Tourism for Nature

A hypothesis says that the forest will regenerate naturally after the bark beetle disaster. Foresters and politicians often disagree, but the interest of tourists in the dead forest may serve as yet another argument for the preservation of this unique ecosystem.
Photo courtesy of Šumava National Park.

Three biosphere reserves take part in the Tourism for Nature project funded by GEF and UNESCO. When sustainable tourism plans come to life, the local people will benefit and biodiversity will be better preserved.

We were walking through a dead forest. The trees were without leaves, the bark was on the ground, and only bare gray trunks were still standing. I bet some people in our group of 15 didn’t feel comfortable entering this area where the sign was saying that the visitor bears responsibility for any accidents.

But the place was not dead – new life was breaking through the fallen bark of the trees killed by the bark beetles (mainly Ips typographus) in Šumava National Park in the Czech Republic. Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) is more often seen nesting in the areas attacked by the beetle, sais Vladimir Silovsky, Deputy Director for Public Relations of the national park, and the reasons are related to the abundance of food. We checked ourselves – it is true that blueberries grow much better in such areas.

The path we took was set up by the national park in summer 2005 and is one of the attractions in the park that counts almost 2 million visits annually. The main ecological value of the park is 3,000 bogs hosting unique ecosystems. Preservation of these fragile areas given the high amount of visitors requires careful planning. The park is assisted in the development of sustainable tourism by Tourism for Nature project. Other two national parks participating in the project are Babia Góra in Poland and Aggtelek in Hungary. All three National Parks are designated biosphere reserves.

The project aims at implementing CBD Guidelines for Biodiversity and Tourism Development as well as UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere concept. Awareness raising about sustainable tourism among local people is another area of focus for the project team.

Sustainable tourism services are often are provided by local people. Tourism for Nature project supports the development of sustainable tourism products to empower the people in the Babia Góra area.

“If you look down from the top of the Babia Góra Mountain, you will see a patchwork of tiny agricultural plots – and these will look different on the different sides of the mountain” – sais Tomasz Lamorski from Babia Góra Biosphere Reserve.

Sustainable tourism can facilitate the revival and preservation of local cultures if local people are involved in the development of sustainable tourism products.
Photo courtesy of Babia Góra National Park.

The Babia Góra Mountain ridge was a state border until 1918 and the communities living on the different sides of the massif have developed independently, giving rise to different architecture, folklore, clothing and dialects. This makes it an ideal location for the development of tourism products based on regional identity.

A tourism product is a combination of services, commodities and other material or immaterial items that enable the visitors to have a “complex experience”. The experience consists of what the tourist does and learns during the stay and the individual impressions acquired when visiting the destination.

Sustainable tourism should integrate all three sustainability aspects – socio-cultural, environmental and economic. Obviously, the Tourism for Nature project is looking for ways to create economic benefits to local communities and people. For example, in Babia Góra as well as in Šumava the project will train local people to become nature guides. In all the biosphere reserves local people will be tought about the principles and development of sustainable tourism. In Aggtelek and Šumava national parks specific courses, such as organic farming, bee-keeping, catering and handicrafts will be held.

Sustainable tourism should guarantee satisfaction with the least impact. Visit to protected areas is an opportunity for education about the importance of nature conservation.
Photo courtesy of Šumava National Park.

The project will develop the Trail Planning Guide. SŠumava Biosphere Reserve will have the possibility to apply the principles outlined in the guide when improving its network of 500 km hiking and 400 km bicycle trails.

“Unsustainable tourism is one of the primary reasons and future threats for biodiversity losses in the three biosphere reserves” – states Michael Meyer, the coordinator of the project. Therefore each biosphere reserve will prepare an integrated management plan for sustainable tourism development that takes biodiversity into account.

It is not a simple task to do. The tourism management plan should be developed together with the stakeholders, otherwise they may not be willing to implement it.

Of the three biosphere reserves, only Aggtelek has a tourism management plan, which also will have to be updated and prepared in line with participatory UNESCO’s Programme on Man and Biosphere (MAB) principles.

An old church in Aggtelek National Park hosts a concert that attracts local people and visitors.
Photo by Zsuzsa Tolnay.

There are only two small villages within the Aggtelek biosphere reserve with a population of about 1,500 people. The main attractions for the tourists are karst caves. Most of the visitors come for a one-day visit to the caves and therefore do not spend much on the services and products, which these two villages could offer.

Preparation of the tourism management plans will typically take two to three years. The planing process starts with the assessment and recording of the state of the biosphere reserve and its tourism activities, continues with the evaluation of current and projected needs and threats, and concludes with designing of strategies and planning of specific activities to address those threats. All stakeholders should participate in the development and implementation of it.

Time will show that the dead trees are not the end of life for the forest. Similarly, tourism will not necessarily devastate these unique natural areas. If developed properly, it can bring lots of benefits for both communities and nature.

By Kristina Vilimaite
The article originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of the Diversity, the newsletter of CEEWEB.

 

 

 

 

Contact: Michael Meyer at Ecological Tourism in Europe (ETE) | tel: +49-228-359008 | fax: +49-228-359096 | e-mail: m.meyer@oete.de