By Maria Paravantes in Berlin
Tourism development means protecting natural resources by ensuring that local populations gain appreciation of and benefit from their geological heritage.
In the words of Global Geoparks Network President Nickolas Zouros, it is vital to raise awareness among local communities and administrations concerning the need to protect territories of particular geological interest and at the same time develop tourism products and services around them.
There are currently five geoparks in Greece: on the island of Lesvos, Mt Psiloritis on Crete, Chelmos Vouraikos, Vikos – Aoos and Sitia on Crete. Overall, there are 119 geoparks in 33 countries.
Speaking to the Greek Travel Pages (GTP) during the ITB Berlin on Wednesday, Zouros said that there are three more regions in Greece striving to achieve the prestigious UNESCO listing: Western Macedonia, Lavrio, and the Cyclades.
‘’The priority right now for Greece is to raise awareness as to the role of the UNESCO hallmark. It is still unclear among local communities that the UNESCO label is a brandname in itself lending added value to the tourism product,” Zouros said.
The aim, he said, is to promote this idea to local governments and communities and then to aid them in preparing their bid for a particular territory.
Zouros was clear: for there to be tourism in the future the very resources tourism relies on for its products must be safeguarded. The geopark concept does exactly that. After being recognized by UNESCO, a territory can be ‘used’ in a number of ways including catering to tourism offerings such as hiking, climbing and rafting, as well as expanding into other sectors as in the example of Portugal, with the promotion of other products within those territories such as olive oil, meat and wine.
”Geoparks are the quintessential model of sustainability,’’ Zouros told the GTP, adding that the ultimate goal is for local communities to initially reap the benefits, take pride in and respect their region and then to work towards the creation of sustainable practices that will ensure these territories continue to meet the criteria in the future while offering services of high quality: in other words ”creating a form of responsible tourism’’ he said, adding that through innovative products, new jobs and high quality training, new sources of revenue will emerge through geotourism.
“If we destroy our resources there will be no tourism,’’ he concluded
UNESCO Global Geoparks are geographical areas recognized for their geological significance – in many cases directly linked with a territory’s natural and cultural heritage.