What Is an Ecotourism Destination?
The European Ecotourism Conference, which was held in Poiana Brașov, Romania, from 23-25 October 2013, gathered together ecotourism practitioners and experts from across the region to discuss the current challenges and future opportunities for ecotourism standards, destinations, and businesses in Europe.
The concept of a (travel) destination is, depending on the context, language, and culture, an easy-to-understand or a very complex set of ideas that are critical to the successful and sustainable development of tourism in a country, region, or community. So what might an ecotourism destination in Europe look like?
According to the Declaration of The 2nd European Ecotourism Conference, which was produced as an outcome of the conference and endorsed by all participants, the following are the key components of what constitute an ecotourism destination in Europe:
- A protected area associated with the destination;
- A critical mass of local ecotourism businesses;
- A sustainability plan under implementation, in developing ecotourism;
- Nature and local culture as the main ingredients in product development and marketing;
- Active participation of local communities based on shared values, empowered through education and awareness raising.
The Ecotourism Context
Ecotourism, as demonstrated by many of the presenters and participants of the European Ecotourism Conference, is both a set of principles that serve as guidelines on how to approach tourism, and a tool for communities to achieve sustained and sustainable economic growth without compromising their local cultural and environmental integrity.
Here are some of the ways the ideas and ideals of the ecotourism approach are expressed by ecotourism organizations around Europe (that were also represented at the conference).
Romania – AER (Association of Ecotourism in Romania)
“Ecotourism contributes to the development of local communities in natural areas. Often, the local community is part of ecotourism product, thus ecotourism benefits should mostly belong to the local community. Local benefits can be obtained by using local guides, staying in local guesthouses, buying local products or using local services. Ecotourism activities and their planning must ensure the reduction of the negative impact on the local community visited and contributes to the conservation of local lifestyle/culture while offering a practical long-term contribution to these communities.” (Source: What is ecotourism? by AER)
Ireland – EcoTourism Ireland
“A genuine ecotourism travel experience is based on a number of principles that make demands on both ecotourism operators and their guests. Visitors can expect to gain privileged insights and knowledge about the nature and culture of the region they have came to see, and they can also be assured that the people involved in providing their holiday have adopted environmentally sustainable practices.” (Source: Ecotourism Exprience by EcoTourism Ireland)
Norway – Ecotourism Norway
“The values behind ecotourism lie deep in the soul of the Norwegian people. The act of living in and with nature is part of Norwegian tradition of outdoor life; a tradition that Norwegians happily share with their guests, together with the great stories and genuine experiences.” (Source: About Norwegian ecotourism by Ecotourism Norway)
As seen in these descriptions, an important aspect of developing and managing destinations is, particularly in the ecotourism context, is about the local experience as embodied by local people and experienced through various expressions of the community spirit, identity, and way of life.
The European Context
Europe is a continent of many peoples, languages, cultures, and naturally, many different approaches to tourism and sustainable development. As captured by what became the unofficial motto of this year’s European Ecotourism Conference (thanks to the inspiring presentation by Carol Ritchie of EUROPARC Federation), “one degree of difference“, starting today with a small step towards common goals of supporting and promoting European ecotourism destinations, is what ecotourism stakeholders at the local and regional levels can aspire to, with the long-term aim of greater collaboration and more effective and meaningful partnership initiatives.