Engaging communities & businesses – CS 3

GeoparkLIFE project

a case study provided by The Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, Ireland 

The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark undertook a five-year project from 2013 to 2017 called GeoparkLIFE that looked at developing a model of reconciling tourism development with the conservation of natural and cultural heritage in the Geopark region. During this project the team ran an extensive programme to engage local tourism businesses in sustainable practices.

Engagement premise

The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark’s engagement programme was based on the premise that the people who work in tourism can act as mediators between the visitor, the landscape and the heritage of the area, and as such, can assume a caretaker function. Environmentally and economically sustainable tourism businesses can play an active role in conserving the environment which ultimately sustains the tourism industry. A critical mass of tourism enterprises that actively engage in and endorse sustainable practices will play an important role in maintaining areas of high nature value, and the communities that live in them.

Life group celebrate in Burren UGGp
Burren Beo Trust Conservation Volunteers and guest Costas Christ from the National Geographic at the Butterfly habitat and footpath maintenance. Photo John Meyler Photography (REPRO FREE)

The Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark. The GeoparkLIFE project steering committee – which was made up of national tourism and conservation agencies The Burren Ecotourism Network – A network of tourism businesses based in the Geopark region with an interest in sustainable tourism practices. Local Community Groups.

How it developed

The Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark together with the GeoparkLIFE steering group opted to work with an existing business network with an interest in sustainable tourism, the Burren Ecotourism Network. Working with a local network of businesses provided a structure and platform for engagement between the GeoparkLIFE project team and the local businesses. It allowed for the businesses to collectively incorporate sustainable management practices into their tourism operations in return for the development and coordination of a destination brand and marketing strategy built on their sustainable tourism offerings.

cycling group pose for tea in front of dolmen on limestone pavement
Celebrating Tea-Cycle
How it worked

Working with a formal Network, rather than with a series of individual operators, provides a number of important benefits. Firstly, it provides a structure for engagement between destination managers and tourism operators. Secondly it is a platform for discussion and co-operation, which can create a sense of common purpose and a shared vision for the future. Tourism businesses, often very small in scale, can build a voice with which to engage collectively with agencies and policy makers – a third important benefit. Finally, a more compelling destination story and visitor experience can be delivered. Individual and fragmented efforts can seem like insignificant drops in the expansive tourism ocean. Collective step-changes in practice and behaviour can deliver true impact. Winning national and international awards like the National Geographic destination leadership award and a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) award created motivation and reward for all participants.

Guidelines for engagement with a network
  • Secure professional facilitation and co-ordination services.
  • Invite the views of as many local tourism businesses as possible.
  • Allow time for people to ask questions understand and be inspired.
  • Allow time for relationships and trust to build between tourism businesses.
  • Set realistic objectives for progress that can be clearly measured and reported on.
  • Enable tourism businesses to feel real ownership of the Network and its activities.
  • Create opportunities for tourism businesses and policy-leaders to meet and collaborate.
activity guides promote outdoor activities on coastal limestone outcrop
activity guides promote outdoor activities on coastal limestone outcrop

For further information on the GeoparkLIFE project and their guide to working with tourism businesses see http://www.burrengeopark.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Good_Practice_Guide_The_role_of-_tourism_enterprises.pdf