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Interpretation of nature to develop a tourism product – Case study: Geopark Meteorum

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    Geotourism and Geoparks

    “A geopark is a territory with a particular geoheritage of international significance, rarity,   or aesthetic appeal.” (Jaafar et al, 2014, p.43)

    It aims to conserve and preserve an area of for example selected geological or cultural heritage sites and meanwhile provide a tourism product to educate and stimulate sustainable socio-economic development (Jafaar et al, 2014; Farsani, Coelho and Costa, 2011). The sites need to be connected in network for which clear boundaries need to be established and should provide the possibility for further geoscientific research (Mc Keever, Zouros and Patzak, 2010). Geotourism, as a form of nature based tourism, has developed over the last decades and became an important part of the tourism industry. It includes touristic attractions which are considered with the geographical characteristics of a destination (Jafaar et al, 2014). Another important function of geoparks is to raise local as well as global awareness about the importance of geology and geoheritage (Mc Keever, Zouros and Patzak, 2010).  Jafaar et al (2014) further argue that local community and stakeholder involvement plays a vital role in the development of geoparks. As most tourism activities, geoparks can bring several benefits to the local communities, such as employment possibilities or a marketplace for local products (Jafaar et al, 2014; Farsani, Coelho and Costa, 2011).

    In the year 2000 the European Geoparks Network was founded in order to assist each other with guidance, co-operations and experiences (Mc Keever, Zouros and Patzak, 2010). This was followed by the establishment of the Global Geoparks Network supported and partly controlled by the UNESCO in 2004 (Mc Keever, Zouros and Patzak, 2010). These institutions assure that acknowledged geoparks apply all necessary precautions and follow their instructions. They also control that all geoparks are limited to rural areas (Farsani, Coelho and Costa, 2011). Becoming a member of the European Geoparks Network likewise means becoming a member of the global one (Arnesson, 2014).

    Geopark Meteorum

    Several Swedish scientific and institutional bodies have recognised that “geoparks […] are opportunities for rural development” (Farsani, Coelho and Costa, 2011, p.68) and that the Siljan Ring is an outstanding example of a meteorite impact that needs to be preserved for future generations. Therefore, Geopark Siljan was initiated and became a pilot project for the establishment of geoparks in Sweden (Arnesson, 2014). The project is named `Meteorum´ and consists today of five main sites around lake Siljan.

    The area and landscape of the Siljan Ring have been created by the largest meteorite impact in Europe more than 377 million years ago and the following Ice ages (Arnesson, 2014). With a diameter of approximately 50 kilometres, “the Siljan Ring is the one place in Sweden where the greatest numbers of geologically interesting and geoscientifically significant locals have been encountered within a limited area” (Arnesson, 2014, p.2). The first site is the `Naturum Dalarna´, a visitor centre with geological specialisation. The second one is the island Sollerön in lake Siljan, where archaeological remains from the Viking Age and a little quarry can be found. Thirdly there are the grindstone quarries in Mässbacken, a historic site of sand and grind stone mining. The forth site of the project is a cultural one, the Norrboda gammelstad in Rättvik, with old timbered houses partly from the 16th century. The fifth site is Styggforsen, where visitors can see a 30meter high waterfall, a little cave called the `Troll Hole´ and a steep erosion residue as well as a narrow, projecting ledge. (Arnesson, 2014)

    Managerial challenges

    The development of a geopark as a tourist attraction faces several challenges. The first one is to be actually officially acknowledged as a geopark by the European and global geoparks network in order to benefit from the membership and the term `Geopark´ (Mc Keever, Zouros and Patzak, 2010). The organisations have certain criteria that need to be met and the realisation of the necessary requirements already involves great amounts of money. Thus funding is one of the main issues all geoparks have to face. Also the `Meteorum´ has to find a solution of how to commodify their geological, natural and cultural assets into a tourism product. Here the term of sustainability comes into the picture, whereas the financial part of this is mostly forgotten (Darlow, Essex and Brayshaw, 2012). Especially in Sweden it is hard to earn money from natural assets, as according to the Swedish `Allemansrätt´ the nature in Sweden can be used by anyone at any time (VisitSweden, 2014). So how should the `Meteorum´ earn money from visitors without charging fees for entering the region? One possibility addressed by Farsani, Coelho and Cost (2011) is to involve the local community in this. Souvenir shops, craft markets or leisure activities related to the geopark should bring money to the local economy and thus might also be a possible base for governmental funding. However, in order to involve locals, they need to be aware of the uniqueness and potential of the area they are living in and according to Arnesson (2014) that is not the case yet in the region of the lake Siljan. Thus one of the first steps in the development of a geopark should be the education of the local community, for example by workshops and brochures, as “the locals’ knowledge, traditional arts and traditional lifestyle play a vital role in geopark management” (Farsani, Coelho and Costa, 2011, p.74).

    Another managerial challenge is the seasonality, which most tourist attractions have to deal with (Cuccia and Rizzo, 2011). In the case of the `Meteorum´ for example the winter season will become rather an off-season, as the snow in this part of Sweden will cover all the natural sites. Thus the management of the park needs to come up with innovative ideas how to bridge this gap of visitors, for example with ice-skating rings close to sites.

    Moreover, the “visual attractiveness and appeal of the natural attraction service offered” (Jafaar et al, 2014, p.51) get increasingly important for visitors and their expectations of services offered next to the actual attraction are growing (Albrecht, 2014). This means, that only the geosites themselves will not attract enough visitors and would most likely not result in satisfied visitors. Activities that are connected to the area of the geopark should be added to the tourism product. For the `Meteorum´ this could be boat and fishing trips, hiking or biking tours and other outdoor activities. In addition to that, all the sites needs to be accessible and should be linked in some kind of a network (Mc Keever, Zouros and Patzak, 2010), which provides some challenges for the `Meteorum´ as the five chosen sites are in relatively high distance to each other. Moreover, the organisation needs to further develop walking and cycling trails at each individual site and provide coherent signage, which should tell the story of each site in an attractive way, not only in Swedish. Another possibility to provide visitor information / tours in an innovative manner would be digital guides (Bohlin and Brandt, 2014), which would especially provide great potential for individual visitors. However, the `Meteorum´ should also define their possible / intended target group as according to Albrecht (2014) not all visitors can be treated simultaneously and in order to satisfy all visitors, their needs and expectation have to be known and met.

    To conclude it can be said that the project of the geopark `Meteorum´ is already on a good track, but still a lot of things need to be established in order to provide an attractive, satisfying tourism product. Only if these steps are realised, the geopark can actually bring benefits to the local economy and the population around the lake Siljan, which is according to the literature one of the main goals of a geopark.


     

    References

    Albrecht, J.N. (2014) Micro-mobility patterns and service blueprints as foundations for visitor management planning. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. Vol. 22 (7), pp. 1052–1070.

     

    Arnesson, A. (2014) Geopark-excursion in Siljanringen November 19, 2014Westerdahl/Lännstyrelsen Dalarna.

     

    Bohlin, M. and Brandt, D. (2014) Creating tourist experiences by interpreting places using digital guides. Journal of Heritage Tourism. Vol. 9 (1), pp. 1–17.

     

    Cuccia, T. and Rizzo, I. (2011) Tourism seasonality in cultural destinations: Empirical evidence from Sicily. Tourism management. Vol. 32 (3), pp. 589-595.

     

    Darlow, S., Essex, D. and Brayshaw, M. (2012) Sustainable heritage management practices at visited heritage sites in Devon and Cornwall. Journal of Heritage Tourism. Vol. 7 (3), pp. 219–237.

     

    Farsani, N., Coelho, C. and Costa, C. (2011) Geotourism and Geoparks as Novel Strategies for Socio-economic Development in Rural Areas. International journal of tourism research. Vol. 13 (1), pp. 68-81.

     

    Jaafar, M., Nordin, A., Abdullah, S. and Marzuki, A. (2014) Geopark Ecotourism Product Development: A Study on Tourist Differences. Asian Social Science. Vol. 10 (11), pp. 42-55.

     

    Mc Keever, P.J., Zouros, N. and Patzak, M. (2010) The UNESCO Global Network of National Geoparks. The tourism of geology and landscape, Newsome D, Dowling R (eds). Good Fellow Publishers: Oxford; 225.

     

    VisitSweden (2014) Roam free in Sweden. [online] available from: http://www.visitsweden.com/sweden/Th...ree-in-Sweden/ [accessed 02/12/2014]

     

    Written by Merle Zager

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