Measure to manage: Visitor impact monitoring in protected areas
The VIMOMA consortium had gathered in person for the last time for the fifth workshop, held between June 19th and 20th in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia
By identifying the impacts of outdoor recreation activities on natural resources, the workshop aimed to train PA managers to effectively improve both visitor satisfaction and nature conservation efforts. The importance of monitoring recreational impacts lies in its contribution to future strategies and concepts of visitor management. Therefore, it is essential to focus not only on the social but also on biological and environmental factors in the management plans of protected areas.
Key experts in the field conducted sessions covering various aspects of visitor impact on nature, methodology for impact assessment and sustainability standards for ecotourism. The first day began with a warm welcome and an introduction to the workshop's background and goals by Juraj Svajda, the Faculty of “Natural Sciences at Matej Bel University representative. After the general outline of the project and its goals, Mr Svajda introduced the issues of managing outdoor recreation in protected areas. It’s key to follow the ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure’ principle, highlighting the need to properly monitor impacts on natural resources, visitor experience and tourism facilities and services. First, PA managers need to understand these impacts to plan and implement appropriate management strategies and practices. The following presentation was made by Lauri Laanisto from the Estonian University of Life Sciences, discussing the theoretical framework for measuring visitor impacts on nature on hiking trails. The importance of interdisciplinarity and the balance of social and biological aspects of the monitoring measures, as well as the involvement of local communities in the planning processes was highlighted. Later, Mr Laanisto mentioned the knowledge gaps of nature tourism and the need to fill these knowledge gaps and discover the “unknown unknowns”. The subsequent presentations introduced a methodology for impact assessment, specifically the GetDiv project by Piia Jaksi and Ly Härm-Kask from the Estonian University of Life Sciences. The GetDiv project is a global meta-experiment for exploring plant diversity and changes on nature trails. The method measures impacts, such as trampling, changes in biodiversity, and endangered and alien species with transect and quadrat sampling.
The afternoon session began with the introduction of the MEET standards by Daniela Casimiro, in the representation of the Mediterranean Experience of Ecotourism (MEET) network. MEET is a network for protected areas, aiming to support national parks and local communities to develop high-quality ecotourism experiences. Ms Casimiro first introduced the basics of ecotourism, then elaborated on the MEET model to measure sustainability and quality for ecotourism itineraries. The MEET is a 4-step model, allowing the creation of local 1) ecotourism clusters, 2) ecotourism products, 3) measuring sustainability and quality while 4) providing market access for the developed products and services. Local communities are at the forefront of ecotourism development, while cooperation between the public and private sectors, evidenced sustainability is also ensured and conservation and community benefits are aligned with national parks’ goals. The last session of the first day was interactive, allowing participants to use MEET tools to assess the sustainability and quality of ecotourism product development.
The second day began with a visit to the Low Tatras National Park Administration, where the park's representative provided an overview of the NP’s initiatives, current challenges, development and plans. The park is currently undergoing a revision process to meet the IUCN standards, which requires a time-consuming and difficult negotiation and cooperation with municipalities and settlements.
The meeting was followed by a transfer to Trangoska, and a field trip, involving a hike to the mountain hut of General M.R. Stefanik. During the field visit participants explored the environmental and tourism impacts of the area. Visible effects take form in soil erosion along the hiking trails, mostly associated with heavy precipitation and the lack of proper design and management of the trails. Additionally, the GetDiv method was tested to assess the effects of trampling, impacts on vegetation and coverage of herbaceous species were surveyed in transects and quadrats, perpendicular to the hiking trails. Lunch was enjoyed amidst nature, providing an opportunity for summary, conclusions, and further discussions.
The Vimoma workshop successfully brought together professionals and experts dedicated to visitor monitoring and management in protected areas. Valuable insights were gained through theoretical sessions, practical field trips, and discussions among participants. The next step in the project will involve developing guidelines on visitor monitoring practices for protected area managers, paving the way for effective nature conservation and sustainable tourism.
Stay tuned for updates on the project's final meeting, which promises to be an important milestone in this endeavour.
The project is co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.