Not many areas can boast having ‘never been touched’ by human activities. Until recently, the Slitere National Park in the north of Latvia was one of those places. For the last 80 years it was closed to economic activities. Asnāte Ziemele, president of the Latvian Country Tourism Association: “We joined forces with the European Centre for Ecological and Agricultural Tourism (ECEAT) to come up with a plan to give the Slitere National Park area an economic boost through nature-friendly tourism”. Small-scale tourism was taking place, but without proper (tourism) management some environmental degradation was taking place.
The park administration, a stakeholder in the project, was clear: “In no way should the project affect nature and biodiversity negatively”. This was one of the pre-conditions. As a first step, a situation and context analysis was done, identifying strengths and weaknesses, problems and solutions. Further, the local community, local residents, local business, and local NGOs were involved from day one. ECEAT: “The community played a positive role. They came up with concrete proposals, such as developing attractions and routes to invite visitors towards areas where the environmental capacity allowed it, or plans for increasing the number of accommodations.” The Ministry of Economics wrote a letter of appreciation about the developments and the role of the community of Slitere National Park.
The visitors were attracted by the creation of new tourism products like:
- Nine new routes for hiking, cycling, canoeing, skiing, self-driving and bird & animal watching, accompanied by eye-catching information accessible both in digital and printed format and in English and Latvian;
- Installation of outdoor information stands, which substituted scientific detailed information with description of natural and historical heritage and available services;
- Production of a botanical guide, a practical “plant finder” featuring common but attractive species, rather than rare and sensitive ones, to interact with the nature in a creative way;
- Distribution of the Slitere NP touristic guide and many other brochures, aiming at making the visitor more involved in the environment and aware of the rich asset of Baltic National Parks, as a whole.
Success for people and local economy
The project was a success. Asnāte: “The renewed information system and the promotion of new activities led to an increase in the visitors’ number. New businesses have developed and the existing ones have expanded. The number of companies, like equipment rental companies, craftsmen and artisan shops, tourist accommodations and catering services has increased from 23 to 48!” In this revitalized environment, the visitors are willing to extend their stay and spend more on local bio products, such as the traditional smoked fish. ECEAT: “Data suggest that visitors brought around a million euros to the local economy in 2011, which is a very significant amount, taken the specific features of the territory.”
Boost for nature
Review of the project with the Park Administration showed that their precondition was met. The preservation of biodiversity and the development of tourism are not in conflict. Actually, by increased awareness through the project and its results, the local community and park visitors know more about nature and Natura 2000. A survey showed that knowledge of Natura 2000 increased with 33% during the project. Furthermore, the park benefits from increased revenue from souvenirs’ sale, café and guide service. The project led to the development of a sustainable tourism model, a manual and visitor monitoring methodology to assess tourism environmental impact.
Download the manual ‘A starter guide to developing sustainable tourism in protected areas‘.