This is the second article in a series of three that aim to address the issue of ecotourism destinations in Romania. The first article addressed the history of the development of the concept, and the third will address the current situation of the network of ecotourism destinations.
The contemporary lifestyle, with a fast pace, with stressful and often sedentary activities, as well as the awareness of the level of pollution and its negative effects determine us, for a large part of us, to want to escape in nature, to look for places where we can eat healthier, from local products, to hang out with the locals or to do activities as diverse as possible in nature. Therefore, those destinations that manage to have such an offer and, in addition, show care for the natural environment and for the locals are much appreciated by a large part of tourists. We call these types of destinations ecotourism destinations, and they are becoming more and more appreciated and sought after both internationally and in Romania. In this context, two questions arise:
- how can tourists identify ecotourism destinations? and
- how can local partners in a destination, such as town halls, accommodation units and guides, coordinate on the direction of ecotourism development?
In response to these two questions, there is a need to certify ecotourism destinations based on a clear and transparent procedure, which can be communicated to local partners, but also to tourists. Romania has such a system of certification of ecotourism destinations, coordinated by the relevant ministry since 2014, with five officially recognized destinations. In addition to the official recognition of these destinations, there are other important reasons why certification is important:
- The certification process is, first and foremost, a guide to good practice
Any destination wishing to be certified needs to know what criteria they must meet in order to become eligible for this race. The certification itself is a one-time process, but the renewal of the certificate every 3 years is a permanent process through which the destination must maintain its development direction and continuously improve its performance. For this reason, the evaluation criteria are in fact a guide for the continuous development of the destination, which traces the development trajectory and at the same time generates a concrete action plan for all partners.
- Removing the temptation of green-washing
This need to identify, guide and certify ecotourism also arose from the fact that in the public space there is more and more talk about sustainable tourism and especially about ecotourism. Both in the academic environment and in the practical sphere of communication and marketing, many destinations, but also many businesses call themselves eco or sustainable, without being able to justify these titles. The creation of independent evaluations based on clear and transparent criteria can reduce or even eliminate the green-washing trend, ie the intentional use of an eco image only in communication and promotion, but without being supported by specific measures taken by destinations or businesses.
- Coagulation of partners
Ecotourism is a technical concept that must be explained, quantified and put into practice. On the other hand, the ecotourism destination is a living reality, with many partners involved, who have the activity based, most of the time, on different visions. The evaluation and certification process involves creating a common basis for discussion and action between partners that are beginning to coagulate around this form of tourism development. Moreover, one of the basic criteria of the certification is the existence of the partnership between the representatives of the three sectors of activity: the local public administration, the tourism business and the administration of the protected area. In addition, at business level, through the requirements of the criteria, the creation of a service network is stimulated. The realization of these partnerships and local service networks bring an extra coherence in the management of the entire destination which creates the possibility of a unitary and professional destination management. The ecotourism destination certificate, once obtained, can be an additional marketing tool for the entire destination, but also for each actor.
- Increasing the efficiency of the private sector, but also of the public one
Eco-certification criteria for destinations include measures to reduce energy and water consumption, or to make transport and mobility more efficient. The destination thus becomes more efficient and, implicitly, more competitive in front of other similar destinations. At the same time, the increase of the importance of the local economy and of the local human resource by applying the criteria on this field makes it possible for the destination to capture a higher value of the positive economic impact generated by tourism. Thus, the financial flows from the local economy to the global economy will diminish because there will be more services and products capitalized within the destination.
- Positioning and marketing
A certified destination, together with the local service network, have the opportunity to position themselves in a very special way on the regional, national and European tourism market and to communicate with types of tourists who are interested in traveling to responsible destinations. The demand for ecotourism destinations is growing, both in Romania and internationally.
- A destination with a future
A destination that is now developing on the principles of healthy ecotourism is more likely to have a long future from a socio-economic point of view and to combine tourism with low impact on the natural and social environment, with the stimulation of a local economy based on short supply chains. products and diversification of services. This type of destination can better respond to the challenges of globalization or even to health security issues such as that generated by COVID-19.
The development of ecotourism destinations in Romania is achieved with the financial support provided by:
- Nature conservation
The ecotourism destination offers an almost unique tool in which nature is capitalized in a responsible way through tourism, so that the local community no longer perceives nature and protected areas as an obstacle against local development, but as an opportunity for development. At the same time, through ecotourism, additional mechanisms can be developed for financial support of nature conservation measures.
- Revitalizing identity and local values
By responsibly addressing local cultural values, local identity can be revitalized or even recreated. These processes can keep alive the cultural energy of the community and can generate added value and pride for the locals over the area where they live, which can generate a decrease or even the reverse of a migration of the young population from the destination, especially if this fact is associated. with the emergence of quality jobs, especially for the young local population.
These are eight reasons for a destination to follow the path of development through ecotourism and implicitly to certify ecotourism. Ecotourism destinations, all over the world, will continue to develop and it is necessary for tourists to identify these destinations and local partners to understand the needs and actions needed. Thus, the ecotourism destination becomes a real lever for sustainable development for communities with attractive natural capital all over the world, and especially in Romania.
This article was made within the PET Romania project, developed by the Romanian Ecotourism Association, in partnership with the Ţara Dornelor Ecotourism Association, the Retezat Tourism Association and the Măgura Ecotourism Association, with the financial support of Active Citizens Fund Romania, a program funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Grants 2014-2021 .
The content of this material does not necessarily represent the official position of the EEA and Norwegian Grants 2014-2021; for more information visit www.eeagrants.org .