Flourishing places are created together

This is an article from the magazine ‘Travel to Tomorrow‘.

Tourism is more than just the economy. As a visitor, you will bristle with creativity in some places and find profound inspiration in others. The passion that residents show, ensure that some places are full of inspiration and therefore remain with you. Entrepreneurs do not exist separate from the community but are part of it. They can function as the driving force behind sustainable change. Tourism-related businesses found one another during the process Tourism Transforms. They connected with each other and entered into dialogue with the government. These conversations created insights that could provide a future guide for both the entrepreneurs and the government.

Nathalie Boyden, owner of Park Costa, a camp site in Bredene, is happy to work towards a warm future. The drive for her is social responsibility. Marcel Buelens, regional airport Ostend- Bruges & Antwerp: “If we don’t do it, someone else will. We have to take up the reins ourselves.” Veerle De Boeck, Federation of Belgian Bus and Coach businesses, is even clearer: “As entrepreneur, you have to work on the future. We must rediscover ourselves in order to guarantee our place in the future. If you just do what you’ve always done, you will disappear.” Katelijne Haelters, Hotel The Pand in Bruges, explains it as a choice between resistance or resilience. Resistance is the first response. “But, as far as I’m concerned, that’s out of date. Also, it’s not just the government who should outline the future. Entrepreneurs are usually ahead of the game and therefore influence how things evolve.”

How do we end up with a flourishing place?

According to Katelijne Haelters, everything starts with participation and input. There are very specific challenges for every city or destination. If every community was allowed to determine the top 3 challenges, then entrepreneurs, residents and the government could work on the challenges that get the most support. Nathalie Boyden sees an important role for the government. They must ensure that the passion for entrepreneurship remains. At the moment, entrepreneurs and their initiatives often find themselves lost in ambiguities or slow/contradictory procedures. Transparency is key for Marcel Buelens: “Within which bounds should I work and go for it? And it must all be fair; the same rules apply to everyone.”

“Believing in the power of a place is retaining the place’s DNA, and I want to work with partners on this basis. However, I look around and see what others are doing too. In the TV programme ‘Columbus’, Wim Lybaert sets out each week to find the good life, with a celebrity guest. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to have a hotel on wheels? Where you don’t stay in one place but your guests can choose which destination you go to visit. Ideas are all around us. Then I came across the story of Tim and Valerie from Antwerp. They bought a 12-metre long, yellow American school bus and converted it into a hostel with all the required facilities! Roof terrace, fitted kitchen and leisure equipment such as fishing gear, sports kit and guitar. Today, they travel with their daughter, dog and their visitors from one place to another. How amazing is that.” — Kristof Lataire, Kapittel

Government and entrepreneurs in the same boat

The entrepreneurs all agree on this; the first step is conversation. This means listening to one another, determining together what is important, and sustaining the balance between the various interests. Katelijne: “We could do an exercise with all the partners; what are the challenges and problems a specific place is facing? Can we sit around the table with the various parties to see which choices can be made?” Marcel adds: “With a focus on transparent regulations and a level playing field.”

The government must create a framework, based on these conversations with residents and entrepreneurs. In this regard, there are already some excellent examples of well-functioning advisory boards separate from politics. Nadine De Weirdt, ‘Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship’, emphasizes the importance of information. Well informed partners can make good decisions. Participation without information and insight doesn’t work. The government can play an important role in this. They can inspire and support the tourism sector, among other things by encouraging and creating networks and knowledgesharing. The government can be a major player in terms of providing advice and financial support for experimenting.