Scheldeland

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.

SmartCulTour celebrates the World Environment Day

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.

Veerle Simoens (Artistic and General Manager)

Sophie Detremmerie (Festival manager)

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.

Presentations on community-led interventions in Scheldeland

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Scheldeland, goed gezien” (i.e. Scheldeland, well seen): a sensory route for people with visual impairments, with slow modes of transportation;
  3. 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.

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.

Creative workgroup sessions in autumn 2021

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 the third workshop, organized in-person at the city hall of Dendermonde on 20 September 2021, the project moved towards the ‘ideation’-phase (“What wows”). At the start of the session, lab participants were given a presentation on a selection of the best practice cultural tourism interventions that were identified in WP3 of SmartCulTour and were deemed most appropriate/of interest to the Scheldeland case. Next, the workshop adopted a serious play approach, in particular Lego © Serious Play, to further entice creative, out-of-the box thinking. At the end of the session, within the three sub-groups of the Living Lab, three bottom-up cultural tourism initiatives were suggested: (a) a sensory parcours for people with visual impairments, with slow modes of transportation, (b) family-focused and group-based active weekends with gamification elements, linking different cultural heritage attractions (c) nature ‘hangouts’ with landmark values, particularly focussing on a lookout platform linked to cycling routes and bird breeding grounds.

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.

Presentation on SmartCulTour and Scheldeland Living Lab at the ATLAS Conference 2021

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.

Scheldeland field trip by consortium team

Fort van Liesele

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.

Resident Support for Tourism Development: Application of a Simplified Resident Empowerment through Tourism Scale on Developing Destinations in Flanders

Bart Neuts (KU Leuven), Senne Kimps (Visit Flanders) and Jan van der Borg (University Ca’Foscari of Venice) have authored an interesting article that focuses on the relatively underdeveloped Scheldeland region in Flanders (Belgium), where a strategic goal is to leverage cultural and natural heritage to boost development.

Via a resident questionnaire based on a simplified version of the Resident Empowerment through Tourism Scale (RETS), the authors have identified support for tourism development and deconstructed the drivers of this support. The objective was to empirically validate the research instrument and underlying theory in a situation of relative ‘undertourism’ and prospective future growth. The questionnaire collected 2058 responses, and the partial least squares-structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM) results indicated that support for tourism, which was generally high across the seven municipalities, was mainly affected by social, psychological, and political empowerment, with personal economic benefits not playing a significant role. These results show that social exchange theory (SET) as a theoretical basis for potential tourism support has limited validity in currently underdeveloped destinations. Secondly, comparatively speaking, the municipalities with the lowest tourism development were least supportive of tourism growth, with an increase in tourism intensity seemingly leading to increasing support due to a higher awareness of accrued benefits through tourism

You can read the full paper here: Resident Support for Tourism Development

Inception Meeting to present the Living Lab of Scheldeland

On 15 March 2021, the inception meeting of the Scheldeland Living Lab, one of six Living Labs established throughout Europe as part of the SmartCulTour H2020 project, was organized. This Living Lab will specifically focus on three municipalities within the wider tourism region of Scheldeland, namely Bornem, Dendermonde, and Puurs-Sint-Amands.

Due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the first meeting took place online and was organized by Toerisme Vlaanderen, coordinator of the Flemish lab, with further cooperation of KU Leuven as consortium partner. The initial meeting brought together 18 stakeholders, representing the heritage and tourism representatives of the three municipalities, the directors of the local cultural centres, representatives of the regional and provincial boards of tourism, the coordinator of Regional Landscape Schelde-Durme and various heritage experts.

After an initial round table and brief introduction to the project goals of SmartCulTour and the link of the Living Lab with other work packages and European collaborators, appreciative inquiry techniques were used to establish shared meaning of the region. People were asked what connects them personally to the place, with aspects such as the tides of the river and associated nature, and heritage – particularly Medieval castles and forts dating back to the world war – being top of mind.

Next, in smaller groups, participants were asked to think about an ambition and goal for the project, as well as criteria with which a potential successful project should comply. Finally, the brainstorm technique OPERA was adopted to come to a commonly shared project focus. This technique consists of five phases: (1) Own suggestions, (2) Pair suggestions, (3) Explanations, (4) Ranking, and (5) Arranging. After 15 initial suggestions, which due to many overlaps could be reframed into four clear propositions, the final focus for the project was decided as:

“The poetry of coming and going, linked to the ebb and flow of the Scheldt river as hook for the tourism development. The regional characteristics of the tidal river are translated through region-specific heritage such as the industrial heritage, the steam train, and the forts and castles.”