Interview of Caroline Couret about the Creative Tourism.

Have you heard of “creative tourism”? It deals with a increasing trend in which tourists travel around the world to discover little known aspects of a destination or culture, by participating in creative activities with the locals. Beyond the image of the “romantic” traveler, this is a tourist segment booming, fueled by growing demand and accompanied by a professionalization of the sector. This concept emerged in the early 2000s, from the research work of Professors Greg Richards and Crispin Raymond and is now adapted in a very wide array of contexts gathered iwithin an international network. In order to know further about this new generation of tourism, we met Caroline Couret, founder of the Creative Tourism Network®.

The creative tourist is an eco-friendly traveler and a a humanist whose in interest rely on peer-to-peer relationships.

  • How did come the Creative Tourism Network®?

I could say that the project was part of our Company’s DNA – as well as mine! – and was developed naturally, powered by the desire to go back to the initial purposes of the tourism, that is to say, meeting people from different cultures and share with them simple moments of their dailylife, knowledges, a passion … a peer-to-peer and authentic experience! The meeting with Professor Greg Richards, co-inventor of the creative tourism concept was decisive and confirmed the need to fit appropiately to this new demand. Thus we created the Barcelona Creative Tourism platform in 2005, the first of its kind worldwide, to invite the tourists to “live the city.”
Faced with the growing enthusiasm for this new way of traveling – we then felt the need to network with other destinations that shared the same philosophy. Thus the Creative Tourism Network® was born in Barcelona in December 2010.

  • What are the missions of the Creative Tourism Network®?

We wish above all to offer a reference body that, on the one hand, meet the most diverse demands from this booming sector and secondly, fosters synergies, through collaborations between the network’s members and external partners.
When we organized the First International Conference on Creative Tourism in 2010 in Barcelona, it appeared to us as evidence or even an emergency! Indeed, while it existed, worldwide, plethora of initiatives conceptually very close to the creative tourism, it was difficult to identify them as they were scattered geographically and “terminologically”! But the demand for this type of experience was already very real and has been rapidly expanded and consolidated since then. The network provides a meeting point between supply and demand for this emerging segment as well as a tool of governance.

  • How do you identify a creative tourism offer?

I could give you countless examples, but beyond the content, it’s subjective criteria that are essential to design a creative tourism offer. Among them, not to copy an existing offer. Creative tourism appeal primarily to the authenticity and creativity of the persons who design the offer. And I stress the word “persons” as, although marketing requires professional and rigorous expertise, it should not supplant the emotion generated by the transmission of knowledge or co-creation between local and travelers. This is of course a subjective criteria, but that is essential to garantee the authenticity, originality and empathy with these tourists-alter ego! The top-down approach that forged the tourism sector in recent decades, enclosing providers and tourists in a strictly comercial relationship, has given way to a bottom-up, oriented by the specific demand of these new travelers.

  • Could you give some examples of creative tourism experiences you personally like?

All and the most diverse! You know, the first time you participate in these activities, you do so by interest or passion for a particular discipline through a cooking class, a ceramic workshop, a watercolor, or music course, etc… But very quickly the creative tourism turns into a way of traveling, which makes appear a new world map! Hence the relevance of creating a network to discover or rediscover destinations through these experiences.
At the time of making choices, I personally try to get closer to what one we could call “km0”, that is to say by participating in community-based activities. Indeed, participating in a sushi-class in France could be part of the daily life but of course, would not enable to discover the local culture! Instead, how about a creative retreat in Provence, Tuscany or Portugal, in which you can indulge in ceramics, sculpture, craft or bakery? Or to enjoy the Ibiza bohemian and creative lifestyle by participating in hippy craft or natural cosmetic workshops or becoming a DJ for a day? Or learning the traditional dances in Medellin (Colombia), or the local cuisine in South Corea?

The list is long and feeds the growing interest of tourists to these simple but authentic experiences.

  • Should we consider the simplicity and authenticity as common denominators of the creative tourism?

Yes, definately! And I would add, of course, creativity. These are actually the common denominators of our destinations and programs members in spite of their so diverse profiles. By the way, the creative tourists enjoy this diversity as son as they can experience it actively. They are exclusive regarding the way they travel but are really opened to our suggestions which makes them discover new territories they had even never heard about. And for what it concerns the destinations, it is fascinating to observe how, instead of competting, they take benefits of networking and exchange advices and good practices!

  • Is the creative tourism an example of sustainable tourism?

Definitely yes! The UNWTO definition attributed to sustainable tourism, namely, “management of all resources in such a way that economic, social and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining the integrity cultural, essential ecological processes, biological diversity and life support systems”, could perfectly refer to the creative tourism.
The creative tourist is an eco-friendly traveler and a a humanist whose in interest rely on peer-to-peer relationships. His gratitude towards the locals is increased tenfold, leading to a virtuous circle that feeds on the transmission of human values, expertise, talent … In this vertuous circle, the local are no longer the intermediary between the tourists and the heritage, they are the heritage. As an example a japanese housewive who organizes cooking classes for tourists will not only be empowered economically but this will also act positively on her self-esteem.

  • What are the current projects and future of Creative Tourism Network®?

It would be long to mention them all. We implement numerous collaborations with strategic sectors that can benefit our members (media, transport, tour operators, etc.). Moreover, we have created a training center to meet the needs of public bodies, companies, universities, etc, in terms of creative tourism management. These seminars help the stakeholders to develop their own project within two or three days. More and more DMO’s are interested on it.

  • What do you think of digital platforms that sell creative workshops?

They are indeed increasingly numerous and it becomes a problem in the sense that they represent a door open to “the everything creative”, that is to say that we are witnessing a intrusisme from companies wishing to bounce off the craze for this new form of travel, selling as “experience”, any substitutes whose lack of credibility affects the entire industry. Moreover, if this kind of platform finds its audience among travelers looking for offers peer-to-peer – not to say massive touristm as well – it can hardly develop in a trading context, as tour operators need professional garantees for their customers to limit risks of amateurism. Finally, these platforms do not help to create value in a territory. Creative tourism should be seen as a governance instrument for a territory development and that is why it is important that such programs used to be driven by public bodies in colaboration with experts in diverse fields. However, these platforms are more focused on a short term profits.