The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education”.
In other words, sustainable travellers are at one with nature and with the local communities.
Especially today, when the tourism sector hasn’t yet recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are suggesting to spend summer holidays within our countries. And while we boost domestic tourism, let’s also keep an eye on the sustainable destinations closest to our homes.
First stop: Slovenia
Early in March, Slovenia gained the title of Best European Sustainable Destination according to the NGO Green Destinations, which is responsible every year for the Green Destinations Awards and Certification.
“We systematically encourage destinations and providers to introduce sustainability into their operations and we are proud that today, after 6 years of operation, The Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism includes more than 100 different stakeholders, among them, are numerous leading destinations,” commented Maja Pak, Director of the Slovenian Tourist Board.
The Slovenian Tourist Board has taken several measures to minimise the negative impact of tourism including a careful selection of target groups and markets, before and after season marketing activities, a complete absence of high season campaigns, the development of Slovenian unique experiences and tourist products and campaigns for promotion of less crowded tourist areas.
In particular, the ITB Earth Award 2020 went to Bled, a scenic little town in northwestern Slovenia. The citizens set a brilliant example of waste separation and while the campaign is still underway, its goal is to inform also tourists on how to generate as little waste as possible. This is an extremely difficult task requiring a change in lifestyle. And in this regard, the entire municipality is participating in the Zero Waste project Hotel Ribno, the first zero-waste hotel in the country.
Other than Bled, nature has gifted Slovenia with many beautiful features. The country is the third most forested one in Europe and more than a third of its area is protected and included in the European Natura 2000 network, which preserves biodiversity. Hills, lakes, mountains await everybody as well as one of the most beautiful Alpine valleys formed by glaciers and torrents.
A detour in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev has many times underlined the importance of sustainable development for his country. Encouraged by his latest reforms, a group of experienced professionals has committed to the formation of the Azerbaijan Ecotourism Association (AETA) to implement and foster ecological culture and ecotourism in the country.
Azerbaijan has ten national parks, 11 state natural parks and 24 state nature reserves. Untapped potential for the development of ecotourism. As part of their mission, AETA will advocate and promote the development of ecological culture, ecotourism, environmental protection, conservation of biodiversity and sustainable tourism, support the creation of new ecotourism products (such as outdoor activities, healthy and ecological food, agritourism, rural tourism, eco-hotels, eco hospitality) and promote them on international markets, representing Azerbaijan as a country of ecotourism.
Last year, the Ministry of Ecology has started developing hiking trails in the country to guide the consistent movement of tourists through the territory through historical and natural monuments. This will allow creating ecotourism in the country following modern standards.
When borders are still closed: Ukraine
Ukraine’s borders are still closed and to travel from and to the country a 2-week quarantine is still required. While most of the people might choose the port city of Odessa, less crowded places await those who are ready to adventure in the Carpathian Basin.
Online tourism portal Visit Ukraine mentions places like the biosphere reserve Askania Nova, included into the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and one of the winners of a nationwide campaign 7 Natural Wonders of Ukraine. The uniqueness of the reserve is that it is the only area of the European steppe, which was never touched by a plough. Besides, there is a large number of rare plants and unique objects. For lovers of ecotourism, it would be a great place to relax.
Also, the Shatsky National Park in the Volyn region, home of the beautiful Shatsky lakes, which include more than 30 lakes, a rich animal kingdom and about 80 per cent of the plants that are listed in the Red List of threatened species.
Circling back to Romania
Romania is another beautiful and heavily visited country within the region. The National Association for Rural, Ecological and Cultural Tourism mentions the Danube Delta as a magic place, unique in Europe. Here you can admire the sight of migrating bird colonies and the rare oak, ash and alder forests hidden among dunes and vast expanses of water.
A strong point of the Danube Delta is represented by the local people. Guesthouses’ owners are trying to keep ancient traditions alive, supporting the local community and protecting nature by practising responsible tourism. Choosing one of these accommodations also means to be far away from grocery shops and cultivating a vegetable garden becomes essential.
Wherever we decided to go, for this summer let’s choose a sustainable destination. The goal is one and only: to feel reborn.