Since May 2019, Thierry Kruchten has been the Head of Tourism, Mobility and Sustainable Development of Esch2022. Born in Esch and raised in Käerjeng, he studied Tourism Geography in Trier and Economic and Transport Geography in Cologne. Already during his studies, he returned to his home in the south of Luxembourg, where he then completed several internships in various touristic settings. Alongside his work as a Supply Chain Manager with Heintz van Landewyck Ltd, he was also responsible for Internal Mobility Management. Furthermore, Kruchten is founding member of the Luxembourgish geography society.
Hello Thierry. What will you be working on before the Esch2022 European Capital of Culture event takes place?
At the moment, I am first of all working on tourism marketing for the region. A main project of Esch2022 will be time travel through Belval, through visitors sitting in a GPS-tracked bus and discovering an augmented reality via VR. This means that one is really transported into the virtual world, in that one is on the bus and sees how this area has changed over two world wars up until the 1980s. In addition, we are developing an augmented reality app with which visitors can further experience the individual destinations of the region on tours. We are creating a travel guide and a touristic bike path, and are marketing Esch and the region overseas, for example in travel blogs, social media and through the help of our local and national partners. Together with the Luxembourgish and French communities, we are already working on innovative overnight accommodation in the region – an example of cross-border tourism.
Alongside tourism, mobility is one of the key sectors. What are you working on already in this field?
We are trying to achieve our goals in terms of mobility, in particular through the promotion of soft mobility that is sustainable, environmentally friendly and socially acceptable. Furthermore, I am working on a mobility concept for the opening ceremony in February 2022, where we face the task of welcoming over 30,000 people to Belval. Our common goal is to bring as many people as possible with public transport. Besides our opening ceremony, we are working with the Berlin studio klv on an elaborate visitor guidance system for Belval.
The Belval quarter is characterised by its steel industry constructions that will become the stage of Esch2022 next year. All of these activities also complement our efforts towards the Agenda 2030 with its 17 sustainable development goals.
As we know, there is a lot to do. What does the Esch2022 project mean to you personally and why is it important for the region?
I grew up here; apart from my studies, I spent the first 30 years of my life in the region. As well as this, I am proud of the area, its residents, the diversity, the multiculturality that is noticeable at every corner. It is a matter of our region’s tourism not being very developed yet, of anchoring it on the map, of showing the region’s uniqueness and improving its reputation. This goal consists of transforming this area formerly characterised by industry into an interesting, able to act and innovative touristic region.
For those who do not know the region at all yet: What is special about the Esch2022 region?
The region has always stood out through a historical disposition of transformation and constant change, but also through strong solidarity. The south of Luxembourg was marked by the steel industry for a long time. On the other hand, there is also the country’s biggest nature reserve here, though even in the south most residents do not know about this. This countryside is unique, you can see terraces from which steel was formerly mined and how man has shaped nature. The south is a melting pot of nations, cultures and traditions, which gives the region its own, unique charm.
In Schifflange the former steel industry and nature blend together in one unique panorama.
What does the region have to offer to visitors and what makes the region one of a kind?
For tourism, the region is meaningful as a cultural landscape, after all it carries the UNESCO biosphere reserve label. In the towns the European sentiment is pervasive, as a Portuguese bar can be found on every corner, and a small Italian shop and also an Indian shop close by. Lots of cultures live in close proximity here. The borders are not noticeable. In Rumelange for instance, the French border runs through a park, and you never notice that you have changed countries.
How has the Esch2022 region developed from an industrial steel town into a European Capital of Culture?
Most people probably associate Luxembourg with banks, yet it was originally a relatively poor region. In the south there was practically nothing until iron ore was discovered in the region. This also links to the multicultural society: Workers were needed in the steel industry, and in particular they were Portuguese and Italians. After the end of the steel industry, the region steadily rediscovered itself, for instance through the founding of the university. I often like to compare the region with the Ruhr area. The history, the love for football- there are 400 kilometres between Luxembourg and the Ruhr area, but the mentality is similar.
What does your vision in terms of tourism and mobility for the Esch region in 2022 look like?
I think it is important to establish the region as an attractive destination for city trips, not only nationally, but also internationally, to create new offers and attractions, and intensify the regional identity. In terms of mobility, this concerns promoting a modern soft mobility, for example through consistent signposting, be it for cyclists, pedestrians or other transport users.
You come from the Esch region. What would you want to show someone who is visiting for the first time?
First and foremost, I would recommend the hiking trails on which you can discover the remnants of the steel industry. However, the gastronomy is also interesting, this mix of traditional Luxembourgish cuisine with Portuguese, Italian and other influences.
How is it looking with your partners whom you work within the tourism and mobility sector? Do you already have some or are you still looking?
We work closely with the General Directorate for Tourism and with the national promotion agency Luxembourg for tourism. The South Regional Tourist Office (ORT Sud) is also involved, as well as the Luxembourg City Tourist Office and further tourism offices around the country. In the coming months, the collaboration will intensify with those responsible on the French side, such as municipalities, transport ministers, the Transport Federation, as well as the National Roads Administration, to name but a few.
When you think about the region after 2022, what impression would you like to leave behind in terms of tourism, mobility and sustainable development?
The sustainability aspect is reflected in all considerations that we make. This includes, for instance, a tourism network, from which the region will additionally benefit after 2022. We are not planning any big constructions, but we would like for everything that we have started to be permanent and that the region can benefit from these for a long time.