Members in the news: A Mediterranean Experience of Ecotourism

 The Mid-Term Conference of the MEET “Mediterranean Experience of Ecotourism” project, funded by the European Neighborhood Policy Instrument – MED Programme (ENPI-CBC MED) organized by The Shouf Biosphere Reserve in Mir Amin Palace Hotel, Beiteddine, Mount Lebanon.

MEET meeting Lebanon

 This event was organized by the Shouf Biosphere Reserve as a coordinator of the communication workpackage in the MEET Project, in order to present the achieved results and spread them in the Mediterranean area.

The conference was launched with a welcome speech by the president of the Shouf Cedar Reserve, Mr. Charles Noujeim indicating that the Shouf Biosphere Reserve works under the umbrella of the Ministry of Environment, speaking briefly about the event and thanking the European Union that funded the project and all the partners and those who contributed in achieving its objectives. Then Mr. Nizar Hani, scientific expert in charge from the Ministry of Environment in the Shouf Cedar Reserve management spoke about the partnership with the Federation of Nature Reserves in Italy - Federparchi, represented by Mr. Luca Santarossa, then he talked about the Shouf Cedar Reserve as part of the nature reserves’ network in Lebanon and the importance of those reserves at the level of protection and conservation of the biological diversity, pointing to the new study carried out about the economic value of ecosystem services in the Shouf Cedar Reserve.

Then the floor was for Dr. Esmat Karadsheh, the coordinator of the Eastern Mediterranean Office of the ENPI CBC Med Programme in Aqaba, Jordan, who presented the main results (in terms of allocation of resources) of the 2007-2013 programming period and then introduced the main contents of the forthcoming ENI-CBC Med Programme 2014-2020 . Mr. Luca Santarossa, Project Manager on behalf of the Leading partner “Federparchi – Europarc Italy”, thanked the Shouf Biosphere Reserve colleagues and the Lebanese authorities for the perfect organization and the fantastic location of the MidTerm Conference, and gave a short overview of the main fact and figures of the project, postponing to the other speeches about the achievements in detail.

Mr. Phillipe Bestros, the representative of the Minister of Tourism, declared that the Minister views eco-tourism as an element of the tourism system in Lebanon, which launched rural tourism project from the Grand Serail from nearly two months taking into account the importance of rural tourism in richness of cultural and rural heritage and also pointed to the significance of the Mediterranean region as a key attraction for ecotourism and to the prominence of the partnership between the Mediterranean countries in order to promote this typology of tourism, which account for 20% of global tourism.

Eventually, Mr. Ghassan Sayah , the representative of the Minister of Environment, noted that the reserves in Lebanon are examples of the ecosystems that protect biodiversity in which we have nowadays 15 Nature Reserves, 13 terrestrial ones and 2 marines. In addition, he ensured that the Ministry aims to increase the number of marine protected areas, and the implementation of the law designated for the protected areas prepared by the Ministry of the Environment and sent to the Lebanese Parliament, which in turn will facilitate the announcement and management of nature reserves, as well as marketing at the national and global levels. Also he stressed the importance of reserves at the level of protection and increase of income and local development and spoke about the Mediterranean Experience Ecotourism (MEET) Project that supports ecotourism programs in the Mediterranean, and thanked the Shouf Cedar Reserve, which coordinates the work of this project in addition to the other four reserves involved in the project as Pilot Actions. After a small break, the MEET project manager and partners displayed all the activities accomplished through the project starting with the communication tools developed within the project, then the state of the pilot actions and ecotourism activities in the 20 protected areas of the Mediterranean which have been selected to be part of the MEET Network. In Lebanon, in addition to the Shouf Biosphere Reserve , the pilot actions include Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reserve, Tyre Coast Nature Reserve, Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve, and Ehden Nature Reserve. The MEET Network of Mediterranean Protected Areas mission is to improve cooperation as related to sustainable tourism, advocate for the sustainable management of Eco-tourism activities, assist in the promotion of Eco-tourism policies and offer help to Network Members in understanding and promoting ecotourism after the end of the project. It is worth mentioning to announce that the 2nd round of tests the ‘Ecotourism Packages’, to be included in the ’MEET Catalogue’ for the Mediterranean, has just started, and the day after the Mid-Term Conference the test of Lebanese packages will start. Finally, the Advisory Panel of Ecotourism was introduced to the public, which is the consultative body within the project that will serve as a networking tool between MEET and its partners.

Twenty protected areas in eight countries bordering the Mediterranean within the framework of the “Mediterranean Experience of Eco-Tourism” project are the case studies that focus on participatory planning for ecotourism. The project partnership is led by Federparchi – Europarc Italy (the Federation of Italian Protected Areas) and it involves eight of the main environment conservation‐related policy makers in the area: Lazio Region for Italy, Association of National Parks for France, Cataluña Region for Spain, Royal Society for Conservation of Nature for Jordan and the Shouf Cedar Biosphere Reserve for Lebanon. MedPAN (the network of Marine Protected Areas of the Mediterranean) and the “Med” branch office of IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) in addition to IUCN ROWA are also members of the project partnership.

The project aims to develop an integrated strategy to promote an eco‐tourism planning model for the natural parks in the Mediterranean region. Such a model would enable a better seasonal distribution of tourism flows and establish cooperation among the protected areas around the Mediterranean basin resulting in a unique destination for ecotourism. The expected results are: developing functional guidelines for ecotourism planning in the Mediterranean region, better international cooperation in the field of ecotourism across the Mediterranean region, a MEET ecotourism catalogue with ecotourism packages from about 20 Mediterranean Protected Areas to selected international markets from USA, Canada, Australia and Japan. In addition to a MEET network of PAs involved in managing the catalogue and capitalizing on project results, supported by a Secretariat located in Malaga (Spain). As well as building at least six partnerships of local small and medium enterprises that develop ecotourism products.

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