Education can contribute to the long-run development of the ecotourism destinations, building up the needed skills and attitudes of the young generations: (1) creating a responsible attitude of the young towards preserving natural and cultural assets allowing the economic utilization of these assets for long time; and (2) building the relevant skills of the young for participating and developing economic activities in ecotourism (specific know-how in hospitality, foreign languages, soft skills).
Romania is one of the most biodiverse countries in Europe. The 13 national parks, the Natura 2000 network and the cultural and historical heritage make this country an ideal ecotourism destination.
The areas most suitable for ecotourism are, at the same time, among the last developed in Romania, with low revenues, no economic opportunities and, many times, jeopardized by an “industrial” approach to development: deforestation, mass tourism or other activities that place nature and the unique values of the area at risk.
For flourishing eco-tourism destinations, the following needs have been identified:
- Both local entrepreneurs and people living in these areas need to better understand the value of local assets for attracting tourists and the importance of preserving these assets for a sustainable development of the region. By stopping the emergence of activities that endanger these assets, tourism can contribute to the economic development for many years.
- Local entrepreneurs need to acknowledge the new opportunities for alternative tourism. Most entrepreneurs are in standard business – guesthouses, regular food facilities – leading to a lack of attractive activities and experiences for the type of tourists interested in eco-tourism.
- Local entrepreneurs need to understand the value chain in eco-tourism. Many are reluctant to collaborate and co-develop their business, to engage with local producers and to work together for a common vision for the economic development of the region.
- Local entrepreneurs need to improve their know-how in business administration, including customer services and marketing and communication. Most businesses are functioning below their potential, with little understanding of the needs of their customers and how their businesses could be improved. As many customers are foreigners, they need to have a reasonable command of foreign languages. They also have difficulties to reach relevant markets, and have a limited interest to support a common communication and marketing approach.
- Local entrepreneurs need better soft skills, as most are individualistic, lack interest for collaboration, and are passive in solving common problems – unrealistically expecting others to solve the issues for them (authorities, management unit etc.)
The role of education is to create better premises in the long-run in the eco-tourism destinations in terms of human resources.
In this sense, Fundația Noi Orizonturi set up 30 Green IMPACT youth clubs in eco-tourism destinations to provide learning opportunities for responsible entrepreneurship and community participation of youth.
British Council assessed the local context in the seven eco-tourism destinations in view of developing a program on three directions: Improvement of teaching practice in English classes in schools; access of youth to resources for learning English in rural libraries; and activating English teachers/libraries as promoters of civic and community engagement.