Meetjesland Living Lab: the place and the placeholders
Together with Mechelen and De Kempen, Meetjesland is in Flanders a testing ground for new insights into tourism. Together with the British tourism expert Anna Pollock, Tourism Flanders is investigating new insights into tourism growth by ‘Travelling to Tomorrow’ (Reizen naar Morgen). The unbridled growth of the tourism sector has a destructive downside and will lead to a crisis. Nevertheless, the value of tourism for a region such as Flanders can be great, indeed even change the country. If and only if… it is for the benefit of the traveller, the entrepreneur, the place and the inhabitant.
The lime tree
The visitor undergoes a ‘transforming experience’, in other words, mentally takes home things that are remembered for a lifetime. In addition, the visitors help to improve the destination during their stay and make sure that they (or their loved ones) return there themselves.
The entrepreneur is experiencing steady growth and sees his company flourish and be appreciated by neighbours and visitors.
The resident experiences the visitors and the flourishing tourism sector as an added value for his or her own region, can tell his or her own story and history and sees his or her own living environment flourish by improving the tourist infrastructure.
The place is thriving. Flourishing. And it is a place where people like to stay, permanently or temporarily. A living organism that blossoms like a flower in spring and falls asleep during the winter to continue flowering. The owners keep this place as a beautiful lime tree where all couples in love meet up in the middle of summer, a magical place where it’s good to be.
In a joint reflection and exchange Meetjesland with the Scottish region Angus and the Romanian region Bazinul Dornelor will train themselves in asking the right questions to the placeholders. How do they want to move their region forward?
In concrete terms, this is already leading to a whole series of project ideas in the creek municipalities of Sint-Laureins and Assende, but also to a way of working at the provincial regional centre Huysmanhoeve in Eeklo, where the Rural Centre manages and implements the operation, supported by a solid team of volunteers. In the next phase of the project, the initiators of this series of projects will carry out the first results on the ground. The magic words here are: a listening attitude’ and ‘working together (with space)’.
The projects concern efforts for more liveable villages, the idea of developing an art route, a route of landscape views in the creek area, ambassadorship, tasting and picking gardens, organised covered wagon trips, cooperation between event organisers, etc. The projects also involve the development of an art route.
Exchange in Romania
“We cherish the ambition to be flourishing”
Faith in a flourishing destination
The premise for the Flemish, Scottish and Romanian partners to think about the future together is quite simple: as tourist destinations, we cherish the conviction that tourism can make a region flourish (prosperity), not only for the entrepreneurs but also for the inhabitants. This calls for a different approach and we are testing this very approach together, among other things through the exchange of experience. Moreover, we think that our visitors will also benefit if they end up in a destination where they (entrepreneurs, residents and tourists) take care of the place together. This is the shared dream that we, as a tourist destination, have been thinking about for five days.
Learning from each other
An instructive exchange within the framework of the Flourishing Destinations project in which company visits and study moments show that tourist regions from three totally different countries have a lot in common and can learn an incredible amount from each other.
During this exchange, the emphasis was on appreciative inquiry (ask people the right questions and you create enthusiasm and ownership) and the positive results that sector cooperation can lead to.
Tourism Officer Sofie Van Waes testifies
“Why don’t we learn this at school?”
Sofie Van Waes recently became the tourism officer in the municipality of Assenede as ‘cultural policy coordinator’. Following on from her colleague Lien Ysebaert, she was ‘thrown’ a month ago in the Flourishing Destinations project. She immediately ended up in a coaching programme ‘coach the coach’ by Els Meerschaert, who guides us in making optimal use of Appreciative Inquiry, a method to make projects flourish better. Appreciative Inquiry is an approach in which all interested parties are involved and in this way change can be determined for itself. This is done by asking many and especially the right questions.
“Appreciative Inquiry, why don’t we learn this at school? It may take some time to master, but once you get away with it, you can achieve so much with it! Els is great, how she gets the group excited is incredible. You just get a lot of ‘desire’ to get on with it,” says Sofie.
According to Sofie, the municipality of Assenede offers many opportunities to make it a thriving or ‘flourishing’ destination. “In my opinion, the challenge is to get everyone enthusiastic about the idea of ‘Travelling to tomorrow’. From the point of view of tourism in Assenede, it is our task to look openly and to involve our (local) community. In this way we make sure that our lime tree starts to live.” With the lime tree, Sofie refers to the model drawn up by Tourism Flanders, in which the flourishing community is seen as the point of contact where tourists, entrepreneurs and residents benefit from tourism in the region. In which they, as placeholders, make that beautiful place even better, as a place where you dream of really wanting to live.
The original articles were published here.