toolkit. These deliverables will be published in autumn 2022.

Loarre and CIHEAM Zaragoza host a European training event on how to promote sustainable cultural tourism

The training took place in Loarre’s Town Hall on 17 March with researchers and experts from Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. Representatives of different counties of Huesca took part in a parallel training session to test a tool designed to boost sustainable tourism in the province.

The SmartCulTour project, Smart Cultural Tourism as a Driver of Sustainable Development of European Regions, has organized an internal capacity-building event for representatives of the project’s six Living Labs to test creative tools to boost the tourist sector in each of the regions. The training was organized in two working sessions, one in the town of Loarre on 17 March and another on 18 March at CIHEAM Zaragoza. Participants came from Belgium, Finland, Croatia, Italy, Austria and Spain.

The aim of the first session was to provide the project’s partners with context about the tourist sector in Huesca. They worked on tools to favour engagement of stakeholders related to the tourist sector that would enable them to promote their area from a more emotional perspective, linking their past, present and future to their territory.

The second session was held at CIHEAM Zaragoza. Participants worked on methodologies to help territorial managers improve their decision-making by addressing initiatives that would cover the needs identified for development in European regions – including the province of Huesca – as sustainable cultural tourism destinations.

A parallel session was organized on 17 March for representatives of different counties, public entities, and businesses in the province of Huesca who did a pilot test of the SmartCulTour Game, one of the project outcomes expected to have the biggest territorial impact. The idea is to use the serious game approach to draw up policies and engage stakeholders, and at the same time learn about cultural tourism and potential interventions to make cultural tourism more sustainable for local communities, the environment and the business sector.

This training event lies within the activities of the SmartCulTour project, which aims to promote territorial development through sustainable cultural tourism. This model of tourism requires a redefinition of the classical cultural tourism, considering new demands derived from sustainability and the need for supply and demand metrics and impact assessment. The project intends to review theories and make an empirical validation of good practices in the natural surroundings and seek closer collaboration between the local stakeholders, facilitating the development of joint strategies and creating sustainable cultural tourism experiences.

Third working session of Huesca’s Living Lab

The third working session of Huesca’s Living Lab in the framework of the European project SmartCulTour was held on 10 November 2021. The main objective of the session was to present the project officially in Huesca as this had not been possible until now due to the pandemic. For this purpose a press conference was held at the headquarters of the Provincial Government of Huesca where Raúl Compés, Director of CIHEAM Zaragoza, and Fernando Blasco, Manager of TuHuesca, presented the project and spoke of the synergies generated between both institutions.

After the press conference the workshop took place at a winery of DO Somontano and consisted of two working sessions to identify successful initiatives that could elevate sustainable cultural tourism to territorial scale and thus serve as a base upon which to work and make Huesca a point of reference for sustainable cultural tourism. A session was chaired by representatives from UNESCO who presented an overview of the body and explained the different methodologies used for awareness-raising and knowledge transfer to the stakeholders of the tourist sector. Once the most favourable itineraries have been chosen for Huesca as well as the members of the Living Lab, UNESCO will provide personalized training throughout the project.

The meeting was attended by 22 representatives of different counties and tourist areas, centres of rural development, as well as business and agrifood sectors. The methodology was addressed from a participatory approach using facilitation tools to design and select initiatives and for decision-making.

Second working meeting of the Huesca Living Lab

The second working meeting of the Huesca Living Lab was held on 13 May 2021. The main objective of the session was for participants to contextualize the tourist sector in Huesca and set the scene for the development of a common work strategy to strengthen the sector in the province. A total number of 17 members of the Living Lab participated in the session representing, among others, public administration and territorial management, the agriculture and food sector and the environment.

The participatory methodology was followed, using online tools to facilitate the implementation of different dynamics. The session’s original agenda was:

  • 10:00   Introduction – Aims and methodology of the meeting
  • 10:05   Rapid guide on Miro
  • 10:15   Round of introductions
  • 10:35   Dynamic 1: SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). 30 minutes
  • 11:05   Dynamic 2: Identification of priorities and needs for the LL. 30 minutes
  • 11:35   BREAK
  • 11:45   Dynamic 3: Sharing good practices. 30 minutes
  • 12:15   Dynamic 4: Identifying opportunities. 30 minutes
  • 12:50   End of session – Conclusions and next steps.

The session had a dynamic pace and active participation from start to finish. The concepts of sustainability, tools, learning and co-creation emerged as key words in relation to the expectations of the Living Lab.

Al final de la sesión se marcó la ruta a seguir y contenidos de las siguientes sesiones de trabajo a lo largo de 2021, donde se identificarán iniciativas de éxito, bien del propio territorio o bien de otros países, con el objetivo de que sirvan como referencia para impulsar el sector en Huesca.

The following dynamics enabled debates and discussions highlighting the importance of creating networking and cooperation spaces such as those generated in the project. Participants expressed particular interest in working with the other Living Labs of the project to learn about and share the concerns and methodologies in the tourist sector.  Huesca  Living Lab is characterized by having a rich diversity of resources and tourist attractions but also faces significant challenges such as rural depopulation, climate change and the new social paradigm caused by the current health crisis.

At the end of the session, the itinerary was marked out for the continuation of activities as well as the contents for the following working sessions to be held throughout 2021, where succussful initiatives will be identified either from the home territory or other countries, which serve as a point of reference from which to boost the sector in Huesca.

Inception Meeting to present the Living Lab of Huesca

On 4 March 2021 an online meeting was held to launch the Huesca Living Lab, one of the six Living Labs set up in Europe for the European project SmartCulTourfinanced by the European Commission in the framework of the H2020 Programme. The aim of the Living Labs is to encourage networking between stakeholders of the territory in the tourist sector to generate and identify good practices and innovative solutions for sustainable cultural tourism that can be exchanged with other European regions. To quote Raúl Compés, Director of CIHEAM Zaragoza: “This European project, in particular the Living Lab of Huesca, poses a good example of how to apply the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to the land of Aragon”. Compés also pointed out that SmartCulTour will facilitate the exchange of innovative tourist strategies between different European countries and share examples of Huesca’s good practices in cultural tourism. The meeting was organized by CIHEAM Zaragoza, coordinator of the Living Lab, and was held online with 35 experts in sustainable cultural tourism and cultural and rural development. It presented the main objectives and the Living Lab concept, characterized by a participatory approach that enables stakeholders to play an active role in the development of their Living Labs.

Following the presentation, Fernando Blasco, manager of TuHuesca and direct collaborator with the SmartCulTour project, provided contextual information about the tourist sector in the province of Huesca, pointing out the challenges faced as a result of the current pandemic. The Living Lab of Utsjoki (Finland) also presented their work, giving an idea of the international component of SmartCulTour.

Each Living Lab is set up as a practical community made up of local experts and a wide range of sectors and stakeholders in the field of tourism. The Living Labs have been chosen based on criteria of geographical relevance and representativity of different models of sustainable tourism.  During the project, each Living Lab will implement, test and assess new forms of managing sustainable cultural tourism by identifying and replicating good practices in the sector, through serious games, arts-based methods, services and social design techniques to improve collaboration between the culture sector and the tourist industry to develop a capacity-building process. The other Living Labs are situated in Rotterdam (Holland), Scheldeland (Flanders, Belgium), Utsjoki (Lapland, Finland),  Split (Croatia) and Vicenza (Italy).