Europe is rich in protected areas. Tourism can support the protection of these areas but can also destroy nature and the local cultural heritage. Ecotourism can offer a viable solution to this dilemma. In order to harmonise existing eco-tourism initiatives and strengthen their position in the tourism market, the ECO-DESTINET project was established. Its remit is to develop a blueprint for a European Ecotourism Labelling Standard (EETLS), seeking to harmonise existing quality labels.
The harmonisation effort is based on an integrated concept of ecotourism, which brings together the different services offered to the tourist, i.e. accommodation, food, travel and nature-based outdoor activities. Although each of the above service-components of ecotourism may come under different quality labels, an "umbrella" labelling standard would assure the overall quality of the tourism product and would harmonise the existing labels while recognising their specific experiences and background. Moreover, a European Ecotourism Labelling Standard (EETLS) would ascertain comparable standards of service to the client, at least in relation to a core group of baseline quality criteria.
To make things happen and achieve the smooth implementation of the EETLS, it is necessary to establish contact with existing labels related to ecotourism and ensure that there are enough suitably trained trainers to help service providers to apply the labelling standards.
ECO-DESTINET is supported by the Leonardo da Vinci programme of the EU and runs from 2007 to 2009; it builds on the experience of the ECO-ROUTE pilot project (Leonardo da Vinci, 2004-2006).
The aim of the ECO-DESTINET project is firstly to develop a list of baseline criteria that would define the EETLS, in cooperation with existing initiatives related to ecotourism quality labelling; and secondly to develop and test training methodologies, materials and tools that would help trainers to train ecotourism providers wishing to apply the EETLS across Europe.
- Produce an updated "Handbook of Ecotourism labelling", by extending the ECO-ROUTE handbook.
- Define the profile of the EETLS and prepare a blueprint for its implementation.· Work out action plans for the harmonisation of selected existing labels with EETLS
- Create a "library" of training materials bearing relevance to quality of ecotourism services.
- Devise a training of trainers' package to meet the requirements of the EETLS regarding the different services associated with ecotourism.
- Deliver a training course to approximately 30 tourism professionals, who in turn would be expected to act as "trainers" of ecotourism service providers wishing to apply the EETLS; the course includes face-to-face learning and e-learning.
- Create a Learning Area for Ecotourism, consisting of an interactive Portal, a Forum with an on-line support service for trainers and the Library of training materials.
- Publish all project information and materials in the website, including the e-learning platform and the Forum.
- Undertake a publicity and wide dissemination campaign for EETLS, including the publication of newsletters, the EETLS Profile and the Handbook of Ecotourism Labelling; and the organisation of six national workshops and an international conference.
- Build a strong international network of ecotourism labelling organisations and associated networks.
- Existing ecotourism-related quality labels in Europe, by being offered the opportunity for harmonisation across different types of services, as well as extending their recognition at European level.
- The ecotourism service providers, as the end users, seeking a quality label of European standard.
- Individuals and organisations involved in tourism training, by using the training methodology, materials and tools developed by the project.
- Ultimately, the European ecotourists, enjoying higher quality of services assured by a European labelling standard.