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Reintroducing Travelers to the Mediterranean Through Ecotourism

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MEET Network proposes an innovative model for ecotourism development that balances the needs of conservation with tourism through robust monitoring that measures the impact of tourism while also deepening a traveller’s connection with nature, culture, and local communities. Partnering with MEET can reintroduce the Mediterranean to your travellers through ecotourism.

While Mediterranean ecotourism itineraries are often based in and around protected areas or parks, what differentiates the MEET Model and the carefully curated catalogue of MEET Ecotourism Experiences is that the protected area is the primary driver of ecotourism product development. This approach relies on the public-private collaboration between the protected area and a local tour operator that design locally-crafted travel experiences in which the value chain is formed by local stakeholders. It guarantees that conservation and a process to measure and minimise negative impacts on nature and the local community are core to the ecotourism itinerary from its inception.  In this way, MEET Experiences demonstrate how sustainable ecotourism is, rather than just proclaiming it as ‘green’ or ‘eco.’

North Karpathos and Saria Island Protected Area, Greece © Michail Reisis

MEET Experiences provide travelers with an exceptional opportunity to immerse themselves in lesser-known areas of the Mediterranean. Through a commercial partnership with MEET, wholesalers and tour operators can meet the increased sustainability demands of customers by expanding their portfolio to include inspirational ecotourism experiences unique in the region.

“Tourists are definitely becoming more aware of the environmental and sustainability impacts of tourism – especially northern Europeans – and our products reflect this.”– Giovanni Scarpa, Biking Sardinia Tour Agency

For an ecotourism experience to meet the criteria to be part of the MEET Catalogue, each experience is carefully developed using the innovative MEET Model and measured and monitored against the MEET Standard, a robust set of monitoring tools incorporating both environmental and social impacts on the protected area and community. MEET also invites conservation and tourism experts to test the experience to ensure that it is high-quality and meets the standards demanded by tourism trade and target market travellers. MEET considers an experience holistically, from the types of local suppliers used to whether tour guides responsibly interact with nature and how the local operator works with the protected area.

The latest nine ecotourism experiences developed in protected areas using the MEET Model were part of DestiMED PLUS, an EU Interreg-Med project based in six Mediterranean countries (Albania, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, and Spain). Protected area managers and tour operators in each natural park were encouraged to work together with local authorities and the local community in a Local Ecotourism Cluster, ensuring each ecotourism itinerary created reflected both the natural and cultural heritage of the protected area.

“At the very beginning, we thought the highlight of the itinerary was nature. After the first test, we understood that we were missing people. Now tourists are amazed to meet the local people, and they see Cabo de Gata with different eyes.” – Gloria García, Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park

Everyone involved in the project engaged in developing ecotourism experiences that showcase a different side of the Mediterranean. For example, MEET Experiences include a hiking trip to the sacred summit of Mt. Kofinas in Western Asterousia Biosphere Reserve in Crete, discovering the exceptional Dalmatian pelican nesting in Divjakë-Karavasta National Park in Albania, a farm-to-fork dining experience at an ‘agriturismo’ in Porto Conte National Park in Sardinia, and snorkeling in the unknown Mediterranean waters of Ventotene and Santo Stefano Marine Protected Area in Lazio.

Cres-Lošinj Marine Protected Area, Croatia © ASL Agency

By using the MEET Model, protected areas were able to gain an understanding of best practices for ecotourism development and to identify points of improvement. Recommendations based on the environmental assessment not only helped to further localise the value chain and reduce carbon emissions but drew attention to the environmental footprint of food and food waste. For example, in the case of one ecotourism itinerary developed in La Garrotxa National Park, Spain, implementing MEET’s recommendations helped to reduce the environmental footprint of the trip by 25%.

In its comprehensive approach to sustainability, socio-economic measurements are also integrated to ensure that equity and inclusion are reflected in the value chain and the ecotourism itinerary itself. Through regular assessments and recommendations from the MEET Network, protected areas can continually improve the ecotourism itineraries, their socio-economic impact on the community, and the traveller experience.

The level of detail and effort that goes into creating a MEET Experience and the focus on lesser-known natural parks and local communities make MEET’s approach to ecotourism an exceptional way for a traveler to experience the Mediterranean.

The MEET Network is currently seeking partnerships with wholesalers interested in including the MEET Experiences in their portfolios. To find out more, visit: http://www.meetnetwork.org/travel-industry.

About MEET Network

MEET Network works with Mediterranean protected areas to develop high-quality ecotourism experiences that benefit conservation and local communities. MEET partners with wholesalers and tour operators to include these unique experiences as part of their Mediterranean portfolio. The MEET Network is a non-profit association of protected areas and sustainable tourism organisations born out of several EU-funded projects, including ENI CBC MED Programme MEET, Interreg-Med Programme DestiMED and the recent DestiMED PLUS. MEET Secretariat is based at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, which have developed this article with support from Natalie Beckett, freelance writer.

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