Covid-19 impacts on nature conservation in Georgia

None of the many available analyses of Covid19 impact on conservation focuses on the Caucasus region. This artices summarises the positive and negative impacts on nature in Georgia, based on my interviews with people who work for Protected Areas and environmental NGOs. nature conservation biodiversity sustainabletourism sustainability georgia environment

Keselo,_Tusheti

Since the start of the pandemic, various international conservation organisations, academics, NGOs and journalists reported on the impacts of Covid-19 on biodiversity conservation, on wildlife (including illegal trade), and on Protected Areas (PA). However, I haven’t found any analyses that focus specifically to the situation in the Caucasus. From the knowledge of Georgia’s Protected Areas I have gained over the last 20 years, I knew that some of the impacts – particularly compared to PAs on the African continent – will be different, and wanted to explore it more through interviews with people on the ground.

I have spoken to several people who work in the field of nature protection in Georgia: rangers, PAs staff, visitor centre managers in parks, and environmental NGOs, to get an overview of the current situation and plans for the future. Their views are private and don’t represent the official stand of the government’s Agency of Protected Areas (APA). I have also received some official feedback from APA that is included in the article.

This article summarizes their personal views on the positive and negative impacts of the coronavirus on nature and biodiversity protection in Georgia, and how that changed their work. We also discussed current and future management strategies for Protected Areas and the future of tourism in PAs in Georgia. However, in the interest to keep this article concise, I will focus only on the impact on nature, and write about PA tourism in the next article.

Vashlovani Protected Areas

 

Negative impacts

The negative impacts of Covid-19 mentioned in the reports and articles from other destinations, particularly in PAs on the African continent, include: increased threat to wildlife, increased poaching and illegal hunting, higher risk of illegal wildlife trade (and increased risk of corruption relating to this), threats to rangers’ safety. These impacts are caused by increased migration from cities back into the villages as well as from the huge loss of tourism revenues and the lack of tourists’ presence. Restrictions on international travel have already fuelled a jump in illegal hunting for bush meat as a fall in revenue forces government wildlife agencies and NGOs to scale back anti-poaching operations. Poachers have encroached on land they wouldn’t normally visit and killed rhinos in tourism hot spots now devoid of visitors and safari guides.

Are the negative impacts in Georgia similar?

·      Illegal hunting, logging, poaching

Geof Giacomini, the CEO of the Caucasus Nature Fund that provides ‘vital financial support for nature conservation in the stunning wilderness areas of Armenia’, Azerbaijan and Georgia’ said that ‘we may expect more illegal logging and more poaching in PAs in Georgia if the health (and therefore economic) crisis continues beyond summer.’ Giorgi Bakuridze from Tusheti PA is more optimistic. He reckons that poaching and illegal hunting won’t happen because ‘the local people know why tourists come to our PAs and they don’t want to destroy that’.

According to the Agency of Protected Areas: ‘the rangers are still actively working and so far, due to quarantine, no special changes have been revealed in the direction of poaching.’ I am assuming this means there were no reported cases of poaching.

The threat of poaching or illegal hunting will also vary from PA to PA. For example, the rangers from Vashlovani PA have reported no illegal hunting activities during the coronavirus crisis, but there have been cases in the neighbouring Lagodekhi. One of the opinions I have heard is that the illegal hunting might be caused by some local residents who have been away for many years and recently come back to the area (due Covid). They do it because they are unaware of the current restrictions, or are used to the way hunting was carried out in the Soviet times where more activities were allowed to be carried out.

·      Future impact on nature

The focus on domestic tourism as well as the recent push for Georgia as a safe destination for international tourists, combined with the predicted trend of travellers choosing more remote places and secluded holidays in nature, can have a negative impact on the PAs. If too many people storm the PAs in Georgia in the summer months, there might be too much pressure on the PAs and the damage to ecosystems will increase, says Geof Giacomini.

·      Loss of income from tourism

This concerns both the Agency for Protected Areas (where the budget for the PAs comes from) and the local tourism service providers. This may have to force them to look at various alternative options to diversify the sources of funding. I will write more about it in the next article on tourism in PAs.

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Positive impacts

·      Nature has a rest

‘I see more positives than negatives. Nature has a rest. People are more careful to nature and to each other’, said Nino Seturidze, Visitor Service Senior Specialist from Vashlovani PA. Vazha Cherkezishvili, a ranger and the head of the security department at Vashlovani PAs, used similar words: ‘When we think of the environment, Covid-19 has had a positive impact on Protected Areas. Sometimes having a lot of people visiting cause problems for national parks. Now there is no tourism allowed, nature had had a time-out and rested’.

·      Improved people-nature relationship

In an earlier article on opportunities from Covid, I mentioned ‘a new relationship with nature’ as one of the positive impacts of Covid in Georgia: to slow down, to care more, to be more active. According to Geof Giacomini from CNF, ‘Georgian people’s relationship with nature will change – we can expect a psychological shift into being much happier to be out in nature. Georgians will hopefully leave the cities and spend more time outdoors in the mountains and forests for recreational purposes’. The members of Associations of Friends of Protected Areas have been very active in promoting the value of nature, and Geof hopes this would help spread these values across to other Georgians.

This is also connected to the ongoing argument in Georgia about whether to pay for ecosystem services. CNF has been suggesting introducing the entrance fees to PAs (national parks in particular) or paying for using the natural resources, but this has always been opposed by the Georgian authorities. The issue is that many Georgians take nature for granted and damage it by littering, illegal logging, extraction – so perhaps putting a monetary value on it would make the people value nature more. This may well turn out to be another impact of Covid: ‘Coronavirus will help rethink the relationship with nature and to change the mindset into a more caring one’, said Geof.

·      Better engagement with local communities 

The fact that people living within or adjacent to PAs don’t have much work in tourism and have more time; that they are back in their places of origin, often after many years of working in Tbilisi; and that visitor managers at PAs also have less work – all unexpectedly caused by Covid-19 – also means that there has been more social interaction amongst members of the local community and between them and the PAs staff. Some of the PAs staff gave reached out to local communities to discuss the issues that bother the locals, not only tourism-related but in general. This may lay foundations for future community engagement with the local communities when tourism returns to the parks.

Nino Seturidze has used the time in quarantine to organise regular – and very popular – webinars for local school children via zoom. They are member of school ecoclubs that provide environmental education for children. She sends them tasks to conduct environmental research in their gardens and sends her photos of birds and animals. She has also invited various people to talk to the kids about nature conservation: the Georgian Rangers Association; the only female ranger from Algeti PA, or a professional bird watcher. ‘I did it because I didn’t want to stay at home and do nothing. Involving the kids from our PA has bee great and I also want to involve children from other ecoclubs across Georgia’, she said.

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·      Improved monitoring of PAs

Some of the PAs are using this quiet time to clear the backlog of work that there was never enough time to finish, such as drafting plans for new trails, improving signage and other tourism infrastructure. ‘Rangers in Tusheti now have more time to focus on observing biodiversity. They update the old data which improves the monitoring in our PA’, said Giorgi Bakuridze.

In Vashlovani, rangers work in groups that rotate once a week. One group goes into to the park for a week when the other group goes back home. The new regulation of no more than three people allowed in one car means that there is less of them patrolling, meaning that they have had to double their time on patrolling. This is one significant change to their jobs, but it isn’t negative. Rangers I spoke to say that apart from that, their daily work has not changed. They are still patrolling without any interruptions (and without threat to their safety, as it has been reported in PAs in Africa) and monitoring/documenting biodiversity data.

·      Improvements in skills

In addition to conducting webinars for the locals or informally discussing the current crisis (and the ways to minimise the negative impacts) amongst themselves, the PA staff also use this quieter time to improve their skills via online training (guesthouse management, rural tourism, English lessons). After Covid, Giorgi Bakuridze plans to train the local school children in Tusheti to be tourist guides, so he is now participating in training-for-trainers course. Nana Kartvelishvili, Business Development and Tourism Specialist at Organic Farming and Rural Tourism Network ‘Elkana’ is providing free training for small businesses that Giorgi has also benefitted from. He wants to know more about guesthouse and tourism management to prepare better for the future.

·      Focus on agriculture

The issue of migration back from cities to the countryside can be also seen as a positive impact. Many people who had left Dedoplistskaro town (adjacent to Vashlovani PA) have recently come back, started farming, gardening, planting trees. ‘People start to understand again that nature and agriculture is so important for Georgians and for our country’ Nino Seturidze told me. I hope that the government will focus more on agriculture now, we have so many great resources and don’t need to import so much food’.

According to Giorgi Bakuridze from Tusheti PA, it is ‘a good thing that the local people now will think more about changing their habits, hopefully focussing more on agriculture – growing potatoes and farming sheep again – and diversify their incomes.’

Lessons learnt so far

Nana Kartvelishvili from Elkana hopes that Covid has given Georgians a chance to improve knowledge, energy efficiency and waste management; focus more on agriculture; and to care more about nature. Similarly, Nino Seturidze is also looking at positives: ‘It is not a tragedy for me personally. Yes, we have a break from tourists and this has had economic impacts. But we do need more involvement of local business and the local municipality in nature conservation’.

All of my interlocutors hope that post-Covid, there will be more interest and willingness to protect the natural environment in Georgia as the understanding of the benefits of conservation has grown during the pandemic. As nature is one of Georgia’s biggest assets, I sincerely hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tourism in Georgia: opportunities from Covid-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has already significantly affected the tourism industry in Georgia and the country’s economy that heavily relies on tourism. This is a good time to reflect on the most desirable tourism going forward, and all the opportunities this may bring

2 strenghts

In my first post in this series, I summarised the rapid growth of tourism in Georgia in the last decade.  2020 was supposed to be the best year ever. For many, ‘the best’ simply meant most profitable; however – and this is something often forgotten in Georgia – more and more tourists also mean many negative social and environmental impacts. Growth in visitor numbers should not be perceived or defined as success, particularly in emerging destinations where local communities and small businesses are often not the ones who benefit most.

I’d argue that the most positive impact of the unexpected reduction in international arrivals caused by COVID-19 is an opportunity to change the mindset focussed so heavily on growth, and shift towards more responsible, more meaningful, more innovative and less damaging tourism in Georgia. To put it simply: to transform and regenerate it.

‘The task of rebuilding tourism gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebalance it’ said Jeremy Sampson, the CEO of a sustainable tourism NGO the Travel Foundation. This is the time to do it in Georgia too, and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do it well.

Rebalance, rethink, repurpose

Post COVID-19, the Georgian tourism industry will have to change. First of all, it will be crucial to resist the temptation to ‘return to normal’ because the ‘normal’ was already quite damaging for some local communities and for the natural environment. To quote the authors of the excellent academic assessment of COVID-19 published this week in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism: ‘With the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need not to return to business-as-usual when the crisis over (…)’. In this sense, the coronavirus – as awful, damaging and scary as it has been – can be seen as an opportunity to redefine tourism in Georgia, its long-term goals, purpose and key beneficiaries.

With no tourists and no pressing needs to look after them now, both private and public sector stakeholders have an opportunity to stop, reflect on and rethink their current practices. This is the time for the government and other influential decision makers to stop the race to constantly increasing the numbers of visitors, to build more casinos and more fancy hotels, and to construct more and more tarmac roads going up the mountain passes. Anyone who has been to Georgia more than once, even in a space of a year, will understand what I mean. I will write more on this in the article on COVID-19 and Protected Areas.

Transforming tourism: opportunities 

I am not aiming to provide the answers for a quick and miraculous recovery as I don’t have them. But based on the wide range of current online discussions, analyses, reports, surveys, thought-pieces as well as case studies from various destinations on the sustainable tourism responses to COVID-19, I have listed several opportunities that are particularly relevant to Georgian tourism at the moment.

In the interest of keeping this article concise, I am resisting the temptation to elaborate on each of these opportunities, but I will do so in future articles in the series. I will not mention the opportunities for the business sector here either. Any comments and suggestions are most welcome.

  1. Opportunity to diversify

There is an opportunity for the Georgian decision makers to reassess whether it is possible NOT to rely so much on mass tourism, to diversify and shift the focus and investments on other sectors. For the country that relies so heavily on international tourism, the significant loss in international tourism revenues (from US$3.3bn in 2019 to  US$1.2bn – US$2.8bn compared to 2019) is bound to affect the economy even harder. But even within the tourism sector, this is an opportunity to focus less on mass and MICE tourism and invest more in supporting rural, agro and ecotourism.

  1. Opportunity from ecotourism 

It is fair to assume that ecotourism will play a more prominent role in Georgia post COVID-19. International travellers will now be more careful in choosing destinations based on various criteria related to safety, hygiene, remoteness, and quality of the travel experience. They are likely to opt for more secluded destinations, avoiding the crowds, staying longer in one place and immersing in the local culture, surrounded by unspoilt nature, eating locally-sourced, authentic food.

Ecotourism offers such transformative experiences – mass tourism doesn’t. Constantly moving around from one overcrowded hotspot to another on a packed coach, or the conveyer belt-like tours of big vineries that were very popular with mass tourists in Georgia, will not be as attractive anymore.

a trail near becho.jpg
  1. Opportunity to improve standards 

This is all related with an opportunity to improve standards: sustainability, hygiene, quality and standards of service. This means that some businesses will not survive but it also means that the long-overdue improvement in standards will attract higher-spending tourists. With its stunning nature, rich culture and organic food, Georgia is already well-placed to attract the more resilient and mobile high-end tourists.

  1. Opportunity for domestic tourism 

The recent McKinsey global survey on consumer behaviour amid COVID-19 showed that consumers across countries remain hesitant to return to international travel and large public gatherings once the effects of COVID-19 decrease. The need for the Georgian Tourism Administration to shift its attention on developing domestic tourism is an opportunity to encourage Georgians to stay within its borders  and support the local tourism businesses, and to get to know their beautiful country. Over the last 20 years I have met so many Georgians who have never been to Svaneti, Tusheti, Lagodekhi, the Black Sea Coast and many other regions popular with international tourists. This crisis might provide them with a chance to discover or rediscover Georgia, and to build a deeper connection with nature.

  1. Opportunity for better destination management 

According to a recent survey from the Adventure Travel Trade Association,currently ‘tourism boards are primarily supporting the local industry through open communication, and by providing tools, resources and information to help members weather the crisis’. This is an opportunity for the newly-created DMOs in Georgia to step up their efforts in order to do so. However, perhaps in a few weeks time, they will have an opportunity to show leadership and expand their roles from ‘promoting communities to building communities’ (to quote Greg Oates, one of the leading experts in destination management): to develop destinations in alignment with the best interests of the community.

I can imagine that this suggestion may raise a few eyebrows – I am fully aware of the limited resources and other challenges that the DMOs face. But this article is about the opportunities to regenerate tourism, so why not aim high?

community consulttion bench.jpg
  1. Opportunity to build trust with local communities 

Now is the time to listen and communicate better with the local industry stakeholders and the community members. This will build much-needed trust that will bear fruit when tourists return to each destination. This is particularly important, because lack of cooperation and communication between private and public sector on planning and implementation of tourism in the regions as well as lack of trust are one of the key challenges in tourism development in the Caucasus . To quote Jeremy Sampson again: ‘Communities belong at the center of tourism. Now, we can make a choice to put them at the heart of recovery planning.’

And this brings me to not only an opportunity but an urgent necessity that any recovery efforts and any transformation will not be possible without:

  1. Opportunity to cooperate and learn from each other

As the UNWTO said in its COVID-19 impact assessment, tourism is resilient but ‘this crisis is like no other and requires strong and coordinated action ‘.  Any long-term plan for recovery and for building a more resilient, more sustainable tourism industry in Georgia will require a coordinated approach and cooperation with a wide range of stakeholders: government, business, academics, SMEs, communities. Not only within Georgia, but also from stakeholders outside.

The opportunity to transform and regenerate the Georgian tourism based on that wide cooperation is now, and cannot be wasted.

#tourism #Georgia #Covid

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Covid19 and tourism in Georgia – early impacts and government response

This article was first publised here on 20 April 2020.

After the number of international arrivals to Georgia reached a record high of 9.3 million in 2019, most analysts predicted 2020 to be even better. Nobody has predicted a global pandemic. 

tbilisi old town

Tourism industry has already experienced huge losses worldwide due to COVID-19, but for emerging destinations such as Georgia that has seen a rapid growth of tourism in recent years, the loss will feel even stronger. The government of Georgia has been praised for its very quick response to the coronavirus crisis in general – there has only been three deaths so far – but what’s its response to mitigate the blow to Georgian tourism?

The growth

In the last few years, tourism industry in Georgia has been booming. In the country of 3.7 million people, the number of international arrivals grew from 2.8 million in 2001 to 9.3 million (including 5.1 million of tourists) in 2019. From a relatively unknown little place a decade ago, the country has topped numerous international rankings of best place to visit since 2016. Tbilisi has recently scored high as one of the best city worldwide for female solo travellers to visit in 2020. The city of Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast won the 2019 “Europe’s Leading Emerging Tourism Destination” at the prestigious World Travel Awards. Airbnb supply in Tbilisi has increased 2.5 times over 2016-18, generating a market worth US$ 23mn in 2018 (up from US$ 4mn in 2016). Adventure and wine tourism have also been booming with further predictions to grow.

The 2020 forecasts

Tourism revenues in 2019 reached US$3.3bn (compared to 1.7bn only five years earlier). In January 2020, tourism research analysts Galt and Taggart forecasted US$ 3.7bn tourism revenues in 2020, growth of 12.3%. They also forecasted that the number of tourists will increase by a further 10.5%.

In the first few weeks of 2020, the mood for the rest of the year was still very positive. Total international visitor (tourists and same-day combined) growth accelerated to19.8%y/y in January, after growing 16.3% y/y in December 2019. Arrivals from Russia – the country with the most international arrivals in 2018 – also grew, despite a ban on direct flights to Georgia imposed by President Putin in July 2019. In summary, it is fair to say that in the first weeks of 2020, Georgia was well on course to meet the target of 11 million of international arrivals by 2025, set in its National Tourism Strategy.

And then the coronavirus came.

quevri wine Marta Mills

Response to the virus

On 29 January, Georgia suspended direct flights with China to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The impact on tourism didn’t look significant yet, Chinese represented only 0.6% of total visitors to Georgia in 2019. Besides, the ban was only temporary, until 29 March. After that, the government acted quickly with a long list of effective measures to limit the spread of the virus, which (as of 17 April) resulted in 370 cases and only three deaths. The Eurasianet news portal reported that ‘by the time epidemic broke out in nearby Iran in mid-February, proactive border checks, which included temperature tests and reviews of travel history, were already well in progress in Georgia’.

Inevitably, shutting down all hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars; closing all ski resorts in the middle of the skiing season; closing the borders to passenger travel; banning all foreign nationals from entering the country until at least May 10; and suspending all air traffic was what hit the tourism industry most.

Economic impacts on tourism 

The Georgian authorities say the coronavirus is likely to threaten the country’s economic growth forecast of 4.5% this year and tourism will suffer most. ‘Further spread of coronavirus may impact visitors’ inflow and, therefore, the whole economy,’ the central bank head Koba Gvenetadze told Reuters at the end of March. On 8 April, the World Bank also stated that ‘The Georgian economy will be severely impacted, as transport restrictions affect the travel and tourism sectors, while containment measures dampen domestic demand.’

The ban on travel also means widespread cancellations of accommodation bookings through Airbnb or booking.com. Considering that more than 10,000 rentals were supplied monthly in Tbilisi on Airbnb in 2018, this has already affected hundreds of individual landlords.

The impacts on the Georgian hotels, restaurants and catering sectors are already quite visible: according to the March report by TBC Capital, payments with TBC Bank terminals in hotels have decreased by 40% compared to the previous year, and payments in food service facilities by residents and non-residents have also gone down significantly.

In the most recent report, Galt and Taggart analysts calculate that in the most optimistic scenario (the economic recovery from June), the tourism industry will lose US$1.2bn in 2020 vs 2019; in the mild (recovery from June but downturn from Oct) and in the pessimistic (continued economic downturn from March) scenarios, the loss will come to US$2bn and US$2.8bn respectively. They suggest that Georgians stopping to travel abroad could compensate US$0.2bn-0.5bn of these losses. That means a focus on domestic tourism.

The stimulus for tourism

In March, the Georgian government has prepared an Anti-Crisis economic stimulus package worth around 1 billion Lari (about $330 million). The measures include tourism-related infrastructure spending, and exemptions from property and income taxes for tourism businesses, covering around 18,000 companies and more than 50,000 employees. 2000 guesthouses, small and medium size hotels (up to 50 rooms) will receive bank loan interest rate co-financing for six months. Additionally, Tbilisi City Hall exempted open cafes from paying rents in 2020, and small and medium enterprises are exempted from paying rents for three months.

In the last few weeks, the Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA) has been predominantly responsible for managing the Georgian residents coming back from abroad. The First Deputy Head of GNTA Rusudan Mamatsashvili told me that GNTA has been organizing transport from different borders, placing people in mandatory 14-day quarantine in different hotels throughout Georgia, and looking after them while they were quarantined. ‘From March 10 until 13 April, we have had over 10,000 people in around 90 quarantine hotels. Half of the people have already left the hotels after finishing quarantine’, she said.

coruldi tourists

Road to recovery

These are the much-needed, urgent responses to the current urgent needs. In mid April, it is still too early to speculate on any specific dates to reopen the borders or lift the air travel ban. However, time has come to look ahead, beyond the most-pressing current needs, and start working on a longer-term recovery plan.

‘Currently we are having broad discussions with private sector and discussing further actions for the post-crisis period. We will also focus on domestic tourism first,’ Rusudan Mamatsashvili told me. She also confirmed that the focus now will be on domestic tourism. It can be assumed that international tourism to Georgia will pick up again in 2021, but with so much uncertainty at the moment, it is still a conjecture.

However, there is also a huge opportunity for the Georgian government to redefine tourism, look at the consequences of the rapid growth of the last few years and reassess where the challenges were, and how best to mitigate the negative impacts. There is an opportunity to shift towards a more socially and environmentally sustainable tourism, ensure more benefits for the local communities, focus more attention to ecotourism, diversify the tourism product offer, repurpose the marketing into promoting more local experiences. Time will show whether there is a will for a more sustainable tourism in Georgia, and I will explore the roads to recovery in my next article.

 

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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.

warsztaty goldap speak

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.

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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’

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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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