"The tourist offer should be extended to the cities of Kortrijk and Lille”
Eva Demeulemeester is the new director of the Tourist Office of Tournai. This resident of Lauwe, who is also a true Eurometropolitan, was selected among more than thirty candidates. After having dedicated herself to the promotion of the Flemish subregion of the Eurometropolis (in Avelgem, Spiere-Helkijn, Zwevegem, Deerlijk and Anzegem), she sailed up the river Scheldt to settle down in the city with the five bell towers. An interview.
You are originally from Lauwe and are now in charge of the tourist office of Tournai. Why have you chosen to come to Wallonie Picarde ?
It’s the tourism opportunities of the city of Tournai that appealed to me. I worked in the so-called rural tourism sector in the West-Vlaamse Scheldestreek region for twelve years. This is the region where the communes of Avelgem, Spiere-Helkijn, Zwevegem, Deerlijk and Anzegem are situated. These communes had joined forces to promote and develop the region. They are all situated along the river Scheldt, at some twenty kilometres from Tournai. We already had a close relationship with the city with the five bell towers. We organised walks and cycling tours starting from the visitors’ centre of Bossuit and we offered boat trips in the direction of Oudenaarde and Tournai. Organising excursions via inland waterways is a long-standing tradition.
The cooperation between the five communes came to an end, so I had to look for a new job. Being Flemish, I always tended to only look at the job offers on the website of VDAB. But my curiosity made me consult the website of Forem. That’s where I saw the job offer of the tourist office of Tournai. This proves that it is possible to find a job in another subregion of the Eurometropolis.
You said that you wanted to focus on long-stay tourism rather than on day trip tourism. How do you intend to do this?
Tournai is a small town with a rich heritage. We have the Notre-Dame cathedral. We have museums housing masterpieces that could be even more visited. Tourists visiting Tournai will spend one day there, but what will they do the next day? We have to cooperate with the neighbouring towns in order to develop a more extensive tourist offer.
When you are talking about an extension of the tourist offer, do you mean an extension on the scale of the Eurometropolis?
Certainly. The tourist offer should be extended to the cities of Kortrijk and Lille. Each of these three cities has its own heritage and culture, and that’s noticeable in the cities themselves. A city like Kortrijk is not large enough for an extensive city trip. Lille, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. Lille, Kortrijk and Tournai could complement each other’s tourist offer.
You advocate a type of tourism that makes both linguistic and territorial frontiers fade.
It is essential that we start approaching tourism differently. If we want tourists to stay longer than one day with a restricted offer, we have to work on a larger scale than our city alone. Last year, when I was working at Avelgem, I met twelve Australian tourists who were visiting Bossuit. I asked them how they had ended up in such a small village. (laughs) They were travelling with an agency offering city trips by boat from Amsterdam to Paris. The river Scheldt connects these two capitals. They were on their way from Amsterdam to Paris via Antwerpen and Gent, and were passing through Bossuit by chance. Tournai could be one of the stops in this kind of trips.
So you want to develop river tourism?
Yes. Australians coming from Amsterdam discovered the small village of Bossuit, which they had never heard of before. Tournai is situated on the axis that connects two capitals via rivers. It’s an idea that certainly deserves further consideration.
The intention is to double the number of tourists by 2025, the year in which the works on the cathedral will be completed. What are the elements that need strengthening in order to achieve this goal?
This objective is laid down in the strategic plan for tourism. It’s my job to achieve this goal. Firstly, we have to work on a high-quality offer. It’s true that works are being carried out at the cathedral, but that doesn’t means that visits are impossible. We can’t hide the fact that the building is being renovated. Some people may think that there is nothing to see while the works are being carried out.
In order to double the number of tourists, we also have to increase the quality of our museum offer, and we have to create a link between tourism and cultural events. I have found that the region has an extensive events calendar. No two weeks go by without some or other event taking place somewhere. Just last week, we had the accordion festival and the museum night, which drew large crowds. We haven’t yet succeeded in attracting visitors from outside Tournai. A tourist who had come to Tournai last weekend would have had a very enjoyable stay. It’s our job to promote the existing offer.
In terms of accommodation, we have a sufficient number of guest houses and B&Bs, but not enough hotel rooms. We also have a youth hostel that usually has a lot of guests. One of our goals is to increase the quantity and the quality of the rooms. Our main challenge is to strengthen the existing relationships and extend our tourist offer to a Eurometropolitan or even larger scale.