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Meteorum - Touch the Universe

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    “Meteorum: Touch the universe” How could a geopark at Lake Siljan be developed into a tourist destination?

     

    “At present, geotourism is a new movement, helping travelers to increase their knowledge about natural resources, the cultural identities of hosts and ways of preserving them” (Farsani, Coelho & Costa, 2011, p.68). However, as a just recently emerging tourism movement, geotourism is indeed at an early stage of commercial development. Farsani, Coelho and Costa (2011) hence, call geoparks “pioneers” within the development of geotourism. The Global Geopark Network includes about 100 international geoparks worldwide (Meteorum, 2014). In an innovative way, these geology parks embody the possibility to protect natural and geological heritage. More than that, they have the potential to trigger rural tourism development and therewith economic activities, new job opportunities, additional sources of income, boosting of local products and culture, as well as local awareness and involvement (Farsani, Coelho & Costa, 2011). A geopark aims to combine these natural, cultural and economic dimensions and sets a focus on sustainability (Meteorum, 2014). Lake Siljan in Sweden happened to be the scene where approximately 380 million years ago, a large meteor crashed into the Earth surface.

     

    Logo Meteorum – Touch the Universe (Meteorum, 2014)

     

    „The Siljan Ring is one of few places in the world where you can experience the geological effects of one of the largest meteorite impact craters on Earth. Our vision of Meteorum is to create a geopark and connect this cosmic event with our existence on Earth” (Meteorum, 2014). Although the aim of establishing the geopark at Lake Siljan has roots in a local initiative, it was the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that suggested this unique place should become the first international geopark in Sweden. The meteorite strike left a nowadays still visible structure, “the Siljan Ring”. This site is of extreme unique importance, as it is one of the only ones on Earth, where you can still experience the geological remains of this massive meteorite impact (Meteorum, 2014). Behind this exciting vision and noble aim, questions arise in terms of how to develop this project into a profitable tourist destination and product? What are the potentials of the place and which obstacles will have to be faced in order to successfully develop it?

     

                   

    The Siljan Ring structure (Meteorum, 2014)                                            Tripped bedrock (Meteorum, 2014)

     

    Due to its geographical position, the geopark Meteorum will face a seasonality problem. Climatic factors such as low temperatures, a lack of sunlight and snowfall during the winter and parts of autumn and spring minimize tourist’s choices for visits (Cuccia and Rizzo, 2011). Strategies on how to compensate seasonality problems financially should be designed beforehand. Off seasons cause a less attractive experience for tourists to visit the area, because the climate makes it more uncomfortable to be outside in nature, possibly less attractive because the vegetation has lost its colors and moreover requires diverse safety installations, due to slippery stairs and less visibility (Cuccia and Rizzo, 2011). In order to develop Meteorum into a successful destination, safety for all age groups is an essential topic, especially considering the climatic differences depending on the seasons. Inside the geopark a variety of different sites build up the whole of “Siljan Ring”. Thematic trails, signs and maps tell the story of the site at different locations (Meteorum, 2014). The size of the ring might negatively affect this in principle interesting selection of geological sites, as the distance between them might simply be too far to keep the tourists excitement up.

    Another question that arises is how to commodify a nature product. In Sweden “The Right of Public Access” allows anyone to enter any part of the forest. This right is widely accepted and appreciated throughout Sweden (Fredman & Sandell, 2010). Nevertheless, how should money be made out of natural sites then, that anyone can access for free and that are already equipped with signs and maps (even though not yet in english)? One important issue to consider is that tourists today look for more than a nice attraction to look at. They want to experience an attraction, be part of it, get driven away and touched by its story (Jaafar, Nordin, Abdullah & Marzuki 2014). Therefore, the strength of the geopark Meteorum could be in its visitor service care and in its story. Digital guides could represent the unique character of the destination and therewith educate and entertain visitors at low cost and expenditure (Bohlin and Brandt, 2014). This type of guidance would include a small fee, contributing to the project and still making it possible for the visitor to explore the site individually, only choosing the spots of the geopark that the visitor personally wants to see. Tour guides however, offer a more lively experience, leaving the possibility to ask questions and creating a vivid and catchy story. The story is, from my point of view, the crucial part in the development of the geopark Meteorum. It is necessary to design a concept that leads through the experience Meteorum like a red threat. Luckily, this story doesn’t need to be made up. The massive meteorite crash comprises high potential to capture the visitor’s attention on an emotional level. This story just needs to be embroidered in the right way. To begin with, each tour could start in Meteorum museum, where the meteorite crash should be visualized in a dramatic movie. With the interest created, the tourists then could continue to the different sites. The meteorite crash, as the exciting asset of the Siljan Ring, should be found throughout the visitor’s geopark experience, also in a catchy slogan. This internationally exceptional meteorite happening could then also expand the market for a geopark that at first sight seems considerably low. Besides school and university classes with a focus on geography and geology, other off-topic visitors could be attracted by the preternaturalness and rarity of this phenomenum.

     

    Meteorite strike (Meteorum, 2014)

     

    On a nowadays increasingly competitive market, the attraction must be managed effectively. Management plans and objectives developed by both, experts and locals, involving several stakeholders, promise a successful achievement of the project (Leask, 2010; Albrecht, 2014). An important first step is involving and especially informing local residents about the geologic history of their home and what is currently planned for establishing a geopark on the spot. Experts from Meteorum explained during a study visit on the site (2014) that they see a thread in the current state. This local awareness and involvement would backfire into an authentic tourist experience, where also the locals live and feel the “touch of the universe”. In addition, the cooperation with other and for instance similar geoparks might be beneficial for Meteorum. While creating a financial Master Plan to possibly attract governmental and private funds, comparable examples could help to generate an easily interpreted graphic image of the project. On top of that, a continuous cooperation with the surrounding universities could sustain further research and improvement.

    All in all, several strengths and threads could be discovered. If the experts at Meteorum succeed designing effective management tools and strategies, creating a memorable meteorite experience for the visitors, the project could definitely be developed into a profitable tourist destination. However, many obstacles still need to be worked on and it will take dedication and creativity to succeed in the long run.

     

     

    Written by Laura Berens

     

     

     

    References

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Farsani, N.T., Coelho, C. & Costa, C. (2011) Geotourism and geoparks as novel strategies for socio‐economic development in rural areas, International Journal of Tourism Research, 13(1), pp.           68-81.

     

    Fredman, P. & Sandell, K. (2010) The Right of Public Access - Opportunity or Obstacle for Nature Tourism in Sweden? Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 10(3), pp. 291-309.

     

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

     

    Leask, A. (2010) Progress in visitor attraction research: towards more effective management, Tourism management, 31(2), pp. 155-166.

     

    Meteorum (2014) Meteorum – Touch the Universe. [Online] Available from: http://meteorum.se/wp-content/upload...der_eng_K3.pdf [Accessed 01/12/2014].

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