Travel & Tourism creates local networks, support, and a common purpose.
“I played on these rocks as a child; I’m still here now, making a living doing something I love.”
Being part of the Burren ecotourism network is the difference between success and failure for Cathleen Connole. She never anticipated it would make such a difference.
Picture the pristine Irish countryside: browsing cows in verdant fields, craggy piles of ancient rocks fringing deserted beaches, seals frolicking off shore in the clear Atlantic.
There are few places more idyllic and inspiring than The Burren in County Clare, Ireland. But whilst visitors might describe it as paradise on earth, rural communities like these often struggle with high levels of unemployment, low standards of living and lack of opportunity.
Income from traditional activities like farming is under immense pressure. Younger people move to the cities in search of work. Old traditions and techniques are slowly lost.
According to the UK’s National Audit Office, despite urbanisation, the majority of the world’s poorest people still live in rural settings¹.
A recent study in Italy found that 2,500 villages across the country risked being abandoned owing to depopulation.²
Tourism is uniquely placed to bring vitality and opportunities back to rural communities and in so doing, to encourage cooperation and community cohesion.
For the more curious traveller, looking for deeper connections with the places they visit, community tourism projects also offer a huge range of unique experiences and interesting learning opportunities.
‘Living like a local’ has become an essential part of a trip for many travellers and community tourism offers exactly these kinds of experiences. For example:
• Learning about cocoa farming and chocolate production in Panama
• Experiencing life in Aboriginal communities in Australia
• Watching traditional tribal dancing at a community tourism project in Uganda
These are just some of the myriad community tourism projects around the world that offer vital income to people in rural areas by bringing tourists to places that they previously wouldn’t visit.
But to be successful in the long term, people need to work together and that in turn strengthens communities.
When the rural tourism project in The Burren started in 2011, there were just 17 businesses involved. Now there are close to 70. There’s no way that Cathleen could run a successful restaurant without the other members of the project and the greater level of awareness that banding together and creating integrated marketing and promotion brings. There’s a supply chain that leads right back to the seeds planted in the soil. And everyone benefits.
There’s an obvious win for tourists too. On a visit to the Burren, they’ll sample far more than just Cathleen’s tasty food. They see how the produce is reared and cultivated, they meet the people who make the cheese and smoke the salmon they eat in Cathleen’s restaurant. They work up an appetite on cycling tours through the spectacular countryside.
“We knew that by setting up the network and promoting the destination rather than the individuals, we’d be more successful,” says Cathleen.
“We’re no longer just a business network, we’re a network of friends.”
¹ Source: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/tackling-rural-poverty-in-developing-countries/
² Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/07/italian-village-bormida-offers-2000-gifts-to-boost-dwindling-population