Free Your Mind conference in the Netherlands!
On the 3rd of May, over 30 tourism practitioners and experts met at the Free Your Mind conference, the closing of the Spirit Youth project. Held at the beautiful Abbey Rolduc in the Netherlands, the conference offered the chance to discuss the sustainability of the results of the project, the European market for youth spiritual tourism market and how the project can help others gain access to the market, and allowed users to try spiritual activities for themselves within the walls of the Abbey.
The Spirit Youth project aimed to stimulate mobility of young travellers within Europe who are particularly interested in visiting cultural, historical, sustainable destinations; destinations that we believe have a spiritual element about them. The project trialled three regions – Prato, Monserrat and South Limburg – providing young people with spiritual activities, in order to create a spiritual itinerary and set of best practices and recommendations for other organisations looking to enter the spiritual tourism market.
The event began with introductions from our host, the Director of Abbey Rolduc Harrie Van Beers, and the Mayor of Kerkrade J.J.M Som. They welcomed us to the Abbey, explained the history of the Abbey and why it was such a fitting venue for a spiritual project: the Rolduc Abbey is one of the most important and inspiring in all of the Netherlands. After this, two special messages were delivered by Claudia Tapardel and Secretary General of the UNWTO Taleb Rifai, who spoke about how culture and spirituality can build bridges between Europeans and how the success of the project and its sustainability can help transform young Europeans into a new generation of ambassadors for a better Europe.
The morning of the conference focused on the sustainability of the project: how the lessons that have been learnt and the products already created can be shared more widely and remain available for those who wish to partake in spiritual activities as tourists, as well as market other spiritual destinations. A lively debate was chaired by Tim Fairhurst of the European Tourism Association with our panellists, including Maddi Brugali, of Itinari, Christof Kienel of the European Commission of the Regions, Manuela Bolchini of Equotube and Elena Berti of the European Institute for Cultural Routes, all presenting possibilities and opinions on how the project could best sustain its success in developing a marketable product.
We also experienced for ourselves one of the spiritual activities that was on offer in South Limburg: a workshop on the spiritual, mental, natural and religious aspects of travel, run by Hanneke Mouw, of Mind and Body Experiences. This was similar to the Barefoot Park experience the pilot testers undertook, and allowed the attendees to get in touch with their spiritual side and tap into the energy of the Abbey!
After lunch, we returned to business! A B2B networking session was organised, in order to help build ties between the regions and different organisations and take advantage of the representation at the conference of important regional tourism players. This took the form of a ‘speed dating’ session, in which participants moved from table to table, presenting their business and forming ideas for collaboration and developing potential links with similar organisations from other countries. This was a really successful session, and we could tell from the animated conversations and reluctance to finish that those in attendance really enjoyed the opportunity to meet one another and exchange ideas.
At the end of the B2B session, Harry Trimbos of the South Limburg Tourism Board brought everyone together to reflect on the results of the day and how we would use the discussions to develop our sustainability strategy. Thank you to everyone who came and contributed, and the Rolduc Abbey for hosting us!