Flanders

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.

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.

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