Tourism and recreation affect the environment, and are in turn affected by it. The success of the tourism sector depends to a great extent on the quality of the natural and cultural environment.
Tourism and recreation have grown exponentially over the past decades. They provide income and employment, lead to a better understanding of other cultures, ensure the preservation of cultural heritage, and stimulate investments in infrastructure.
However, some forms of tourism and recreational activities destroy habitats, degrade landscapes and increase competition for scarce natural resources, including land, fresh water and energy, and services such as wastewater treatment. In addition, local populations may abandon some of their traditional areas of activity and become over-dependent on income from tourism. Threats to the environment increase when tourist activities are concentrated during relatively short holiday seasons in small areas, and where there is also environmental pressure from other economic activities such as agriculture, industry and fishing, or from a growing population.
When poorly managed or allowed to escalate out of control, tourism and recreation become merely another source of pollution. This is particularly true in Central and Eastern Europe, where the temptation exists to develop unsustainable tourism as a quick fix to help economic recovery.
The undesirable impacts of tourism and recreation are largely site specific. They vary according to the context, the size of the area, the number of visitors, seasonal concentrations, transport modes, pressures resulting from infrastructure development, resource use and waste disposal, and the quality of area management.
Environmental impacts may be experienced at several levels:
The future development of Europe’s tourist industry depends on political stability, a sound economy, and steadily increasing leisure time. The sector is predicted to grow by almost 6 percent annually. Other important trends include:
In order for the tourism sector to be sustainable, an equal balance must be found between economics, tourist satisfaction, society, culture and the environment.
The need for sustainable tourism is recognised at international level. Although the term has never been fully defined, it implies:
Sustainable tourism can be promoted by:
The conservation and rational use of natural, cultural and social resources is not only crucial, but also makes long-term business sense.
In 2010, some 4 million people visited Belarus for business, tourism or service purposes. Revenue from tourist services as exports amounted to USD 146.7 million, which is 6.8 times greater than in 2005. Revenue from excursions and other tour services amounted to BYR 468.7 billion, a real price increase of 13 times compared to 2005.
Tourist activities inevitably change the environment. Strategic environmental protection objectives for Belarus up to 2025 are to improve the quality of the environment, ensure environmentally friendly living conditions, assist in solving global and regional environmental problems, and contribute to the sustainable social and economic development of Belarus. These goals can be reached by reducing harmful impacts on the environment, restoring natural complexes, radically improving waste management practices, carrying out sustainable territorial development, and conserving biological and landscape diversity.
Territorial planning is based on the State Scheme of Complex Territorial Organisation, which, in addition to environmental issues, covers the integrated organisation of administrative units at various levels, as well as land management issues.
Environmental protection is taken into account in the design and construction of all aspects of the tourist industry. This is reflected in various programmes:
Regulations linking tourism and the environment include:
Decrees concerning rural tourism and eco-tourism activities include:
In addition to government bodies, non-governmental organisations are involved in the development of rural tourism in Belarus. Although few in number, these organisations differ from the authorities in that they work directly with the rural population and try to encourage and develop public involvement.
Regional and district public councils
In 2005, Belarus created the first regional and district public councils on agro- and eco-tourism. These councils are unique, informal structures designed to promote rural tourism through the creation of partnerships between local authorities, owners of rural lodges, tourist agencies, non-governmental organisations, and representatives of the business, science and media communities. The councils are flexible and quick to react to changing circumstances and emerging needs. They allow the mobilisation of local resources and the involvement of the public in tourism, and are especially important in decision-making processes. The objectives of the councils are to create a strategy for developing rural and eco-tourism in the region or district; encourage the public to engage in rural tourism; remove administrative barriers in the field of rural tourism; promote eco-tourism among the public; and advise representatives of local authorities in matters related to rural tourism.
There was significant impetus for the development of public councils through a joint project implemented by the NGO Otdykh v derevnie and the European Centre for Ecological and Agricultural Tourism (ECEAT). The project "Sustainable Rural Tourism in Belarus: Networking and Support for Major Participants" was implemented with funding from the German Support Programme for Belarus. In the framework of the two-year project, council representatives discussed problems and developed strategies for cooperation, the exchange of experience and strengthening ties. Local councils have implemented a huge variety of interesting initiatives, among them food festivals and competitions, the music and sports festival Big Bard Fishing, the first meeting of rural lodges from the Vitebsk region, a greenways development programme, internships, seminars and workshops. The results exceeded the expectations of project participants. Local councils proved so effective that it was decided to establish a national public council.
In June 2011, the Public Advisory Board on Agro- and Eco-tourism was established at the Ministry of Physical Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Belarus. The advisory board, established by order of the ministry's Department of Tourism, comprises representatives of the ministry, regional public councils on rural tourism, and relevant experts. Its structure is unique in that it demonstrates a successful partnership between the public and the government. The advisory board will help state agencies to achieve a better understanding of the real situation in the area of agro- and eco-tourism, and can also influence public decision making. Further information can be found at: www.ruralbelarus.by.