Ecotourism is a brilliant opportunity for women to grow both professionally and personally, while remaining to be a part of the local community where they live and work. Ecotourism can empower women in many ways. Its multidisciplinary concept can engage women with different skills, interests and passions. Working for ecotourism can be an important added value to everyday life.

text © Dominika Zareba 

Ecotourism is based on local resources, heritage, uniqueness of a place. That is why it allows women to find the sustainable livelihood that brings not only the economic benefits but also the joie de vivre and satisfaction. Ecotourism also links women with the place they live, which benefits the whole community and all its generations.

Women in rural communities are very often key leaders in addressing environment and development issues. Over 20 years of transition to democracy and civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, resulted in many women’s leadership activities, that had a power to make a change at the grassroots level. Many of these initiatives were focussed on ecotourism and sustainable tourism as a tool to promote sustainable rural development and preserving natural and cultural heritage.

Challenges that women encounter in the tourism industry

The everyday challenges that women encounter working at the local level are very similar elsewhere, such as isolation, lack of experience, access to know how and finances for investment, as well as the possibilities to travel and be inspired by initiatives in other regions and countries. In Central and Eastern Europe, especially in rural areas, women working in tourism face many challenges due to lack of experience in marketing: how to market the tourism product, select the target group and find the best way to reach the target. There may be many great ideas for tourism products and services, but they cannot become marketable without proper access to marketing knowledge, networking opportunities and business support.

Ecotourism creates the bottom-up approaches to women’s involvement in the industry

Women are very often the natural leaders in their local society, they are very sensitive to the issues related to the environment, society, heritage, and sense of place. Ecotourism in a broad context, connected with other activities (such as sustainable farming, handicraft, art, education, etc.), can provide opportunities for women to find a sustainable way of living. Participation of women in the development of sustainable tourism industry at the local level is very diverse – from running accommodation services, cafes, restaurants, and shops, to working with handicraft, art and food processing. Apart from running small businesses, many are involved in tourism development while working for cultural centers, municipalities, NGOs, and schools. Ecotourism can be a perfect tool to initiate women’s active participation in sustainable community development. Building international networks and projects is one of the best ways to overcome the challenges that women encounter, as it allows them to have access to more information, as well as the opportunity to show their work to broader audiences outside their local community.

Stories from Central and Eastern Europe

There are numerous practical examples from different regions of the Central and Eastern Europe where women were spiritus movens of development of ecotourism and heritage tourism. Women working as mayors, NGO activists, local government officials, teachers and entrepreneurs were able to initiate sustainable tourism, especially ecotourism and heritage tourism development. Creating the Amber Trail that links unique heritage of Poland, Slovakia and Slovakia. Transforming a wooden Carpathian village into a capital of angels and women’s leadership in Poland. Gathering over 150 mayors of villages together to promote South Moravia in Czech Republic as a wine tourism destination. Developing the network of ecotourism farms in Belarus in order to protect its unique traditions, cuisine, landscape and rural architecture. These are only some examples of the women creativity for sustainable tourism.

The stories from Central and Eastern Europe are universal, meaning that they can apply to and be inspiration for many rural regions all over the world. They show in practice how bottom up women’s initiatives are able to inspire, make a change and benefit local communities. How ideas and dreams can be changed into practical solutions. And how ecotourism, heritage tourism and the broader concept of sustainable tourism can empower local identity, educate and stimulate local development while protecting the unique character of the place, its community and environment.

  drawing: Kazimierz Wiśniak