Wendland.Elbe: Sustainable, rural tourism is more than hiking & biking

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Wendland? Where’s that? And what’s so special about it? Since 2016, COMPASS has been entrusted with the task of answering this question and developing and communicating the recreational and experiential value of a unique, rural region in Germany. After 3 years of tourism marketing, which began with the strategic development and positioning of the destination brand “Wendland.Elbe – naturally creative” it can be summarized: the Wendland region appeals, arouses curiosity and those who have been here soon return.

Now what makes the region so interesting – from the guest’s point of view but also from the tourism experts’ point of view? Wendland is a rural region in the east of Lower Saxony, bordering Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania; far away from motorways and large cities, yet lively and at the pulse of time. The entire region does not have many, but all the more individual and creative inhabitants. Artists, alternatives, lateral thinkers and do-gooders have settled in this little corner of the world – among other things due to the anti-nuclear protests surrounding Gorleben.

Sustainable living and acting is not a trend here but for most it is a basic attitude. Combined with creativity, idealism and creative power, it creates the unique “Wendland feeling”, which is directly felt during a visit. And some visitors even stay forever leading to a growing influx from the big cities, which is absolutely unique for rural Germany.

The tourism potential of the Wendland region is enormous thanks to the natural and cultural offerings as well as the characters who live here. It meets the nerve of the growing target group of “ecologically interested people” in search of recreation in their own country. In some places, this already provides for extraordinary visitor experiences, such as a family-run Bio Hotel or a visit at an artist studio. There is also no shortage of more ideas, such as a regional dish at each restaurant with products from local organic farms.

Wendland.Elbe: Art & culture in a Rundlings village

The conditions for a sustainable, regional-typical tourism are perfect, however, just like in many other areas we encounter a typical difficulty in the Wendland region when it comes to the marketing of a region: the concrete, touristic experiences and products, which carry and constitute the regional and sustainable character of the destination, can rather be seen as lighthouses in the sea of the typical, rural tourism products such as cycling, hiking, nature recreation, etc.

This leads us to the key question: How can visitors experience the typical regional character of a destination without ultimately ending up marketing exchangeable rural holiday products again? The solution is as individual as the destinations themselves and the result of a process in which the following questions must be answered:

– What makes our destination special/different/unique? How can we position ourselves against the competition?

– What should visitors take with them, what should they remember after their stay?

The default tourism products and activities should of course not be abolished for this purpose, but a rethinking needs to take place in which cycling and hiking are no longer understood as main attractions, but as ”vehicles” to get to know the character of a destination – because cycling and hiking can be done (almost) anywhere. This is a MUST for sustainable tourism development!

We are happy to accompany this process for another 2 years and to put the region on the tourist map of rural Germany together with the counties, tourism experts and entrepreneurs in the Wendland region.

Author: Laura Selenz

I hold a M.A. (2015) in Tourism Development Strategies and a BBA (2012) in International Tourism Management and Consultancy. I have been working for Compass since 2013 and my consulting focus is on destination management, marketing and sustainable tourism. Contact: selenz@compass-cbs.de, tel. +49 (0)221 94339638.

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