Engaging Communities & Businesses – CS 1

Local & indigenous knowledge: A guided tour based on our greatest treasure – the Basque language 

a case study provided by Basque Coast UNESCO Global Geopark, Spain 

A Geopark is much more than geology. Conservation and showcasing of cultural heritage is pivotal to a Geopark, and in the case of the Basque Coast UNESCO Global Geopark its intangible heritage is particularly important. This is an area which possesses a cultural treasure in the form of the Basque language—an ancient language which has survived through to the present day.

In its report “Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger”, UNESCO warns legislators, language communities and the general public about endangered languages and the need to protect global linguistic diversity. That said, this matter is notably absent from the Sustainable Development Goals within the UN’s Agenda 2030.

The Basque Country in general, and particularly the Basque Coast UNESCO Global Geopark, have experienced an increase in tourist numbers over recent years. This is partly down to a general growth trend in tourism in southern Europe, but also because of a favourable political backdrop free from violence.

There are two different perspectives on the relationship between tourism and the Basque language or Euskera. Some sectors fear a negative impact of tourism on the use and preservation of the language, while others see it as an opportunity and a channel for disseminating and spreading their language beyond their borders by means of the tourists themselves. This matter has been the subject of numerous political, technical and social reflections. The strategic plan 2017-2021 for the town of Zumaia has been put together over recent months using a participative methodology in which different social agents and groups raise their concerns about how locals and visitors can coexist.

Social agents take part in the strategic plan process

In this context, the tourism and culture departments of Zumaia Council have worked with the Geopark to develop an innovative experience which tries to bring Basque culture and Euskera closer to Geopark visitors and raise awareness of our most valuable heritage.

‘The Great Enigma’ – a guided tour offer

The guided tour of Zumaia is part of the wider official programme of geotourism guided visits to showcase the Geopark’s natural and cultural heritage. This guided tour experience is 90 minutes long and highlights and explores one of the most ancient cultures in Europe. The tour primarily aimed at tourists, mostly from Spain, who want to know more about the Basque Country and its cultural identity. At the heart of the experience are four main topics that most identify us and make us different:

  1. Basque language (Euskara)
  2. Rural sports
  3. Basque music
  4. Gastronomic clubs
Map showing points of interest on the ‘Great Enigma’ tour of Zumaia

For the initial promotion of the tour there was a public presentation to the media and different promotional and pilot tours for journalists, bloggers and local tourism businesses.

Public presentation of the product

Once the guided tour was ready, we offered training for guides, provided graphic materials and props to support them during the tour and prepared a small dictionary as an introduction to Euskera for participants in the tour.

Tasting with a gastronomic society
Balls used in the traditional sport of ‘Basque pelota’.
Visitors try on the txapela, a traditional cloth cap.

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