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EXPERIENCE - Project Closure Interview

14/05/2024

EXPERIENCE Pic Cycling

A question-and-answer session with the team from EXPERIENCE.

Tell us about your project

From September 2019 to June 2023, the project transformed tourism in the France (Channel) England region by embracing experiential tourism to tackle low season tourism slumps (October to March). The project sought to improve the visitor experience by creating authentic and unique local activities and events - memorable experiences utilising regional assets that would appeal to the experiential tourism market and, in turn, draw in millions of visitors, boosting the local economy through increased spending on activities, accommodation, and dining.

This new tourism strategy was developed by taking three main approaches:

  • Helping the tourism sector with free training, networking, and support to develop experiences that highlighted the unique cultural, historical, and natural aspects of each area.
    EXPERIENCE delivered over 600 training/1-2-1 support sessions, ranging from workshops on how to improve accessibility, welcoming the cycling community and developing a social media presence.
  • Upgrading or creating infrastructure to complement the new experiences, including a theatre stage in a forest, a new dark skies observatory, and the renovation of an island lighthouse to offer quirky weekend stays.
  • Marketing low impact activities and events specifically for the low season and the tranquillity that you can only find outside the peak season.

EXPERIENCE activities were aimed at people who have more opportunity to travel in the low-season and focussed on welcoming people from diverse backgrounds and people with accessibility requirements.  

What have been the key outputs and results for EXPERIENCE?

  • Generated 10.4 million additional low-season visits, achieving €2 billion in visit value, and yielding €81 for every €1 spent, highlighting the project's economic success.
  • Established 6 regional tourism networks, created 216 training materials and hosted 627 workshops and events to support tourism businesses.
  • Supported the creation of 9 events and developed 1,601 new low-season tourism activities, alongside curating 622 itineraries—206 of which were accessible.
  • Completed 59 infrastructures, including 25 upgrades, 28 iconic place making infrastructures and 6 new accessible infrastructures.
  • Boosted the region's profile with impactful storytelling marketing campaigns that promoted the unique experience of each region. Marketing was supported by interactive itinerary builders that allow visitors to create their own bespoke adventure from all the new activities and events on offer.
  • Compiled economic, environmental, and social impacts in 6 regional evaluation reports, offering valuable insights into the project's transformative impact on strategic tourism development.
  • Created a Best Practice Guide, providing essential insights for the next wave of tourism projects, ensuring a lasting impact and a reservoir of knowledge for others looking to adopt a similar approach.

What lessons have you learned through this project?

EXPERIENCE brought valuable lessons on resilience, adaptability and the importance of strategic foresight amidst challenges like Brexit and Covid-19. It underscored the importance of adjusting to dynamic partnership roles, employing robust monitoring, and managing staff turnover with precise role definitions and forward planning. The project navigated cross-border complexities, including cultural differences and varied data standards, through innovative solutions like digital tools and tailored communication strategies, enhancing collaboration across diverse teams.

Learning can be summed up in 5 overarching points:

  • Develop a comprehensive tourism plan that includes strategies to mitigate the negative impacts of tourism while maximising its benefits.
  • Promote responsible tourism practices among tourists, such as reducing waste, conserving water and energy, and respecting local customs and traditions.
  • Diversify tourism offerings to attract diverse types of tourists, such as cultural tourists, nature enthusiasts, and adventure seekers.
  • Invest in infrastructure and services to support sustainable tourism, such as public transport, waste management facilities, and visitor centres.
  • Balance tourism development in low and high seasons to reduce negative impacts of over tourism in peak seasons and to support the local economy throughout the year.

By prioritising a bottom-up approach, innovation, community involvement and cross-sector commitment to shared goals, EXPERIENCE significantly enhanced its outcomes, serving as a model for future initiatives in sustainable tourism.

What have been the highlights of delivering a cross-border project?

Participating in the EXPERIENCE project offered insight into the power of collaboration across borders. The project was a practical exercise in combining diverse traditions, perspectives, and creative energy from England and France. This melding of different backgrounds sparked innovation and built a network of lasting relationships between organisations, fostering a sense of community that extended beyond national boundaries.

The initiative was an opportunity to tackle the challenges of seasonal tourism through a shared approach, drawing on the specific skills and expertise of partners in Norfolk, Brittany, Kent, Cornwall, Compiegne and Pas de Calais. Being involved meant more than just working towards a common goal; it was about engaging in a mutual exchange of knowledge and practices, where each work package was led by an expert in the field, supported by co-leads with complementary skills.

What difference will this project make/ legacy will it leave?

The collaborative efforts across different regions and countries under the EXPERIENCE banner have enhanced the tourism offer and paved the way for continued growth and innovation in the tourism sector.

  • Norfolk is integrating EXPERIENCE outcomes in other environmental projects, enhancing the itinerary builder website Be Norfolk.
  • Kent's efforts are crucial to its bid for Cross Channel UNESCO Global Geopark status, emphasising environmental and cultural preservation.
  • Cornwall will expand the successful Penzance EXPERIENCE model to other areas of the county.
  • Pas de Calais is expanding its 'Growing Together' network, adding diverse experiential offers.
  • Compiegne and Brittany will continue to utilise their natural and cultural assets, focusing on sustainability, and broadening their tourism appeal.

The project's website and itinerary builders will continue supporting these efforts. Assessing the economic impact of increased visits over the next five years will be crucial for future strategies. Partners will keep working with local actors to adapt to tourism trends, foster sustainable practices, and enhance off-season marketing. This co-development approach ensures EXPERIENCE's lasting impact, guiding the evolution of sustainable, year-round tourism.

The EXPERIENCE project ran from July 2019 to September 2023 and had a total budget of €24.4m (€16.8m ERDF).