As the travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines associated with COVID-19 look set to drive an influx of domestic tourists into National Parks and other Protected Areas across Europe this summer, a focus on sustainable tourism could secure benefits for local businesses, communities and the environment.
Easing COVID-19 restrictions and the approaching holiday season could prompt an increase in visits to national parks. Not least because people are likely to be tempted towards remoter areas if they feel uncomfortable mixing with large crowds in traditional sea-side resorts post-lockdown.
But remote areas can struggle to accommodate tourism without negatively impacting landscape features or biodiversity. Meanwhile rural communities may not be too happy to see large numbers of people – perhaps from urban areas with higher rates of COVID infection – flooding into their regions.
This situation creates both challenges and opportunities for Protected Area managers, businesses, and their surrounding communities.
We should aim at more sustainable tourism models
It is possible to protect a landscape and its biodiversity while at the same helping tourists to appreciate the value of the area and become engaged in conserving it. But it’s not easy.
If a park is too successful at providing a desirable tourism experience, an increase in the number of visitors could put unsustainable pressure on its nature and communities. On the other hand, if it’s not successful enough, local economies suffer; anyone doubting the economic value of park visitation has only to look at the impact of closures during the UK’s 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak. And as we are finding out, in many Parks of the world the suspension of tourism is also undercutting precious funding for conservation.
Sustainable tourism means more than just harnessing the economic benefits of tourism in important conservation areas without causing damage. In fact, truly sustainable tourism should aim at creating win-win scenarios.
Cleverly managed tourism should drive support for conservation and in turn that improved conservation assures a better, more attractive tourism experience.
How do we get there?
Park managers, business and local authorities need to work together to develop the skills and knowledge needed for sustainable tourism. Now more than ever, we must all learn to promote positive economic impacts while also conserving natural heritage.
So it’s great news that a free, online learning platform is now available. Developed within the Erasmus+ project ‘Sustainable Tourism: Training for Tomorrow’ and based on a recently conducted training needs analysis, this was designed to support anyone working on sustainable tourism in or around Protected Areas – and is accessible to everyone.
The platform draws from the experiences of more than 20 years of implementing the ‘European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas’, developed by the EUROPARC Federation. It offers 9 learning modules in 4 languages (English, French, Italian and Spanish), discussing current themes like ‘reducing impacts’, ‘conservation through tourism’, ‘effective visitor communication’ and ‘social cohesion’.
Each module has a short introductory video. Learners who register on the free platform will also be able to access multiple resources including key information, inspiring cases, and a quiz to assess their knowledge. Those who are successful in the quiz can receive a certificate of completion.
Erasmus+ project ‘Sustainable Tourism: Training for Tomorrow’
This project is co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union. It aims to increase the quality, supply and accessibility of training in sustainable tourism for Protected Area stakeholders across Europe. The consortium members are: Hasselt University (Belgium); University of Hull (United Kingdom); EUROPARC Federation (Germany), the network of ecotourism professionals (AEE) in Spain, Ente Parchi Emilia Occidentale (Italy) and Montagne de Reims Nature Regional Park (France).
This article is written by Yvonne Black and Fernando Correia.