On 24 March 2022, the Mountain University (UNIMONT) of the University of Milan held a webinar on innovative and sustainable tourism in mountain regions. The event was part of the ‘Youth4Mountains’ series organised by UNIMONT and was moderated by Rachel Creaney from The James Hutton Institute in Scotland, one of the partners in the MOVING project.
By sharing local initiatives, from different parts of the world, the seminar highlighted the potential of sustainable tourism to connect recreational activities with ecological and social requirements.
During the webinar, Cătălina Rogozan from Highclere Consulting presented the case of the Romanian value chain focused on certified ecotourism, one of the selected value chains in MOVING. Cătălina described the increasing pressures upon local ecosystems in the Southern Romanian Carpathian mountains and how the Piata Craiului National Park has successfully applied the principles and practice of certified ecotourism to reduce the environmental impacts of tourism and enhance the sustainability and resilience of the region. Benefits have been observed for businesses, tourists, the local community and the environment, leading the Association of Ecotourism in Romania (AER) to promote the region as one of 10 ‘eco-destinations’ in Romania.
Other ecotourism initiatives across the world were also presented in the webinar. In the Lesser Himalayan (India), Mountain Altruist provides tour packages through awareness of ecotourism to citizens and sustainable practices to travellers. The Casa della Montagna Bed and Bike, located in the Sila National Park (Appennine, Italy), proposes a sports and nature experience to promote and protect the local environment. Finally, the Andean Lodges (Peru) offer trekking and lodging experiences, with a focus on community-based rural tourism and on development of local communities.
After the seminar, we spoke with Rachel and Cătălina about their views on the main obstacles and challenges for development and entrepreneurship linked to mountain ecotourism. To Cătălina’s opinion, the main issues are population decline in mountain areas and lack of entrepreneurial education, funds and knowledge about tourism alternatives. Young people miss the right conditions to stay in the communities they are born into and grow up in.Rachel highlighted the long term funding also, as well as the repetition of visitors – especially in recent years due to pandemic lockdowns. To overcome this challenge, incomes could be diversified into multiple tourism ventures and tourism could be seen as secondary to the products and community development.
Concerning attractiveness, sustainability and resilience of mountain areas, we asked them what role could sustainable tourism play in creating a new narrative. Cătălina explained that sustainable tourism, while preserving income for the local economy, addresses the curse of uncontrolled construction of tourist accommodation and leisure activities. It brings a strategic management of natural assets upon which it depends. Rachel added that sustainable tourism connects not only to the local environment but also to local communities that wish to live and work in mountain areas.
To conclude, we explored the main opportunities that sustainable tourism could bring for young people to stay in mountain areas and interact more with the community. Rachel mentioned the seminar initiatives that involve local communities and environment, and promote mountain areas as simultaneously attractive and lively places in which to visit and experience nature. Cătălina highlighted potential more job opportunities for young people. However, modern services and infrastructure are also necessary to make mountain communities, local traditions and customs remain.
The next webinar of the ‘Youth4Moutains’ series, focusing on the role of technology and innovation in mountain youth entrepreneurship, is scheduled for 3 May 2022.