Touring Nature THE P AN- E UROPEAN R OUTES TO RURAL ECOTOURISM Rural development through sustainable tourism
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THE PAN-EUROPEAN ROUTES TO RURAL ECOTOURISM
At a time where the European continent is expanding with the entry of new countries in the EU, the Assembly of European Regions (AER) believes that rural development is key to achieve cohesion and balanced economic development in Europe. Rural areas have reached an even greater significance in the enlarged EU and now account for 80% of the European territory.
Considering this situation, the AER is committed to support
The AER sees the development of sustainable forms of tourism as a key tool to achieving these objectives. Sustainable Tourism and Rural Development have been set as political priorities of the AER Committee on Economy and Regional Development, which is eager to promote them through concrete proposals of cooperation among its member regions and to build up local partnerships with the heads managing rural areas.
Today, nature-related tourism is among the fastest-growing tourism market: it is increasing by 10% to 30% per year according to European regions, while tourism overall is growing at an annual rate of 4%. Thus, it is clear that ecotourism is no longer a niche, as general visitors’ preferences tend to be moving in the direction of the ecotourists’.
A growing number of tourists are interested in discovering new places and seek new experiences: they are particularly appealed by beautiful scenery and outdoor activities, and look for local, unique experiences. What is more, environment has become a very important concern of European visitors, who are eager to opt for greener holidays.
These new trends constitute major opportunities for European regions. They have the potential to develop their resources and meet the ever more-demanding visitors’ expectations: throughout Western, Central and Eastern Europe, our regions have a particularly rich and diversified natural and cultural heritage, which need to be enhanced to bring about tourist development.
To make the most of these resources, Touring Nature aims at supporting eco-friendly forms of tourism by bringing together the regions and professionals willing to commit to ecotourism of international quality, so as to enhance at the European level regional labels and appealing to environment-friendly tourists.
* According to a survey conducted by the European Union, almost half of the tourists said that “environmental performance was a crucial criterion when choosing their holiday destination” (Press release from the European Union, 15-05-2003)
Promoting regional identity through sustainable tourism
The Touring Nature project aims at developing sustainable tourism in rural area throughout Western, Central and Eastern Europe.
It is driven by two main concerns:
These core orientations are grounded on the observed trend of growing environmental expectations by European citizens and tourists and their motivation to engage in holidays alternative to mass and seasonal tourism. Touring Naturedescribes itself as an opportunity for European territories to commit to sustainable tourism development and thereby to enhance their territorial identity and be recognised by visitors for their positioning that distinguishes them from the competition.
In this perspective, the AER strongly believes that a bottom-up strategy is the best way to put together accurate projects as regional stakeholders know best what their region has to offer. In addition, the Touring Nature project constitutes an opportunity for the regions to pull their efforts together through interregional cooperation as a means to set up pan-European Routes to rural tourism.
The term "territory” refers to a group of villages where the politicians and the population have a common objective: developing their rural territory in a sustainable way and enhancing their local resources. A territory can be a natural park, a Local Action Group, a Natura 2000 area, a reserve Man and Biosphere, a World Heritage site, a Ramsar Convention zone or all rural territory having a strong local identity deserving to be recognized at European level.
The first labelled territory is the Regional Development Council of Lake Tisza in Hungary (4 Counties-73 villages- 149 local professionals committed in the Village+ labelling process). It is at the same time: a National Park (Hortobágy), a Natura 2000 area, World Heritage, Ramsar Convention and a Man and Biosphere reserve. It takes part to the Route of Eurovelo and the Route of Danube Basin waterways.
Connecting rural territories with the European tourists
The Touring Nature project aims to set up Routes of rural areas throughout Europe, and promoting them to the European and International potential visitors. Through the www.touringnature.com web portal, a bridge will link local professionals of tourism to the public. This will make tourism possible in territories that have been largely undiscovered so far, by including small territories in a wider network and provide international customers with guarantees and recognisable references.
The web portal will give the visitors opportunity to:
The Sustainable Development European Label Village+
The label Village + is compulsory for the territories to become members of the Touring Nature network. It is awarded by the AER and submitted to evaluation and it has to be re-assessed every three years.
On the one hand, the labelling process commits local professionals to sustainable development actions,
On the other hand, the label is a clear reference and guarantee that can be used by local professionals to promote their products and services to the International and European visitors.
An integrated project for sustainable tourism
Visitors are guaranteed that the territories that display the Village+ label have engaged in extensive dynamics of developing sustainable tourism.
One key criteria to gain the Village+ Label is that at least one hundred professionals in the field of ecotourism, sign as individual a commitment to act in an environmentally-friendly way everyday notably in terms of waste segregation, energy and water savings, use of organic cleansing products.
Each professional chooses one or several criteria which are the most useful for him and on which he commits to make efforts. Committed professionals are granted for their efforts notably by obtaining a Diploma of commitment and a free space to promote their activity on the web portal.
The term “professional” refers to anyone whose business or profession involves dealing directly or indirectly with visitors : accommodation, catering, local craftsmen, tourist information offices, museum, producers, associations, tourist guides, shops, sports rental…
The label rewards the involvement of the community cooperating with local/regional authorities to contribute to the collective project of developing sustainable tourism and to implement guidelines for improvement. It entails practical actions that will be taken on a daily basis to support sustainable development. Professionals’ participation is subject to control and quality monitoring.
A supportive institutional recognition
OECD:The Village + concept was originally presented to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) who chose to publish it in a workshop on the specifics of rural territories.
UNESCO:The project was presented to UNESCO - Division of Ecological Sciences which has agreed to have its logo and 200 Man and Biosphere reserves featured alongside the 200 Regional and National Nature Parks on the European Touring Nature Map. The aim is to encourage these protected nature areas and nearby areas that are not protected to apply for the quality label and be part of the network.
UNEP: After running a “pilot site” in Italy, the method was presented to the Tourism Programme Coordinator of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) who expressed a favourable opinion. In particular, it has evaluated positively : the idea of involving visitors in the control/monitoring process (“expert visitors”), the involvement of local professionals of tourism as a condition to the label awarding, the focus on sustainable development beside tourism development.
AER : in order to be operational, the labelling process and the costs of the initiative have been adapted following a seminar about Sustainable Tourism gathering 100 tourist managers from 17 European countries (Sweden-2005)
The Assembly of European Regions signed a partnership agreement with Pluris Consultants for the implementation of the label: application, methodology and promotion of the network.
Before the label awarding
Pluris Consultants work together with the territory to determine the guidelines for improvement:
These three steps lead to the choice of improvement guidelines, which commit both the territory and the professionals to implementation. This commitment is necessary for joining the Touring NatureRoutes and for the official attribution of the label to be displayed on the commercial and administrative tourism documents.
After the awarding of the label
The labelling process does not end with the label awarding. It involves a quality monitoring process and a compulsory re-assessement of the label every three year.
1st year: Assessment of the degree of participation of local professionals who are involved and who use the charter and its quality label:
- Number of professionals who signed their commitment to the label,
- Activities of professionals,
- Type of commercial documentation presenting products and services from local professionals that feature the label,
- Suggestions from professionals.
2nd year: Assessment of the visitors\' perception:
- Perception of the territory,
- Perception of professionals,
- Perception of the label and the pan-European Routes,
-Suggestions from visitors, European associations and federations recommending visits (automobile-clubs, hikers and motorhomes clubs).
3rd year: Assessment of commitment to sustainable development actions:
- Initiatives of the territory authorities,
- Professionals\' personal initiatives.
Budget to gain the Village+ label and take part to the Pan-European Routes
This professional agrees to feature the following consumer notice on the documents presenting his products and services:
“This professional commits to sustainable development actions:
“Start a dialogue with visitors coming from other regions of Europe and make our nature and cultural riches and our traditional values known.
Share the passion for our professions and the uniqueness of our local products to promote our territory.
Create awareness in the visitors’ mind of the importance of respecting nature to preserve a quality environment for present and future generations.
Practice our profession while respecting our region\'s nature heritage by focusing on:
- waste management,
- conserving drinking water,
- reducing energy consumption,
- using renewable energy,
- using ecological cleaning products.
In a spirit of cooperation, take the visitors’ opinions into account.”
What is the involvement of a professional by signing the Village+ commitment ?
Carrying out a sustainable development action
he choose freely
as regards water or energy savings, or waste management, or use of organic cleansing products or renewable energy
in the framework of his daily activity
and whose he is able to prove after 3 years at the moment of the renewal of the label
what are the outcomes : e.g. savings of electricity, heatiing, air-conditionner or water, image of its products…
For instance, a restaurant could choose to make efforts on waste management, a craftsman on water savings and an accommodation on renewable energy.
To grant professionals for their efforts which allow their territory to gain the Sustainable Development European Label Village+, they will be provided a personalized Diploma of commitment and will benefit from a space to promote their activity on the web portal of the Pan-European Routes. The local professionals have nothing to pay. It is the local authorities who takes in charge the cost.
THE FIRST TERRITORIES INTERESTED TO THE PAN-EUROPEAN ROUTES TO RURAL ECOTOURISM