IUCN shows its commitment towards sustainable tourism at a key moment for nature in Albania
After the successful declaration of Vjosa Wild River National Park, Albania faces the challenge to reconcile tourism growth with the preservation of vulnerable natural areas, particularly in coastal zones. To help position Albania as a global leading destination for sustainable tourism, IUCN-Med, Intrepid Travel and the MEET Network have joined forces to produce an ecotour that will allow international visitors to discover the hidden natural gems of the country.
Generating and shaping the demand for sustainable tourism
Departing from the city of Tirana, the Albania Expedition tour will guide international visitors through stunning natural sites such as Shalë River, the Vlora Bay or the Divjaka-Karavasta National Park, home to one of the largest colonies of Dalmatian pelicans in Europe. This will be the first stand-alone trip in Albania offered by the MEET Network in partnership with Intrepid Travel, one of the world’s largest B-Corp-certified travel companies, offering adventure trips designed to provide a true experience of local culture.
As Albania’s popularity soars globally, tourism can be an opportunity for social prosperity but also become the source of new pressures on natural sites, including coastal development, urban expansion or unsustainable water extraction. This new travel experience, inspired by the MEET methodology for ecotourism development in protected areas and following the declaration of the Vjosa Wild River National Park, will support efforts towards more environmentally sustainable tourism planning and management.
The ecotourism itinerary, offered exclusively during the shoulder season, follows a standard that ensures a socio-economic positive impact both for local communities and natural ecosystems. Activities include an opportunity to learn about the protection of the Dalmatian pelicans and sea turtles in the National Park, as well as the chance to meet local craftsmen and participate in hands-on activities with them.
This experience was originally developed with the support of the InterregMED Programme DestiMED PLUS project, in which the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation participated. Following the MEET collaborative approach for ecotourism development, the itinerary was conceptualised by the National Agency of Protected Areas in Albania — DestiMED PLUS project partner and IUCN member — together with the park, the local tour operator and other local service providers. This adds to the important investments of the park in recent years to upscale its conservation efforts, including the construction of a visitor centre, a wild bird rehabilitation centre and a birdwatching tower, as well as the acquisition of an electric mini-bus to lower the emissions in the protected area.
Jula Selmani, Head of the Projects Unit at the National Agency of Protected Areas in Albania, stated: “We are delighted that our efforts to promote protected areas in Albania through the creation of ecotourism packages that follow the principle of sustainable development were evaluated. Now, even the protected areas in Albania will be part of the international tourism market. We are very proud of the project we implemented and of the partnership we are part of.”
The project brings attention to the need for a tourism offer that reconciles conservation and tourism policy goals, and that enhances the value protected areas, together with their surrounding territories. This ecotour exemplifies how an initiative developed with EU funding can go a step further and reach the marketplace with a viable tourism package, ultimately contributing to the transformation of the tourism sector in the Mediterranean.
Josep Rodríguez, Coordinator of the Interreg MED Sustainable Tourism Community stresses that: “This tourism package is a great example of how the European cooperation developed in the framework of the Interreg programme in the Mediterranean is helping design, in a collaborative manner, market-oriented and sustainable tourism offer”.
MEET is a network of Mediterranean protected areas that works with local tourism stakeholders to design sustainable, high-quality ecotourism experiences. These experiences generate income to support local communities, while at the same time financing nature conservation efforts. IUCN-Med has been supporting the MEET Network, both as a Founding Member and as part of the Board of Directors. Currently, the centre also hosts the MEET Network Secretariat.
The itineraries are also backed up by a robust sustainability system that helps to measure and minimise their Ecological Footprint, as well as maximising their social impact. Furthermore, this type of tourism is helping to protect biodiversity, both by the direct contribution of visitors to conservation activities and the reinvestment of benefits into nature conservation projects.
For additional information, please contact Lucía Prieto at firstname.lastname@example.org