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Wonderful Outdoors Wallonia
Start date: Jun 1, 2015, End date: May 31, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

WONDERFUL OUTDOORS WALLONIA - WOW Context / Background Successive reports into UK tourism and hospitality provision consistently highlight a requirement for better skills development and training opportunities specifically designed for public and private sector staff and micro/SME business in a fragmented and difficult to reach industry. There are significant challenges involved with engaging and recruiting individual public and private sector tourism professionals from across the country for a VET Staff Training opportunity. The requirement to take seven days out of the workplace is quite tricky, as are budget constraints in the post-recession financial climate. A concentrated programme for like-minded professionals that combines meetings, presentations, visits and strong core themes is essential to attracts participants in the first place. Developed to appeal to this target audience, the study visit took the theme of outdoor activities for two reasons. Tourism trend forecasts identify a desire for new experiences and a move away from perceived sedentary lifestyles, where people push themselves to seek an adventure in their leisure time. Demographic trends meanwhile show 'younger' active seniors and the increasing prevalence of grandparents in family groups. Objective This project sought to better equip UK tourism businesses with the skills to prepare for the aforementioned lifestyle and demographic trends and to experience first-hand, learning opportunities linking outdoor activities and nature with a strong, authentic, 'sense of place'. The participants were invited to join a study opportunity of how Wallonia developed its visitor offer through capitalising on natural landscapes with a focus on the provision of outdoor activities - infrastructure as well as business investment. Participants We recruited 18 participants from an initial application process facilitated through tourism organisations and networks like Love Loch Lomond, the Tourism Society, Tourism Management Institute, Tourism South East, Wales Association of activity providers and Cornwall sustainable tourism network.The target groups were tourism and hospitality professionals working within the public, private and not for profit sectors. These ranged from National Park and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty tourism network coordinators to small business operators with an interest in the provision of outdoor activities and nature based tourism. Activities Participating organisations were able to exchange best practice and to share examples, both in formal learning sessions and informal networking during visits and activities. Through group working sessions and networking opportunities they explored links between outdoor activities and 'Sense of Place' which collectively add to the visitor experience. They explored areas of commonality, exchanged ideas, problems and solutions and debated the relative merits of each in order to preserve authenticity, rather than simply copying a successful idea that cannot be sustained over time. As well as a balanced programme of visits and 'have a go' activity sessions, the programme included a seminar of presentations from invited Belgian and UK speakers, with appropriate networking opportunities. Results and impact The mix of public sector destination network co-ordinators and micro/SMEs benefited from the acquired shared knowledge that leads to enhanced customer experiences. Individual beneficiaries had the opportunity for short term targeted learning and exposure to best practice (from the visit and from each other) and collectively they have gained confidence to form clusters that can sustain outdoor activities within a defined destination. A key output of the study visit was to prepare case studies. Based on one of three core themes, these are designed to engage and challenge the participants, become a valuable reference source for them back in their workplace, provide the host organisation with different perspectives and to be a source of relevant and up to date teaching materials for academic institutions, and professional organisations like the Tourism Management Institute and Tourism Society. A "Mystery Shopping" exercise provided useful qualitative research for the host partner, and prompted study-tour participants to use their experiences - gained from the exercise - to reassess their own place of work through fresh eyes. Long-term impact As participant networks develop and put their learning into practice, this project will contribute to strengthening the competitiveness of the European tourism industry as a whole.
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