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Eco-Romania: Demonstrating the Value of Ecotourism for Destinations
Piatra Craiului National Park, Romania
Report by: Ayako Ezaki, Director of Communications, TIES
Earlier this month, while those in the United States – and many from the rest of the world – were anxiously waiting to find out who will be leading the world's largest economy for the next four years, in the small Eastern European country of Romania, important decisions were being made, locally and nationally, that will impact the direction of the country's economy in the coming years.
Romania in the post-Communist era has undergone a period of "development frenzy," which (fortunately, from the perspective of ecotourism advocates) has been forced to slow down due to the economic decline in recent years. "Global financial crisis may have been the best thing that happened to ecotourism in Romania," said our colleagues from the Association of Ecotourism in Romania (AER). If uncontrolled development was allowed to continue, the country would have lost the key driving force of ecotourism in many of its rural destinations - local natural and cultural heritage.
Conservation is of course an important part of ecotourism, and therefore parks and protected areas play a critical role in Romania's approach to developing and promoting ecotourism. "But it's not just about protecting trees and animals," explained Andrei Blumer, president of AER, "it’s about bringing tangible values to protected areas so that the local communities benefit from and are invested in protecting trees and animals."
Evolution of Ecotourism in Romania
"Those of us who had the courage to do things differently ten years ago are now feeling that our efforts have paid off," said Hermann Kurmes, director of Carpathian Nature Tours and one of the founding board members of AER, at the national ecotourism conference held in Bucharest on November 2nd.
Hermann Kurmes (left) and Andrei Blumer of AER, sharing insights into Romania's ecotourism destinations at the national conference. (Photo by Sorin Nainer)
Those who have been involved in ecotourism, believing in its potential even when they were a minority, are today celebrating the success of ecotourism – led by AER and its members and partners around the country. And indeed they have much to celebrate, though at the same time they also recognize that there’s still much work to be done.
AER, which started initially as a local project focusing on wildlife protection and awareness raising through rural tourism, has since successfully developed projects and partnerships at the local and national levels, involving associations, NGOs, government projects and tourism businesses. AER's growing network of members and partners both proudly represents the spirit of "small is beautiful" and demonstrates the potential of ecotourism as an effective tool to bring tangible benefits to destinations and communities.
The national conference was attended by Ivan Patzaichin, Romanian canoe champion and five-time Olympic gold medalist (right), who has established the social enterprise "Rowmania" in partnership with AER to promote water sports and ecotourism activities in rural communities. (Photo by Raluca Munteanu)
Certification for Ecotourism Destinations in Romania
As announced by the Ministry of Regional Development and Tourism, one of the key outcomes of the national conference earlier this month was the launch of Romania's new recognition system for the ecotourism destinations, first of its kind in Europe. The certification program has been developed based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria (GSTC) and the European Eco-Tourism Labelling Standard (EETLS), and will support communities that are investing in sustainable tourism practices that respect local natural heritage and cultural traditions.
AER recognizes the ecotourism destination certification program, in addition to the association's existing Ecotourism Certification System (which recognizes ecotourism programs and accommodations), will help reinforce "the positive image ecotourism can offer in the real tourism market, an image linked to the Romanian wildlife and rural culture."
To this end, we are pleased to report that TIES' participation in the national conference has positively contributed to the efforts by AER and its partners to bring attention to the economic benefits that ecotourism can bring to Romania’s natural places and rural destinations. In the coming months, TIES will continue to work with AER to support ecotourism initiatives in Romania, as well as collaborating with our members and partners in the region to promote quality European ecotourism experiences.
Links and Resources
- Ecotourism.org: AER's member profile
- Romania's Consulate General: "Romania is first Europe country having evaluation criteria for eco-tourism destinations"
- AER: Featured ecotourism destinations
- AER: Certified ecotourism products and services in Romania