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At the end of September, the tourism and environmental protection experts tested a new ecotourism experience in the Cres-Lošinj area, an area important for the conservation of bottlenose dolphins and which is part of the ecological network Natura 2000 of the Republic of Croatia and part of the European network Natura 2000. The multi-day innovative ecotourism package within the area was developed in an iterative process using the MEET Network Ecotourism Model, a sustainable tourism measurement tool, as part of DestiMED PLUS, EU-funded Interreg Med project aimed at sustainable tourism development in the Mediterranean.
Using the MEET Ecotourism Model, a unique cooperation was established between the Public Institution “Priroda” of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County and the ASL agency from Veli Lošinj to develop a high quality ecotourism experience that aims to include tourists in nature and culture of the park, while ensuring positive benefits to the local population and community preservation.
“DestiMED PLUS is a useful project that modern tourism needs and deserves. Behind us are almost two years of diligent and dedicated integrated planning and work that we have achieved together in participatory collaboration with national, other regional and local partners in tourism and sustainable development. I am glad that the Cres-Lošinj area (Natura 2000) was chosen as a pilot destination and included in another international project related to sustainable tourism development and as such will serve as a good example of a model of sustainable development to other protected areas and destinations, both in our County and in the whole Croatia.” – said Petra Stijelja, advisor for project management and sustainable valorization of natural heritage of the Public Institution “Priroda” of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, which manages the area.
The project manager for the Cres-Lošinj pilot area and one of the regional partners, the Institute for Tourism, together with the Public Institution “Priroda” of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County prepared the testing of the created ecotourism package and invited 6 international testers from the Mediterranean to evaluate it. The mentioned examiners, who represent a combination of the target market and experts for sustainable tourism, were asked to valorize the quality, sustainability and commercial sustainability of ecotourism in the destination.
The examiners had to test and evaluate a carefully designed all-inclusive innovative eco-trip in the Cres-Lošinj area, which was created for the market of experienced, solvent, environmentally responsible and adventurous middle-aged, English and German-speaking travelers who enjoy a combination of outdoor activities and psychophysical rest, local gastronomy, culture, nature and tradition, and interaction with the local community through a variety of creative workshops, experiences and visits. These are very pleasant, grateful and simple guests who love and are looking for sustainable, more remote, Mediterranean exotic destinations, who choose comfort over luxury, as well as quality before the price of a tourist service or product.
The name of the package ‘Rhythm of the senses of the island of Lošinj’ was created in the desire to introduce guests to the true island rhythm that Lošinj’s community breathes and lives during the rest of the year, when it is not the peak of the tourist season. The rhythm of the senses alludes to all the variety of activities of the package that can arouse and activate all the senses of tourists in the island rhythm – through sight (Sight Day), hearing (Sound Day), smell and taste (Taste Day) and touch (Touch Day). With their arrival, such tourists extend the season and participate in the conservation of the environment of the protected area through responsible behavior and consumption of packages whose negative impact on the environment and local population is minimized, and whose income will be kept among the local community.
Some of the activities the examiners had to test were: a cooking class at a family restaurant, a visit to a fragrant garden and a herbarium workshop with local herbs, picking and tasting of local spices, visit to the Apoxyomenos Museum as an aspect of local cultural value while enjoying Apoxyomenos’ ancient dishes, kayaking and diving on the island of Orjule that satisfy outdoor activity, enjoying a romantic sunset at the thematic viewpoint “Providenca” with a glass of local wine and local delicacies, education on sustainability at the Blue World Institute and dolphin watching, cycling and promenade walks along the Path of Vitality, picnic along the coast, etc.
The test is an important part of the MEET Ecotourism Model and provides an opportunity to gather feedback and recommendations from various experts in sustainable tourism who assessed the quality and sustainability of the package, which will later be used by the Public Institution “Priroda” of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County and the ASL Agency in an iterative process for the improvement of the package before it becomes available to B2B markets by the end of the project, in June 2022.
The examiners who participated in this part of the testing were:
“My first encounter with Croatia was amazing! Landing on the island is a physical and mental journey. The islands amazed me with the scents of Mediterranean thicket, pine resin and salt. It was truly a “rhythm of the senses”, a relaxing and exciting journey on which the beauty of nature merges with the history of its inhabitants and the statue of Apoxyomenos. Respect for nature, culture, local communities and history is more important today than ever before. Responsible travel and positive impact on the environment and local communities is an interesting experience: enjoy an ecotourism trip! “- said Gian Marco Marrosu from Sardinia (Italy).
“I would describe the park of Cres-Lošinj as a destination where, wherever you turn your head, you see something amazing and different!” – Vasiliki Madoulka, Crete (Greece).
The quality of the project is also reflected in the fact that protected areas (parks), and not tourist places, are placed in the foreground. Namely, in 2014, the Cres-Lošinj area was declared a Site of Community Importance (SCI) within the NATURA 2000 ecological network of the European Union, mainly due to the establishment of a special zoological reserve for bottlenose dolphins. Apart from the fact that this Natura 2000 area is based on probably the richest set of scientific data in Croatia, it is also important for the Mediterranean population of loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), Mediterranean endemic – Posidonia oceanica, coralligenous biocenoses and nesting site of the Common European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis). During the research conducted in this area, 152 species of marine flora and 303 species of marine invertebrates (7 highly protected and 9 protected) and 112 species of fish (19 of which are considered endangered in Croatia) were documented. Apart from the important natural heritage, this area also has a significant cultural heritage. In 1999, near the islet of Orjule, in the very center of this Natura 2000 area, an original Greek statue was found, a replica of Lysippus’ Apoxyomenos of inestimable value. This bronze statue is exhibited in the Museum of Apoxyomenos in Mali Lošinj. The Blue World Institute operates in this area as an independent and non-profit organization established with the aim of conducting scientific research, education and marine environmental protection activities.
About the DestiMED PLUS project
Ecotourism respects the resources of a protected area (PA) destination and the well-being of the people living in and around it, while providing incentives to preserve and work out of season. For this model of sustainable development to be a viable alternative in PA in the Mediterranean, enabling governance and policy-making conditions need to be strengthened to strike a balance between the sometimes-conflicting interests of the conservation and tourism sectors.
DestiMED PLUS is the next step on the path to promoting integrated planning in coastal tourism, where regional policy-makers implement comprehensive policies that link tourism to conservation. It will do this by jointly developing ecotourism itineraries in protected areas of the Mediterranean (PAs), as a concrete example of the application of the ICZM protocol.
The project builds on the success of MEET Network and DestiMED and will support 9 Mediterranean regions and relevant protected areas by strengthening cross-sectoral local and regional policies, improving integrated planning strategies and providing stakeholders with effective training and tools to manage, measure and promote ecotourism.
Public Institution “Priroda” of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County
Petra Stijelja: firstname.lastname@example.org
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