Smart Solutions

Ecotourism Network

A network of tourism enterprises committed to principles of ecotourism and delivering joint initiatives such as destination marketing.

Implemented inBurren Ecotourism Network

Country : Ireland

What’s the solution?

An Ecotourism Network is a recognisable network of enterprises in a locality/region which can demonstrate ecotourism ‘best practice’ and which have achieved independent accreditation in terms of achieving sustainable standards in tourism.

Tourism enterprises are asked to sign up to a Sustainable Code of Practice for Tourism, which can require them to conduct any, or all, of the following actions:

  1. Develop an Environmental Policy and Environmental Action Plan for their business.
  2. Implement practices in the areas of energy consumption, waste management, water conservation and protection.
  3. Commit to practices of responsible marketing, visitor interpretation, green purchasing, and sustainable transport.
  4. Complete ‘Leave No Trace’ awareness training and observe ‘Leave No Trace’ principles at all times.

Once established, the ecotourism network provides the following advantages for its members (irrespective of their size):

  • Possibility for shared destination marketing and promotion strategies/campaigns.
  • ‘One voice’ representation on key issues of local development.
  • Training and innovation support for business development.
  • Members positively discriminate in each other’s favour and have networking possibilities to develop innovative visitor packages.
  • Joint conservation and advocacy activities in the area

To maximise marketing and business opportunities, members are expected to correctly use and display logos and related materials, to link to the visitor website, and to actively promote and support Network initiatives.

What makes it smart?

The solution is smart primarily because of the business innovation that it demonstrates, encouraging a more cooperative approach between local tourism businesses in order to open the way for new business opportunities (innovative packages between enterprises), cost savings (shared destination promotion) and the kinds of skills development and training possibilities typically only possible for larger companies.

It is also smart in the way that it combines local environmental/sustainability objectives with local economic development, centring good practice in sustainable tourism at the heart of the local development approach.

How is the solution implemented?

  1. Identify a suitable body to ensure management of the network and accreditation/acceptance of members
  2. Create a locally/regionally appropriate Sustainable Code of Practice for Tourism
  3. Set up a clear process for enterprises to meet the requirements of the code and to become accredited
  4. Promote the code and its potential benefits to local tourism-related business
  5. Create the infrastructure to support networking amongst members (website/forum/Facebook group or similar)
  6. Support businesses to apply for membership
  7. Manage membership requests
  8. Design and implement joint actions targeting priority local needs (possibilities include joint destination marketing, skills training, local advocacy actions…)

In what local context has it been applied?

The Burren is a rural area of environmental interest on the west coast of Ireland, dominated by a glaciated karst landscape. It is loosely defined as the area within the circle made by the villages of Tubber, Corofin, Kilfenora, Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan in County Clare.

The Burren National Park and the UNESCO awarded Burren and Cliffs of Moher Global Geopark are located here. These sites attract lots of tourists, with the Cliffs of Moher being the most visited natural attraction in Ireland and the Burren Geopark Geosite attracting over 1.5 million visitors from across the world per annum. The area is also known for containing many fascinating geological features such as stone dolmens, that are older than the pyramids in Egypt, as well as flora and fauna that are celebrated with Atlantic, Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean plants.

However, most of the visitors to the Burren region have, historically, been day visitors, with many arriving and departing on buses within the same day, resulting in little further engagement in the area. This over reliance on day visitors had the adverse knock-on effect of low visitor spend in the area.

Who was behind the implementation?

  • In 2011, a group of local tourism enterprises in the Burren and the management organisation of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark agreed to pool their resources together in pursuit of a responsible tourism network that would help conserve the local environment whilst simultaneously improving the well-being of local people.
  • This was driven by the Burren Life Project, Carol Gleeson of Clare Council, Failte Ireland and 18 local businesses that became the founding members.

What was the local journey?

  • The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark (formerly the Burren Connect Project) initially engaged with local tourism businesses in 2008 to explore the potential of creating an ecotourism destination in the Burren. This led to the formation of the Burren Ecotourism working group. Fáilte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority, subsequently invited the group to become a pilot project for the promotion and expansion of ecotourism in Ireland in 2009.
  • Today, the Network invites businesses to achieve the Geopark Sustainable Code of Practice for Tourism as an entry point for membership. The Network welcomes up to 30 new enterprises in January of each year.
  • It asks members to work towards achieving a network-recognised third party certification label within 24 months.
  • Members are invited to participate in one of the sub-committees which work on areas such as marketing, group purchasing, conservation or sustainable transport. A spirit of sharing and collaboration is essential if the Network is to thrive and it is therefore important that members participate in a certain amount of the available training and networking events.
  • To be eligible for membership of the Burren Ecosystem Network, a tourism enterprise must be located in the Burren catchment area.
  • Achieving sustainable standards in tourism is a key principle of the Network. Businesses wishing to join the network are therefore required to complete the Geopark Sustainable Code of Practice for Tourism, as a minimum level of training and accreditation to be eligible for membership.
  • The Geopark Sustainable Code of Practice for Tourism requires tourism enterprises to develop an Environmental Policy and Environmental Action Plan for their business and to implement certain practices in the areas of energy consumption, waste management, water conservation and protection.
  • The Code also addresses areas such as responsible marketing, visitor interpretation, green purchasing, and sustainable transport. Importantly it requires all businesses to complete Geopark Leave No Trace Awareness Training and to observe Leave No Trace principles at all times.
  • Enterprises may also become a Business Friend of the Burren Ecotourism Network, which allows participation at general Network meetings and also helps support the Network’s activities. However, training and marketing benefits accrue to full members only.

The Burren Ecotourism Network is a recognisable network of enterprises in the Burren region, who have achieved independent accreditation, can demonstrate ecotourism ‘best practice’, positively discriminate in each other’s favour, provide ‘one voice’ representation on issues impacting the Burren (where appropriate), and inspire conservation activism in the area.

More specifically, membership of the network provides tourism enterprises in the Burren area, irrespective of size and activity, with the following training, innovative development and smart business opportunities:

  1. A Networking Forum.

Forum to avail of focused networking opportunities with like-minded tourism enterprises in the region in an effort to generate mutual referrals, innovative visitor experiences and packages, shared knowledge and ideas as well as long lasting relationships and friendships.

  1. A Conservation & Advocacy Forum.

Platform to become involved in conservation and advocacy activities which serve to protect and conserve the natural and cultural heritage of the Burren, as well as an increased knowledge and understanding of the surrounding unique landscape in which the tourism enterprise is located.

  1. A Sustainable Tourism Training & Networking Programme.

Opportunity to obtain the practical skills and tools to make one’s business ‘greener’, more sustainable and more cost-effective through the Geopark Sustainable Code of Practice Training Programme. Furthermore, the Geopark Enterprise Support Programme enhances a tourism enterprises’ marketing and networking capacity, business planning and marketing effectiveness to help ensure overall competitiveness.

  1. A Destination Marketing & Promotion Strategy.

Under the umbrella brand ’Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark’, businesses in the Burren can work together to truly differentiate this destination by making sustainability a driver of competitive advantage

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • The Burren Ecotourism Network now represents almost 70 well-established businesses that collectively employ over 1,000 people in the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark.
  • 70 tourism enterprises have completed extensive ecotourism certification training in the Burren Ecotourism Network
  • The Geopark is now increasingly recognised as a destination in its own right, not just a place to pass through.
  • The Network has directly led to the creation of a number of products to attract visitors to the region such as the award winning Burren Food Trail, showcasing the region’s food producers and restaurants and the Burren Outdoor Adventure and Activity Trail, featuring some of the region’s most knowledgeable guides alongside some great family attractions. Both offer excellent interpretation and experiences in the unique landscape of the Burren. The Burren Ecotourism Network model has been copied and upheld throughout Ireland as an example for collaboration and destination development. In fact, the first B.E.N. members acted as a pilot group for the development of ecotourism standards in Ireland, which led directly to the establishment of Ecotourism Ireland.
  • The Burren Ecotourism Network was named as one of ten winners in the Lonely Planet’s new ‘Best in Community’ category for 2021. Lonely Planet described the network as ’an impressive community collaboration of local enterprises which has transformed Ireland’s Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark into a global leader for sustainable tourism’.

What does it bring the village/community?

  • The Burren Ecotourism Network expects to increasingly transform the Burren region into a truly sustainable tourism destination that not only attract more people to visit, but encourage them to stay longer and take advantage of additional experiences and services.
  • This approach thus expects to bring positive knock-on effects in terms of long-term job and entrepreneurship opportunities in tourism-related activities, based on principles of environmental and ecological sustainability in order to ensure the future economic and social growth and sustainable development of its communities, environment and heritage.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:

The budget for the Burren Ecotourism Network was 150,000€ The costs are primarily down to what contractors are on board (100k per year) and the level of marketing activity thereafter (50k per year). The company – Burren Ecotourism Network CLG, is a company limited by guarantee and the network pay €2k per year for audited accounts. Insurance is paid annually, which is €800. The network does not rent office space, all meetings are held in member premises, or on Zoom.

Funding received:
Local Authority40,000 €Contractor Fees
LEADER60,000 €Marketing Activity/ Contractor Fees
Member Fees35,000 €Marketing/Contactors
Sponsorship15,000 €Festivals/Events

Human resources

The Network has a board of 9 directors (who are volunteers – all members of the network).

The contracted CEO reports to the board.

There is a contracted Marketing Coordinator (18 months), and a video production contractor (12 months).

There are 6 sub-groups, headed up by members (volunteers)

1) Burren Food Trail

2) Conservation Advocacy

3) Networking & Referrals

4) Finance

5) Marketing

6) PR & Media Engagement

Physical resources

No specific physical infrastructure is needed, however the natural physical assets of the area can be a big driver for attracting tourists.

What to do…

  • DO ... Have strong governance and a vision.
  • DO … Appoint a capable facilitator for initial meetings to ensure clarity and continuity.
  • DO … Provide tangible outcomes for communities and stakeholders to believe in.

and not to do

  • DON’T … Have meetings without strong leadership (as future meetings will not be attended otherwise).
  • DON’T …. Have initial meetings without the right people in the room).
  • DON’T …. Work independently of other community groups – that have been volunteering for years! Bring them all with you to get maximum buy-in.

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