Stakeholders of the cultural tourism sector in Europe are invited to join the Final Conference of the EU-funded project SmartCulTour on 24 May in Brussels. The event will bring together international experts to explore emerging tourism trends and identify priorities to redefine cultural tourism for sustainable destinations.
The conference will tackle the importance of harnessing the power of culture and local values to redefine the visitor experience. The lineup of confirmed speakers will include UNESCO, European Commission (various DGs), MEPs István Ujhelyi and Marcos Ros, ICOMOS and leading EU and National cultural and tourism bodies as we debate the future of cultural tourism in Europe.
Since SmartCulTour started in January 2020, the project has supported the development of European regions by providing them with a set of strategies to engage with stakeholders and co-create sustainable cultural tourism experiences.
The project has been deployed through six living labs across Europe (Belgium, Croatia, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain). The project’s tools and the different experiences of the SmartCulTour Living Labs with key target audiences will be shared during the closing conference of the project.
DATE: Wednesday 24 May 2023 TIME: 09:15 – 18:30 h VENUE: Herman Teirlinckgebouw building (Havenlaan 88, 1000 – Brussels, Belgium) REGISTRATION: Register on the SmartCulTour website to attend the event (smartcultour.eu)
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.
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.
World Environment Day on 5 June is the biggest international day for the environment. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and held annually since 1973, the event has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental outreach, with millions of people from across the world engaging to protect the planet.
On this occasion, our colleagues from the Scheldeland Living Lab have prepared the following text:
The great poet Emile Verhaeren called it ‘Wild and beautiful river Schelde’. His grave monument can be found in Sint-Amands, one of the many places where our new festival STROOM will be held during its first edition. The river was a source of inspiration for him more than a hundred years ago, and the Schelde remains so today.
Water is the origin of all life on our planet. It has an unprecedented power that gives life, and in the case of the Schelde Valley, nourishes a magnificent nature reserve. But water can also be devastating, as we saw last summer in the east of our country.
The Schelde valley is the setting for the Sigmaplan, the water management plan to protect our regions from flooding. As such, it is at the center of the climate discussion, a discussion that cannot be held by scientists and politicians alone. To really turn the tide, a broad social movement is needed. The indispensable voice of the artists can be heard within this movement.
STROOM originated with the Ghent Festival of Flanders, a festival that has kept its finger on the pulse of society for 65 years. Once again, we are linking our broad view of the world to our own environment and tackling a relevant theme. The Schelde region is our dream biotope for this new project.
Together with Rivierpark Scheldevallei, we are unlocking the hidden pearl of open space where nature and heritage abound. We follow the meandering river Schelde between Ghent and Antwerp. The journey takes us past picturesque villages and magnificent castles, which are connected by beautiful walking and cycling paths. STROOM lets artists speak, in a unique symbiosis between nature, culture, heritage and tourism. Together with the public and numerous local partners, we look forward to a sustainable future for this area, for our country and for the planet.
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.
In November 2021 and February 2022, two advisory board sessions were organized in Living Lab Scheldeland, with the explicit purpose of presenting the community-led ideation to local policy makers.
The first session on 22 November 2021 took place in hybrid fashion, both real-life in CC Binder in Puurs-Sint-Amands and via Microsoft Teams. In this session, the project ideation canvases of the three subgroups – as developed in the fourth workshop – were summarized in a PowerPoint presentation and presented to the advisory board by selected members of the workgroup. The three prospective project to be presented were:
“Scheldeland in beweging” (i.e. Scheldeland in motion): family-focused and group-based active weekends, linking different cultural heritage attractions and particularly focusing on one of the last remaining steam trains in Belgium;
“Scheldeland, goed gezien” (i.e. Scheldeland, well seen): a sensory route for people with visual impairments, with slow modes of transportation;
“Scheldeland, vanuit de hoogte” (i.e. Scheldeland from above): nature ‘hangouts’ with landmark values, particularly focusing on a lookout platform at the Scheldt river turn, linked to cycling routes and bird breeding grounds.
A House of Quality matrix was used by policy makers on various level in order to scare the different initiatives on different priorities and needs, leading to aggregated scores for the three proposals.
After the meeting, the scores were analyzed and reported to the participants, with “Scheldeland in beweging” receiving the highest average score. In a next advisory board session on February 2022, the different proposals and their respective scores were discussed and “Scheldeland in beweging” was unanimously seen as the initiative to prioritize, considering multiple recognized benefits. In the remainder of the meeting, a customer journey was mapped out in order to identify further needs in product development and help to plan future workshop meetings.
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.
In autumn 2021, 4 working group sessions were organized in quick succession in the Scheldeland Living Lab, on 6 September, 13 September, 20 September and 4 October. The flow of the workshops was designed following a double-diamond session model for co-creative ideation.
The first workgroup session took place in-person in CC Binder in Puurs-Sint-Amands on 6 September 2021 and brought together local stakeholders from the three municipalities of Dendermonde, Bornem, and Puurs-Sint-Amands. The main aim of this first meeting was (a) to serve as an ice-breaker, (b) to get acquainted with each other and the project goals of SmartCulTour, and (c) to discuss the context of Scheldeland from the perspective of the three identified domains (‘Heritage & Culture’, ‘People & Society’, ‘Nature & Water’). A sticky notes sorting game was adopted in order to link the particularities (opportunities and challenges) of the three domains with the situation in Scheldeland.
The second workshop took place physically at the Sint-Bernardus Abbey of Bornem on 13 September 2021. The focus here is on the “What if…” question. As a first step, the living lab participants were given a presentation of the UN SDGs and trends in order to inspire them to work within the framework of the new paradigms and holistic systemic design thinking. Starting from the general context defined in the first workshop, participants now narrowed down the opportunities and challenges to three challenges (one of each domain: ‘Heritage & Culture’, ‘People & Society’, ‘Nature & Water’) to be focused on in the remaining sessions.
In workgroup meeting 4, which took place in Puurs-Sint-Amands on 4 October 2021, the ideas that originated at the end of the previous session were further refined, focusing on specific questions such as: What’s the objective? Who is the target group? Who are primary/secondary stakeholders? What are advantages/disadvantages? For each cultural tourism initiative, a project initiation canvas was completed which outlined further steps to be taken.
On 7-10 September 2021, Vanessa Ágata de Abreu Santos (KU Leuven) presented her working paper on “SmartCulTour and Scheldeland Living Lab, in Belgium: using the systemic design thinking method for stakeholders’ empathy”, at the ATLAS Annual ONLINE Conference 2021. Tourism 21: Re-building Tourism – Continuities and Changes (http://www.atlas-euro.org/Default.aspx?TabID=333).
This conference was supposed to happen in Prague, but due to the current circumstances of the coronavirus, it happened at the virtual room of LIVETO digital platform, in a room dedicated to Cultural Tourism paper presentations, that were part of the special track 9 on “Cultural tourism re-visited. ATLAS SIG Cultural Tourism”, chaired by Greg Richards. This track was created to celebrate three decades since the launch of the ATLAS Cultural Tourism group. The conclusions of this group’s project are that despite this field is still a relatively new segment of global tourism, it rapidly developed from a niche market into a mass tourism product, and that cultural tourism is in constant change, continuously dividing itself in several other niches. Therefore, seven topics were covered on this special track namely: 1) new forms of cultural tourism; 2) cultural tourism development trends; 3) evolving cultures of tourism; 4) cultural tourism and regional development; 5) new cultural tourism spaces; 6) cultural tourism and the community; and 7) collaboration, and networks in cultural tourism. And the KU Leuven’s researcher focused her presentation on the latter.
It is clear to all of us how the COVID-19 pandemic has been dramatically affecting the way we communicate and interact with each other in the private and professional spheres. These problems demanded systemic and digital solutions, to keep the workflow and the engagement of stakeholders’ networks going, and we had to find ways to encourage empathy in the multi-stakeholder systems and in their cultural tourism network. But it was not an easy task to ask people to connect with each other. Inspired by all this, Vanessa Santos wanted to take a closer look and zoom in at the empathizing process and the relevance of service design tools in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, to develop the multi-stakeholders’ networks within the system of the Scheldeland tourist region.
The work being developed by the Living Labs of SmartCulTour’s project is based on the theoretical approach of systems thinking, which examines the linkages and interactions between the actors involved in the placemaking of each Living Lab’s region. In practice, this theory is problem-based, and its purpose is to encourage the exploration of a specific context and its human connections, as well as perspectives of each stakeholder involved, to better understand the existing boundaries and collectively work on the improvements to be made within the system. As part of this paradigm, design thinking is the iterative and non-linear process used to address and redefine the complex problems found, reframing these with the use of the Double Diamond Model, suggested by the SmartCulTour researchers from the University of Lapland and Breda University of Applied Sciences. This model is implemented to make the conceptual leap from what “is” to what “might be” and facilitate divergent and convergent thinking processes among the actors that participate in the workshops, during the different stages of the design process. The work done so far in Scheldeland’s region has been carried out by Apollo18 Design agency, Visit Flanders, and KU Leuven, through the work and experimentation of its Living Laboratory, and it is now at the first section of the diamond, which starts with the concept phase, in answer to what “is” question, to work on Scheldeland’s context in depth, with the intent of focusing on its system and challenges. Within the systems thinking theory and the design thinking process, empathy is used as a tool to design with, providing insights from users’ needs and informing the overall process. Empathy can be then defined as the capacity of perceiving, sharing, and mirroring bodily experiences and emotions. Until the summer of 2021, the work process was done in one MIRO whiteboard, and included the digital collage of secondary data documents, to inform the LL’s contributors, as well as MIRO’s design tools such as diagrams, and colored sticky notes to organise with color codes the three working groups of 1) Heritage & Culture (yellow); 2) People & Society (orange); and 3) Nature and Water (blue), used as artifacts for group visualization, and interactivity, to facilitate workshop exercises.
However, as the group of stakeholders were geographically scattered, and were physically restricted to meet due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, there was a common frustration and expressed need for a physical encounter to better understand the environment/ context of each stakeholder. So, a field trip was arranged to meet in real life! Real-life workshop exercises then started at the end of September, including various role-playing techniques, for consensus building. This arts-based performative method is considered a core element of this design approach and is commonly used to express the value of the stakeholders’ ideas, and gradually unveiling both functional and emotional layers, to render bodily understandings of environments and its users, and facilitate the perception of in-situ experiences and emotions of others, and how to relate with them.
On this account, this study concludes that design thinking processes require a certain degree of mutuality and locality, meaning that there is some level of physical interaction which needs to happen and be embedded in the stakeholders’ geographical locations, as they make the design process concrete through its physicality.
On 7 June 2021, the project team of Toerisme Vlaanderen and KU Leuven undertook a day visit to the municipalities of Puurs-Sint-Amands, Bornem, and Dendermonde, the central locations of the Scheldeland Living Lab. During this trip, the project team familiarized themselves with the local situation and cultural resources and met with policy makers, entrepreneurs and heritage experts.
In the morning, the Fortress of Liesele was explored, pre-WWI fortress built as part of a defensive ring of fortresses around Antwerp. Twice occupied without any direct battle, the fortress has been well preserved and is now being redesigned as multi-recreational attraction with a museum, escape rooms, B&B bedrooms, meeting locations, and a surrounding nature area.
Next, the team visited the historic centre of Puurs-Sint-Amands, at the banks of the Scheldt river, before moving on to Bornem with its impressive heritage sites of the Sint-Bernardus Abbey – currently undergoing intensive renovations to reimagine the site as a multi-purpose venue catering to both local residents, businesses, and cultural tourists – the castle of Marnix De Sainte-Aldegonde and the castle d’Ursel.
In the afternoon, the city of Dendermonde was explored, with visits to the Town Hall and Belfry, the beguinage, and the Honky Tonk Jazz Club, which has welcomed legends such as Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King and Ray Charles in its 55-year-old history. Dendermonde is also the city of the legend of the horse Bayard, with the impressive processional of giants taking place every ten years and being central to the identity of the city. The day ended at the shipping wharves of Baasrode, industrial heritage from the end of the 19th century.