Visitors are essential to our inland waterways; enjoying what is on offer and spending their money with small businesses that operate on and alongside them. NIWE members Provincie Antwerpen and Stad Gent focus primarily on tourism and are instrumental in proposing and developing ideas that strengthen the appeal their waterways bring to towns and cities when setting out their ‘tourist offer’. Voies Navigables de France (VNF) tourist development mission statement sums up the general approach all organisations take.

“Contributing through the tourist economy to regional development and quality of life is one of the missions of VNF. The aim is to support activities with high potential, but also to offer a seasonal tourist offer adapted to the use of the tracks, to develop privileged spaces for leisure activities and to enhance the heritage that bears the identity of the territory. It is also about allowing the re-appropriation of the waterway by the citizens…”

The information below sets out some findings from previous and current EU funded projects NIWE members have participated in or are keeping a keen eye on. We also provide some key documents from other sources that support the importance of this theme and waterway sector.


Sustainable heritage management of WAterway REgions (SWARE)

An Interreg North West Europe (NWE) project running from 1 Apr 2016 to 31 Mar 2021

The project was set up to promote the sustainable development of the natural and cultural heritage of waterway regions through the reinforcement of its territorial resources and tourist activities in 5 partner regions in Italy, Ireland, The Netherlands, Latvia and Danube cross border region of Slovakia and Hungary.

The waterway regions involved in SWARE all share unique natural and cultural heritage: protected areas with rich biodiversity and enticing historic cities and buildings connected to water. These amenities make them more and more attractive for leisure activities and a growing number of visitors (30-50% increase in the past 10 years) but which causes tensions with heritage conservation aspects.

SWARE partners recognised that the socio-economic future of their regions needs to preserve the cultural and natural values for the next generations but also “open their gates” to controlled visitor management.

The felt that by demonstrating the economic value that a “green” leisure industry can bring to a region; it can build strong public and political support both for heritage protection and sustainable waterway development.

SWARE worked to stimulate the establishment of new participatory governance schemes that will have more potential to implement efficient policies contributing to the sustainable regional development so that decision-makers, public and private players, as well as inhabitants gain a better knowledge and commitment towards protecting and sustainably “using” their environmental and cultural assets.

SWARE took steps to achieve this by developing and proposing policies that bring about a better balance between protection and sustainable exploitation of the valuable natural and cultural resources.

They jointly assessed the programmes and policies of the partner regions through expertise exchanges and promotion of good practices in participating regions.
5 participating partner regions developed Regional Action Plans in collaboration with stakeholders and built in good practices which will serve as the basis for improved policy and/or new projects.

The SWARE project team organised the digital final conference in October 2020, sharing the results of the past years knowledge exchange and action planning. Speakers from the SWARE project, the INTERREG Europe Programme and the European Parliament spoke about successes of SWARE, continued involvement and possibilities connecting the SWARE lessons learnt to the goals of the European Union and the regions in future projects.

One of the main topics was the sharing of results. All partners discussed how their region implemented the lessons learnt, how they achieved policy change or started projects that were inspired and influenced by good practices from other partner regions.

Key outputs and project related evidence:

Results achieved Metropolitan City of Milan
Results achieved Pons Danubii EGTC
Results achieved Provincie Zuid-Holland
Results achieved Tipperary County Council
Results achieved Valmiera City Vidzeme


Water In Historic City Centres (WIHCC) 

An Interreg IIIB NWE project of water related works in six European cities that ran from November 2003 to November 2007.

The project started in November 2003 and was completed on 30 November 2007 with a closing event in Breda. 

It looked at ways to improve water management in old city centres and the role of water in the socio-economic and spatial structural intensification of such sites.  

6 medium size cities in the NWE region with city centres of historical interest – from Belgium, Ireland, the UK and Netherlands worked together to revitalise the function of watercourses in their centres. Given the valuable potential benefits of water bodies in city centres (economic, social, cultural), the partners aimed to use water as a starting point for spatial redevelopment of their respective cities.  

  • Breda (NL), for the restoration of the old watercourse and harbor 
  • ’s-Hertogenbosch (NL), revitalizing the Binnendieze 
  • Ghent (B), reopen the Lower Scheldt and restore the confluence of the Lys and the Scheldt  
  • Mechelen (B), reopening the Melaan watercourse and redeveloping the public domain 
  • Limerick (IRL), restoration of the Park Canal between the university and the city centre 
  • Chester (UK), new public space along the River Dee to strengthen the historical relationship with the city centre 

The partnership, led by Breda in the Netherlands, had a shared background of water related planning issues linked to historic centres. Historical and socio-economic developments meant that many functional waterways had been neglected, and in certain circumstances had even disappeared. The objectives of the project were to include “historic” water as a basic development in spatial redevelopment of city centres, the use of the quality of water to support the multifunctional use of limited space in inner city centres for economic, cultural and residential functions, and the simultaneous realisation of integral water management.  

Pilot investments in cities were part of broader investments in water infrastructure and were intended to trigger further investment in the foreseeable future.  

Key outputs and project related evidence:


Yacht Valley

An Interreg IVA 2 Seas (cross-border cooperation between England, France, the Netherlands and Belgium Flanders

Yacht Valley aimed to develop and test innovative and sustainable nautical service centres on different types of redevelopment sites. They involved existing companies by carrying out joint and exploratory research, by developing and making investments and by exchanging knowledge and concept development. 

The project partners worked to give a boost to an economically sound and future-proof nautical service sector in the 2 Seas Area including ensuring a proper spread of service facilities. 

Partners involved were; 

  • Lead Partner: City of Nieuwpoort, Belgium 
  • Thanet District Council, United Kingdom 
  • City of Hellevoetsluis, The Netherlands 
  • Bleu Marine, France 
  • Waterwegen en Zeekanaal nv, Belgium 
  • Westhoek Marina’s, Belgium 
  • City of Vlissingen, The Netherlands 
  • City of Ghent, Belgium 
  • Hiswa, The Netherlands 
  • NautiV, Belgium 

Preparations for Yacht Valley started in 2009 and the project was approved in May 2011. The official kick-off conference was held on 13 December 2011 in Hellevoetsluis, Netherlands. The project ended in the summer of 2014. 

When the project finished the main results were (or were intended to be): 

  • Report about the range, economic significance and market demand of the nautical service sector and about relevant aspects for spatial planning. 
  • Insight into high-opportunity business models, commercially as well as managerially, for the marina sector and nautical service sector and into the strategic opportunities for development of the sector. 
  • A guideline with a collection of experiences and studies that form the basis for development of nautical service centres. 
  • Knowledge on the way in which sites, which were originally used for another purpose, can be prepared as a nautical service centre. 
  • Tested concepts of lay-out, facilities and management of nautical service centres. 
  • 5 equipped or prepared nautical service areas. 
  • Settlement of 25 new businesses and ca. 200 new jobs.

Key outputs and project related evidence:



The Lys River Region – from Source to Mouth

An Interreg V project headed by Toerisme Leiestreek’ (B) and ‘Lys-sans-Frontières’ (FR) who had been active promoters of cross-border tourism since 2002 The project ran from January 2008 to December 2011

They used this European funded collaboration partnership with the river Leie/Lys as a common thread to pursue their main objective of developing and marketing the Leie/Lys region as one cross-border tourist region.  

Four common themes were defined around the areas of product development, marketing and networking:  

  • River tourism
  • Gastronomy 
  • Cycling and walking 
  • Industrial heritage

Thanks to the European funding, the partners in the field developed innovative products with a clear cross-border added value which enabled them to enhance and promote the reputation of the Leie region as a tourist region. 

Partners were; 

  • Lead-partner: Westtoer (B) 
  • Toerisme Leiestreek (B) 
  • Lys sans Frontières (F) 
  • Ahoi! vzw (B)  
  • City of Deinze (B) 
  • City of Gent (B) 
  • City of Harelbeke (B)  
  • City of Izegem (B) 
  • City of Kortrijk (B) 
  • City of Kuurne (B) 
  • City of Menen (B) 
  • City of Spiere-Helkijn (B) 
  • Toerisme Kortrijk (B) 
  • Toerisme Oost-Vlaanderen (B) 
  • VVV West-Vlaamse Scheldestreek (B) 
  • City of Wervik (B) 
  • City of Wielsbeke 
  • City of Zulte 
  • City of Zwevegem (B) 
  • Ville d’Halluin (FR) 
  • Communauté de Communes Flandre-Lys (FR) 
  • Communauté de Communes Artois-Lys (FR) 
  • Ville de Saint-Venant (FR) 
  • Ville de Lespesses (FR) 
  • Ville de Ham-en-Artois (FR) 
  • Ville de Gonnehem (FR) 
  • Office de Tourisme du Pays de la Lys Romane (FR) 
  • Les amis du Bastion Nord de Saint-Venant (FR) 
  • Ville d’Erquinghem-Lys (FR) 
  • Communauté de Communes du Pays d’Aire (FR) 
  • Ville d’Aire-sur-la-Lys (FR) 
  • Ville de Wittes (FR) 
  • Ville de Sailly sur La Lys (FR) 
  • Ville d’Armentières (FR) 
  • Ville de Comines-Warneton (FR)

Key outputs and project related evidence: 



Look the Golden River!

An Interreg Cross Border (France-WallonieVlaanderen) project started in 2018 and due to end in September 2021

The stakeholders of the Lys Valley want their territory to become a cross-border eco-tourist destination of excellence, focused on itineraries. The axis of the Lys River links the towns around river tourism and river activities, distinguishing them from traditional tourism. The project’s ambition was to develop a new offer based on this and to strengthen the flow of foreign tourists by enhancing the region’s brand image. 

Partners were able to test how to improve and develop their environmental preservation of the sites and how concerted and sustainable management, allows them to manage and promote their sites as ‘eco-destinations’.  

The project also looked at how the training of professionals would ensure a better knowledge of the sites and the cross-border offer in order to encourage exchanges and partnerships by pooling skills.  

On the sites identified as priority sites, the project partners worked to develop innovative river tourism services and products, hitherto unknown to the public. The infrastructures built make it possible to attract investors and thus create new activities and new eco-tourism products, generating economic benefits and jobs for the region. The need for an upgraded fleet of boats was recognised and implemented, as these services were practically non-existent on the French side – despite the obvious potential.  

Partners involved were ; 

  • Lead-partner : Lys-sans-Frontières (FR) 
  • Ville de Merville (FR)
  • Westtoer (B) 
  • Toerisme Leiestreek (B) 
  • City of Ghent (B) 
  • Ville de Comines-Warneton (B) 
  • BoooT (B)
  • Ville de Nieppe (FR) 
  • Ville de La Gorgue (FR) 
  • Ville d’Erquinghem-Lys (FR) 
  • Ville de Steenwerck (FR) 
  • Ville d’Aire-sur-la-Lys (FR)
  • Gemeente Wielsbeke (B) 

Key outputs and project related evidence: