Co-Designing Future Places

This panel discussion explored how local communities and visitors can become the architects of a destination's destiny by using co-design processes.

Explore how destinations around the world are using co-design, a collaborative approach, to shape the future of tourism. It highlights success stories from three organisations: Visit Skåne, Vamvakou Revival, and Touristship.

Explore how destinations around the world are using co-design, a collaborative approach, to shape the future of tourism. It highlights success stories from three organisations: Visit Skåne, Vamvakou Revival, and Touristship.

In this panel discussion representatives from Visit Skåne in Sweden, Vamvakou Revival in Greece and Touristship in Japan, discussed how local communities and visitors can become the architects of a destination's destiny by using co-design processes. Using design thinking as a strategic approach has enabled these organisations to generate significant impact, even with limited resources.

Visit Skåne's Strategy

Heléne Östberg, Director of Brand and Innovation at Visit Skåne, talked about how tourism brings employment, economic growth and tax revenues to fund public services, but also presents challenges. The rebranding from 'Tourism in Skåne' to 'Visit Skåne' reflects a shift towards a more sustainable outlook for the destination. Initially focused on a volume-based approach to attracting international visitors and a desire to become the most visited region in Sweden, Visit Skåne recognised the need for balance in 2019. Visit Skåne acknowledged that while tourism benefits society, it can also create problems, with the DMO seeking a more proactive approach to ensure tourism benefits the local community.

Projects in tourism are typically one-off initiatives and are centred around achieving concrete results; however, it can often take years to find the desired solution. This presents a challenge when attempting to obtain external funding, where the results-oriented nature can act as a barrier. Consequently, Visit Skåne uses its own resources to design solutions and then finds funding to implement it.

Recognising the need for the DMO to take the lead in driving innovation to spark change, Visit Skåne embraced design thinking as a core principle for their 'Where Tourism Matters' strategy. This human-centred approach prioritises understanding people's habits, analysing challenges and tackling them individually. This process involves a strong focus on community involvement, co-creating solutions, developing prototypes and testing ideas iteratively. While slower than traditional innovation methods, design thinking ensures solutions truly address user needs and create lasting impact through the inclusion of diverse perspectives.

Smart Nature 2.0 - Uncrowded

Visit Skåne is strongly committed to ensuring sustainable tourism, with a focus on demonstrating their dedication to long-term solutions. For example, the DMO's Mission Footprints project is just one example of how design thinking is used to influence more responsible visitor behaviour.

While 75-80% of visitors to Skåne are Swedish, a surge in domestic tourism during the pandemic, particularly for outdoor activities, revealed limitations in the destination's infrastructure, notably limited parking spaces resulting in congestion on small rural roads. This 'pressure test' highlighted the need for improvement, which a co-design approach helped address through engaging with local communities and visitors.

Improving visitor flow management was seen as essential to addressing this challenge, requiring the creation of a smart city solution in nature. Visit Skåne built a community and asked people to test solutions, ultimately coming to the realisation that visitors want access to real-time data instead of being required to reserve a ticket to visit natural locations.

The result is the 'Uncrowded Initiative', which leverages technology to provide real-time data on car parking availability at popular nature destinations. This empowers visitors to make informed choices, contributing to a more balanced distribution of visitor flow and a reduction in peak-season congestion. While the technique of live and predictive analytics is not new, famously used by Google to display popular times at businesses and attractions, the purpose of such tools isn't always clearly explained to visitors and requires patience to achieve the desired outcomes.

Different communication strategies, such as using memes help to trial variations of messages and gauge public reaction to this new innovative digital approach to visitor management.

Vamvakou Revival's Holistic Destination Development

Established in 2018 with a vision to revitalise the village of Vamvakou in Sparta, in the Greek region of Peloponnese, Vamvakou Revival takes a holistic approach. Its primary goals are to attract new residents and create sustainable job opportunities.

Haris Vasilakos, Events & Programming Manager, and Eleni Mami, Marketing Manager, both co-founders of Vamvakou Revival, highlighted how the project began by welcoming visitors to participate in recreational activities before expanding to focus on facilitating entrepreneurship. Vamvakou now offers a range of amenities, including two hotels, a restaurant, organised activities, a trail network and cultural and educational programmes. The village has also established a unique tech space called V.Lab that doubles as a robotics school to learn about programming, artificial intelligence, mechanics, mathematics, natural sciences and the study of human behaviour.

Vamvakou Revival has also implemented other initiatives to rebuild the local economy, with its flagship events being the Vamvakou Experience Festival which attracted an impressive 2,000 visitors in 2023! In total, the village now welcomes over 15,000 tourists annually, predominantly domestic tourists.

Vamvakou as an Innovation Hub

Vamvakou Revival's vision extends beyond a focus on encouraging increased tourism. It aims to revitalise the village economy through collaborative action, entrepreneurship and community engagement. A key pillar of this strategy is fostering Vamvakou as an innovation hub.

Vamvakou Revival established a business incubator to nurture local startups in the fields of agrifood, tourism, culture and innovation/technology. This ambitious initiative supports five businesses within Vamvakou itself and an additional five across the wider Peloponnese region. While not offering direct financial aid, the incubator provides invaluable support through mentorship, networking opportunities, workshops and office space.

The ultimate goal is to create a thriving local cluster of businesses. This could involve enterprises promoting local products, developing scientific and educational tourism experiences or offering unique gastronomic activities. Vamvakou Revival recognises tourism as just one facet of the village's revival. Their focus is on building a sustainable and enriching community that offers long-term opportunities for its residents.

The resident population of Vamvakou has grown steadily, increasing from 9 to 30 since the launch of the initiative. The project incentivises relocation by welcoming digital nomads, further enriching the village's character. Additionally, Vamvakou Revival has created 22 new job opportunities, providing much-needed employment for local residents.

The collaboration with prestigious educational institutions like UCLA and NYU through residency programmes highlights the project's commitment to attracting a diverse and engaged population to Vamvakou.

Touristship Connecting Tourists and Locals

Chieko Tanaka, Representative Director at Touristship, outlined how overcrowding and the resulting 'tourism phobia' pose major challenges for destinations. Inspired by the concept of sportsmanship, Touristship was established in 2019 to better enable tourists to become aware of their impact on destinations and change their behaviours, with the organisation's board including the former secretary of the Japanese Ministry of Tourism.

Touristship recognises that unsustainable tourist behaviour threatens the very experience travellers seek. However, traditional outreach methods face hurdles. The diverse travel patterns of tourists across multiple destinations make geographically targeted campaigns difficult. Secondly, lax regulations can lead to a lack of visitor interest in messages delivered at a micro level. This underscores the need for Touristship's innovative approach, which is focused on facilitating cross-cultural exchanges.

The Concept of Contribution

Touristship emphasises the importance of residents at the centre of destinations. Encouraging tourists to consider, contribute and communicate with residents is central to fostering a caring atmosphere and mutual exchange:

  • Consideration: Researching the culture, the people and the environment of the destination to make it easier for tourists to act sustainably.
  • Contribution: This involves supporting local businesses.
  • Communication: This is about visitors and locals interacting with each other and local communities being encouraged to be a hospitable and welcoming host.

These three aspects focus on fostering understanding between tourists and locals, promoting a sense of shared responsibility. Research is central to Touristship's work, immersing themselves across Japanese destinations to understand the local context and the specific challenges faced by different regions. This approach is crucial for ensuring sustainable travel and preserving the cultural richness that attracts visitors in the first place.

Touristship aims to not only have a positive impact on the economy, but also to foster an environment where travel augments the exchange of perspectives and sparks an interest in understanding tourist behaviour. Touristship follows three pillars in its efforts to achieve more harmonious interactions:

  • Collaboration with DMOs and Local Governments: Ensuring alignment between tourism initiatives and local needs.
  • Direct Interaction with Tourists: Engaging visitors and raising awareness on responsible behaviour.
  • Widespread Outreach: Broadening the conversation about responsible tourism through various channels, including talks and workshops.

Leveraging Co-Design

Visit Skåne, Vamvakou Revival and Touristship all emphasised the importance of direct engagement to get a complete picture of local sentiment concerning tourism and to develop solutions to the challenges identified. Visit Skåne specifically highlighted the limitations of surveys, arguing that true understanding comes from in-person interaction. This shift in mindset is crucial to successfully addressing user needs and overcoming challenges.

Vamvakou Revival echoed this sentiment, stressing the value of daily communication with locals and visitors to discuss their needs and priorities. Touristship's experience further exemplifies this approach. By talking directly to tourists and locals, they discovered a disconnect between the desire for sustainability and the perceived complexity of the term. This insight led them to focus on making sustainability fun and enjoyable, a strategy more likely to resonate with their audience.

These combined perspectives demonstrate the power of co-design in transforming tourism for the better. By including real people throughout the innovation process, from design to implementation, DMOs and businesses can move beyond assumptions and develop solutions that truly address user needs and preferences.

Key Takeaways

  1. Embrace Innovation for Competitive Advantage: Innovation is key to solving challenges and creating a competitive edge. Explore new technologies and approaches to enhance visitor experiences and address local concerns.
  1. Champion Sustainable Tourism Practices: Prioritise responsible tourism for long-term success and resident well-being. Extensive research should inform the development of solutions that address the most pressing destination challenges, such as overcrowding or tourism's environmental impact.
  1. Craft Tourism Strategies with User Input: Engage directly with locals and visitors through face-to-face interactions to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and priorities. This user-centric approach ensures alignment in the destination vision and fosters a collaborative environment.
  1. Prototyping and Testing is Essential: Actively interact with local residents, businesses and visitors when determining how to solve a specific challenge. Including diverse stakeholders in the decision-making process and developing a solution fosters a sense of shared ownership, where everyone is invested in ensuring a successful outcome.
  1. Use Appropriate Terminology: Technical terms, such as sustainability, can be easily misunderstood by audiences. There is a need to experiment with different message variations to understand what resonates best with audiences and actively influences visitors to behave more responsibly.
Published on:
May 2024
About the contributor

Heléne Östberg

Heléne Östberg worked as a marketing manager for seven years with the goal of attracting as many international visitors as possible to the Skåne region in southern Sweden. But in 2019, a new strategy was developed, and in 2020, the destination's new vision was launched: Skåne - Where tourism matters.

Eleni Mami

She is Co-founder and Communication & Marketing Director of Vamvakou Revival. Her professional experience includes administrative consultancy, PR, marketing, digital media and communication.

Haris Vasilakos

He is the Co-founder and Events & Programming Manager of Vamvakou Revival and is responsible for the Touristic pillar development. Before joining Vamvakou Revival in 2018, he worked as a tutor, philologist, radio producer and writer of 3 books. 

Chieko Tanaka

As the Representative Director of the General Incorporated Association of Touristship, Chieko is focusing on the development of the destination's "Touristship". This is a keyword for the DMO which, similar to sportsmanship, refers to how tourism also has a spirit and behaviour (= touristship) that everyone involved should cherish.