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Analysis of the process of local agrifood products development and tourism in a rural area: a case study in the south of Belgium.


In the past thirty years, several projects were set up to develop tourism in such a way that it contributes to policies and strategies of development a rural area. The particular position occupied by tourism is due to the fact that this sector is considered capable of participating in cross-sectoral development patterns that favour the local economy, as well as the protection of heritage and the strengthening of regional identities. The role thus attributed to, or even imposed on, tourism is part of a political and economic context of changing the rural spaces seeking new forms of development, or alternatives to a declining agricultural economy. If this paradigm, which considers tourism as a strategic axis of development, is a recurring rhetoric in regions that have been left vulnerable by the decline of an agrarian economy, it is not limited exclusively to agricultural and rural areas. In fact, since these tourism strategies are fully part of territorial competition between cities or between rural communities, they regularly look for tourism development, which is thus perceived by many private and public sector economic players as the hope for these regions (Decroly & Duquesne, 1999). It is true that the development of tourist practices over the past three decades has encouraged many rural areas in Europe to focus on tourism in order to try to (re)energize their local economy. Indeed, according to several analysts, the main components of the current trends in tourism should be linked to the concept of authenticity that tourists notably associate with local culture, contact with nature, local produce, etc. All these elements seem encouraging for rural areas keen to diversify their development by means of tourism projects.

While, for the instance, there is abundant literature on alternative food systems, and on the stakes involved in a food-based shift to the local (Hinrichs, 2000; Mormont & Van Huylenbroeck, 2001; Renting et al., 2003; Ilbery et al., 2004). The research on the relationship between tourism and gastronomy is very recent when it comes to relations between the use of traditional regional products and the strategies that allow the creation of a sense of regional identity among local populations (Bell & Valentine, 1997; Bessiere, 1998; Paasi, 2001; Warnier & Rosselin, 1996), or the contribution of regional food products to regional development (Marsden et al., 2000; Kneafsey & Ilbery, 2001; Pecqueur, 2001; Parrott, et al. 2002; Meler & Cerovic, 2003).

This field has attracted little attention on the part of researchers, all the more so because tourism and gastronomy have only gradually attained the status of an academic research subject in their own right. It is nonetheless true that, over the past ten years, we have seen an increasing interest among scholars of "tourism studies" in food tourism. Among the studies conducted on local agrifood products (LAPs), some have to do with agriculture and their value for tourism. Emphasis is placed, for instance, on the role of tourism in participating in agricultural diversification, thus stressing the challenges specific to rural spaces such as: landscape management, strengthening local identities, and agricultural diversification (Bessiere, 1998; Roberts & Hall, 2001; Boniface, 2003; Woodland & Acott, 2007).

The consumption of local products during tourist visits also make it possible to respond to the quest for authenticity that tourists are after (Cuvelier et al., 1994; Cuvelier, 1994; Bessiere, 1998; Westering, 1999; Fox, 2007; Kim et al., 2009), as some authors stress, while numerous studies of tourism address the question of the uniqueness of a place, a uniqueness represented by symbols, or an atmosphere considered specific to the destination (Hall & Mitchell,, 2000; Frochot, 2003; Fox, 2007). Little work has, paradoxically, been done focusing specifically on the role of local food products, or of gastronomy more generally, in the construction of images and physical representations of a tourist destination. The limited scope of this type of academic research is all the more surprising since "discussion of the Troika of tourism, food, identity is surprisingly limitless given the extent to which food is used in destination and place promotion" (Hall & Mitchell, 2000; 2005; Frochot, 2003). Yet, certain authors have shown that the presence of gastronomic markers could help destinations "to increase the uniqueness of their identity and, thereby, position themselves more clearly in the eyes of customers and in comparison to other destinations" (Frochot, 2003). In addition, one rarely sees research projects on tourism that are interested in understanding why and how local agrifood-products are integrated into the local tourist network.


This article considers the question of the relationships between tourism in a rural area and the promotion of local agrifood products (LAPs). This research is intended to examine the role and position of LAPs that have been mobilized as resources for tourism development projects in rural areas, by means of a case study focusing on a territory in the south of Belgium. We approach this question by means of analysing and understanding the processes involved in the promotion of tourism. Using the concept of promotion for tourism, we aim to examine the role of the players involved in such campaigns, the conditions under which these are rolled out, as well as the resources and methods used. We will look closely at the analysis of various situations where campaigns and strategies are being developed for promoting LAPs for tourism purposes, concentrating more specifically on the analysis of the different stages in the promotion of two emblematic local products: the cheese and the syrup of the Pays de Herve (Herve region). Through this analysis, we seek in particular to understand how and why local agrifood-products come to be part of the local tourist scene. The task is also to identify the social, cultural and geographical attributes on which promotion for tourism relies, to understand the place of LAPs within these discursive strategies, and to measure the influence that these LAPs can have on elaborating representations of the territory as it is presented to tourists. More generally, the aim of the project is to understand how and under what conditions LAPs will become resources at the service of both tourism strategies and projects in rural areas.

A few methodological considerations

All the data gathered and discussed throughout the course of this article are the result of a research project which draws on the methods of qualitative analysis (Paille & Mucchielli, 2008). We have opted for an analysis by network. By this term we refer to practices, processes, and actors present at all stages of the promotion of LAPs for tourism purposes, from their invention to their sale, and including the consumption of the products by tourists themselves. Several players in the agrifood and tourist sectors were interviewed for this purpose (the interviews lasting between 45 minutes and 2 hours), using an approach that is in between free conversation and a structured questionnaire. These interviews were intended to obtain information on the perceptions, opinions, strategies, and conceptions of the various players involved in tourism projects in the Pays de Herve. The portion relating to the understanding of both the invention of LAPs and of tourism resources was supplemented by an analysis of the local and regional press as well as numerous documents on the local history and economy.

With regard the mediation stage, we focused on an analysing mediators discourse, identifying specifically the territorial, social, and historical attributes of the LAPs mobilised for this purpose. These analyses were also the fruit of many observations, travel to the various places where these regional products were being promoted, participating now and then, as tourists, in gatherings and festivities linked to the promotion of LAPs. The visits we took part in were privileged moments for observing the interaction between the tourists, the producers, and the LAPs. These qualitative data have also been subjected to a thematic analysis of its contents.

Regarding the sales stage, we focused our attention on analysing the tourist offices' promotional content in both its brochure and website (Maison de Tourisme) of the Pays de Herve. The brochure and the website, which are the main communication initiatives taken by the public authorities aimed at tourists, proudly occupy a place within the strategies adopted by those responsible for tourism promotion. Such tools of communication are indispensable today, and the vast majority of public tourist authorities publish, distribute brochures, and have a website. Given that the information contained in a brochure, or on a website, is the result of a series of technical and intellectual processes of selecting, organizing and integrating the presentation of textual and visual material intended to represent the destination being promoted, we have tried to identify both the essential components and ideological foundations on which their discursive strategies are based.

After having sought to identify and understand the socio-cultural and territorial attributes on which the process of tourism promotion relies, we look at the place and the influence of LAPs in these discursive strategies. Thereafter, we shall try to grasp the meaning given to the different iconographic representations found in the promotional material of the tourist office. The objective, then, is an exercise in constructing the meaning of the textual and visual information used in elaborating these representations of the tourist area through tourist brochures. Our task here is not to carry out quantitative analysis that consists, for example, of counting the number of occurrences of certain types of images, but rather to approach the question from a qualitative point of view that consists of identifying the discursive logic of the images in their multiplicity, the sequence in which they are presented, the themes and places represented by used images, any associations between the themes and images represented as well as the ideas they convey. Similarly, it is not a question of considering the body of images as an independent body, but of producing a clear analysis without losing track of the fact that the interpretation of images is only truly meaningful in comparison with the rest of the material being analysed: site visits, meetings with local players, analysis of tourism development strategies, tourist visits, etc.

After having transcribed, in full, the interviews conducted and having examined the data on tourist information, we have carried out a thematic analysis of the contents using the qualitative analytical software Nvivo8. We broke down each transcript according to the various answers, and then classified these into categories based on analogical groupings. The various themes that emerged in this way became, in turn so many units of complex meanings that pointed to the different social representations conveyed by the LAPs and their promotion for tourism purposes in the Herve region.

The 'Pays de Herve': a unique landscape in Wallonia

The Pays de Herve is situated in the south of Wallonia, on the boarders of Germany and Netherlands, and consists of 80% agrarian land and forests. Additionally, Wallonia is a region where rural and nature tourism represents a large component of the tourist supply and demand. Free of any traditional administrative classification, this agro-geographical area stands out in the rural Walloon context for its landscape of orchards and farmland surrounded by hedges and woods, a feature that has earned it a unique reputation within Belgium.

Beyond its geographical distinctiveness, the Pays de Herve owes its fame to the presence of several local agrifood producers whose fame far exceeds the boundaries of the region. It hosts a concentrated network of small, prosperous agrifood industries that creates many jobs largely in the dairy and fruit sectors. Thanks to flexible strategies and constant innovation, the agrifood network, first developed in the sixteenth century (Ruwet, 1943), produces local items of which the syrup and cider of the Pays de Herve, and especially the cheese of Herve, are the best known (see Fig. 1).


The considerable reputation of the Herve cheese in Belgium is due, in part, to its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), the only Belgian cheese to have obtained it. This protection, linked to the irreproducible nature of the product, is due to the presence of a bacterium found in the chalky substrata, which has an effect on the microbial flora and fauna of the area and, therefore, on the characteristic flavour of the product, as well as on its capacity for aging. On the other hand, the product is also recognized as having historical value, since the first mentions of the Herve cheese apparently go back to the sixteenth century (Joigneaux, 1863). Until just before the Second World War, the cheese of Herve was mainly used for domestic consumption, eaten primarily by local farmers and workers, or in the nearby towns, thus playing quite a significant role for the local economy (Mardaga, 1987). The current cheese producing network in the Herve region operates according to a market economy dominated by the industrial model, and in particular by the "Herve Societe", which single-handedly produces more than 96% of the total volume of cheese (350 tonnes in 2010). The majority of its output is intended to be sold in supermarkets, and contributes little to the local economy. Alongside the Herve Societe there is a small network of three cheese makers who are jointly are responsible for the remaining 4%. This network, claiming a traditional method of production (manual production, in small quantities, using a natural curd, etc.), survives more or less securely thanks to the image of traditional, small-scale mode of production it enjoys. If this cheese currently represents only a very marginal share of the Pays de Herve's agrifood economy (from a socioeconomic point of view, in terms of production and the number of jobs involved), it nevertheless appears to be part of a not insignificant cultural and tourist dynamic.

The beginnings of tourism in the Pays de Herve

A relatively prosperous region when compared to the rest of Wallonia, notably thanks to the dynamism of a range of activities within the agrifood sector, the Pays de Herve has only a very recent and modest tourist industry. The weak contribution of the latter to the local economy, and the few financial resources invested in it, reinforce the hypothesis that tourism develops generally in places where, on one hand, there has been a decline in traditional economic activities and, on the other, the local population sees in this sector a veritable opportunity for growth (Equipe MIT, 2002). Rambling and walking, horse riding and cycling, visiting museums and other regional attractions are the main tourist activities in the region. Apart from a series of occasional festivals which incorporate local folklore closely linked to Catholic feast days (carnival, feasts of patron saints, etc.), various other activities linked to the presence of local agrifood-products (culinary festivals, tasting and visits to production sites) are also part of the list of leisure and tourist activities in the Pays de Herve. The tourist activities on offer draw on the presence of local specialists involved in receiving visitors, organizing campaigns and tourist programmes, for which the local tourist office, Maison de Tourisme, is the main administrative body. Please revise the former sentence. This tourist facility has, since its creation in 2002, welcomed an average of 30,000 people per year.

Commercial tourist accommodation is not highly developed, and consists primarily of "local tourism" facilities like: self-catering cottages and B&B rooms. The region, thus, has 47 cottages which in themselves represent nearly 75% of the total availability of tourist accommodation in terms of the number of beds. The remaining twenty B&B rooms and six hotels represent 14% and 9% respectively of the total offer. Moreover, as is the case of most rural Wallonia, visits to the Pays de Herve are made mainly by tourists passing through. If from this limited information we can conclude that tourism in the Pays de Herve is not very significant, the region nonetheless has for the past few years seen greater investment by local players, as well as a gradual increase in tourist traffic, according to the tourist office's statistics. Tourism is, thus, increasingly becoming one contributing factor to the development of the Pays de Herve, engendering new types of campaigns and projects that are linked notably to the promotion of LAPs for tourism purposes.

Analysis of the promotion of local agrifood-products from the Herve region for tourism purposes

As indicated in the introduction part of this article, we offer an analysis to the various situations in which campaigns and strategies are designed for the promotion of LAPs, focusing more specifically on the analysis of the different stages in that promotion, as it is implemented in the tourist region (invention, distribution, sale) using the example in the promotion of two local products that are emblematic of this region: the cheese and syrup of the Pays de Herve. By promotion for tourism purposes we mean "the whole range of intentions and actions that, over time, generate, perpetuate or reorient the use for tourism--and thus sale--of a place or object" (Decroly, 2010). By using the concept of promotion for tourism, we seek to understand, from an analysis of tourist demand, why and how agrifood products play a role within the local tourist network. It is equally a question of identifying the social, cultural and territorial attributes on which their promotion relies, understanding the role played by LAPs within these commercial strategies and measuring the influence these LAPs may have on the formation of representations of the area.

The invention of LAPs as resources

The "invention" stage of a resource or a place corresponds to the emergence of its new use for tourism. Considered as the founding act of the campaign to promote the product for tourism purposes, the invention of a resource or a place is expressed by the reorientation of the latter's traditional use, for instance a church that began as a place of worship becomes a tourist attraction (Decroly, 2010). Since these food products were not initially created for the tourist sector, we raised the question as to the reasons why the cheese and the syrup of Herve came to be mobilised as resources for the tourist trade. To do so requires identifying the explanatory factors for this reorientation from the traditional use of these local agrifood-products.

At the end of the Second World War, "progress" and technical modernization in the agricultural sector, as in the entire European economic system, appeared in the Herve region in a variety of forms. The elements contributing to this agrarian modernization were diverse (demography, land ownership, technology, socio-cultural and political developments), and revealed themselves notably through increased mechanization and the intensification of the productivity of arable land. The modernization of agriculture came to permeate agrifood production systems, which until then had been largely dominated by semi-traditional or traditional small-scale methods. From the beginning of the 1960s, the entire agrifood sector in the Pays de Herve, as in many European rural and agricultural areas, underwent significant technical and socioeconomic shifts that led to an increasing vulnerability of the agrarian sector, due in part to the rapid fall in farmers' incomes. This vulnerability would become even more pronounced from 1984 onwards, with the appearance of the first European milk quotas, which gave rise to a new restructuring of the agricultural sector of the Pays de Herve. Alongside these profound changes, concerns specific to the manufacture and consumption of the Herve cheese emerged. Until the mid 20th century, the producers of Herve cheese had not harmonised their production practices, and this lack of standardization of the methods of production meant that the cheese varied greatly in form and flavour from one producer to the next. Yet this variability was not without its own difficulties, since the consumption of cheese throughout Belgium continued to grow, while the production of cheese in Herve declined considerably from the end of the 1960s.

According to professionals in the dairy and cheese sectors, one of the main causes for the gradual abandonment of Herve cheese by consumers was the "lack of uniformity in the quality of the merchandise being sold. Programmes were therefore gradually put in place to render uniform the production and quality of Herve cheese. The desire to obtain the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for Herve cheese must be understood in this specific context. Obtaining the PDO label in 1996 was the fruit of much effort, initiated and carried out in the early 1980s by the cheese manufacturers in their pursuit of three closely related objectives. First, the manufacturing processes of the product had to be harmonized in order to achieve products of uniform quality as determined by a precise set of specifications. Secondly, the PDO makes it possible to prevent any imitations, thus allowing producers who follow the specifications to hold a monopoly on producing this cheese. Finally, the PDO label was intended to be part of the relaunch of the consumption of this cheese, thanks to the prestigious nature of the designation and the reputation that it enjoys across the European continent. To complete our account, it should also be stressed that the health norms governing the hygiene of food products were progressively tightened and extended to meet new European requirements in the course of the 1980s and 1990s. These constraints, which required new control methods as well as new manufacturing procedures, were often very pricy, and contributed to conditions of vulnerability that dealt a severe blow to the permanence of one of the traditional networks in the Pays de Herve. And even if in many cases the health norms were but "the trigger for a closing that had already been foreseen for a cheese manufacturer that was ill equipped and living on borrowed time ... the new health requirements served as an accelerator for the drive towards greater concentration among cheese makers" (Ricard, 1998).

In the context of considerable industrialization of the agrifood business, and given more and more restrictive health norms that resulted in a weakening of the sector, there came a wave of struggle and opposition to the logic of mass production and consumption. Thus were born in the Pays de Herve the campaigns in favour of defending local agrifood products considered to be under threat by these profound upheavals. The movements were opposed, in other words, to the logic of agrarian production oriented to a mass production of increasingly standardized and uniform products where "the concept of food is replaced by that of product, and norms take the place of taste" (Delfosse & Letablier, 1995). Thus it was that from 1962 onwards, the first Confraternity of Remoudou (former name of the Herve cheese) was born, followed in 1967 by the Confraternity of the Herve cheese. The birth of these confraternities illustrates at once the affective bond linked to the socio-cultural dimension of this cheese, and the desire of local players to develop strategies aimed at slowing the troubling fall in consumption and production of this cheese.

The profound changes witnessed in the agrifood sector since the Second World War, which would give rise to a modern, technical model of agriculture, as well as the changes in the methods of Herve cheese production and consumption, seem to us therefore to be the catalysts that explain the progressive development of the tourist sector in the region, and the reorientation in the use of the cheese from its traditional local one towards one that is also promoted for tourism. Until the 1980s, tourists were free to visit the farms and cellars where the cheese was made, but due to health measures, this would gradually be prohibited. Whereas, in the recent past Herve cheese could be seen in the places where it was produced, today one has to go to a building that operates as a sort of museum. This, in our view, is an important sign which attests to the change in status and use of contemporary Herve cheese. Thus we see appearing, at the end of the 1960s, the first tourist-type facility related to Herve cheese.

This first initiative marked an important step, in our view, in the process of launching the cheese and syrup of Herve as a tourism product. In the mid 1980s, the councillor for tourism and culture of the town of Herve initiated, parallel to the procedures for recognition put in place by the industrial cheese makers wishing to obtain a Protected Origin Designation for Herve cheese, a tourist and cultural programme in Herve organised around local agrifood products. Thus, at the beginning of the 1990s, the "Espace des Saveurs" (Shop of Flavours), devoted to local cheese and secondarily to the syrup of the Herve region, was set up as a museum exhibit explaining the socio-cultural dimension, as well as the production process of these local products. This project to turn the cheese and syrup into tourist attractions, which had been possible thanks to the support of many local volunteers who contributed objects from their private collections to expand the museum exhibits, constituted a key stage in the emergence of a tourist industry in the Pays de Herve.

Based on the foregoing, it seems to us justified to consider that the "invention" of Herve cheese (and following it, that of the syrup) as a resource at the service of tourism projects should be understood in the light of the consequences of agricultural modernization and, concomitantly, of various projects and campaigns aimed at relaunching Herve cheese. Tourism thus responded, in a sense, to a profound change: one that gave increased prominence to the modernization and industrialization of agricultural and food production. Moreover, even if the application for the DPO label was not part of a tourism strategy, it will no doubt contribute to it, for this mark of distinction was the occasion in mobilizing and coordinating the practices of the network members, harmonizing their discourse and images, and developing joint campaigns to make the cheese better known and recognized. In the latter case, tourism turned out to be a powerful partner. Thus, the case of Herve cheese seems indeed to confirm the hypothesis advanced by Michel de Certeau (1993), to the effect that there must be a disappearance, or a risk of disappearance, in order for it to be, if not possible, at least desirable, for a "traditional" activity to be considered part of a heritage (which he calls "patrimonialization"). The historical rootedness and the economic decline of Herve cheese made it an ideal candidate for this process of rebirth as a heritage product. This "patrimonialization", as we shall see, is advanced and reinforced by the various aspects in its promotion for tourism purposes.

Provisions for the mediation and sale of LAPs to tourists

Mediation for tourism purposes refers to "the totality of actions aimed at ensuring that the greatest possible number may benefit physically, intellectually, or affectively from tourism resources" (Decroly, 2010). Among the various provisions that constitute mediation, some favour lending meaning to the elements observed by the visitor via, for instance, interpretive resources, heritage presentations, programmes or performances (Decroly, 2010). With regards to sale, the third stage of promotion for tourism, this consists of "placing the tourism resource on the market", notably via promotional campaigns conducted within the host area itself (Decroly 2010). If the first two stages of the promotion for tourism correspond to different objectives and forms of action, they are nevertheless often indistinguishable in reality, especially in the case of an object that is a local product which, from the outset, has a commercial dimension. Based on what has been said above, and also to facilitate the presentation of our research results, we have not distinguished these two processes and will, thus, present them together.

The "Espace des Saveurs": a cultural gateway to the tourist region

The multimedia show entitled "L'Espace des Saveurs" (Shop of Flavours), a direct descendant of the first version to be known by that name, which can be seen within the walls of the tourist office Maison du Tourisme, the main public tourist facility for the region, is a show that dramatizes the totality of cultural and landscape specificities of the Pays de Herve. That term "flavour" is used to designate this attraction and indicates right from the outset the importance attributed to the LAPs in the apparent appeal of the Pays de Herve.

The decor of the "Espace des Saveurs" consists of a long table set-up in the middle of the room--recalling of ancient aristocratic residences--covered with elegantly embroidered tablecloths, candelabras, plates and silverware, as well as with local products. In this room are exhibited historical objects that evoke the socioeconomic history of the Pays de Herve: wooden chests, old kitchen utensils, milk cans, old railway posters, etc. An imaginary character named Jean de Herve tells visitors about the principal attractions of the Pays de Herve by means of a video animated objects, and a sound and light show. An animated head atop a mannequin dressed in the gown of his confraternity, Jean de Herve, Grand Master of the Confraternity of the Pays de Herve, invites visitors to his table in an intimate, convivial tone. The narration is intended to be educational, playful, and appealing to the senses, thanks to the use of numerous wordplays and other culinary metaphors.

The multimedia presentation insists on the importance of the landscape and heritage symbolized by the wooded farmlands, whose aesthetic, playful, and nutritional dimensions are explained: "if your eyes are bigger than your stomach, come and plunge into our landscapes for a nice digestive stroll and a big bowl of fresh air that you can taste among our groves and fields". This type of association between the landscape and LAPs is a procedure that will be used throughout this presentation. It is not without a touch of humour that, after having described the socio-economic history and geography of the Herve region, Jean de Herve invites visitors to the highlight, the 11 plat de resistance', by moving directly to the cheese, thereupon devoting nearly a quarter of the entire length of the presentation to the Herve cheese and the production process, described as a traditional one by the occasional use of terms that evoke the imaginary world associated with rural areas. This cheese sequence, which never refers to the industrial manufacture of the vast majority of the cheese used today (96% of the total production), ends with a few gastronomic tips on the possible culinary combinations to which the cheese is suited. This section provides a smooth transition to presenting the apple and pear syrup of the Herve region, "another specialty of the region which the farmers of the Pays de Herve began to produce in the seventeenth century". In the light of these few highly revealing passages, from the narrative content and dramatization of the Pays de Herve and its LAPs, it appears that the mediation for tourism privileges traditional elements by using recurrent references to local history and folklore, and to inherited local skills, thus offering a geographical and historical reading of the territory that highlights the presence of cultural constants, principally in the form of LAPs. In fact, it is essentially on the LAPs that the communication strategies developed by the public tourist authorities are based, mediating these products to a tourist audience so as to promote their geographic rootedness in their place of origin, emphasize their natural quality, and prove their continuity with a distant past that has not yet disappeared.

The Pays de Herve presentation refers to practices, and ways of life associated with a rural society as it existed before industrialization. The past, tradition and nature, virtues that the collective imagination associates readily with rural life, are thus the objects with which both an image and market strategy are constructed, appearing as the main pillar of the narrative content of the tourist mediation of the Herve region. This highly emblematic use of both the historical and traditional dimension for certain local agrifood products tends to consider present-day production as the residue of an ancient agrarian activity. If this classic association constitutes an historical reality to which these agrifood products owe a great deal, the fact that contemporary realities are not mentioned and the current fragility of the traditional production of Herve cheese, or that the socio-economic dynamism, innovation and adaptation shown by the agrifood sector, constitutes a sort of denial or refusal to change. In this regard, it should be noted that the production of Herve cheese has undergone, in the past decade, important qualitative upheavals: a new policy while regards to supply and manufacturing. Out of a desire to penetrate the mass market even further, the industrial cheese makers have, for example, over the past ten years, developed increasingly standardized products by carrying out major work on the aroma, weight, texture, and form of this cheese.

The traditional syrup producers of Aubel

When visiting the syrup producer, we selected a series of passages that seemed to us revelatory of the communication strategies used by the traditional syrup maker who organized our visit. We should note from the outset that the presence of the syrup maker himself, of his presentation, which deliberately stressed the traditional aspect of the process, as well as the different utensils needed for producing the syrup that are on display in the production workshop (see photos 1 and 2), participate fully in the validation and authentication of the product. It is interesting to note that the narrative content of the syrup maker's presentation is, with a few exceptions, nearly identical to the text on the website of this company. The recurrence of a pre-formatted narrative underscores the strategy underlying these words. This is not to say that the discourse should be considered a falsification of the reality for purely commercial purposes, but rather that it is a matter of decoding the strategy that may lie behind a few innocent words.

What we propose, here, is a brief survey of the terms used: "More than a tradition, it is a passion; a company on a human scale: according to this ancient recipe of the farms of the Pays de Herve; the syrup is a family story; for us, to make a good syrup requires no more than to stretch out one's hand to find good fruit; not crushing the fruit guarantees the natural flavour of the apples and pears of yesteryear".

Respecting the ancestral methods of production, the perpetuation of a family tradition, pride in being an artisan, and the fact that the product retains the qualities of its local area (it's good because it comes from the Pays de Herve) constitute the skeleton of the discourse. Consuming syrup, thus, presupposes drinking a heritage product loaded with a family history that attests thereby to the respect for the skill that has been handed down, even if the techniques used have not much to do with the initial local knowledge. The domestic nature of production is, moreover, given special emphasis, with the aim of distinguishing the traditional syrup producer from its major direct competitor. We can understand this emphasis all the better if we know that the competitor uses dates in his manufacturing process that come from North Africa, amongst other places.



The festival of Flavours

Another form of mediation of LAPs is expressed through the organization of local festivities that feature these products. Thus, for example, the city councillor for culture and tourism of the Herve town, with the support of local associations, has organized a biennial Festival of Flavours (Festival des Saveurs) since 1994. This event turns on the fame of the local cheese, which is associated with a series of local agrifood products. It requires coordination among many entities, including local volunteers (mainly from the cultural and agrifood sectors and from educational institutions), which benefit in terms of recognition, social integration, reputation or image. If, at its origin, this rural event was centred on the (re)discovery of local culinary products intended primarily for a local clientele in a cultural context that provided "another occasion to organize community life in the village" (Barthon et al., 2007), and to affirm both internally and externally the rural nature of the region, this celebration now resembles a trade fair meant to appeal to tourists. The Festival of Flavours is undeniably a mediating folkloric activity that participates in the construction and representation of the local area. Drawing between 5000 and 8000 visitors every other year, the festival is nonetheless seeing a decline in numbers. This falling attendance attests to the, somewhat, outdated nature of this type of event. Over a weekend, local producers meet to organize demonstrations of their know-how in order to promote their production. As places for tasting and selling the LAPs, these festivities are also an opportunity to participate in, or watch competitions such as those of "best regional amateur chef", organized in collaboration with the local media. Among the various activities held during the festival, the enthronement of new members of the Confraternity of Herve is incontestably one of the highlights of the weekend.

Admission to the Confraternity of Herve: a process of authentication of LAPs

Held on Saturday evening, the enthronement of new members of the Confraternity of Cheese makers of Herve is promoted on the advertising material put out by the tourist office, and is considered by them to be one of the main activities of the weekend. The Confraternity of Herve, created in 1967, and a member of the Union des Groupements du Folklore Gastronomique of the Province of Liege, receives financial and logistics support from the Provincial Tourist Federation of Liege (thus attesting to its importance for tourism). By enthroning new members, the confraternities appoint ambassadors who will attend and participate in various gastronomic events outside the region and abroad, thus helping to promote local gastronomy--and at the same time its territory of origin--in a wider geographic area. Despite its deliberately convivial nature, the enthronement of new initiates follows a very precise and serious rite. Accompanied by grandiose classical music, the Grand Master surrounded by the members of the confraternity make their solemn entry, all vested in thick scarlet robes recalling, as the Grand Master claims, the era of Emperor Charles V, and topped with chains and medals with the coat of arms of the association.

The reference to Charles V constitutes a sort of cultural guarantee giving historical depth to the product and emphasizes its noble and traditional quality. Taking up their positions on a stage facing the audience, the Grand Master (who is none other than the managing director of the principal company that produces Herve cheese) inaugurates the ceremony. If his introductory speech is the time to recall the missions and prestigious nature of the Confraternity of Herve, it is also an occasion to rehearse the multiple qualities and merits of the candidates.

This ritual, which takes up nearly half of the entire ceremony, is crucial since it draws attention to the seriousness of the festive event, as well as to the selective and exclusive nature of the enthronement, for the Confraternity admits no more than three candidates a year to be members of the glorious association, and confers on them the title "Knight of the Confraternity of Herve".

Deliberately limiting the number of members, thus, helps advance a strategy of rarity in order to establish the legitimacy and honour attached to the event. After this oration, the future Knight of honour is subjected to a taste test to evaluate his ability to recognize the type of Herve cheese being served. After this, the future Knight, wearing a cape as a sign of his future membership, is invited by the Grand Master to take an oath of honour and fealty to the noble cause of the Confraternity.

Nothing is left to chance here: whether the elaborate garb, the gilded medals, coats of arms, on the Gothic script on the diploma, in short, all the decorum needed to lend authenticity to the proceedings put to the service of making known and recognizable the distinctive gastronomic heritage of Herve and the "cultural authenticity" of the area. The speech given by the Grand Master, the use of a refined vocabulary intended to recall the long history of the cheese that, according to legend, was eaten and appreciated by Charles V himself, consists first and foremost of stressing the uniqueness of the cheese and the region of Herve, and thus participates in that same dynamic.

At the heart of these festivities, then, is the reference to the past, to tradition and its prestigious elements, all attributes that are mobilized thanks to a ritual that consists of dramatizing a product in order to authenticate it. This is a dramatic performance of the tradition that is part of the "material culture of belonging ... Where the form leads us to think of the contents" (Warnier & Rosselin, 1996), to think that authenticity, so far from being self-evident, should need a permanent guarantee by a process of authentication secured, notably, by the confraternities, such as a DPO label stamped on the cheeses of Herve.


LAPs and the dramatization of the Pays de Herve

The territorial representations constructed by tourism institutions in order to support promotion to tourists have given rise to a dramatization of the territory, drawing amply on images and photos. The only existing tourist guide of the Herve region contains, an average of three photos per page, reminding us that this is the medium of choice for tourism communication. Analysis of the various visual materials attests to the recurrence of certain themes. Natural and rural landscapes are the most prominent leitmotif. The photos are mainly of wooded landscapes, alternating between human presence, rural heritage and unspoilt nature. They represent cyclists, a couple strolling among the fields, a smile exchanged with the corner shopkeeper, elderly people on bicycles riding on the small country roads, or a family picnicking in the green pastures.

The diversity of these shots alternating with virgin landscapes and human presence attests to the multiple and contradictory expectations one may have vis-a-vis rural spaces. Indeed, for the first would-be tourists, the presence, or the absence of people are important elements. They were in search of solitude and rest. But at the same time, total isolation does not tempt either, since it is thought to entail risks and a certain lack of conviviality. A relative solitude, thus, allows for adventure while also offering reassurance. These photos below reveal at once the quest for this subtle and delicate balance and also indicate the types of tourists that the Herve region would like to attract. The textual and visual communication strategies contoured up by those in charge of tourism for the Pays de Herve thus rely for the most part on the rural and farmland landscape (cows in the meadow) as well as on the food references. We see a profusion of photographs with cows grazing in the midst of orchards and undulating fields, thus contributing to the emblematic representation of a rural territory that has not undergone degradation thanks to contemporary transformations, notably due to urban pressure or the demands of the agricultural industry. The LAPs (essentially the Herve cheese, syrup and cider) and the elements of the landscape are associated and combined with each other in a recurring pattern, thereby mutually reinforcing their visibility in order to present a coherent whole that links the products to the region.


If the LAPs play a prominent part in the images associated with the territory as presented in the tourist literature, thus constituting veritable tools at the service of a local marketing strategy aimed at facilitating the identification and differentiation of the tourist area, these sources say nothing as to the ways in which the methods and procedures of promoting these LAPs for tourism participate in the regions' representations as perceived by the tourists themselves.

The tourists: coproducers of specific resources

The data offered in this article were gathered through semi-directive interviews conducted with 64 tourists between the months of March and April 2010 in the major tourist sites of the Pays de Herve. Modelled on the interviews with local actors, those conducted with tourists were somewhere between free conversation and a structured questionnaire, and consisted of asking about tourist practices relating to the presence and consumption of local agrifood products.

The method chosen consisted of creating a "sample, while fulfilling the following criteria in order to balance the sampling: the people questioned could not have their principal residence in the region and had to be, at the time of the survey, there for leisure activities; the interviews were held only during holiday periods or weekends, and on different days. A method that is applied to a limited number of people does not aim at a statistical representation, nor does it claim to be exhaustive. Thus, the data collected in these interviews were analysed using the Sphinx software.

The first question we asked concerned the different representations tourists had of the territory, using a maximum of four qualifiers. In total, 203 terms have been collected, processed, and were organized in categories as shown in the following diagram.

In the light of these data, it appears that the presence of LAPs plays a major role in shaping tourists' representations of a territory, since more than half of the terms used to describe it and its attributes are linked to the gastronomic aspect and to the presence of LAPs. The other terms used, which are included in the above-mentioned categories, coincide with those identified through the research conducted either into tourists' representations of rural areas (Beteille, 1996; Vitte,1998; Urbain, 2002; Moinet, 2006), or into the meaning of tourist consumption of regional products in a rural setting (Betry, 2003; Everett & Aitchison, 2008; Kivela & Crotts, 2006; Kivela & Crotts, 2009; Sims, 2009; Kim et al., 2009).

If it is difficult to precisely measure the role that PALs can play in the choice of a destination, and if, as Henderson suggests, "more work is necessary on the role of food as motivator and determinant choice, together with its place in the tourist experience and levels of satisfaction " (Henderson, 2009), it is nonetheless true that the PALs of the Pays de Herve did, based on our interviews, influence the choice of destination among the tourists questioned. In fact, 40 of the 64 tourists interviewed told us they were influenced by the presence of PALs when they chose their destination. In addition, out of 64 people, 55 considered the discovery and consumption of local agrifood products to be an important activity during their visit. However, only 26 of the 64 tourists planned to visit the production sites of these LAPs during their stay. If this gap between what they said about their interest relating a resource, or activity, and an observed activity can be explained by objective factors (lack of time, inconvenient opening hours, difficulty in reaching the attractions, etc.), it is likely that these inconsistencies can be explained by the phenomenon of social desirability, according to which a conscious or unconscious desire to conform to the norms or to keep to a common discourse, is part of the current climate (Goeldner & Humain, 2010).

Besides the risks of ambiguity in the representations offered by the people we interviewed--many of which emerge or are transformed in the course of the interview rather than before it--it is important to bear in mind this effect of social desirability that seems to us to have played an important part in the interviews. In fact, food and the various socio-cultural, economic and environmental factors that are associated with it play such a major role today in the media that it is very likely to have a significant influence on many tourists. The "defence" of values such as nutrition and sustainable local tourism, the environmentally friendly promotion of local resources, or the economy and local culture, has been emerging as a consensual social norm. Therefore the tourists interviewed were being asked to distinguish themselves through their cultural and tourist practices, to step out of the model of an undifferentiated mass tourism, and to "answer the questions in keeping with their perception of the most widespread position on the subject within society" (Goeldner & Humain 2010). We may, thus, consider that the gap observed in our study between intentions and practices among tourists is the result of just such an effect. Along the same lines, it is just as probable that this social desirability led the people interviewed to overestimate the importance and the influence of LAPs in the choice of their destination.

Based on the information provided by the operator of the sole point of sale for local foods, situated next to the Cistercian abbey of Val-Dieu (one of the main attractions of the Pays de Herve), the cheeses of Herve and of the abbey of Val-Dieu turn out to be the two most frequently sold LAPs. Based on this observation, we then asked the interviewed tourists to describe these two products. From our analysis of the data, it appears that the terms "natural", "traditional", "typical for the region" and "authentic", were the ones most often used.

It is interesting to note that, with a few exceptions, qualifiers were used without distinction for both the cheese of Herve and of Val-Dieu. It should be remembered that if the Herve cheese has been given an AOP label, which attests to its typical features linked to its geographical origin, as well as to the socio-cultural and local historical significance of this product, the cheese from the abbey of Val-Dieu is, by contrast, a cheese whose production methods are not directly linked either to the geography, or to the history of the territory. But while the territory plays no role in the "technical quality" of this cheese, it does, however, play an important role in the perception tourists have of the product. In fact, the typical character associated with the abbey cheese of Val-Dieu is, in our view, understandable in the light of the commercial and tourism strategies conducted by the company that produces and markets it. These strategies play up the socio-territorial characteristics of the Herve region as well as the images of monasticism traditionally associated with abbeys: "At the heart of the Pays de Herve, in a lush and magnificent landscape, has stood since 1216 the Cistercian abbey of Val-Dieu. A soft green setting, the aromas of the fields, cows that give fine milk ... Is it any surprise that this landscape inspired the monks to give it the lovely name of the valley of God, and the cheeses of the Abbey of Val-Dieu ...?" ( These few lines are meant to prove the continuity between this cheese and its place of origin in order to provide this recent product (mid 1980s), which was never made by the monks of the ancient Cistercian monastery, a place with a geographic and cultural pedigree.

This cognitive device, which has affected the perception of the tourists we interviewed, is what some authors call the "basket effect" (Lancaster, 1996; Mollard, 2001; Pecqueur, 2001; Hirzack et al. 2005; Francois, 2007) which designates "a symbiotic effect that starts out with the attraction for an initial product (lead product) from a particular territory and leads to the discovery of the specificity of complementary products and services from the same territory" (Francois, 2007). This basket effect underlines the capacity of certain territories to play on consumer demand, as well as on the capacity of certain cheese producing networks that succeed in offering both generic and specific resources (Angeon & Vollet 2005). This is not to deny the local roots of the cheese from the Abbey of Val-Dieu, or of establishing artificial hierarchies and boundaries between what is and is not traditional and typical, but rather to underscore the social construction that is going on around notions such as specificity: distinctiveness and authenticity.

It is social construction to which the area, its local tourist authorities, cheese makers, and the tourists themselves contribute fully. For by consuming LAPs locally, tourists recognize the value of agricultural products and, thus, help legitimize the specificity of these resources. The necessary consolidation or adjustments to the qualification of a product, or a foodstuff thus depends on a constant give-and-take between a collective local construction and a process of external objectivization. In this sense the tourist is a coproducer of resources (Dupre, 2002) on which his or her perception confers specificity.


The cheese and syrup from the Pays de Herve are part of these local agrifood products (LAPs) used for tourist purposes as an emblem to represent regional specificities. The promotion of such foods for the purposes of tourism is organized according to processes and methods that involve actors with a variety of different objectives. Specifically, the purpose of this article has been to analyse and understand the patterns and logic of this use for purposes of tourism. From the perspective of this study, we think we are justified in affirming that the invention of these LAPs as a tourist attraction responds to profound changes that have given pride of place to the technical modernisation and industrialisation of agrifood production in the Pays de Herve. Therefore, we think that the choice of this cheese, in relation to its tourist value, should be understood in the context of the vulnerability of the Herve cheese production network, among others. In fact, the promotion of Herve cheese, the only cheese to have an AOP label in Belgium, is part of a process linked to the objectives of conservation and promotion of an agricultural and cultural object which stems from a much-lamented past marked by practices and rural ways of life as they existed before the era of industrialisation. The highly emblematic nature of the historical and traditional dimension of the cheese of Herve, used in the distribution and sale of this food product, is an example to this. The two latter stages in the promotion of the cheese and the syrup for tourism, which rests on foundations such as objects (utensils, containers), images (postcards, photos, logo) or speeches given at local festivals, place special emphasis on respecting the product's ancestral methods, inherited local know-how, its quasi-mythical origin, or its geographical roots. In short, these are narratives or visual messages that aim at forming representations of LAPs and their place of origin on the basis of historical or geographical attributes.

And yet, the cheese of Herve, long associated, on one hand with agricultural workers or peasants from the region for which it was primarily intended, while on the other, with its singular aroma and pronounced flavour, was not inevitably destined to become a tourist attraction on such a scale. It is, nonetheless, true that today this cheese is quite regularly cited in numerous books about cheese, and that it is generally found on the shelves of major cheese manufacturers and fine delicatessens in Belgium. If it is difficult to gauge the true perception consumers have of this product, it seems to be the case that it has moved gradually from a local culinary repertoire of popular origin to become a product for a gastronomic elite and gourmet connoisseurs. This change in both status and image is due in large part to the various local investments made in the cheese and among which the tourist element played an important role. What we have seen is, in fact, a true, progressive social construction of both a local agrifood product and a tourist resource via social processes and techniques in which the influence of authentication procedures is undeniable. These processes of authentication are expressed in the production of images, speeches, label securing, and the display of a product in a way that appeals to both the history and tradition within tourist areas where the cheese and other local agrifood stuffs are visible.

Therefore, the analysis of the process of promoting the cheese of the Pays de Herve suggests therefore that, like several tourist destinations located in rural areas, the predominant message that the Herve region wishes to convey is centred on the notion of authenticity. This is a strategy of authenticity that can take several forms and make use of various forms and methods. Whether that be a poetico-sensual approach, and the presence of associations/confraternities, or the numerous festivals said to be traditional that drawing on the heritage of Christianity, these all indicate a strong desire to inscribe the territory in question into a thick historical context where tradition and folklore serve as means of communication. Thus, the observed tourism strategies consist, in a highly competitive regional context, of using the image and fame of LAPs in order to contribute to the differentiation of the destination, and to reinforce the appeal of the Pays of Herve. These are strategies that, from the perspective of demand, seem promising because the tourists that were surveyed in the course of our interviews closely associate the presence of LAPs closely with territorial representations. From this perspective, the question of promoting specific resources from a given territory, for the purpose of tourism lies, at the heart of territorial differentiation in which, very often, tourism appears as a strategy of territorial competitiveness. But contrary to certain approaches in the promotion of regional products that have been used as propaganda objects and political arms in the service, for instance, of the quest for autonomy or independence, the promotion of cheese and other agrifood products of the land of Herve is instead part of a "soft patrimonialization" (Bromberger, 2003), in which the use of poetico-sensual formulae plays a significant role.

One might, nevertheless, wonder whether projects involving promotion for tourism purposes, as we have analysed them, are not part of an essentially protectionist process, pursued in the name of an authenticity quest that, for instance, tends to freeze LAPs in time to the detriment of other projects that could, in turn, give rise to creative and innovative tourist ventures. Finally, we wonder whether the construction of a strong regional image, that is expressed based on the tourist promotion of LAPs, is not, first and foremost, a formidable aid to the promotion of these products to such a degree that their fame reaches far and wide, and their consumption spreads far beyond the tourist area itself, without truly benefiting the tourism sector in the process.

Received March 21, 2011. Resubmitted May 28, 2011


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Fig. 2 Tourists representations of the territory

rest quietness          4%
LAPs food-products     54%
nature-landscape       31%
  heritage              6%
architecture            5%

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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Author:De Myttenaere, Bernard
Publication:Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:4EUBL
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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