On Friday 20 May the workshop “Greenways: Attracting new clients and selling the product” was held in Bütgenbach (Belgium). It was organized by Tourismusagentur Ostbelgien (the Belgian tourism agency) in cooperation with EGWA, within the framework of the EU funded project, Greenways Outdoor.
The workshop was followed by a very interesting technical visit to the award-winning cross-border route, Vennbahn, passing through 3 countries, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.
To end the day a new bridge near the Lommersweiler tunnel was opened. It was named after Gilbert Perrin in recognition of his tireless work in the creation of Vennbahn.
The interesting presentations made during the workshop can be seen at https://www.aevv-egwa.org/event/workshop-greenways-attracting-new-clients-and-selling-the-product/.
Workshop “Greenways: Attracting new clients and selling the product”
The workshop kicked off with a warm welcome to the participants by Sandra De Taeye, director of Tourismusagentur Ostbelgien, who pointed out the importance of the Vennbahn as a key tourist attraction in East Belgium and the continuous work by the many stakeholders to provide the best offer and welcome to visitors.
Greenways Outdoor overview. Mercedes Muñoz. European Greenways Association (EGWA) Director and Greenways Outdoor Coordinator.
The EGWA director and coordinator of the project showed an overview of the Greenways Outdoor project and explained how the project’s main action strategies are being applied. She also highlighted some of the most important results, such as:
- The new EGWA and Greenways Outdoor website and the launch of a social media campaign.
- European catalogues of outdoor tourism products linked to greenways and professional services.
- A series of workshops and meetings with stakeholders aimed at creating tourism products.
- The organization of mass sport events on greenways to attract new clients.
- Newly available resources such as video tutorials.
- A guide to organizing mass sport events.
- Awards and campaigns at a European level.
Mercedes encouraged participants to take part in the many activities of the project such as the currently ongoing European Greenways Photo contest. She pointed out that all the work of the project is aimed at achieving a truly positive impact on the territory and to improve the competitiveness of SMEs along greenway routes. To achieve this the involvement of stakeholders and public and private cooperation is a must!
Full information about the project at: www.aevv-egwa.org
Measuring points along the Vennbahn. Gudrun Hunold (from the Ministry of the German-speaking Community of Belgium).
Gudrun Hunold talked about the network of counters installed along the Vennbahn to monitor basic user information (total number of users, directions and flows, seasonality, etc.) in order to optimize trail operations and maintenance, and to assess the effectiveness of the investment made (infrastructure, marketing, etc.). The observatory started in June 2014 and has cost just 1% of the initial cost of the infrastructure.
Thanks to this observatory it is possible to know the total number of users, which reached 354,301 in 2015, as well as some unexpected data, such as the peaks of users on national holidays in Germany (3/10) and in Belgium (21/07). The peaks on 3/10 and 22/07 seem to reflect a one-day trip for the Germans while for the Belgians it’s a trip with an overnight stay.
Hunold provided technical details and an evaluation of the system. The next step is to compare this number of users figure with other data (increase in overnight stays, user statistics on the website www.vennbahn.eu), identifying trends and seasonality and completing the quantitative data available with more qualitative data collection. One very important figure to emerge from this data collection exercise is that the occupancy rate of hotels and similar establishments in the region has increased by 20% since the start of the Vennbahn.
Marketing and Communication, Top 10 tips, Product Development Vennbahn: D. Heck, C. Hendrich (TAO) Product developer. Tourismusagentur Ostbelgien. (Belgium).
Christoph Hendrich provided a practical presentation on Top 10 tips for marketing and communication and how they have applied them to develop the Vennbahn product into the very successful and well established tourism product that we know today.
The Vennbahn uses the abandoned railway line that once connected Aachen in Germany with Nord Luxembourg through Belgium, connecting three countries in a 125 km long greenway.
Referring to the essential requirements of any greenway (natural, cultural, infrastructure) and the attractiveness of the territory, Christoph presented the keys to creating a successful product that ticks all the boxes: brand image, meeting users’ expectations, ensuring sustainable quality, participating in trade fairs, maintaining close contact with the press, running specific marketing campaigns, engaging social media, placing customers at the heart of your marketing, and becoming mobile responsive.
Find out more details on the 10 ten tips in the presentation; they contain very useful recommendations on marketing for all those interested in setting up new itineraries, whatever the country.
The RAVel: a basic tool for the development of tourism by bike in Wallonia. G. Perrin (International Advisor, Chemins du Rail)
Gilbert Perrin presented the example of Wallonia, where the transformation of the infrastructure over the last 20 years has enabled a dense network of greenways to be created. Initially oriented towards local and regional mobility, the development of the network has been the key to the more recent development of the tourism by bike concept.
Perrin used figures to show the major transformation of disused railways into greenways to date: in 1985 there were 13 greenways totalling around 80 km; in 2016, 700 km have been converted into greenways, to which must be added a further 700 km of towpaths and 250 km of on road connections, totalling 1650 km of greenways network.
This dense and highly connected network has enabled Wallonia to make great progress in the creation of international long-distance routes, among which are the Vennbahn and the recently inaugurated Meuse en Vélo, which are moving towards becoming a EuroVelo route.
The new website http://ravel.wallonie.be/home.html and specific brochures regarding Wallonie Cyclable reflect the interest in promoting greenways for tourism. Cycle tourism on greenways is highly recommended as a way to get to know the appeal of Wallonia!
The development of the RAVeL network has been possible thanks to the cooperation of many stakeholders, and the Walloon region has benefited from the valuable collaboration of the Association Chemins du Rail in all this process, especially in defining itineraries, signage systems, and promotion.
Creation of a cycle package : Jan-Pieter Weijers, tour operator (fietsrelax.nl)
The very experienced tour operator in promotion, marketing, and product development, Jan-Pieter Weijers, presented the development of Cycling Tours with specific examples of 3 cross-border trips including the Vennbahn, each offering the chance to visit three, four or five countries.
Weijers detailed the 10 steps to set up a Cycling Tour, starting with the idea and ending up with a complete guide for the proposed cycle tour.
Jan-Pieter finished his presentation with some very practical closing remarks for creators of new product routes, highlighting the key points to take into account for trip organizers and customers, such as contracts, bike hire, luggage transport, services, etc. A very useful presentation to guide new developers in the creation of new tourism packages.
Technical visit to the Vennbahn
The afternoon was the time allocated for the technical visit by e-bike to the award-winning cross-border greenway Vennbahn, running from Bütgenbach to Leykaul (18.6 km).
An important part of the Greenways Outdoor project is sharing best practices and letting new stakeholders who become involved in greenways know the importance of the greenway structure itself in creating a successful greenway tourism product and the economic impact it can have on the territory through which it runs.
The visit started at Bütgenbach, the venue of the workshop, with the visitors riding e-bikes. A briefing on the section of the route to be visited was first provided by Christoph Hendrich from TOB. Later, in the field, we had the great opportunity to hear on site the explanations of the well informed and experienced Gilbert Perrin, promoter of the Vennbahn.
Gilbert’s explanations included details of signage (direction, distance to cities, and information about the infrastructure itself), the design chosen to ensure the safety of greenways users (treatment of crossing points between greenways and motorized routes). The horizontal and vertical signage included different coloured surfaces and ‘chicanes’ before arriving at crossing points to force bike riders to slow down, in coordination with signs and traffic lights on motorized routes obliging car drivers to reduce their speed.
Distances to towns and cities are very clearly marked; the panels include valuable information about the services along the route, especially restaurants and accommodation, distances to services, and phone numbers to help cyclist to book en route. The visit ended at Leykaul where a coffee break was scheduled in an old railway coach, giving time for an exchange of views.
Inauguration of the “Gilbert Perrin” bridge (*)
The visit of the European greenways partners was the occasion chosen by the German Community, through the Minister of Tourism, Ms Isabelle Weykmans, the Tourismusagentur Ostbelgien (East Belgium Tour Agency) and the Belgian communes crossed by the Vennbahn, to recognize the tireless work and involvement of one of the people who have most contributed to the Vennbahn project from the very beginning, Gilbert Perrin.
They thanked him in a very special way, by inaugurating a bridge named after him near the Lommersweiler tunnel on RAVeL line 47 to Saint-Vith/Sankt-Vith.
All the Greenways Outdoor participants were very pleased to share this very special inauguration, and to hear the Minister of Tourism, Ms Isabelle Weykmans, express her commitment to the greenways network and the European Greenways Association.
After this touching act, a celebratory drink was offered at the Hotel Wisonbrona at Wiesenbach.
The RAVeL, as greenways are called in Wallonia, has experienced an impressive development in Wallonia in general and in Eastern Belgium in particular. The Vennbahn and all the resulting infrastructure forms an important part of the success of the greenways network in Wallonia that has been possible thanks to the contribution of many partners. The ambitious investment plan for the Walloon region gives us reason to be very optimistic for the future.
(*) Gilbert is a technical advisor from Chemins du Rail, a member of the European Greenways Association (EGWA) executive committee, co-founder and previous President of the European Association.
Part of the team in the bridge “Gilber Perrin”,
on the way to Trois Vierges (Luxemburg) – 21st May
In conclusion, overall a very positive experience.
This was a very successful and attractive programme, combining workshop, technical visit and press trip. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn how to attract new clients and get to know the award-winning cross-border greenway, Vennbahn!
For a number of the partners – VTA, FFE, and EGWA – who had the opportunity to complete the trip by bike from Aachen (Germany) to Bütgenbach, arriving at Trois Vierges in Luxembourg, the experience was especially gratifying. This chosen mode of transport enabled us to acquire an even deeper knowledge of the Vennbahn product and to strengthen cooperation among team partners.