Sentiers Plaisir®: a welcome that's catching on
It was against a backdrop of sluggish economic growth that an idea germinated between Vosges and Alsace over thirty years ago. The idea was to call on the valley’s residents to help revitalise tourism and provide a better welcome. From the birth of the project to its roll-out across the region, here’s a look back at this collective, intergenerational initiative that is still unanimously acclaimed by visitors and locals alike.
The idea for Sentiers Plaisir® was born in 1989 from the realisation that the Bruche valley lacked a real culture of hospitality. The inhabitants, although very attached to their region, were not proud to be part of it and were not its ambassadors. The valley, deserted by the textile industry, is losing its economic appeal and, in the eyes of its inhabitants, its appeal. So how can we restore the confidence and pride of local people who are waiting for a providential industry to come and “save” them and give them a glimpse of a better future? After years of almost a single flourishing industry, the prospect of an alternative based on the development of “green tourism” is seen as a palliative in an area that is truly “depressed” about its future…
Taking control of its destiny
A new political awareness was born and with the first major decentralisation plans came the opportunity for the valley to take control of its own destiny. An inter-municipal development body was created in 1988 through a SIVOM, whose strategic orientations were based on: reusing industrial wasteland, reclaiming landscapes abandoned by agri- culture and integrated tourism. The fact remains, however, that nothing can be achieved without the people who live here. Renewing pride in belonging to this valley, asserting it and cultivating a genuine culture of welcome: that is the stated ambition. The mountains and the hiking culture so deeply rooted in the Vosges massif offer an opportunity. It’s an area of immense natural and cultural wealth! The idea was born: who better than anyone else could, during a walk, introduce people to a region, its heritage and know-how, and share their passions and favourite subjects? The time had come to give the local people a voice. The Tourist Office is launching its first appeal to the valley’s residents. Long before the concept of Greeters was born in New York and crossed the Atlantic, the first edition of the “Bruchois Greeters”, organised by the Tourist Office and called “Sen- tiers Plaisir” ®, was launched in the summer of 1989. There were already forty-three outings and twenty-three volunteer leaders.
Immersive and human experiences
Promote encounters between local residents and visitors, and share knowledge from local collective memory and associations as you walk. Open up the programme to all audiences. Breaking away from the traditional label of guided tour and offering simple encounters with those who bring the area to life. These are truly immersive, human experiences where, in an informal and generous exchange, you share a slice of life, customs and local particularities, and reclaim your territory through the eyes of others. The concept is simple for volunteers and visitors alike. A date, a meeting point, a leader, a theme, a schedule defined for the summer period, which can be consulted in advance and which allows the public to make their own choice of outings, and participation without any obligation to register or pay. A strong commitment: all walks are honoured regardless of the number of participants, unless weather conditions dictate otherwise.
After several attempts to find the most practical option, the sentiers plaisir® editions have evolved from a handful of leaflets into a comprehensive, practical programme booklet with two entries: by theme, with a summary presentation of the walks throughout the booklet, or by date in a central calendar. The detailed programme is available to the public in hard copy or as a downloadable version. Simple and sober, the brochure’s aim is to promote the initiative in a way that stands out from the usual glossy tourist material. It is not immediately obvious, but aims to arouse curiosity… with coloured paper and a cut-out that makes it a distinctive, pleasant-to-the-touch, high-quality object that people want to keep. In fact, the annual edition makes it a collector’s item that many loyal customers collect year after year. The colourful booklet and the Sentiers Plaisir® name (which has been registered) have become essential promotional and communication tools for the Bruche Valley.
100 outings, 60 leaders, 40 themes
Maintaining the momentum of the programme on an ongoing basis, enriching it each year with new outings and new themes, anticipating the generational shift among volunteers, preventing the programme from becoming obsolete and incorporating topics in tune with societal developments. Putting the project on a long-term footing meant embracing all these factors. Over the years, the tourist office has continually identified new ‘ambassadors’, with others joining the movement by word of mouth or volunteering to take part in the ‘Sentiers Plaisir’ outings as visitors. Initially, the programme was limited to conventional subjects such as history, nature and heritage. Over the decades, the programme has been expanded to include new, up-to-the-minute themes such as “fa- mille”, “well-being” and “eco-hiking”. Some thirty years later, the calendar shows 109 outings from mid-June to September and sixty volunteer leaders working on around forty different themes throughout the summer.
Environmental commitment and recognition
By joining the Acteurs du Tourisme Durable network in 2022, the tourist office has perpetuated its commitment to working towards a virtuous and more humane form of tourism.
Encouraging car-pooling between participants was a choice from the outset. Encouraging eco-mobility became a necessity and an obvious choice, especially as the Bruche valley is the only valley in Alsace served by a railway line (Strasbourg – Saint-Dié – Epinal). As a result, a reorganisation has been put in place to adjust, as far as possible, the departures of the outings to the arrival times of one of the stations on the line, thus encouraging the local public to re-join the outings by public transport. By joining the Acteurs du Tourisme Durable (Sustainable Tourism Players) network in 2022, the Tourist Office has made its commitment to working towards a virtuous and more humane form of tourism permanent. The jury of the Acteurs du Tourisme Durable recognised this long-term work by awarding it the Trophée Horizons for “Les Sentiers Plaisir”® in 2022, in recognition of its local roots. This award recognises “initiatives aimed at fostering the visitor-visited link and anchoring tourism in the local ecosystem. For example: encouraging sharing and the non-market relationship between tourists and local residents, taking into account and involving local residents in the tourism offer, and promoting civic initiatives”. This distinction goes to the 60 partners who, for one or more outings during the summer, have been accompanying the walks throughout the year, some for thirty years, others for a short time. We’re sure that this recognition will help to ensure the continuity of this initiative, which fosters conviviality between the organisers, particularly through an annual meal. A real family meal, it’s a pleasure to get together to catch up on news, discuss the year’s successes and the improvements that need to be made.
Plaisir®, thirty-four years later
Keeping this adventure alive for over thirty years is a real challenge. In 2023, the momentum has not run out. The logbook is full! The youngest presenter, Tom, is celebrating his 13th birthday, while ‘old hands’ Henri and Hubert are proudly in their 80s, and between them have taken part in thirty-three events without interruption since the beginning. The desire to share and the passion are still there. This unconditional commitment is the This unconditional commitment is the driving force behind the “Sentiers Plaisir”® and reinforces the decision of the Bruche Valley tourism industry to put local people at the heart of the tourist offer. What could still be improved? That accommodation providers appreciate even more the opportunity represented by this offer, which is unique of its kind in terms of its longevity, the simplicity of the concept and the commitment of the local people. Many visitors come from far and wide to take part, while others from the region faithfully return year after year to try their hand at a new outing or a different theme. All are unanimous in the pleasure they take in these simple, unpretentious encounters, which are the essence of the trip…
Sentiers Plaisir® (Pleasure Trails) in line with the Bruche Valley tourism strategy
Encouraging ecomobility has become an obvious necessity, especially as the Bruche valley is the only valley in Alsace served by a railway line.
Initiated at the end of the 1980s, the tourism development policy pursued jointly by the region’s elected representatives and professionals led, in particular, to the creation of a tourist office for the Bruche valley in 2003, well before the NOTRe law required it to do so. Several years of concerted action have resulted in public and private initiatives to enhance the tourism offering, develop new services, create events and activities, and promote and market the region. In 2018, it seems an opportune moment to step back and take a look at the coherence of our actions, their strengths and weaknesses, and their vulnerabilities. This “freeze frame” on the tourism positioning of the Bruche Valley “destination” is essential in a particularly competitive tourism market, which is undergoing profound changes linked to changes in tourist consumption patterns and the impact of climate change. Beyond a simple objective analysis, the challenge is to question the role of tourism players and, beyond all the stakeholders in the regional project, to mobilise all the public and private players around a collective project, a shared ambition. A few months later, with the help of a specialist consultancy, we came up with a four-pronged tourism strategy for 2028, which the Tourist Office has fully embraced: making our valley a car-free destination that makes soft mobility and “slow tourism” a priority; drawing on the roots of our history and reconnecting with nature in a humble way; maintaining and sharing the pride of belonging to this valley and cultivating the “art of the encounter” that gives travel its full meaning; building a more agile and resilient tourism industry, capable of re-enchanting itself.
This roadmap has proved to be visionary in the light of the upheavals and accelerations resulting from the global crisis of 2020.
Even in our wildest dreams, we could not have imagined the extent to which the pandemic would revolutionise not only our lives, our economy and our way of working, but also our way of understanding the world, our social relations and, in particular, our way of travelling… The health crisis has accentuated the need for meaningful and ethical tourism, tourism that includes and involves all the members of the tourism ecosystem. It has given as many people as possible the opportunity to question their relationship with others, with the region they visit, with life, with the economy and with travel. By highlighting our vulnerability and halting the frantic pace of the global economy, mankind has become aware of its intrinsic values and has decided to return to essential values, simple values, values of exchange and sharing. The development of short circuits and local tourism in particular demonstrate this reality. The need to return to our values, our history and our roots can also be seen in the surge in heritage tourism. The search for authenticity is becoming a quest for travellers. They want the real thing, real people and real stories about the area. They are looking for encounters with local people, as Alexandra David Néel, the great traveller and first European woman to visit the Forbidden City of Lhasa in Tibet, put it. She wrote: “Travelling without meeting others is not travelling, it’s moving”.
Editor: ANNE-CATHERINE OSTERTAG / Director of the Bruche Valley Community of Communes Tourist Office – ESPACES MAGAZINE – May-June 2023 –
Photo credits/graphics: © OTVB / Stéphane SPACH – atelierfika.fr