Is Creative Tourism the new Swiss army knife of post-covid tourism?

Is Creative Tourism the new Swiss army knife of post-covid tourism? “… This is what Caroline Couret, founder of the Creative Tourism Network® suggests. She gives us more details about this type of tourism and the opportunities it offers us in terms of post-covid strategies19.


Creative tourism, which has grown considerably in recent years, today seems to offer solutions for destinations in the post-covid horizon. Why?

First of all, I want to put my answer into perspective. The health crisis we are experiencing is dramatic, and the economic crisis will be just as dramatic, and particularly for the tourism sector. So I do not pretend, with my answers, to solve a situation of such magnitude and no, creative tourism will not be a Deus ex Machina. But since we are talking about trends to consolidate, then it can undoubtedly help restart tourism. Indeed, since its theorization, in the early 2000s, by professors Greg Richards and Crispin Raymond, it has grown considerably by responding on the one hand, to the demand of travelers in search of meaning and authenticity, and of on the other hand, as a solution for destinations wishing to make tourism, a lever of sustainable development for their territory. The current context is precisely highlighting a return of human values and solidarity within society. It also forces the destinations to seduce a local audience, the famous staycation, through experiences to live in small groups that offer a change of scenery just a few kilometers from home. And all this, with very rapid implementation, since we are talking about the summer season 2020!

Before going into more detail, perhaps a first framing on the concept of creative tourism would be necessary.

Indeed. It is a form of tourism which allows the traveler – we will understand that the choice of the term is not trivial – to discover but also to understand the local culture of a place, by participating actively in creative activities, linked to its intangible heritage and more generally its identity, its DNA.
You can make your goat cheese or get started as a DJ in Ibiza, learn how to make sandcastles in the Magdalen Islands or snow sculptures in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli (Quebec), cosmetics from of roses or Bulgarian yogurt in Gabrovo (Bulgaria), rehearsing the carnival choreographies throughout the year in Recife (Brazil), making your hat “Panamá” in Ecuador, among many other colorful examples!

Besides the experience itself, it is also the added value that it brings to the territory, which is important. In fact, destinations rely on creative tourism as a lever for territorial development, making it possible in particular to promote off-season tourism and longer stays, diversify supply and therefore demand, revitalize their image, promote social cohesion, resilience, or quite simply, creating a tourism economy based on creativity, as is often the case in the framework of UNESCO Creative Cities.

You are French, but with an external vision. How do you perceive France’s potential in terms of creative tourism?

The cultural diversity of France, its traditions and know-how, are a considerable asset for creative tourism, and vice versa. This tourism preserves and enhances this intangible heritage and strengthens the identity of each region. In addition, it is tourism that adapts perfectly to all types of destinations, whether it be villages, towns, seaside or mountain resorts, islands, etc. since they consider tourism as an integrating element and not a “predatory” sector as we have come to hear. Our network also includes villages of 3000 inhabitants, rural regions, or megalopolises such as Medellín, which despite their differences, share their good practices and their audience! It is indeed important to emphasize that the creative tourist prioritizes the way of traveling and the quality of relations with the locals, to the intrinsic characteristics of the destination. It can, therefore, be versatile with regard to the choice of destinations, as long as these criteria are guaranteed. It is from this observation that we created the Creative Tourism Network®.

As for France, new destinations and territories will join us soon, even with a view to the 2020 season. In each place, it is a real pleasure to make known the cultural richness of our country, its artists, its craftsmen, and its inhabitants, its art of living!

You mentioned the Creative Tourism Network®, how was it born and what are its main missions?

You could say that the project was part of our DNA – with our team we were working on international cooperation projects until then and I personally had always traveled this way, prioritizing human relationships and creative discoveries. The meeting with Professor Greg Richards, theoretician of the concept of creative tourism, was decisive and allowed us to identify with great acuteness the requirements of these new travelers, but also the challenges that this new demand implied. We had already created the first city-wide platform of its kind, in Barcelona, to provide creative experiences for these new travelers. The idea of networking with other destinations seemed obvious.

Could you tell us more about these issues?

The specific nature of this demand has had a disruptive effect on the entire tourism industry. By replacing the top-down model that had prevailed in the context of “Fordist” tourism, by a bottom-up model, giving protagonism to expert travelers and prossumers, the emergence of this new paradigm has made essential the incorporation of new actors, such as artists, craftsmen, farmers, organizers of traditional festivals, to name a few, who are the only ones able to transmit their knowledge and know-how necessary for the design and realization of experiments. Obviously, co-creation between stakeholders from such diverse sectors brings new challenges, but also new opportunities.

How about the challenges?

The first challenge that arises is precisely linked to the design of experiences that are at the same time authentic, creative, and profitable, from assets as intangible as they are eclectic. If it is recognized that “tourism” and “culture” are already struggling to find – or accept – their respective roles, in promoting cultural tourism, we can easily imagine what it is about co-creation between the tourism industry and sectors such as crafts, creative industries or agriculture. Despite the fact that our “dream makers” as I like to call them – who are these craftsmen, these artists, these fishermen at the center of the activity – are very generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge, The Experience has to meet other criteria, related to the protection of intangible heritage, marketing, and what is more today, health and security. We are therefore faced with a challenge that requires the intervention of new “mediators”, making it possible to reconcile or even to create synergies from these various contingencies.
Does it sound simple, after all?
Let’s say it can be as simple and complicated as human relationships are! But it is certain that people and creativity are resources which can only be enriched during such a process. We can, therefore, say that there is no more sustainable tourism than the creative!

In addition, in all the territories with which we work, training is offered to local stakeholders, allowing them to update their skills in order to adapt their activity in the most autonomous and “ergonomic” way while integrating into the marketing channels that will be tour operators, travel agencies, even digital platforms.

What means are you implementing to achieve this?

Our network, which is a non-profit organization, has become a benchmark for this type of tourism worldwide. This, therefore, requires monitoring the sector and above all, being attentive to all the stakeholders who rally around it, whether they are travelers, under their most diverse profiles, DMOs or private companies.

For this, we are implementing, in real-time, tools that can provide them with concrete solutions, and at the same time, allow the sector to be structured on a more global scale.
This involves, for example, the creation of the Creative Tourism Academy, which designs and delivers tailor-made training, both academic and professional, the Creative Tourism Awards, which reward each year the best creative tourism initiatives, as well as our daily work with destinations carrying our CreativeFriendlyDestination label, in terms of advice, support and promotion as a specialized communication agency.

What makes you think that creative tourism is not just a fashion trend?

Since its appearance, creative tourism has constantly increased in number and profiles diversity, going from the lonely and romantic traveler who goes to paint in Tuscany, to a mode of travel which seduces segments such as singles, seniors, team buildings, PANKS, of course, millennials, as well as all those who are passionate about dance, pottery, weaving, budding winemakers or future chefs.
It is therefore not a trend driven by the tourism industry, but a societal change, which acts on the level of demand, and affects the tourist supply.
It is also important to emphasize that in this development, consumers, in this case, tourists, have become “prosumers”, by participating in the co-creation of their own experiences, and it is therefore impossible to relegate them again to mere customer status. The Maslow pyramid is evolving, and tourism with it!

To conclude, what advice would you give to destinations willing to develop this type of tourism?

First, do not approach it with the same codes that have structured the tourism industry to date. In fact, it would even be preferable not to consider it as tourism, but rather as a way of creating value chains in the territories, by satisfying – through creativity – the most diverse, but authentic demands in terms of mobility.

As I mentioned, this implies an open mind and natural empathy, both in terms of the welcome offered to tourists, as in the development of human resources with which we will collaborate. Everyone will play an important role and all will be complementary and virtuous among themselves. The artist, the craftsman, the entrepreneur, the institutions.

For this reason, it is important not to reduce the management of creative tourism to the creation of simple digital platforms, exclusively dedicated to the sale of online activities. They can be part of the chain, but we must seize this great opportunity to create meaning and value at the level of the territory! In particular via storytelling. The narrative must be that of the stakeholders, that is to say, the populations as a whole, who will share their history, past or contemporary, and create emotional ties with travelers. It is also, for destinations, the opportunity via the re-creation of their DNA, of an identity which has tended to be supplanted in recent decades, by a globalized tourist and cultural offer. This differentiation must also lead to cooperation between destinations, whatever they are, which have everything to lose as competitors for the top-ranking, and everything to gain, by recommending each other and working in a network.

And since it’s about getting to work, doing it with enthusiasm and without worry, let’s start by reassuring ourselves: everything is already done and just waiting to be re-valued. Circular economy and humanism as a post-crisis recipe.