Arno: “A Learning Network means jointly acquiring knowledge, having the participants learn from each other. Everyone has their own specific expertise and works in their own environment. The idea is to inspire one another and develop actions, whether you are the director of a provincial tourism authority, an employee of a municipal service, or a local business owner. We do all this together. A second important element is appreciative enquiry. We apply a positive method that starts from what’s already going well now, rather than focussing on what’s going wrong. The objective is to stimulate people to take their responsibility, which culminates in specific initiatives.”
What does the Learning Network for Travelling to Tomorrow entail?
Arno: “This Learning Network lasts approximately one year, with regular meetings. In some cases we invite all the participants, on other occasions we meet in smaller groups. It started in the spring of 2019 with a two-day kick-off meeting in Ghent. This was followed by two major return events with all the participants. We organised several learning groups in between. In these groups of five to ten participants, with a varying composition, everyone was able to share their problems, obstacles and thoughts. The participants helped one another devise solutions and think about which steps they could take in their own projects. The process ends in February with a large-scale closing event. This is a good opportunity to review all the projects that originated in the Learning Network and also look ahead. How do we keep these projects going in the following years? This will be an important question.”
Luc and you are the participants’ coaches. So what is your role?
Arno: “Everyone who is involved in the Learning Network has extensive expertise in tourism, whereas we don’t. So we definitely don’t have to tell them how to do their job. Our task is to bring them together, to promote a dialogue. We try to stimulate them to tell stories, to reflect, to help one another.”
How do you achieve this?
Arno: “By asking the right questions. For example, why did you choose to work in the tourism industry? We got a lot of nice answers to that one. Nobody mentioned earning money, but their passion and drive shone through. These people are passionate about hospitality or proud of their region and they want to share this with others. We also asked the participants to talk about their own travel experiences. This forces you to think about what you find important, what generates added value. Which is a good place to start when working towards Travelling to Tomorrow.”
Was this idea new to most of the participants?
Arno: “Certainly not. Travelling to Tomorrow is anything but new. Most of the participants are keenly aware that there’s more to tourism than figures and growth. They know that it also means contributing to a specific place. We asked the participants for examples of specific projects in which they created added value by working with the local population or business owners. They immediately shared a dozen excellent examples. So you can see that this is already happening in practice, without necessarily being labelled as ‘Travelling to Tomorrow’. The main thing is to capitalise on these good examples and continue down this path to the future.”
Elies Maegh – “Avoid an insular approach”
The Learning Network has an impact. Both on the participants and the organisation, as Elies Maegh found out first-hand. She is responsible for education and communication at Hidrodoe, the interactive science museum dedicated to water.