Sustainable tourism in the Western Balkans has always been a challenge. But lately, major investments and efforts have been made to promote sustainable tourism development in the region. Unfortunately, many locals, especially during the pandemic, have been reluctant to focus on long-term benefits in favor of immediate survival. Balkan Green, a regional initiative to raise sustainability standards and awareness in the tourism industry, aims to make this practice more accessible and attractive to residents.
Conceptually, the responsible-tourism tide is starting to turn. In 2022, for instance, a greater interest in sustainability has been seen across the sector, as sustainable development and management has been increasingly associated with resilience, customer confidence, limiting negative impacts, and cost-saving.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Albania. In March 2022, partners of SUSTOUR (Sustainable Tourism Destination Development), an EU-funded COSME project, put out a call for SMEs to apply for a comprehensive support program to improve their sustainability performance. The goal was to select 175 tour operators and travel agencies to participate. In the end, they accepted three times as many SMEs to the program, from 35 European countries, including 14 SMEs from Albania, the highest number of participants from a Western Balkan country.
This is a promising step for sustainable tourism in the country and the region. In fact, the number of applications from the Western Balkans was much higher than anticipated, indicating that the interest from business owners to further develop sustainably is growing.
The SUSTOUR program, which began in July of 2022, will run until the end of June 2023. Participating tour operators and travel agencies have the choice of pursuing Travelife Partner or Certification awards, which are based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) standards for sustainable management in the tourism industry. Alternatively, they may pursue a specialized program targeting specific topics, such as sustainable plastic, carbon, supply chain management, or certification for shore excursions.
The program will include online training, comprehensive individualized and group coaching, and peer-to-peer exchanges. Participants will also be encouraged to attend European trade fairs, where they can be showcased, and where experience-exchange events will be organized, including awards presentations to those who have completed their program.
Balkan Green is supporting this program by coaching and co-financing 37 participants in South Eastern Europe. Balkan Green Representatives, five in total so far, have been trained as Travelife coaches to help meet the demands of SUSTOUR’s ambitious goal to simultaneously coach over 600 European tour operators and travel agencies in sustainable management. Our coaches will also be organizing additional support activities and resources for the participating SMEs in the region.
To get involved in this movement and see a full list of participants please visit the site.