Covid-19 and tourism in Georgia – calls to contribute

I have been travelling to Georgia since 2001 and working there, on and off, since 2007. I have also focused all my academic research on Georgian tourism while stydying for the MSc in Responsible Tourism Management. I am now keen to see how the current coronavirus crisis will impact the country I have grown so fond of over the last 20 years. If anyone wants to share their insights and contribute to it, please get it touch!

I have seen how tourism has changed the whole country and its regions, cities and villages; how it has impacted – both positively and negatively – on culture, certain traditions, architecture, the local people and the natural environment. It has been an interesting, sometimes daunting and upsetting, but always fascinting process to observe. I am happy for many friends in Georgia who financially benefit from tourism, but I have also been concerned about the negative impacts of the rapid growth.

The current coronavirus crisis provides a new angle to observe the changes for tourism in Georgia. I have been researching this online and through speaking to several people on the ground who provide me with fascinating insights. As a result, I am working on a series of articles on the impact of Covid19 on Georgian tourism: the government’s response, the impact on business and SMEs, on ecotourism and Protected Areas, on changes in tourists’ behaviours etc. I wrote the first one last week on the early government response. The second one on the opportunities from the current crisis will be published this week on http://www.resilientdestinations.com

I believe this work will support better decision making and benefit the Georgian tourism industry as a whole, as it will summarize, monitor and document the events as well as the impacts, the reactions and the responses as they develop. I will look at trends, risks, good practice, dos and don’ts as well as new opportunities for the tourism sector to bounce back but perhaps with a new approach – ideally with a more sustainable tourism focused on the quality of the travel experience rather than the race to constantly increase the visitor numbers.

If anyone wants to contribute by sharing their insights, either from Georgia or other destinations (DMOs, government agencies, tourism businesses, Protected Areas, heritage organisations etc) please get in touch: marta@oneplanetblog.com

DIDI MADLOBA, a BIG THANK YOU!

 

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T.UN.NA Manifesto – the power of ‘Co-‘

T.UN.NA Winter Academy

At the end of 2019, I was one of 25 international tourism and conservation professionals selected to take part in the first edition of the Winter Academy for Tourism Management for UNESCO sites in Natural Areas (T.UN.NA), held in Trento and the Dolomites World Heritage Sites in northern Italy.

This week-long training, packed with several site visits around the Dolomites as well as practical sessions run by managers of Protected Areas from all over Europe, was designed to share expertise in tackling unbalanced tourism development and to discuss effective strategies to drive the change towards more sustainable future. Thanks to a unique mix of knowledgeable, passionate and inspiring people from various fields – nature conservation, forestry, sustainable tourism, destination management and marketing, heritage management, mountaineering – it was a huge success.

The Co-paradigm Manifesto

I wrote a longer article about T.UN.NA’s people, programme and achievements for the responsible tourism portal Travindy. Here, I’d like to share our “Co-” paradigm Manifesto, written at the end of the Academy, to summarize our work and describe the management model for designing more sustainable tourism in natural areas. It is based on the principles that conserving the diversity of life on Earth is critical to global human welfare, and that tourism has been developed on the wrong paradigm based on economy of scale that proved to be unsustainable. The “Co-” paradigm means the much-needed joint decision making and collaboration between the interested parties, co-generation of values and ideas, joint contribution, joint learning. It also means that all parties take ownership but also responsibility for this co-design, co-management, and sharing the benefits.

The Manifesto and the current coronavirus crisis

It is incredible how our Manifesto resonates with all the recent calls to rethink tourism in light of the coronavirus pandemic. To re-evaluate, redesign, reorganise, repurpose, as things can’t, and should not go back to ‘normal’. This is a fascinating topic for a whole seperate post – now I am just sharing the Manifesto to hopefully make the reader ponder on all the exciting changes and opportunities ahead.

T.UN.NA 2019 Manifesto

The ‘’Co-‘’ paradigm

The experience of T.UN.NA reaffirms the concept that Nature and Landscape protection and conservation is paramount to address current and future global challenges. This confirms the UNESCO commitment on the World Heritage Convention’s principles, stating that conserving the diversity of life on Earth is critical to global human welfare. The Convention recognizes the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two. T.UN.NA experience has also confirmed that tourism has been developed on the wrong paradigm based on economy of scale that proved to be unsustainable. A shift from increasing tourist numbers into higher quality experiences is necessary.

Considering the above, at the end of the learning experience the participants to the T.UN.NA Academy 2019 agreed on these common principles to inspire and to provide guidance to natural sites managers in designing and implementing effective actions for a more balanced sustainable development and management of tourism in natural areas. Overall, these principles ground on the “Co-” paradigm: this is the key concept for both tourism development and wellbeing of residents, of local business and tourists, as well as protection and conservation of nature and landscape.

(The principles are not listed according to order of importance)

  1. [ Co-decision] The scarcity of resources and the needs of the local community shall guide the decision-making process on tourism development.
  2. [ Co-ownership] Policy-makers must engage local communities and other stakeholders to establish an enduring pact on which to build the tourism development strategy that is meaningful and relevant to them, reflecting and respecting the local identities and heritage.
  3. [ Co-responsibility] Responsibility and knowledge (both academic and common knowledge) need to be shared and widespread among communities and stakeholders to raise the awareness of shared benefits and build trust for sustainable tourism in natural sites.
  4. [ Co-contribution] A better understanding of shared and relevant benefits and, consequently, the co-contribution to sustainable development, enables the principle of a co-paradigm creating a sense of personal and collective responsibility.
  5. [ Co-learning] Tourism management in natural areas should aim at building a tourism offer not just centred on mere entertainment but on transformative learning experiences co-created with the local communities.
  6. [ Co-design and co-creation] It is paramount to match the needs of local communities and the expectations of visitors in a circular process of social investment based on mutual respect. Stewardship may be an effective tool for transforming the nature-based tourism towards a future-proof development.
  7. [ Co-management] Monitoring & Evaluation shall guide the action of destination managers and travel and tourism stakeholders by setting limits and adopting parameters – such as the ecological footprint – in order to make tourists and local communities aware of their impact on the territory.
  8. [ Co-operation] Tourism policy in natural areas – based on an effective multi-level governance that involves all stakeholders in planning and decision-making – has to be based on sharing benefits and to address present and future generations’ needs.

 

The full article on TUUNA on Travindy:

The power of ‘CO’ –T.UN.NA Winter Academy Manifesto

 

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Challenges and opportunities in responsible tourism in Poland

Lack of mutual trust and cooperation between stakeholders, lack of long-term sustainable tourism strategy, low awareness of benefits from responsible tourism or lack of coordinated destination marketing are the key barriers in developing responsible tourism in Poland.

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I recently run a practical workshop in Warsaw on ‘Challenges, barriers and opportunities for responsible tourism’, organised by the Polish Tourism Board. It was aimed at the management and staff of the regional and local tourism boards, Destination Management Organisations (DMOs), local governments, academics and local tourism businesses from across the country who participated in this year’s edition of the EDEN project: European Destinations of Excellence, in the health and wellness sector. EDEN is an annual competition launched by the European Commission in 2006 to promote sustainable tourism development models across Europe.

Key challenges

Together with Adam Mikolajczyk, the CEO of the European Place Marketing Institute Best Place, we presented and analysed good practice as well as less successful examples in planning and implementing responsible tourism across the world, mainly from the health and wellness sector or destination with similar context to Poland. The participants then shared their experiences of successful solutions and, more often, of barriers and problems they have experienced in their destinations. With active participation of all trainees, we have identified key challenges in developing responsible tourism in Poland:

  • Lack of trust, cooperation and communication between stakeholders: both between private and public sectors as well as amongst tourism businesses.
  • Lack of long-term vision and responsible tourism strategy, with the lack of leadership in implementing tourism in destinations. This is a common problem of destinations with no effective DMO to oversee the strategic development.
  • Lack of strategic and coordinated marketing, the problem often emphasised by unfair competition between small tourism providers.
  • Lack of professional hospitality, management and language skills amongst the local population, resulting in poor quality of service.
  • Lack of awareness of the benefits of developing tourism sustainably amongst destination managers and decision makers, tourism businesses and the local population.
  • Low awareness of the local attributes of the destination that can be turn into products and experiences. This is a result of lack of understanding of the motivations and expectations of modern tourists.
  • Unbalanced promotion of destinations across the region or the country – a lot of focus and money is being spent on some regions, causing uneven distribution of tourists and already overtourism in some destinations.

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Not only Polish problems

At the end of 2017 I run similar workshops for destination managers, decision makers and local businesses at the Sustainable Mountain Tourism Forum in Georgia. For two days we have discussed the successes, opportunities and challenges to develop tourism more responsibly in the Caucasus region. I wrote about it here listing 10 key challenges – the first few are exactly the same like the ones in Poland. In addition, in both destinations the progress and success in tourism is still being measured by the quantity and not the quality of tourists. I will write more about this in a separate article as this is worth looking into in more detail.

Light at the end of the tunnel

It is not all that bad though. The participants of our workshop have been chosen by the EDEN project for their successful attempts in developing tourism and products based on the sustainable tourism principles. According to them, there are some positive changes already happening in various destinations across Poland:

  • Good cooperation, or at least the willingness to cooperate between tourism stakeholders, mainly in promotion
  • Using local products and local people to provide services
  • Some destinations already work on responsible tourism strategies
  • Growing trend in long-term waste management

At the end of the workshop the participants worked on a scenario that required them to provide innovative and practical suggestions to minimise the negative and maximise positive impacts of tourism in a national park in Poland. They have used and adapted some of the solutions from the case studies presented earlier. I do believe that raising knowledge and awareness about the benefits of sustainable tourism and long-term planning, overcoming mistrust and raising cooperation are key for responsible tourism development in Poland.

warsztaty smiles

 

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Zrównoważona turystyka w Polsce – wyzwania, bariery i sukcesy

Brak wzajemnego zaufania i współpracy między interesariuszami, brak strategii zrównoważonego rozwoju turystyki, niska świadomość korzyści ze zrównoważonej turystyki czy brak skoordynowanego marketingu to główne bariery w prowadzeniu zrównoważonej turystyki w Polsce wymieniane podczas warsztatów które przeprowadziłam w Warszawie.

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17 czerwca w Warszawie prowadziłam wraz z Adamem Mikołajczykiem, prezesem Europejskiego Instytutu Marketingu Miejsc praktyczne warsztaty ‘Zrównoważona turystyka – wyzwania, bariery, sukcesy’, zorganizowane przez Polską Organizację Turystyczną. Uczestniczyli w nich przedstawiciele regionalnych i lokalnych organizacji turystycznych, samorządów lokalnych, placówek naukowych oraz małych biznesów turystycznych od Bałtylu do Tatr biorących udział w tegorocznej edycji projektu EDEN (European Destinations of Excellence) na „Najlepsze Europejskie Destynacje Turystyczne” w kategorii turystyka zdrowotna i wellness. Nasze warsztaty poprzedziły ceremonię wręczenia nagród laureatom konkursu.

Celem warsztatów było:

  • zaprezentowanie przykładów praktyk z całego świata by wskazać źródła inspiracji, zanalizować ‘co działa a co nie’, co ma wpływ na sukces ale też jakich unikać błędów podczas planowania i wdrażania zrównoważonej turystyki w Polsce;
  • wspólne zidentyfikowanie wyzwań i barier rozwoju turystki zrównoważonej w Polsce, oraz
  • zainspirowanie uczestników do podejmowania nowych inicjatyw i rozwiązań, które mogę zostać zastosowane zarówno przez organizację turystyczną, biznes, turystę czy DMO (Destination Management Organisation)

warsztaty smiles

Wyzwania i bariery

Do naszej prezentacji dobrych oraz mniej udanych praktyk z całego świata w planowaniu i wdrażaniu zrównoważonej turystyki wybraliśmy przykłady z sektora turystyki zdrowotnej i wellness które łatwo można odnieść do polskich warunków (i odpowiedzieć na pytania: jakie rozwiązania sprawdzają lub sprawdziłyby się w mojej destynacji, ale również z jakimi problemami się spotykają). Po omówieniu kilkunastu przykładów poprosiliśmy uczestników o podzielenie się doświadczeniami z ich destynacji z całej Polski, zarówno pozytywnymi doświadczeniami sprawnych rozwiązań jak i problemami. Podczas żywej i interesującej dyskusji wspólnie zidentyfikowaliśmy wyzwania i bariery rozwoju turystki zrównoważonej w Polsce, i te najczęściej wymieniane to:

  • Brak wzajemnego zaufania i współpracy między interesariuszami – zarówno między samorządem lokalnymi i biznesem, jak i między biznesami turystycznymi.
  • Brak strategii zrównoważonego rozwoju turystyki, i związany z tym brak lidera – organizacji lub grupy ludzi rozumiejących potrzebę długoterminowego, planowanowanego rozwoju turystyki w destynacji. To klasyczny problem destynacji rozwinających się turystycznie gdzie nie ma sprawnego DMO (Destination Management Organisation)
  • Brak wspólnej promocji i skoordynowanego marketingu małych biznesów – i często niezdrowa konkurencja
  • Brak wykwalifikowanej kadry, brak profesjonalizmu wśród dostawców usług
  • Niska świadomość lokalnych atutów destynacji które można sprzedać turystom, wynikająca często ze słabego zrozumienia potrzeb i motywacji nowoczesnego turysty
  • Niska świadomość korzyści ze zrównoważonej turystyki – u wszystkich podmiotów (samorząd, biznes, lokalni mieszkańcy ale również turyści)
  • Niezrównoważona promocja regionów
  • Liczba turystów jako główny wskaźnik sukcesu turystycznego (wciąż najbardziej liczy się ilość a nie jakość turysty)

warsztaty sala

Nie tylko polskie problemy

Pod koniec 2017 prowadziłam podobne warsztaty w Gruzji podczas dużej konferencji dla destynacji i biznesów . Przez dwa dni omawialiśmy bariery i sukcesy w rozwoju zrównoważonej turystyki na Kaukazie. Proszę spojrzeć na listę z Gruzji – pierwsze kilka z Polski są dokładnie takie same. Napiszę osobny post na ten temat ponieważ warto poświęcić temu więcej miejsca i czasu.

challenges

Światełko w tunelu

Nie jest jednak z tą zrównoważoną turystyką tak źle. Uczestnicy warsztatów to laureaci konkursu EDEN których ‘produkty zarządzane są zgodnie z zasadami zrównoważonego rozwoju’ i pracujący w kierunku ciągłego ulepszania i produków, i całych destynacji. Według nich pozytywne zmiany które można zaobserwować to:

  • Dobra współpraca (lub chęć – a to już wiele!) między biznesami które rozumieją potrzebę wspólnego działania (promocja, podział usług) w celu dotarcia do większej liczby turystów
  • Oparcie na lokalnych produktach
  • Prace destynacji nad strategią zrównoważonego rozwoju turystyki
  • Rosnący trend w ograniczaniu śmieci
  • Rosnąca świadomość o konieczności prowadzenia turystyki w sposób zrównoważony.

 Scenariusz

Podczas ostatniej części warsztatów – scenariusza z wymyślonej destynacji w Polsce z szybko rozwijającą się turystyką powodującą wiele negatywnych skutków – uczestnicy pracowali w grupach nad propozycją rozwiązań które zminimalizują negatywny i zmaksymalizują pozytywny wpływ turystyki na mieszkańców, turystów, biznesów i środowiska naturalnego. Wszyscy zaangangażowali się w przedstawienie praktycznych, innowacyjnych i bardzo trafnych rozwiązań z punktu widzenia lokalnego biznesu, organizacji turystycznych oraz turysty. Według mnie właśnie wzrost wiedzy i świadomości Polaków jak można zminimalizować negatywny i zmaksymalizować pozytywny wpływ turystyki w destynacji jest kluczowy w rozwoju zrównoważonej turystyki w Polsce.

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EDEN, czyli European Destinations of Excellence to projekt zainaugurowany w 2006 roku przez Komisję Europejską. Polska przystąpiła do niego w 2009 roku. Jego celem jest stworzenie europejskiej sieci obszarów i produktów turystycznych, które dotychczas są mało rozpoznawalne, ale charakteryzują się wyjątkowymi walorami dla przyrodniczo-kulturowego dziedzictwa Europy. Laureaci konkursu to produkty zarządzane zgodnie z zasadami zrównoważonego rozwoju, a więc z poszanowaniem dla miejscowej kultury i tradycji, zasobów naturalnych oraz lokalnej ekonomii. Tematem tegorocznej odsłony konkursu była turystyka zdrowotna i wellness.

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Local pride, authenticity and connection – social benefits of trails

What I find most fascinating about trails and cultural routes is their power to connect and foster social interactions and shared responsibility, creating social benefits for both tourists and the local people.

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Discussing socio-cultural benefits of trails at ITB Berlin: Alex Crevar, me, Vladan Kreckovic and Thierry Joubert

Scenic Roads and Trails’ were the theme of the three-day series of events and presentations on the Adventure stage at ITB Berlin last week. It was simply music to my ears as I love trails for their power to connect people, places, cultures and nature.  It is also a subject close to my heart as co-creating the Transcaucasian Trail, a new long-distance hiking path, has brought me into sustainable tourism. At ITB, together with the Via Dinarica trail experts from the Western Balkans we discussed the value of long-distance trails and cultural routes for the development of sustainable tourism, and their positive social impacts on tourists and the local communities.

Long-distance trails provide excellent opportunities to experience nature, history and culture. They help preserve the local heritage, give coherence to cultural themes and develop cultural understanding between the hosts and the guests. During the panel I was asked why creating local pride through trail development is important, and does that help to bring the locals on board and bring authenticity to the route?

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‘What fascinates me most about trails is their power to connect: people, destinations, attractions, cultures and nature’

all panel with snezjana

Trails and the local pride

Trails and cultural routes give the opportunity to bring communities together, to nurture community pride, instil a sense of belonging and deepen the awareness and knowledge of the local history and the resources they have. Creating or strengthening the community pride is one of the key social benefits of tourism, and tourism is not sustainable without positive social impacts.

These routes also bring communities and tourists together. They ‘stimulate cultural exchanges that instil local pride, enrich the cultural identity and heritage of destinations and foster closer ties between visitors and host communities’ (UNWTO ‘Global Report on Cultural Routes and Itineraries’, 2015). The report also calls such routes ‘a window of opportunities’ thanks to their economic and social impacts.

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Local and international volunteers from seven countries brought together to build the Transcaucasian Trail, July 2017

Trails and authenticity

If the local people are proud of their natural and cultural heritage and if they understand the value this can have for visitors, they will be willing to share it and hence make it into a more authentic, more immersive and more educational experience. They will also be willing to share it with trails planners and trails developers, advise them on best routes and hidden gems along the route, which again makes the trail much more authentic.

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Community consultation for the Transcaucasian Trail. Mulakhi in Svaneti, Georgia. June 2016

We have had several situations during scouting and planning the Transcaucasian Trail when local people advised us to take a different route that would make the trail more interesting, safer and more accessible, that would help discover those hidden gems or simply help avoid conflict amongst communities. This not only has generated more unique experiences for trail users but also encouraged and enabled the locals to participate in tourism planning process, enhancing their self-esteem and self-belief, improving cooperation and communication as well as fostering shared responsibility.

Interestingly, The Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance (Canada) mentions that ‘improved self-image and social relationships, reduced crime rates, and a lifestyle encouraging youth to find their entertainment in healthy, wholesome pursuits, are all found to be byproducts of local trail systems’. This post also has a good summary of various benefits of trails.

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Community consultation for the Transcaucasian Trail. Adishi in Svaneti, Georgia. May 2016

 

Trails: the power to connect

Trails provide a themed and interpreted journey through landscapes, creating links between sites, attractions, tourism businesses and people by providing information and storytelling along the way (MacLeod, 2016). What fascinates me most in trails is that power to connect: communities within one village or region; communities in various regions; communities and trail users; trail users with other trail users; trails users and nature, culture and other attractions; attractions with other attractions; trail users with the natural and cultural heritage; communities with the natural and cultural heritage…

This develops the cultural identity of destinations and enriches interactions between tourists and hosts, providing all the benefits written above.

coruldi tourists

Trails and local story

And going back to the issue of participation of the locals in trail creation and, consequently, in tourism development in their destination. The community participation is crucial for the interpretation of the trail: how the information will be displayed and communicated to the visitors, what kind of story it will tell and how, what kind of experience it will provide.

As mentioned earlier, trails and cultural routes provide excellent opportunities for users to experience the natural and cultural heritage of the destinations along the route – both separate destinations (villages, regions) or one destination for the whole trail (the Caucasus region, the Western Balkans etc). Identification of these opportunities during trail planning – in close cooperation with the local communities – ensures that the interpretive signage at various strategic locations and points of interest will help tell a story to trail users and provide a deeper experience for those interested in learning more about the region. Sharing the local story is another way to deepen the sense of pride of the community’s own history and cultural heritage.

Developing a story around and behind the trail – why is it special, what makes it unique that will make people come and use it – is another fascinating subject we touched on during the ITB panel. I will write about it another time.

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The Adventure stage, Responsible Travel Hall, ITB Berlin 6-8 March 2019

 

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my interview for the Sustainability Leaders Project

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My short welcome speech for EuroEco18

5th European Ecotourism Conference was held in Tbilisi, Georgia, 10-12 September. The event provided a platform for a range of stakeholders throughout the continent and beyond – to present their research results and development activities on ecotourism and sustainable tourism as well as to start discussions on the work of the European Ecotourism Network. I wrote more about the conference topics and workshops here.

42857443_305732753560853_6854333273984729088_n[1]Keynote speakers and moderators at EuroEco18 from (left to right): Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Japan, Poland, Montenegro, UK, Portugal and Romania.

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I moderated several sessions during the first two days. My first session, “Ecotourism as a Tool for Community Development in Destinations”, focused on the role of ecotourism as an instrument for poverty reduction as well as on the role Protected Areas play in Economic Development. Here is a short speech I made to introduce this session:

Good morning. Thank you all for coming to this first sessions of EuroEco18 that will focus on Ecotourism as a Tool for Community Development in Destinations.

My name is Marta Mills and I have the pleasure to moderate this session together with Nata from the Georgian Ecotourism Association. I first came to Georgia 17 years ago for a month as a tourist, and as it was pretty unusual to visit Georgia back then, I was welcomed like a queen by the local people wherever I went. I have immediately fallen in love with the amazing landscapes, food and wine but most of all with the incredible Georgian hospitality that I have experienced even in the poorest areas of the country. Since then I have been back and forth 16 times, closely observing the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the rapidly developing tourism.

Even back then in August 2001, the local people wanted more tourists because they saw tourism as a way to help reduce poverty, particularly in the most remote regions such as Svaneti. I don’t know for sure, but I think it is safe to assume that the Svans I talked to in 2001 saw tourism and ecotourism as an additional source of income, not the main way to earn a living. But this is what has happened to a significant number of them. In many destinations across Georgia, ecotourism has proven to be an effective tool for community development and poverty reduction.

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As the impacts of tourism are both positive and negative, ecotourism represents a great challenge for making destinations better place to live, better place to visit and for developing the local economy at community level. Building environmental and cultural awareness and respect; minimizing negative physical, social, behavioural, and psychological impacts of tourism, and generate financial benefits for the local community and businesses are not easy, and different destinations use different approaches, methods and indicators to develop, manage and monitor ecotourism.

During this session, we will listen to speakers from Poland, Romania, Finland, Georgia, Italy, Turkey and others who will share case studies and best practice examples from their destinations. We will also look at the relationships between tourism and Protected Areas, and their role in social and economic development in Georgia and other places. We all know how important it is to gather and disseminate transnational experiences and learn from each other to ensure that tourism development is sustainable. So over to you now. We wish you a very informative and enjoyable session. 

Didi Madloba.

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