Project Co-Lead

Elke Dens


Together with long-time colleague Frank Cuypers, Elke Dens co-founded Place Generation earlier this year to generate positive impact in places for people. The team developed the strategy 2030 for The European Commission, is currently creating the place identity for the city of Valkenburg (The Netherlands), launched a transformative plan for regenerative tourism for Mulanje in Malawi, and will together with CityDna and Simpleview work with Helsinki and Torino and four other cities in Europe over the next three years on making their tourism organizations future proof.

Before joining to found PlaceGeneration, Elke worked as a self-employed contractor for government ministries, cities and regions. In early 2022, Elke transitioned from serving as a Trustee for The Travel Foundation to working part-time -as a contractor- as the organization’s global director of programs. She develops and guides the execution of impactful projects across the globe, working primarily around climate and equity in tourism with tour operators and destination organizations.

Between 2012 and 2022 Elke successfully implemented two major transitions for Visit Flanders, the national tourism board for the north part of Belgium. As marketing manager, she also served on the board of directors. With the first restructure, she moved the DMO from a typical marketing promotional organization to a destination development organization between 2012 and 2015. Her actions included shifting the sales budget into product development and re-orienting salespeople into product and experience managers.

From 2017 until 2021, she was a driving force behind Visit Flanders’ highly regarded “Travel to Tomorrow” strategy. Implementing this regenerative approach required shifting the organization’s core objective from serving the visitor to serving the resident, the local entrepreneur, and the place itself (giving it a voice, taking care of the interest of the place itself). Visit Flanders’ stakeholders broadened from primarily tourism partners to include many additional interests. The organization evolved its target away from the typical tourist, funding shifted from large-scale funding schemes to seeding budgets, the governance shifted from a top down to a bottom up model.

These major shifts drew much recognition and appreciation from experts in the field. The Belgian Association of Marketing named Elke ‘marketeer of the year’ in 2019 for turning a marketing organization upside down and leading it bravely and boldly into a new decade.

As the chair of marketing for The European Travel Commission between 2016-2021, Elke has learned the in-and outs from 33 different national tourism boards, each with a different public-private structure, mandate, budget and governance.

As a guest professor and writer, Elke is also still very active in the academic side of tourism. Her primary focus is how transition in tourism is impacting organizations. In 2022, she published an article about “Transformative Roles in Tourism” in the Journal of Tourism Futures, and a book about system change in tourism in 2022: ‘Tourism Is Dead. Long Live the Traveler’. She teaches marketing and tourism as a guest professor at different universities. She developed a brand-new course this year called ‘Transition Management in Tourism’ for Erasmushogeschool in Brussels.