Engaging Visitors

UNESCO Global Geoparks must engage with both visitors and local people to ensure that all activities and developments are conducted in a holistically sustainable way, preserving the natural and social fabric of the area whilst stimulating economic growth.


  1. Introduction – Why Engage?
  2. Mechanisms of Engagement
  3. Marketing and Promotion
  4. Marketing and Promotional Tools for Visitors
    1. Website
    2. Social Media
    3. Promotional Literature
  5. Local Collaboration – Community & Business Engagement
  6. Interpretation
  7. Environmental Education
  8. Conclusion
  9. Case Studies

1. Introduction – Why Engage?

UNESCO Global Geoparks are, unsurprisingly, areas with a unique and rich geological heritage but, typically they are also areas with an equally diverse and interesting cultural, historical and ecological heritage or put much more simply ‘landscapes with stories to tell’. Raising awareness of the importance and significance of this heritage is one of the main focus areas for UNESCO Global Geoparks. This not only encourages and fosters a sense of pride amongst the local people in their area but also acts as a catalyst for the creation of new jobs and growth within the Geotourism sector through attracting visitors.

2. Mechanisms of Engagement

Engaging with visitors and local communities and the sharing of the stories of a Geopark is a fundamental aspect of the operation and management of any UNESCO Global Geopark. So how do Geoparks engage with visitors and local communities? Essentially, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Every Geopark has its own unique landscapes and people and so has evolved a unique set of mechanisms of engagement with both visitors and local communities in that territory. In generic terms, UNESCO Global Geoparks use the following broad mechanisms to engage with Visitors:

  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Local Collaboration – Community & Business Engagement
  • Interpretation
  • Environmental Education
  • Local Collaboration – Community & Business Engagement
  • Information Centre

3. Marketing and Promotion

Marketing and Promotion, as is the case with most sustainable tourism destinations, is a key aspect in the management and operation of a UNESCO Global Geopark and significantly in the engagement of its visitors. Areas need to have a strong “brand” – the perception of the product or service provided.

The brand should be both factual and emotional and it establishes the promise the Geopark is making to its customers. Delivering in regard to the brand message is paramount to overall success and in ensuring a reflective and appropriate image of how your Geopark is portrayed. Additionally, consistency in:

  • messaging,
  • the look and feel of promotion and interpretative material,
  • the appropriate use of the Geopark and UNESCO logo,

will leverage the identity of the Geopark locally, regionally, nationally and internationally with visitors. On-going monitoring will be required in this regard.

4. Marketing and Promotional Tools for Visitors

The following are some of the more well-known marketing and promotional tools that are used by UNESCO Global Geoparks to engage visitors:

4.a Website

There are many options when it comes to website development and implementation and budget is often the determining factor; however, your website should:

  • address the core ethos of your brand;
  • advise viewers what your Geopark does, and offers, in a user friendly, image-led format and manner. 

Websites should be compatible with mobile phones and tablets.

4.b Social Media

Knowing who your perspective visitors are will indicate which social media channels to use to enable you to capture the attending of your perspective visitors. However, when engaging with local communities a presence across 2-3 channels is advisable to ensure that you engage with a range of different demographic groups. Regardless of whether you are targeting visitors or local communities the need for engaging and regular up-to-date content is crucial, no matter which channel you are using.

Remember, you need to be prepared to dedicate time to respond to conversations that are sparked on social media channels. On-going monitoring and moderation is important to ensure your online presence is authentic and accurate.

4.c Promotional Literature

A leaflet or brochure showcasing what there is to explore and learn within the Geopark is essential. The format can be varied i.e. printed leaflet, downloadable web and/or app supported and is a critical tool in the engagement of both visitors and local communities.

Remember, not all visitors will necessarily be familiar with certain technologies, and there may be areas of your Geopark where there is no digital signal, so leaflets can be essential for explaining your Geopark brand and messages.

5. Local Collaboration – Community & Business Engagement

UNESCO Global Geoparks are grass roots entities, where engagement with the local communities and business representatives is crucial in achieving a common goal of sustainable tourism. Most UNESCO Global Geoparks operate some form of Geopark Ambassador Programme and these are a highly effective and mutually beneficial way of engaging local people directly in the delivery of activities within the Geopark whilst also facilitating the generation of revenue. Typically, there is a formal partnership between the Geopark Ambassadors and the Global Geopark. This commits the Geopark to providing on-going training, mentoring and support to enable the Geopark Ambassadors to deliver a programme of events and activities to visitors within the Geopark throughout the year. Geopark Ambassadors are an invaluable asset for any Geopark but even more so when recent trends indicate that visitors to sustainable/eco-tourist destinations are seeking authentic, local-guided experiences.

Most UNESCO Global Geoparks also typically operate Volunteer Programmes to varying degrees. Opportunities can be offered on short-, medium- or long-term or indeed on an ad hoc basis within a variety of different disciplines and for individuals with a diverse range of skill sets e.g. volunteer support can range from Conservation Ranger, Education Assistant to Business Engagement Assistant to name but a few. Such opportunities provide a fantastic mechanism for engagement with both local communities and visitors alike.

Engagement with local businesses is a hugely important aspect of the operation and management of UNESCO Global Geoparks. Most Geoparks operate a formal partnership business engagement programme, the aim of which seeks to encourage local businesses to provide Geopark-related or indeed specific tourism related products and activities for visitors within the area. This usually involves the business:

  1. adhering to a suite of sustainability standards and guidelines which outline environmentally and socially sound practices for tourism businesses in a particular destination and;
  2. to promote widespread adoption of these practices.

Voluntary certification programmes are designed to support such initiatives and where possible local governments are encouraged to integrate the standards into local regulations. The businesses can then be actively promoted and marketed by the Geopark. These Geopark Businesses and products are a crucially important mechanism in engaging visitors with the Global Geopark area, its ethos and brand.

6. Interpretation

Effective interpretation introduces the visitor or community representative to an understanding of “place”. Or put more simply – what makes the territory unique and special. To ensure the effectiveness of your interpretative mediums all sites/areas which are interpreted should have an interpretation plan which typically should make reference to the following:

  1. Aims
  2. Audience
  3. Themes & Topics
  4. Interpretative Media

There are a variety of interpretative media that can be adopted to engage visitors and consideration should be given to those highlighted above in choosing the most appropriate medium.

Remember, having an Information Centre is a fundamental requirement for all UNESCO Global Geoparks.

Different UNESCO Global Geoparks have adopted different approaches in this regard:

  • some have specific purpose-built information centres,
  • others have created a number of smaller satellite centres or information points located at key/strategic locations within the Geopark and
  • some have a combination of both of these approaches.

Other interpretative media commonly used by UNESCO Global Geoparks include outdoor and indoor panels and displays, live interpretation (guided walks & talks), publications and phone/tablet Apps.

7. Environmental Education

Provision of environmental education opportunities is a critical component of any UNESCO Global Geopark and it a highly effective mechanism of fostering community and visitor engagement. Geoparks typically offer opportunities for formal and informal learning for all age groups, from preschool to adult lifelong learning. With an ever-evolving outlook on the planet’s well-being, Geoparks act as an incredible outdoor classroom facilitating both a deeper understanding and knowledge of our natural environment – its systems and processes whilst also providing opportunities for participants to upskill or learn new ones. Geoparks also actively encourage and facilitate scientific research, acting as an “Outdoor Laboratory” encompassing millions of years of Earth’s history.

8. Conclusion

The paragraphs in this Topic provide a brief synopsis of the key mechanisms that are used by UNESCO Global Geoparks in order to engage visitors and community groups. There are of course many other mechanisms but, those highlighted typically tend to be the most effective. Once visitors and community representatives are engaged, then typically that engagement should then be sustained, particularly if new Geo-products and messages are regularly available. Measures to effectively monitor and evaluate mechanisms of engagement should be regularly employed with the necessary recommendations implemented. Geoparks at their core are about people and we are continually seeking to find new, innovative and effective ways to keep our visitors and communities involved and engaged – this will be a continual and evolving process.

9. Case Studies

The case studies outline practical ways in which UNESCO Global Geoparks engage with their visitors within the Atlantic Geoparks Partnership Area. You can use aspects of these examples in your own Geopark setting by adapting to practical and cultural norms.

  • Case Study 1 provides an overview of how Marble Arch Caves Geopark engages with visitors.
  • Case Study 2 describes the Burren Food Trail within the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark.
  • Case Study 3 booking places on coastal geotours within the Basque Coast Geopark.
  • Case Study 4 describes a range of tourism products which have been developed within Marble Arch Caves Geopark.

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