It may be the end of the EXPERIENCE project, but it marks the beginning of a new era in experiential tourism for its project partners.
The €24.5 million project, which developed an innovative ‘experiential tourism’ approach to attract visitors in the off-peak season, has resulted in an increase in sustainable tourism across the project’s six regions in the UK and France, which will support economic growth in the longer term.
This success is testament to the strong partnership forged across the projects 14 organisations involved over the last three-and-a-half-years.
EXPERIENCE celebrated its achievements at its online Closing Conference in January 2023, which was attended by 140 people. The event attracted attendees as far away as Italy, Spain, Portugal Sweden, Turkey and Thailand.
Below is a round-up of the major highlights of the project from across the partnership:
Lead partner Norfolk County Council has created a new website www.BeNorfolk.co.uk which showcases exciting experiences unique to the county that have been developed through training and support given to the local tourist sector.
The jewel in its crown is the Norfolk Way Art Trail, which will span 250 miles and will feature five new artworks (see Flint above) that will reveal hidden stories and inspire visitors to explore the county, when it launches later this year.
EXPERIENCE is also supporting a new solar-powered observatory in Hunstanton so that visitors can enjoy stargazing activities in autumn and winter. Plus, work has started on a new Dark Skies Discovery Hub at Salhouse Broad - the first dedicated site in the Broads National Park to offer stargazing experiences.
Visit Kent and Kent Downs AONB worked with businesses to develop new off-season tourism experiences, offering 1:1 support, mentoring with industry experts, and training in topics such as Social Media and Engaging with Travel Trade.
Global travel authority Lonely Planet placed Kent at number four on its list of the world’s best regions to visit - ‘Best in Travel 2022’. The list defines the top 10 most exciting countries, cities, and regions to visit next year, for the ultimate in must-have travel experiences.
EXPERIENCE now has 40 new North Downs Way Ambassadors following a training programme to help people set up professional, engaging walking tours along the trail.
Sustainable cultural tourism is a strategic priority for Cornwall Council. The project investment was focused in the West Cornwall area, where the Mount’s Bay coastal path was refurbished. This enabled the connection of cycling routes, public transport hubs and promotion of more sustainable forms of travel.
A cultural landmark was also created along the Mount’s Bay coast path: Gwelen. A series of 85 oak sculptures positioned along the path provide an invitation to rest and imagine the ancient, submerged forest hidden in Mount’s Bay.
To promote its autumn/winter visitor experiences, Cornwall launched an interactive itinerary planner on LovePenzance and managed the Out of Season, Into Adventure marketing campaign. See the webpage here.
Visitors to Pas-de-Calais can benefit from a new app developed by the Département du Pas-de-Calais that offers a wide range of outdoor activities.
Escapade62 makes it easy for local residents, tourists and sports enthusiasts to find outdoor activities and itineraries to discover the beautiful landscapes in the Pas-de-Calais region. It has a wide target audience, ranging from people looking for solo adventures to those wanting family-friendly activities, and from complete beginners to sports enthusiasts. It is designed so that everyone can find something that can be tailored to their needs so they can enjoy sports and outdoor activities throughout all the seasons.
Pas-de-Calais Tourisme has delivered several training sessions to organisations already involved in the tourist trade, as well as those with no experience but with ideas for appealing visitor experiences. Topics included how to create a sustainable experiential offer and how to promote experiences on social media. Pas-de-Calais Tourisme has developed an off-season marketing campaign to promote these offers.
Find out about all the off-season experiences in Pas-de-Calais here: https://envrai-pas-de-calais.com/
As part of the project, l’Agglomération de Compiègne organised its 'Live the Forest in Autumn' event. Participants were able to enjoy forest sports (mountain biking, horse riding, hiking), a musical forest bath, wood carving, equestrian show, and much more. Read more here.
Its fellow Compiègne partner, the Office National des Forêts, completed the impressive Empress Arbor restoration, a sheltered walkway which stretches 750m long, forming a connection between the formal gardens of the Chateau de Compiègne and the wilderness of the forest. The team has also now completed works at the Saint Pierre Ponds, making it more accessible and creating new cycling routes to encourage sustainable modes of transport.
In Brittany, Côtes-d’Armor Destination created ‘Les Minutes Bleues’, a six-day event to celebrate the low-season at eight cultural and natural heritage sites in the Côtes-d’Armor. Visitors were able to try out unusual experiences including a monastic breakfast, a guided excursion to learn about Breton legends and a visit to a local château to find out more about its hidden secrets.
Morlaix Communauté is currently refurbishing the Ile Noire island lighthouse in Morlaix to create a unique accommodation with a sustainable approach to boost low-season tourism.
Morlaix Tourisme developed a business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing strategy to promote the Breton tourism offer in the low-season. Find out more about the experiences and itineraries offered in Morlaix, which were also highlighted in a promotional video ‘What is your plan for this winter?’.
Finally, Brittany Ferries launched a new interactive trip-planning platform to help promote local experiences and boost travel bookings.
As part of EXPERIENCE, Cycling UK developed three long distance cycle routes, 45 shorter routes and established a programme of cycle-friendly places.
The Rebellion Way in Norfolk, West Kernow Way in Cornwall and the Cantii Way in Kent offer different multi-day experiences with 150-250-mile rides over varying terrains.
More than 100 overnight accommodation providers, cafés, restaurants, cycle shops and other points of interest gained accreditation as Cycle Friendly Places which confirms that they provide a minimum level of service and can be relied up on to provide a comfortable experience for their cycling customers.
See more at Cycling UK’s website.
The EXPERIENCE website www.tourismexperience.org has links to trip-planning platforms in all six regions. Also take time to explore the Resources Hub, which has plenty of insights and tips for developing experiential tourism, including real-life case studies of businesses that have thrived as part of the project.
You’ll also find free materials from dozens of training sessions including topics such as Marketing & Storytelling, Social Media, Inclusivity & Accessibility and Welcoming Walkers & Cyclists.
One of the project’s legacies, the team are most proud of is sharing its new tourism strategy, the lessons they’ve learned along the way, and how other regions across both countries and beyond can take this model and tailor it to their own areas to achieve sustainable economic growth. EXPERIENCE partners the University of Surrey have led the production of a Best Practice Guide which will be on their website soon.