A two-day international conference "New approaches and successful practices in the development of ecotourism on the specially protected natural areas as a contribution to the achievement of the SDGs" took place in Minsk on 2-3 December. The event gathered in a hybrid format the representatives of 11 countries, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Slovakia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The list of the participants included ecologists, the representatives of nature reserves and national parks, universities, NGOs and agro- and eco-farmsteads.
The conference was organized with the active participation of the project “Ecotourism development to promote green transition to inclusive and sustainable growth” implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus with financial support from the Russian Federation. Alexandra Solovieva, UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus, took part in the opening of the conference.
Ecotourism contribution to the achievement of the SDGs
The development of ecotourism is an integral part of the “green” economy – one of the four accelerators for achieving the SDGs in Belarus. The ecotourism industry allows to generate economic income through the sustainable use of natural resources and piloting green innovation.
Ecotourism contributes to the achievement of the goals of the national programs – the National Strategy for Sustainable Socio-Economic Development of the Republic of Belarus until 2030, the National Strategy for the Development of the System of Specially Protected Natural Areas, as well as the Set of Measures for the Development and Promotion of Ecological Tourism in Specially Protected Natural Areas for the Period until 2025.
“Ecotourism development makes a significant contribution to the achievement of the SDGs at the local and regional level. It contributes to the development of cooperation between Belarus and Russia in the field of transboundary specially protected natural areas. The implementation of the joint project on the development of ecotourism contributes to the sustainable economic growth, job creation, ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as preserving the biodiversity and developing partnerships for sustainable development,” Alexandra Solovieva, UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus, said in her welcoming remarks.
Today, tourism contribution to the Belarusian economy makes up 2.5% of the GDP. The new project on ecotourism development will contribute to the achievement of the national plans to increase this share to 3.1% by 2035.
UNDP helps tourism industry to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic aftermath
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the tourism and travel field around the world, and Belarus in not an exception. External tourist flows have decreased, and the volume of earnings from domestic tourism has fallen. At the same time, the domestic tourism in Belarus has got an additional impulse for development during the pandemic.
In this situation, national parks and nature reserves that have a well-developed and functioning tourist infrastructure are in the most advantageous position. Thanks to the joint work implemented by UNDP together with national, local and international partners, within the previous projects, large-scale work was carried out to strengthen the ecotourism potential of six key nature reserves in Belarus. This experience will be scaled up within the new ecotourism development project.
Today, UNDP together with the national development partners and with the support of international donors, is working on new approaches to address the challenges the reserves are facing. This is a search for the measures that are the most efficient and consistent with the principles of the green economy, allowing to increase the institutional, financial and operational resilience of nature reserves for their recovery after the pandemic. At the same time, UNDP has gained extensive experience in supporting small businesses to overcome the consequences of COVID-19.
UNDP supports the development and implementation of new business models in the tourism sector, including the creation of three regional ecotourism clusters. Clustering helps the representatives of the tourism industry to cope with the impact of COVID-19 and go further.
Digital transformation as a driver for tourism recovery
Ecotourism is a rather dynamic industry that quickly responds to the modern challenges and trends. Today, the ecotourism sector is undergoing an evolution not only through piloting new business models, but also through innovating digital and green solutions, creating opportunities for gender equality and inclusion.
Today, virtual tourism is considered to be one of the ways to rebuild the travel and tourism industry in the post-COVID world. Virtual tourism has become especially popular and in demand in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions. Augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies can offer alternative ways to travel the world and new models for the industry development.
UNDP will bring its expertise in the field of digital transformation to the promotion of Belarusian tourist destinations – digital products will be created, that will allow to reach a greater number of tourists both inside and outside the country. The new ecotourism project will help to develop virtual tours and electronic guides with digital GPS-navigators and other solutions that will make travel interactive and allow tourists to take virtual walks in the reserves.
Improving the accessibility of ecotourism destinations
The project will also help to make ecotourism in Belarus more inclusive. According to the WHO, today about 15% of the world’s population are people with disabilities, and this figure is constantly growing. Travelers with disabilities are becoming an increasingly numerous tourist audience. The project will improve the infrastructure of the pilot nature reserves to make the destinations more accessible for people with disabilities.
Ecotourism opens new opportunities for women
The project on ecotourism development in Belarus will contribute to the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. According to the UNWTO, women make up the majority of the tourism workforce – 54%. As a result of the project support aimed at entrepreneurship development through creating new or improving the competitiveness of existing tourism products and services at the pilot specially protected natural areas, local rural women will be able to find employment or additional income from ecotourism activities. Women in Belarusian regions will get training opportunities and become certified touristic guides, and the owners of agricultural farmsteads will have an opportunity to study the basics of doing responsible business in the field of tourism.
Ecotourism in the focus of international cooperation
One of the promising areas of activity within the framework of the National Strategy for the Development of the System of Specially Protected Natural Areas is the activation and strengthening of international cooperation through the creation of transboundary specially protected natural areas and biosphere reserves, as well as sustainable and coordinated management of such areas.
To achieve this goal, the Governments of Belarus and Russia concluded the Agreement on the Establishment of a Transboundary Specially Protected Natural Area “Zapovednoe Poozerie” which united several bordering protected areas of Belarus and Russia. This initiative will be supported within the new ecotourism project and will allow to improve cooperation in the fields of environmental protection and monitoring, scientific research, conservation of biological diversity, and the development of environmental education and ecotourism.
About the project: The project “Ecotourism development to promote green transition to inclusive and sustainable growth” aims to increase capacity and embed a mechanism for the implementation of a set of measures for the development and promotion of ecotourism, create necessary methodical framework for the expansion of ecotourism and strategic planning system, strengthen cooperation between private companies, public environmental agencies and the local population.