Culture is future » Territorial attractiveness and social cohesion


The encounter between visitors and locals

Towns and regions policies generally differ from each other, insofar as the former is aimed at residents, the latter, at tourists, a population which is by nature mobile and not stopping.

These policies are financed by public funds, therefore it comes as no surprise that residents are first served. After all, they are those who most contribute to the implementation of these policies, and local councillors are accountable to them.

As every form of segregation, such a division is not beneficial to economic or social vitality, however, there are tangible signs that things have started to change.

It is urgent to set up new strategies that take into account some of these ongoing mutations. 

When visitors connect with residents

Travelling as a life experience. Mass tourism, it is true, has a bright future, be it only for the first-time visitors from emerging countries. The Seeing Tour, ideally “all inclusive”, as come to be a standard. Yet amongst all other visitors (travelling on their own, with friends or family), it seems that there is a stronger demand for a real experience.   

Merging into local life. Beside the must-see monuments and emblematic highlights that feature in their visit planning, travellers show a growing interest for local history, the residents’ ways of life, habits and areas of interest.

In the 1990s, the Greeters launched in the United States the first program of town and country visits conducted by residents. A Greeter is a local that offer to show the visitors around their home city in connection with a subject that he knows well, and in most cases off the beaten path. By contrast with traditional guides, the Greeter may also have a drink with tourists and have an informal chat with them. It was such a big success that in France, one can record each month a new Greeters welcoming program.

In fact, nobody wants to be considered as a “Tourist”, as says the Bourgogne Travellers Office, which consider that this is a basic component : tourists are always in a hurry, so they cannot see deep and precious art or history objects you show to them. Just a glance, for them, it’s a pity... 

May I sleep on your couch tonight ? Along with the bed and breakfasts and the “ farm residence”, it is now possible to be hosted by locals at no charge, one night or more. Founded in 2004, the Couch Surfing is drastically changing the economic model of paying accommodation, as well as travel basics. The website claims a total of 3 965 492 subscribers from all over the world (including North Korea, Pakistan, Vatican and Antarctica).

Working more or less the same way as Facebook (to sign in, you have to enter your profile, pictures of your friends) and Ebay (if anything goes wrong, which only rarely happens, you are crossed off the lists), it is based principally on confidence, you are given the house keys upon arrival. By the way, 99,83% of guest visitors where satisfied, writing on the  web site,

 “« You get to see the world through local residents, not hotel concierges or guidebooks. But what is most profound about the whole experience is the trust that naturally exists  ». And hosts tell them« « “If we can’t go to the world, the world will come to us !».

Having the opportunity to meet residents at their home, to share their house and their favourite spots is a way of gaining admittance to their private, everyday life. As for hosts, they are enchanted by the experience : « “If we can’t go to the world, the world will come to us ».

Let’s celebrate!

In order to promote destinations, this Australian website makes 3500 suggestions based on real local residents’ experiences; its aim is to encourage people to have time in harmony with local life.

In Europe, European Capitals of Culture are well aware of the advantage of the festive dimension of the visit : “Lille 2004”, which soon will be followed by Marseille, banks on their festive traditions.

Creative Tourism. The first country to launch a promotion based exclusively on conviviality, as can be seen with Barcelona Movida, Spain now develops a new idea, that of Creative Tourism. This form of tourism, which is supported by admirable marketing strategies, consists in taking the trip as an opportunity to learn something, instead of XXX: tasting and identifying wine, creating jewels, creating videos, staging a play or organising cooking workshops. As with the Greeters, all these activities are obviously organised by locals, artists, craftsmanship or catering professionals [1].

On an ad hoc basis, major exhibitions or museums invite their visitors to actors, and  to spend enjoyable time with communities who share their taste.The big event “Biennale de Lyon” prepare the next event, asking in june for a September event a Young Hip Hop Battle.

Culture Basket in Nantes 

The city of Nantes proposes to his local community as well as to visitors a “panier culture”, made up of a range of activities proposed by real Nantais. After merging its culture department with the tourism department with the tourism, the city council has just created “le Voyage à Nantes”, a new brand under which it develops the visitor offer.

To conclude, the various forms of encounter with/between residents and visitors, feature several common points : they scatter boundaries and allow a kind of “cross-everything”for a visitor’s activities. These experiences are made possible by social networks, which lie at the core of the trip organisation and feedback.


Preparing the encounter between visitors and residents ?

Tourism is a constantly evolving business, yet in France, the industry is slow to respond to new approaches of travelling (it remains behind its direct competitors, for instance, in connecting with social networks). This gap can be explained by France’s position as number 1 in the tourism economy : as one might say, as long as things work out, why should we bother to change our strategy ?

Setting the framework of the encounter between tourists and visitors and taking specific action to make it possible means for a lot of professionals to revise their strategies, at least to prevent their business to be impacted in a negative way. Free accommodation and visits, for instance, may be detrimental to a whole range of bed and breakfasts and small-scale hotels.

Making the most of this need for encounter is also an exciting challenge, since all the stages of the trip (preparation/decision making/journey/stay) are concerned by this confidence-based alternative approach to traditional tourism. A co-creative tourism is appearing, where offers are jointly designed and organised by users and providers. Though it represents a minor part of the volume of activity, it should not be considered merely as a potential niche market or a transient fashion. It is more of a cutting-edge tendency, an indication that passive tourism no longer suits everybody, and that the younger and more inventive visitors are eventually bored with it and find it too dull.

This form of tourism is a complex one, and it is necessary, I think, to make the first move.  China, Brazil, India or other emerging countries are hosting millions of future visitors : it would be a sensible approach to prepare their welcoming in anticipating the growing demand for conviviality.


Evelyne Lehalle, Director NTC, Nouveau Tourisme Culturel


November 2012


[1] (OECD (2009),  The Impact of Culture on Tourism, OECD, Paris, French translation of  pp. 3-75, only available on Internet : et, pour Barcelone :