Tourists don’t only want to see beautiful places when they visit a region. They also want to experience the mentality of a region. The Achterhoek Open Air Museum is all about discovering the soul of the region in the east close to the German border. A permanent exposition about what farm life was like in the old days. It was tough and a lot of hard work. But it was also normal in an agrarian society that neighbors took care of each other. And sobriety was the mentality. By taking a deep dive in how people in the Achterhoek region in the Dutch province of Gelderland live their lives, you understand and appreciate better what makes them unique in their outlook and customs.
Locally the museum is known as Erve Kots. The combination of parts with the Inn Erve Kots, Open Air Museum Erve Kots, the Lodging, Restaurant Command post of the Prince and Brewhouse Beer Experience used to attract larger crowds with up to 50.000 visitors a year in the Seventies. Those were the days. After 85 years of service the museum was in dire need of a make-over. Museum owner Bernard Weenink Foundation formulated the ambition to relive the golden days from the past, by investing in the guest concept and the experiential and educational pillars. Sandenburg-DST was asked to develop a new plan. Starting point: creating new impulses to increase the attraction value and number of visitors.
Inclusive development process
We kicked off with an interactive consultation process of inclusive development. A development team was compiled with stakeholders of the museum, the horeca on Erve Kots, destination organization Achterhoek Toerisme, the municipality of Oost-Gelre, advisory agency Cultuur Oost and the holiday parks in the vicinity of the village of Lievelde. Out of the co-creation sessions came an important insight: ‘the museum is silent’. Erve Kots had a beautiful collection of buildings and objects, but visitors couldn’t make sense of it all. The mission was to make the museum come alive and make conversation.
‘Every visitor who wants to experience the Achterhoek region, has to visit the Open Air Museum of the Achterhoek. We are proud of our attraction.’
Annette Bronsvoort, Mayor of Municipality Oost-Gelre
There were plenty of stories to tell in a museum which was atypically founded in 1936 by farmer Bernard Weenink. Before the Second World War people in the region were surprised – to say the least- that one of their people had the audacity to open a museum on his courtyard. Furthermore, every visitor to the museum is intrigued by the social phenomenon of naoberschap where the farming community looks after each other, and of course the regional legend of the ghostly witches (witte wieven). The most important story to tell is that of circular farming. Small farmers in the Achterhoek region had to do a lot with little means at their disposal. They were forced to work with a circular mindset, generations before it became an accepted standard.
Sandenburg-DST delved into the treasury of stories and created a lot of new experiential media. In the reception pavilion visitors experience the object theatre show, a merry introduction using multimedia. A tour through the revitalized museum starts with a so-called mindset experience. An impressive warm-up lasting 5 minutes with lights, sound, and objects. The route through the museum has been adapted chronologically and the audio tour is in Dutch, German and in the local dialect. On offer are audio tours with big and small stories (we call them snacks), that help the visitor to understand better what he sees). New expositions have been added and the signing and information panels have been renewed. The youngest visitors experience a brand-new playground. The last stop of the museum is a small lane where you can listen to local folktales.
Sandenburg-DST also introduced a new name and brand identity: Erve Kots became Open Air Museum of the Achterhoek. The museum can claim now that you really experience the region. After the festive opening in May 2022 the number of visitors shot up by 50 percent, despite making a visit more expensive. The dwelling time visitors spend at the museum has increased considerably. The expectation is that more attention in 2023 for online marketing and publicity will help to increase the number of visitors.