Since their nomination as a CreativeFriendlyDestination in 2018, the Îles de la Madeleine (Magdalen Islands) have cemented themselves as a model for creative tourism destinations worldwide. Caroline Couret, director of the CreativeTourismNetwork®, tells us more about their evolution.
You’re just coming back from the Îles de la Madeleine, can you share your experience with us?
Of course, but, as you know, this is kind of a twofold challenge. Firstly, because you never really leave the islands – the magnetism that surrounds the land, the peculiar insular character, and the friendly disposition of the Madelinots are such that you always leave a part of you behind. The connection you make with the islands are so strong that it lingers even once you’ve left, and you immediately want to plan your next trip there. Furthermore, every experience is unique and as such, it’s quite hard to put it into words, but I will describe mine as well as I can.
What are the features that make the islands unique?
When you get there – by plane or boat – you immediately get a strong sense of singularity: this place is unique, you think, so unique that you just know this experience will be different from everything you’ve lived before. It’s quite rare, you see, for avid travels, to discover a destination that is singular in every way. It’s quite difficult to explain, because you get this feeling from a combination of many intangible elements and emotions that, although personal, are all part of this experience.
Whether the artists are born Madelinots or came for its inspiring atmosphere, they make up a substantial part of the population, in numbers, in diversity, and in quality.
More precisely, what would these elements be?
First of all, the islands’ natural beauty! This is also quite a rare feat. The last decade has been spent by cities on trying to distinguish themselves in every way, many of them artificial, as if it was a race. Now, our societies are seeing a change in values, and a growing interest for intangibility and authenticity. This is definitely a stand-out element that the Îles de la Madeleine can use to their advantage: they attract people by being natural. Among these feats, there is also the locals’ sense of hospitality and their welcoming nature.
Creatively speaking, I can only admire the islands’ stupendous artistic potential. Whether the artists are born Madelinots or came for its inspiring atmosphere, they make up a substantial part of the population, in numbers, in diversity, and in quality.
Let’s talk more about this offer in creativity. Can you give us some examples of it?
There are so many creative experiences that I’m tempted to talk about all of them, but this would take a while! As such, I invite you to take a look at the CreativeTourismNetwork®’s website and social media, on which we regularly publish articles and news that recount beautiful human and creative encounters. But overall, I’d say that all arts and creative sectors are represented, and the creations are an ode to the local nature and culture. The offers range from cooking classes to pottery and soap making workshops, essential oils workshops, classes on how to make candles and blown glass… Sometimes these even intersect – indeed, co-creating is very present on the islands, where artists like to cross their viewpoints and talent in order to provide us with brand new, unusual artistic experiences. This is something worth noting: every artist has and showcases another’s art pieces. Sometimes, temporary collaborations are also organized: during the nights of the “Contes en Îles” festival (Tales of the Islands), you can see Annie Morin’s wooden sculptures as a centre piece. You can also experience the Folles Virées Gourmandes (Crazy Tasty Trip), an event that gathers an enthusiastic crowd around cultural and festive activities where art and gastronomy merge to create a unique show.
On the Îles de la Madeleine, all the experiences form a narrative that stays true to the locals’ feeling of belonging.
Are these activities available to all?
Absolutely. All of them are based on a common denominator: the desire to share that the Madelinots instil in all of us! All creative tourists, from all backgrounds and profiles are welcome – from seniors, millennials, individuals, groups, couples, families, people who want to escape on a resort or an artistic retreat… Travel agencies and organizations can also find the best offers for their clients. Some activities have only just been implemented and they’re already successful. The locals also join them. It’s hard to find a better guarantee of quality.
Do you think there is a formula for this success that could be applied to other destinations?
I would indeed say that the ïles de la Madeleine are a role model for other destinations that want to implement a form of tourism that is creative, attractive for the new generations of tourists, and beneficial for the territory and the locals. However, it isn’t a model you can “copy” – each city, town, or village, and its infrastructure is unique. Each destination must draw on its own resources and features, be it natural, cultural, human, or creative.
In your opinion, among the good practices of the islands, which ones should be adopted by the destinations that try to become creative?
First of all, they should focus on quality, which is the number one distinguishing feature. Activities should also be authentic and reflect the destination’s DNA – this gives meaning to the experience, helps understand local culture and hence enjoy and value it. On the Îles de la Madeleine, all the experiences form a narrative that stays true to the locals’ feeling of belonging. Furthermore, uniting artists and creators who are eager to share their knowledge contributes to the creation of a climate that favours exchange and sharing. I had the chance to meet several of them, and I want to underline how happy they are to collaborate in this project. Their vision is clear on the limits of these tourist activities, and how the natural ecosystem of the islands has to be preserved.
Another quality I’ve rarely seen in other destinations: they all are very close. Every artist will only briefly talk about themself before switching to their colleague’s work. This rather exceptional feature contributes to creating synergies, and it is a virtuous circle in which creative tourism is carried by a positive energy. Hence, networking and creating a value-chain supplants competing against one another.
The region is full of artists who are talented, passionate and have the entrepreneurial vision that’s needed to promote their project by making it profitable while respecting their philosophy and their convictions.
How can destinations run such a program?
The key element is people, their diversity and creativity, but of course, a federating element that structures and facilitates the process is also needed. This way, synergies are created, and a global approach and direction is given as to maximize a destination’s potential. In our present case, Tourism des Îles de la Madeleine, the Destination Management Organization (DMO) and the Island’s Tourism Cluster in insular context, are the one that undertakes the role of creators, facilitators, and interlocutors for all the local actors. Again, this has been demonstrated to be a successful formula. The synergy between them and the local stakeholders generates positive results at every moment of the process. The development of creative tourism is possible, firstly because the region is full of artists and artisans who are talented, passionate and have the entrepreneurial vision that’s needed to promote their project by making it profitable while respecting their philosophy and their convictions.
Secondly, the tourist cluster is also remarkably active networking-wise, as they develop collaborations with neighbouring Quebec regions such as the Laurentides, with whom it starts projects that aim to support innovation and stimulate corporate competition. Internationally, it’s a great honour for the Creative Tourism Network® to count the islands as one of our partners, especially since their evolution is so coherent. In 2015, the Îles de la Madeleine won the Best Tourism Strategy Award, that was awarded by the Creative Tourism Network®, and since then they have always shown their commitment and their expertise in strategy planning. Since the start of the official CreativeFriendlyDestination program in the islands in October 2018, the development of their project has been noticeably accelerated. I was really impressed to note that many artists used the colder months to put their creative project together, and develop infrastructures dedicated to them. So you understand why we’re so keen to promote them!
What is the next step?
On our side, we need to make demand and supply meet. This entails imagining the different profiles and cases that could attract new types of travelers to the islands. These travelers will, in turn, help extend the tourist season in a way that’s coherent and respectful to the will of the Madelinots to preserve their small paradise!
More about the Îles: