[Above: Shooting in Wisconsin’s “Kinni.” Photo: Erika Gilsdorf]
Kinnickinnic River, Wisconsin – Our original concept video (featuring the same young hosts as in Sierra Gorda) takes a look at a success story in rural and notes-rural Wisconsin. Shot off-season in November, young travelers have fun while learning about the rescue an endangered trout stream, Wisconsin’s Kinnickinnic River, known among locals and anglers as “the Kinni.” You can watch it as a short clip, 15 seconds to a minute, suitable for social media—
—or longer, up to 4 minutes, suitable for Youtube and websites:
Under the leadership of DSC video producer Erika Gilsdorf,
➤ WE INVITE APPLICATIONS
. . . for your stewardship success story to be featured as the next World’s Inspiring Place in the online series. We will assist with arranging the necessary tax-deductible funding and distribution options. There are lots of ways to do this. For a conversation and more details, contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Above: Trebinje, Bosnia. All photos by Cristina Angeles; videos by Juan Carlos Rodarte.]
Our video project on the Adriatic’s Balkan coast shows what tourism should do—and not do.
Here at the Destination Stewardship Center we want to encourage sustainable tourism practices that preserve today’s impressive places for enjoyment tomorrow.
The Adriatic coast of the western Balkan peninsula is one of those places—a destination of great promise and also at great risk. Imposing mountains rise only a short distance inland from the coast, a combination that supports a diversity of ecosystems. The region enjoys a warm to hot Mediterranean climate, which makes it an appealing destination for vacations—and hasty development. Similarly attractive parts of the Mediterranean have already been touristically exploited. Just look over at some of Greece’s heavily built-up islands to see what is coming.
So we on the video team went there to see how the area is doing, and why it’s special. Listen to the people who live there talk about their home, in their own voices:
The hope of course is for tourism in the region to generate jobs and raise local people’s quality of life. But is it being done in the best way? We found the answer was “yes” in some places, definitely “no” in others.
Thanks to the collaboration with Western Balkans Geotourism Network(WBGN), we spent 21 days documenting the Adriatic regions of Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and meeting the people associated with the WBGN. They are the heroes of this story, working against tough odds to turn tourism in a better direction.
Our expedition revealed three red flags signalling touristic overkill: the coastal city of Sarandë and the archaeological zone of Butrint in Albania, and the coastal development at Kotor Bay, Montenegro.
Auron Tare, Albanian National Coastline Agency Director, shared with us his professional experience as a pioneer in the preservation of Albanian culture. Listen to his observations on overcommercialized Sarandë, once a quaint fishing town:
“The town went completely crazy with its tourism concept.”
In the red flag areas, rocketing growth of globalized products was overwhelming more sustainable local commerce and sacrificing the cultural diversity of lifestyle, so basic to destination appeal. Tourist complexes deface the scenery with buildings that do not respect the landscape. Reinforcing all this are thousands of people hopping on and off all-inclusive cruise ships.
Now overtourism has come to the Greco-Roman ruins at Butrint National Park, the World Heritage site preserved and managed by Auron Tare. He explains what’s happening:
As for Kotor Bay, we asked our guide Jack Delf, chairman of the Western Balkans Geotourism Network, why tourism was out of control on the coast of Montenegro. Is a change in direction possible? The only way, he says, is to emphasize value instead of volume:
“We can’t preserve this through mass tourism.”
Is everything lost? Not at all. Various NGO’s and companies are seeking to develop and promote tourism products under management plans that protect the land, empower the locals, and provide them with market opportunity.
Nancy Tare, Albania Regional Director for the WBGN (and Auron’s wife), told us that a key factor for sustainability is the important role that locals can play in taking care of what is theirs. They have in their hands the power to sell their land, or not. They are the only ones that can preserve their natural, cultural, and social resources. Here’s Nancy on the true meaning of sustainability:
“Keep it real is by keeping locals involved. That’s a success.”
As an example, we present the destination Nivicë, the first village in southern Albania’s Project Nivicë route. What is it about this initiative that has impressed us? Its authenticity. Auron Tare is project coordinator, working with an emphasis on restoring vernacular architecture:
“What we’re trying to do here is set an example.”
Auron has a personal connection to Nivicë. “He is building a house in Nivicë on his grandparent’s land and enjoys spending time there with his family,” notes our producer, Erika Gilsdorf, who sums up his difficult task this way: “The town was abandoned during war, and now people are coming back. He wants it to grow and thrive but keep its charm and authenticity. He struggles with maintaining balance. If you promote it, it is at risk of exploitation. If you don’t, it is at risk of poverty and abandonment. So, he’s trying to see if they can manage it sustainably, grow organically, and do so slowly to handle challenges as they arise.”
For projects like this and in general for the Eastern Balkans, is there an economic argument for their sustainability? Yes! Jack Delf explains why:
“Adventure tourism is now a 680 billion dollar business, growing at 23 percent per year.”
During our expedition we had the opportunity meet the various personalities who are charting the routes to sustainability. One of them was Kirsi Hyvaerinen, a board member of the Global Ecotourism Network, who calls for redefining tourism for her adopted home of Montenegro, confirming that the ultimate goal is to capture value and not volume, and that local people are the key:
“It’s not too late.”
Environmental millionaires? In a globalized world, poverty is commonly equated with lack of money. We often heard that a main reason for growing tourism in the region is to generate jobs and so improve the people’s quality of life. Whereas the purpose may be noble and the solution correct in economic terms, it is precisely the migration of this concept into this region that we see as a major challenge. What we admired in the people we met was the means of production they already have, the freedom they have to enjoy their day, the air they breathe away from polluting factories, and their community lifestyles.
In this sense, they are environmental millionaires. They can feed themselves with pesticide-free produce harvested in their backyards, far from the problems that come with the processed products of the industrialized world. Many people in the Balkans that have no job can still live off their land.
To learn more about why we found so much of the western Balkans to be an unspoiled, immaculate, and authentic place, please see our account (originally posted on National Geographic Open Explorer) and soon to appear as an Esri StoryMap. It was sad that Open Explorer closed, since the WBGN came into being in conjunction with the National Geographic’s geotourism initiativesof the 2000s, which defined geotourism as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, geology, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”
What have we learned from this raw, unexpected travel experience? Erika offers an answer. She writes: “Hidden in stone, food, and ancient trails, far from the coasts, lies the hope and heart of old Europe. And in its past lies its future; not just for the western Balkans, but for destinations around the world who struggle to maintain the balance of growth and preservation.”
Please let us know your comments, doubts, or questions about this beautiful region. We are Erika Gilsdorf, producer of the expedition, Juan Carlos Rodarte, in charge of videography and editing, and Cristina Angeles, your storyteller.
[Above: A Sierra Gorda panorama. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]
Featuring Sierra Gorda, Querétaro, Mexico
We chose the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve as the international pilot for this series because of one organization’s well-established success in their approach to conservation: Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda. In the videos, our two millennial hosts enjoy exploring the region as they discover how Grupo Ecológico has achieved its success.
Video hosts Ian and Christian at Cuatro Palos, Sierra Gorda. Photo: Hassen Salum
By working closely both with the local rural population, many of whom live at subsistence level, and with a succession of state and local governments, Grupo Ecológico has helped protect a wide variety of natural habitats while gradually making northeastern Querétaro into a scenic paradise for international travelers seeking an authentic Mexican experience.
You can now see and link to the Sierra Gorda videos on our YouTube channel, World’s Inspiring Places. There are three versions:
Subscribe to the channel to see additional videos about Sierra Gorda and shooting World’s Inspiring Places pilot.
The World’s Inspiring Places is a short-form online travel series created by Erika Gilsdorf, owner and producer of South Shore Productions, and Jonathan Tourtellot, director of the Destination Stewardship Center, both based in the United States. The series aims to showcase stewardship success stories around the world where people are working to help conserve or preserve the cultural and natural heritage of a destination, or creating a unique travel experience the supports and builds on that heritage.
Destinations do not pay for the videos; we look instead for external support free from local conflict of interest. In the case of Sierra Gorda, we are grateful for generous support from Freightliner.
The mission of World’s Inspiring Places is to encourage travelers to visit, enjoy, and appreciate authentic destinations that protect their nature, culture, and sense of place; to help individuals, businesses, and governments care for these places and the people who live there; and to inform and inspire leaders to secure a solid economic future through wise destination stewardship.
For two reasons, we encourage you to enjoy the Sierra Gorda videos and link to them through your own social media, blogs, or websites. First, Grupo Ecológico’s work is truly a model for the rest of the world, worthy of dissemination. Second, we seek new topics for World’s Inspiring Places and, of course, ongoing sponsorship support for a series that will, we hope, showcase the world’s best examples of great stewardship and rewarding travel.
Our thanks to Grupo Ecológico for their help with our six-day shoot this past August, and with my own visit in October. Our appreciation also to Freightliner for their financial support and to Antonio del Rosal of Experiencias Genuinas for his assistance in serving as our Mexican liaison.
If you have a proposal for the next World’s Inspiring Places, please see our page on how to apply, or contact us to begin a conversation.
Contact us, too, if you would like to download your own copy of a video, including a high-resolution version for audience presentations and the like.
[Above: Video hosts Ian and Christian at Cuatro Palos, Sierra Gorda. Photo: Hassen Salum]
Our First “World’s Inspiring Places,” a Short-Form Travel Documentary
I can’t wait to show everyone this amazing place I’ve fallen in love with and tell the story of what makes it truly inspiring. Mexico’s Sierra Gorda is the star of our new online travel pilot, The World’s Inspiring Places, a video that we are releasing Sunday January 28, 2018. It prelaunched on 15 January 2018 with a one-minute version at the Awards Forum of the United Nations World Tourism Organization in Madrid, Spain. Check out the trailer!
For me, the concept behind The World’s Inspiring Places probably started the day I found myself yelling at a tourist to stop standing on the coral while they cleared their goggles. I’d had enough of overcrowded destinations making a buck at the expense of nature. It was time for me to focus on places in the world that were doing something right to protect where people loved to travel.
My passion led me to some of my first stories in Central America around reforestation, coral reef protection, overfishing and sustainable tourism.
My son got to tag along with me on shoots and grew up seeing sometimes the not-so-great underbelly from the impacts of such things as overdevelopment, logging, and poverty. While friends were boasting about their recent cruise or resort vacation, my son had been learning how local villagers were replanting sides of mountains, or he’d be on a boat with biologists counting boat propeller cuts on whale shark backs. It wasn’t always pretty. But it was definitely inspiring. Despite what often seemed like insurmountable challenges, these regular people, often with fewer means than most, were doing extraordinary things to protect their own places.
For me it’s fun that my son, Christian—he’s the one with the man bun in the videos—agreed to be one of the hosts, along with his college friend Ian. They further agreed to meet our very tight budget by hosting, well, for the fun of the trip. So we were off for an incredible 6-day filming project with a small, never-tiring, amazing crew from Mexico.
We set the bar high choosing the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve as the pilot for this series. Grupo Ecológico is a small organization that has had incredible success recognized globally in their approach to conservation, all while making an adventurer’s paradise. We appreciate Freightliner‘s support in covering the costs of video production and thereby supporting the work of Grupo Ecológico.
I’ve found my career’s passion in producing The World’s Inspiring Places, and it’s happened by partnering with Jonathan Tourtellot and the Destination Stewardship Center. A venture like this can’t be done alone, and it’s been fun joining forces to tell stewardship success stories from the traveler’s point of view—stories of truly inspiring people and places.
Join us as next week as we travel through the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve. Find out for yourself why this place is one of the best.
Tell us what you think! And if you have a proposal for the next “World’s Inspiring Places,” see our page on how to apply, or contact us to begin a conversation.