What is the Burren Ecotourism Network?
The Network is a partner of the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark, a region of international geological significance in Co. Clare, West of Ireland.
It is a membership organisation that connects tourism enterprises and enables them to work together to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits for themselves and the community.
Demonstrable commitment to sustainable tourism standards is a minimum requirement for membership. Each member adopts the Geopark Code of Practice for Sustainable Tourism, which is independently verified. There are currently more than 60 members in the Network.
Why did The Geopark seek to work with a Network?
- The Network provided STRUCTURE for engagement between destination managers and tourism operators.
- It is a platform for discussion and co-operation, which can create a common purpose and shared vision for the future.
- It allows tourism enterprises, many small in scale, to build a voice with which to engage collectively with agencies and policy makers.
- It allows for a more compelling destination story and visitor experience to 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.
How did The Geopark cultivate the engagement of members of the Burren Ecotourism Network?
Here are the 6 principles that guided the Geopark's approach to Enterprise Engagement
MAKE IT TOGETHER
The Geopark operates on the principle of partnership. It takes a collective approach incorporating agencies, enterprises and communities. It articulates an inspiring vision for a sustainable destination and invites others to contribute to this.
MAKE IT REAL
Sustainable Tourism must be meaningful and relevant. To empower tourism enterprises to willingly and enthusiastically embrace sustainable tourism practices, the Geopark created a set of localised standards (The Geopark Code of Practice for Sustainable Tourism), tailored them to the destination and developed practical step by step actions that businesses could implement within reasonable time frames
MAKE IT POSSIBLE
The Geopark provided training to businesses to help them understand and implement the Geopark Code of Practice. Training was focused on helping the businesses meet shared objectives and to strengthen the group overall.
MAKE IT PAY - ENVIRONMENTALLY
The Geopark supported Network members to develop an Environmental Action Plan that included targets for improvement. The Geopark invested in environmental management training that provided practical tools and templates. It also cultivate destination conservation programmes that businesses could collectively get involved in, growing team-work and participation.
MAKE IT PAY - ECONOMICALLY
Recognizing that tourism enterprises must engage voluntarily in a change of business practices and must often invest considerable resources to bring about this change, a strong marketing strategy for the destination, provided a further essential economic incentive for engagement with a sustainable destination management strategy.
MAKE IT LAST
Through successful funding applications and through helping to grow membership fees and the capacity of the Network to itself secure funding, the Geopark was able to provide essential financial and people skills to ensure the programme can continue over the longer term.
What's involved in membership?
While the Network is now independent and self-managing, the Geopark was instrumental in helping the businesses define the purpose, functioning and activities of the Network. This ensured there were strong foundations for creating a group that could last over the long-term and be a meaningful partner to other stakeholders in the region.
Membership of the Network is voluntary. Tourism enterprises choose to opt in to an organisation that is embedded in a sustainable ethos. In joining, they commit to attaining ever higher levels of sustainable tourism practice over time.
- They commit to working together and to contributing time and energy to implement Network programmes.
- They commit to involving themselves and their businesses in active conservation projects within the region.
- In return, they benefit from a professional destination marketing strategy, environmental and business training and networking opportunities.
- Enterprises value 'softer' benefits which provide strong motivation for involvement:
- connection with each other
- reducing their feelings of isolation
- a framework for collaborating with like-minded people
- a channel for constributing to the conservation of the landscape
- a share in a strong voice which can engage with policy makers on matters that affect the destination.
Features of The Burren Ecotourism Network:
- A strong sense of higher purpose - a vision that goes beyond delivering benefits to members.
- Strong leadership and administration.
- Clearly-defined objectives that are communicated and reported on.
- A 'destination first' mentality, meaning the good of the destination takes precedence.
- The benefits to enterprises are defined and consistent.
- The responsibilities of membership are defined and consistent.
- A culture of sharing, collaboration and referrals is cultivated.
- An annual calendar of training, networking and promotional events exists.
What is noteworthy about the businesses and people that comprise the Burren Ecotourism Network itself?
- The truly extraordinary amount of voluntary effort and time that they have invested in attending meetings, training and events.
- The ability of the businesses to work together in a meaningful way, to shed local rivalries and perceived competition.
- The willingness of members to contribute their skills and knowledge to the work of the group, leading to a significant talent pool working for the good of the overall destination.
- The lack of hierarchy and positioning within the group – the largest and the smallest are equal members in decision-making and contribution.
- The willingness of the more established businesses to support and encourage new and emerging businesses.
- The fact that they were doing this long before it was popular or topical. In fact, for most of the journey it would be fair to say that what they were up to was ‘niche’ or ‘fringe’.
- The rules and constitution of the Network are set by the members and they set the bar high for themselves. Evidence of implementing the Code and commitment to further improvement is the minimum requirement for full membership. Membership fees are sizeable and membership places demands on their time.
- It’s not a Network where you join and expect benefits to flow your way. Rather, it’s a network where when you join, you get to pay your fee, be subject to inspection and get to contribute your time and talent to the goals of the group. It’s a distinctive mindset that buys into a proposition like that!
- In times of little or no funding and little or no resources, the Network kept itself going. Fuelled by volunteer effort, stubbornness, pride and an absolute refusal by a few stalwarts to let the great momentum that had built up fizzle out.
- The Burren Ecotourism Network has crossed that elusive threshold of moving from complete dependency on funding and the leadership of the Geopark to managerial and financial independence and sustainability.
You will find greater detail on all aspects of the GeoparkLIFE Tourism for Conservation project here.
Click on the image on the right to download the Good Practice Guide to Engaging Tourism Enterprises, which was authored by Tina on the completion of this project.
Anna Pollock, Conscious Travel
"In my opinion, this is a first-rate example of community-led regeneration in the tourism domain."
The Burren Project has been recognized through numerous local, national and international awards including the National Geopraphic World Legacy Award, The European Destination of Excellence Award and the Lonely Planet Best in Travel for Community Tourism.
Between 2011 and 2017, Tina held various roles as Sustainable Tourism Animator and Tourism Enterprises Co-ordinator on behalf of the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark and the Burren Ecotourism Network. Tina led 'The engagement of the Tourism Enterprises' strand of the Geopark LIFE Tourism for Conservation programme 2013-2017 and is author of the Good Practice Guide to Tourism Enterprises Engagement that emerged from the programme.
She led the concept and development of the Geopark Code of Practice for Sustainable Tourism and co-ordinated over 2000 Training Days for over 100 enterprises in the region in that time.
Email: [email protected]
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Some of our projects have been part-funded by the LEADER program, through the National Development Plan and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.