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Breaking ground on the Catalan stretch of the Camino de Santiago

Last night I learnt a bit about the Catalan Tourist Board and other’s efforts to make the Catalan troç of the Camino de Santiago / Camí de Sant Jaume / Saint James’ Way more accessible to prospective travelers having a range of disabilities.  This includes an impressive range of tools on its website that meet with WAI standards.

Like a lot of ground-breaking initiatives in accessible tourism it opened my eyes to what needs and, moreover, what can be done to make tourism more inclusive.

Visit the site here:

www.caminosantjaumeperatothom.cat

Getting Close-serola, or when Talk Walking headed for the hills

30/05/2012 1 comment

Evarist March of NaturalWalks joined our group in the afternoon and led us “by the most natural route possible” from the top of the Collserola park down to the station for our suburban train back to Barcelona.  One of the most interesting facets of the conversation along the way related to public attitudes to this Natural Park.  While it seems much of the media and public discourse on the park is negative, pointing to issues such as the risk of forest fires and wild boars encroaching on peripheral residential areas, few stories celebrate the beauty and mere existence of this diverse natural area so close to the city.

I had been up to the park a few weeks before, taking a visiting friend up there.  It was by no means my first trip, but this time I was struck by my ignorance of the environment I was in.  Such ignorance is hardly uncommon, however.

Ring-fenced by motorways and a metropolis of more than 3 million, Parc Collserola is the biggest metropolitan park in the world, equivalent to twenty-two Central Parks (New York).  The Carretera de les Aigües–an accessible, broad 20-km track with panoramic views of sea and city–is very popular with cyclists, runners, walkers and horse-riders.  Yet despite its proximity to the city and the estimated two million visits it receives a year, the interior of the park is relatively unknown to many Barcelona-dwellers.

A day out in Parc Collserola to enjoy and better understand the park, its nature and use

Of course, it takes time–in books and in the field–to develop the kind of knowledge and familiarity you need to be able to interpret what you can see, hear, smell, touch and even taste in the Collserola Park.  So to get to some of that knowledge quicker, I got together a group of friends of the Xarxa de Turisme Responsable/ICRT Barcelona and we headed into the hills to “get closer” to the park, hence the droll name for this Facebook Group event.  Amongst us were an ornithologist, a botanist (Evarist), a landscape architect, a photographer and a counsellor.  And with a little pre-trip reading, we were set up for some interesting observations.  These notes offer a snapshot of what followed:

—     leaving behind the noise of the ring-road and entering “another place”.

—     no hoopoes this time–they’re migratory, suppose it was time they’d moved on.

—     a splendid garden, or a path up a south-facing valley where lavender, broom and a dozen other flowering plants and shrubs I can’t name perform for us in warm sunshine?

—     rock roses displaying their papery petals

—     hearing about the sex lives of different pine trees.

—     Caça Controlada, i.e. yet more “controlled hunting” space, hearing about Franco’s trophy hunter scheme, and reflecting on its legacy–to this day is this a threat to ecological sustainability in Spain’s “natural areas”?

—     rich earthy smells on narrow paths through low pine scrub–it rained plentifully the week before–this is where you could imagine the threat of fire exists after long hot dry spells.

—     multifarious birdsong just about everywhere we walk.

—     a woodpecker drills for food–they’re indicators of forest health, explains Diana, although a handful of Asian and African species are known to have adapted to forest plantations.

—     forest in recovery, yet perceived by some as bosc brut (“dirty woodland? Scrubby, perhaps?) who perhaps don’t understand or don’t value the processes of succession.

—     more honeysuckle–it’s been in abundance–sweet droplets within

—     Evarist identifies an orchid, Limodorum abortivum, by the footpath not from the park’s exit.

—     legs good, but head weary–wear hat next time.

Some of the thoughts that we had shared among ourselves by the end of the day:

…Let’s hear less aprovechar (take advange of or make the most of in English) and more valorar (value or appreciate) in connection with the park.  In other words, let’s hear more about the luxury of having such a rich diversity of natural life on our doorstep, and less about it being problematic.

…Let’s encourage a considerate and better-informed approach to enjoying the park, so that the challenges to the area’s ecological integrity might be more easily overcome.

…And let’s do this again sometime, perhaps towards the end of a long summer evening when the “unseen” wildlife emerges.

Alex Florez posted some excellent photos of the day’s walk here.

Local nature guide, Lucy Brzoska, posts superb photos and blogs specifically on this natural area at IberiaNature.

You might also be interested to know that plans are being made to “bring the park closer” to its urban neighbours via 16 entry “gates”.

This day out follows on from “Talk Walking”, when responsible tourism advocates and practitioners from the ICRT and other organisations gathered in Barcelona to talk urban tourism, heritage and managing better places for people to live in and visit.

ROBIN BARDEN

From Berlin to Barcelona: Welcome Goodbye

04/03/2012 1 comment

Once again city authorities in Barcelona (and Catalunya) are vying with those of Madrid.  This time it’s for the option to become a “Eurovegas destination”.  The tabling of this project is perhaps irresistible given the very high levels of unemployment in Spain.  But EuroVegas will be no gift.  There will be economic costs as well as a range of social, cultural and environmental impacts (as well as opportunities).  And then there are the opportunity costs–the money invested and the people and places given over to development might be better “spent” on other livelihood-supporting activities…  perhaps?

The big question for me, however, is what would be the dimensions and characteristics of tourism to Barcelona given both the presence of Eurovegas and predicted future tourism volumes.

And, incidentally, on what grounds does Eurovegas form part of the city’s sustainable tourism strategy?

Would Eurovegas serve to decant tourism from parts of the city where authorities have recognised that large visitor volumes challenge the balance of local life?  Or would Eurovegas add to the intensity of tourism numbers, thereby reducing the diversity of place uses and degrading the intrinsic qualities of the city’s places?

With these questions in mind it is little wonder that the Welcome Goodbye project has caught my interest (video in German with subtitles in English).  This filming project plans to ask questions about the potential outcomes for plans to grow, grow and… grow tourism to Berlin.  I suggest it gives cause for reflection for the city and people of Barcelona, with or without Eurovegas.

ROBIN BARDEN

Hamburgueses amb segell Km0 a Barcelona

Destaquem la creixent disponibilitat d’aliments orgànics i/o de menjar Km0 (semblant a “slow food”) al sector de la restauració de Barcelona.

Aquest moviment s’ha estès per incloure l’humil hamburguesa en l’únic establiment d’hamburgueses a Barcelona que porta el distintiu km0; les seves hamburgueses elaborades “amb productes frescos de temporada, ecològics i de proximitat”, segons aquesta guia de restaurants.

A més de complir amb una sèrie d’objectius de desenvolupament sostenible, especialment pel que fa a la relació entre els consumidors urbans i productors rurals, creiem que aquests opcions de menjar Km0 fan de Barcelona un lloc millor per viure i visitar.

Destinació Barcelona: on comença, on acaba

El passat dijous 24 de novembre va tenir lloc a les instal·lacions de Barcelona Activa, la jornada de debat “Destinació Barcelona, on comença, on acaba,” arranjada per la delegació de Turisme de la Diputació de Barcelona, qui va donar conèixer el pla de màrqueting turístic de Barcelona 2012, el qual inclou la marca costa Barcelona-Maresme; feta com a oferta complementària del turisme urbà i que permeti potenciar la imatge de Barcelona a l’estranger.

Aquest pla va sorgir segons el Sr. Xavier Font, Cap de l’Oficina Tècnica de Turisme de la Diputació de Barcelona, perquè hi havia una mancança de gestionar els recursos turístics de Barcelona i dissenyar noves estratègies que reforcin el potencial de l’oferta turística. Després d’uns treballs tècnics i d’intel·ligència de mercat, es va poder treballar més enllà el tret de Barcelona com a regió, arrivant a endreçar els actius de la destinació de Barcelona en 22 productes estrelles, entre els quals destaquen: Alt Penedès, Bages, Vallès Oriental, Baix Llobregat, etc.  Encara que el projecte no s’hagi presentat oficialment, s’espera congregar especialistes del mercat turístic el proper any per la seva difusió.

Posteriorment, el Sr. Olivier Ponti, Cap de recerca i desenvolupament d’Amsterdam tourism & Convention Board i el Sr. André Moura, Cap de recerca i estudis de Lisboa Visitors & Convention Bureau, per les dues bandes vam compartir els reptes de les destinacions urbanes que hi gestionen. Segons Olivier Ponti l’estratègia turística aplicada en Amsterdam produeix no només l’increment del nombre de turistes, sinó també, enriquiment de les seves regions a través de una bona gestió i promoció dels productes. En feia èmfasi que era indispensable la investigació a la destinació perquè és la via més adient per saber el moviment del turista i se’n va adonar que hi havia una necessitat d’organitzar l’oferta per a què el turista pugui entendre el producte. Doncs ara, ofereixen rutes turístiques amb un gran poder d’atracció pels turistes i continuen ampliant l’oferta de les regions per consolidar-la. Andrè Moura va plantejar que degut a la recessió, el desenvolupament turístic s’havia embarrancat i la institució pública va tenir que intervenir com a ressort integrat amb marques regionals. Per tant, el desenvolupament turístic seria mes fort i podrien oferir més avantatges a tots els organismes del sector privat. Posar en marxa el pla de màrqueting no va ser gaire fàcil al principi perquè l’enfoc de cada organisme era diferent. Malgrat tot, van tenir que canviar la seva mentalitat i treballar conjuntament aplicant la regla financera 1+1=4 per tal de millorar els ingressos.

També des de l’àmbit territorial català, empresaris hoteleres i representats de la Diputació de Barcelona van fer present les seves perspectives sobre la gestió de l’oferta turística. D’una banda, els empresaris senyalaven que la implantació de la marca costa Barcelona-Maresme proporcionaria una imatge més potencial al mercat internacional. Fèiem una cridada per treballar conjuntament i que Barcelona ciutat hauria d’exportar clients a la província, així es generaria més valor als atractius de la regió. D’una altre banda, des del comissionat de Turisme distingien que hi ha prou competència fora i Barcelona necessita un factor diferenciador per posicionar-s’hi al mercat turístic. Tota gestió turística és possible sempre i quan intenti no perdre la identitat local, sinó afegir-ne unes altres mitjançant una vertebració dels recursos i una bona comunicació per coordinar les polítiques turístiques.

Finalment per tractar la gestió dels productes, van convidar Joan Abellà, MACBA, qui ficava la cultura com element premiant de l’oferta catalana; Josep Altayó, LARSA-Montserrat, feia referencia Barcelona com a emissor de productes turístics i és un clar exemple d’un distanciament entre l’oferta cultural i turisme; Manel Casanovas, Gastronomia i Agenda Cultural de Turisme de Barcelona, considerava que el turista qui ve a Barcelona busca lo autèntic i quasi el 45% escull un restaurant local; Elena Foguet, Value Retail Spain, cada vegada més el turista busca nous productes i el que repeteix vol conèixer els voltants; Anna Sánchez, Cap de l’Oficina de Promoció Turística de la Diputació de Barcelona, sostenia que el pla de màrqueting és una oportunitat de treball pel sector privat i treballant entre tots assolirien els objectius.

Com veiem, hi ha un lleuger progrés en desconcentrar l’oferta turística de Barcelona cap a tota la província i això no només permetria una integració dels productes i les empreses, sinó també un posicionament privilegiat dintre del mercat turístic internacional. Encara que l’avinença de les idees entre les empreses privades i les institucions públiques no serà gaire fàcil, el pla de màrqueting turístic vol contribuir a tenir una oferta més dispersa amb la integració dels productes de la regió. No obstant, si no creiem al nostre producte mai podrem gestionar-lo ni molt menys promocionar-lo.

De fet, trobo molt oportú el comentari d’Olivier Ponti sobre la investigació perquè sense ella serem incapaços de conèixer ni tan sols el turista qui ve a Barcelona ni tampoc dissenyar un pla estratègic de qualitat que ens permeti gestionar els nostres recursos de manera responsable.

Karen Rodríguez

Just how enamoured with tourism are the Barcelonins?

Survey results released at the end of this summer prompted the headline in the Catalan edition of El Periódico “nine out of ten Barcelonins “applaud” [approve of] tourism”.

Well, 9 out of 10 of those who commented this story online responded “falsa” (false), “mentida” (lies) or “a quien demonios le han hecho esta encuesta?” (who the hell did they do this survey with?). Read beyond the headline, however, and the reasons for the 87.5% positive response become a bit clearer.

Tourism is probably the only major industry sector in Barcelona to have continued growing regardless of recent and ongoing economic crises: June through August saw tourist arrivals up 5.1% on the same period the previous year; tourism represents 15% of the city’s GDP; and visitors are purported to leave an average of €2 million a day in a multitude of cash tills in the city.

Such figures are also widely reported in the city’s press, so it’s to no surprise that city residents respond favourably when asked questions like “Does tourism create wealth?” and “Is tourism beneficial?”.

These questions do not, however, provide a complete or accurate picture of how locals feel about tourism. Above all, different locals feel differently about tourism–sometimes very differently–and this often depends on the extent to which they either benefit from tourism, or have to tolerate its less-appealing repercussions as part of daily life.

A more incisive reaction to the news story, therefore, involved questioning whether the survey had involved anyone living in the area around Las Ramblas. To those unfamiliar with the city, this is where Barcelona provides all sorts of enjoyment for tourists as well as residents from other parts of the city, ranging from taking in some extraordinary built heritage, to having fun in bars and clubs. Places here are special for myriad reasons–symbolic, nostalgic, identity-defining, educational, multicultural,…–again, depending on individual and group perspectives.

Also key, however, is the residential use of the area immediately surrounding Las Ramblas. So while some long-established residents may have perceived some Olympian improvements in infrastructure, they have also borne the brunt of an incredible growth in tourism flows with its attendant effects and changes to their neighbourhood. Elsewhere amongst Barcelona citizens, this has resulted in a certain level of recrimination that this iconic area is now “owned” by tourism and is less charming, less characterful or “less Barcelona” as a result, hence the various campaigns in recent years to “reclaim La Rambla”.

Here are some of the insights I gained while talking to people in La Rambla area whilst conducting interviews and a questionnaire survey as part of my Masters project in October-November 2010. Of the resident group surveyed:

  • 70% disagreed or strongly disagreed to the notion that “tourism generally seems to be having a positive effect on life” in the area
  • 50% strongly agreed that “the large volumes of people visiting this area have a negative effect on [their] enjoyment of the area”
  • 45% disagreed or strongly disagreed that visitors “seem to treat the place with respect”.
  • while 30% of residents indicated affection for the area, over 30% of them chose of their own volition to describe it as noisy, crowded, stressful and alike.

These figures are intensified considerably when we focus on those residents who have been living in the area for several years or more, i.e. established residents.

Clearly, the statistics I have presented are less upbeat than those based on different questions and a city-wide sample. But they are equally pertinent, if not more so.

Yes, people across the city support tourism to Barcelona–such international interest in the city is still a source of pride for many Barcelonins. And yes, there is much acknowledgement that tourism has helped improve the city in many ways, and that it continues to pay many salaries. But these views mix with doubts and resentment and the real and visible remonstrations of Barcelona’s “tourismophobes”.

So I question the utility of such broad-based surveys, and ask, isn’t it better to reach an understanding of the attitudes of those Barcelonins who really play host, whether inadvertently or purposefully, to its tourism and visitor industry? After all, don’t the city’s planners and policy-makers, businesses and tourism strategies need real insight if sustainability objectives are really to be acheived?

South Africa implements a Responsible Tourism Standard

It’s not an award, and nor is it a voluntary code of practice.  It’s not even another national certification scheme.  What it is is a national standard for responsible tourism, and a milestone in responsible tourism linked to governance and policy-making.

South Africa’s recently launched National Minimum Standard for Responsible Tourism is legally enforceable in that businesses claiming to practise responsible tourism will need to prove that their activities comply with its criteria.  This includes certification and accreditation by the South African National Accreditation System.

The standard

“establishes specific minimum requirements for the performance of organizations in the tourism sector in relation to sustainability, and enables an organization to formulate a policy and objectives, which take into account legal requirements and information pertaining to the impact of these requirements.”

Furthermore,

“the minimum criteria apply to those aspects that can be controlled by the organization or on which it can exercise influence.”

South Africa has a relatively long history in responsible tourism terms.  It was one of the first countries to include “responsible tourism” in its national tourism policy, in its 1996 White Paper on the Development and Promotion of Tourism in South Africa. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) followed this up in 2002 by producing the National Responsible Tourism Guidelines which emphasised the need to address the triple bottom line of sustainable development (economic, environmental, and social sustainability).

The addition of the National Minimal Standard sees the government of South Africa take further responsibility to promote the positive as well as negate the potentially negative outcomes of tourism.  It is hoped that such policies will feed through to further raise awareness amongst both tourists and tourism organisations of the value of conserving South Africa’s natural and cultural resources so the viability of its tourism industry is ensured for years to come.

News sourced via Harold Goodwin’s blog.