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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:

  • At local level, communities suffer as a result of competition for scarce resources (fresh water and land), air and water pollution, noise, and environmental accidents (e.g. avalanches).
  • At regional level, impacts may include air and water pollution, and the loss of habitats and biodiversity.
  • At global level, emissions from road traffic and the deforestation of large areas may contribute to climate change.

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:

  • vigorous economic growth in Central and Eastern Europe;
  • an increase in the number of car and plane journeys;
  • falling costs; and
  • an expanding range of opportunities and services for tourists.

Sustainable tourism

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:

  • respect for safe biological limits;
  • recognition of the interdependence of economic and environmental systems; and
  • a long-term perspective on policy making, as the goal of sustainable tourism will take time to achieve.

Sustainable tourism can be promoted by:

  • maintaining and encouraging natural, social and cultural diversity;
  • integrating tourism into broader planning;
  • training staff to improve the quality of the tourism product;
  • marketing responsibly, since providing tourists with comprehensive information will increase their respect for the natural, social and cultural values of the places they visit and enhance their satisfaction;
  • undertaking research and monitoring in order to assist the tourist destinations, the tourist industry, and tourists themselves;
  • reducing consumption and waste in order to lower the costs of environmental damage and improve the quality of tourist services;
  • encouraging a wide range of local economic activities that take environmental costs into account;
  • involving local communities for their own benefit and in the interests of the environment, and also to improve the quality of tourism; and
  • consulting stakeholders and the public, since cooperation between the tourism industry and local communities, organisations and institutions is essential in order to resolve potential conflicts of interest.

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:

  • The State Programme for Socioeconomic Development and the Comprehensive Utilisation of the Natural Resources of the Palessie for 2010–2015
  • The State Programme for the Development of the Resort Area of the Narachansky Region for 2011–2015
  • The State Programme for the Development of the Belarusian Section of the Augustouski Canal in 2009–2011
  • The State Programme for the  Development of Nature Protected Areas for 2008–2014

Regulations linking tourism and the environment include:

Decrees concerning rural tourism and eco-tourism activities include:

  • Decree No. 185 of March 27, 2008, on Issues in the Implementation of Activities in the Field of Agro- and Eco-tourism
  • Decree No. 372 of June 2, 2006, on Measures for the Development of Agro-tourism and Eco-tourism in the Republic of Belarus
  • Decree No. 431 on Land for Rural Tourism

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.

  • Most of the 1,000 members of Otdykh v derevnie (Village Rest) live in rural areas and are learning a new profession — for example how to run a rural or eco lodge. This NGO created the Centre for the Development of Agro- and Eco-tourism in Belarus, the first of its kind in the country. The centre runs the educational programme "Laboratory for Rural Tourism", aimed at lodge owners with various levels of training and knowledge. Further information can be found at:
  • The environmental NGO ENDO works in the Mogilev region. Its main objective is to promote the sustainable development of the region by raising environmental awareness and promoting the involvement of local residents in measures that benefit the environment, their health and future generations. Together with the Chaussky District Executive Committee, ENDO created the Chaussky Information Centre for Sustainable Development and Eco-tourism. Their combined efforts resulted in the establishment of the Chaussky School of Agro- and Eco-tourism Development. From 2013, experience gained within this project will be used to create the Regional School of Agro- and Eco-tourism Development. Further information can be obtained from:
  • The International Fund for Rural Development also works in the Mogilev region. It is a commercial organisation, the primary purpose of which is to promote the socioeconomic and cultural development of rural areas in Belarus. In the Mogilev region, it is represented by the Local Fund for Rural Development, which operates in the Slauharad district. One of its activities is to promote rural and eco-tourism, as well as other non-agricultural economic activities in rural areas. Additional information is available at:
  • In 2004, Nerush, an NGO for ecologists and amateur historians, implemented the project "Green Ring of the Baranavichy District" to promote the development of eco-tourism. In 2009, Nerush implemented the project "Establishment of an Information Centre for the Public on the Development of Rural and Eco-tourism and Addressing Regional Ecological and Economic Problems in the Baranavichy District". Further information can be obtained from:

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: