An Interview with the Global Ecotourism Network & Locals From Zero
The ENTER Conference is an annual event of the International Federation for Information Technologies and Travel & Tourism (IFITT) community. The conference offers a worldwide forum for attendees from industry, academia, destinations, governments, and other organisations to actively exchange, share, and challenge state-of-the-art research, innovation and business case studies based on the application of information and communication technologies in travel and tourism. Due to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, a unique digital conference started with a PhD workshop day, followed by 17 keynote speakers across approximately 60 different parallel sessions in three days, and around 250 participants from all continents.
An important new feature of the #ENTER21 conference was the “Innovation Challenge” – in this pilot year 13 teams competed with their best ideas on the topic of ICT for Sustainability and eQuality. The Global Ecotourism Network was happy and honoured to join as one of the mentoring partner organizations, helping the team of Locals From Zero, Slovenia, to fine-tune their approach. And yes, the entry was a success, coming very close to the winning team. Here the video presentation of the finalists – and an interview on the motivation, experience, and next steps!
QUESTIONS FOR LOCALS FROM ZERO:
- Your idea was very well received by the Jury and the ENTER21 audience. Please describe the “cornerstones” of it!
We were very honoured that our idea was seen as innovative and worthy of presenting at the ENTER21 conference. So, for the ENTER21 competition, we developed an idea that is also the next step in upgrading our #LocalsFromZero platform. So far, we only had different local tourism providers share their experiences with the help of our Scouts. But we also want to include different voluntary local associations. Until now these events and activities organized by local associations were not accessible for foreign tourists. They were invisible and overlooked by tourists. So, why shouldn’t tourists be able to participate in all these very local and unique activities? They would be contributing greatly to the local communities and learning something at the same time. The main purpose of our idea is to create a chance on our platform for tourists to be able to spend a portion of their holiday time being actively involved in local community events.
- It looks like this year will stay a bit of a challenge to travel in Europe. What are your keys to get started anyway?
Despite the challenging times for tourism that we are in right now, we are developing and staying very motivated. We are currently in the process of upgrading our booking platform, which will be an important milestone for us. In the beginning, our strategy will be domestically oriented, because domestic tourism will of course be (again) the first to recover. But when international tourism opens again, our focus will be mainly on international guests. In the meantime, we are also close to launching a community platform: being able to empower all tourism stakeholders is a big part of our mission. Through our workshops, we will encounter all types of people employed in the tourism industry that we cannot fit into our LocalsFromZero model. That is why we decided to build a community platform where people will be able to collaborate, openly innovate, share their know-how and co-create. The community interaction will create a great opportunity to build a more honest and responsible tourism: From zero to hero.
- Once successful in Slovenia, are you planning to expand regionally?
Absolutely. Our initiative has been globally oriented since the beginning. We believe that right now there is a real chance to do something different in tourism globally. We have already started spreading our message in Croatia and Austria and have gotten new feedback from some stakeholders that this kind of approach is needed in these countries as well. But our expansion will be organic and include stakeholders that share similar values – similarly to how we have been currently operating.
- The pandemic time has given the travel and tourism industry a chance to rethink. What are your indicators of “success” in the long run?
We consider ourselves to be primarily a supportive environment for local providers and after that, a booking platform for local experiences. That is why our success will not be measured only in bookings, but rather in the number of local tourism providers that we have helped to become visible and bookable online together with the number of active scouts. Overall, our success will be making a positive impact on the whole community.
QUESTIONS FOR GLOBAL ECOTOURISM NETWORK:
- Can you present GEN to our audience? What are your values and how you strive to achieve them?
The Global Ecotourism Network (GEN) brings the world’s regional and national ecotourism associations, networks and destinations, together with indigenous and rural peoples, global operators, professionals and academics, to grow the industry, provide advocacy, encourage thought leadership and innovation, and add greater authenticity to ecotourism.
We are a global group of ecotourism pioneers and practitioners, who want to share our many years of experience in ecotourism and sustainable tourism practices and our wide contact network to help others. We love nature, innovation and sustainable design, different cultures, great guides and know how important sustainability is for sharing a liveable planet. We are for better tourism for the visitors and the visited. That does not necessarily mean more tourism. We connected when we were the last Advisory Board of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and left because we differed with the TIES executive Board about the lack of financial transparency and direction. We are now connecting with other experienced ecotourism professionals and are working with networks in the main regions of the world. Our audience is global, and we have members in 100 countries. They can be organizations or individuals. About 2/3 of our members are active. We are also linked to regional groups such as the Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN -3200+ members), European Ecotourism Network (EEN 2100+ members) and Latin American and Caribbean Ecotourism Network (LACEN – 300+ members) and North American Ecotourism Network (NAEN – 100+ members). All these networks are growing linked into the Global one.
- Guiding us through the process of polishing the idea of Community events “from zero”, from your point of view what would you say our breakthrough point was/the main step that made the idea worth presenting at the IFITT conference?
Your idea is very down to earth on the one hand, and very digital-strategic on the other; it is following the fresh principles of sustainability – focusing on often hidden local strengths, and hopefully helping to spread the wealth while using technology as an enabler.
- Considering two main criteria of ENTER21 Innovation Challenge was sustainability and eQuality, and after listening to all of the challenge finalists, would you have any advice or suggestions from your experience on what to be careful about our further integration of the idea and staying on track towards the two mentioned criteria?
Stay selective and focus on quality not quantity, build new partnerships also internationally, focus on your priorities, try out things and stay a learning organisation – and do not to give up! “Think big, start small, realise fast”.
- As strongly nature aware tourists, what kind of community events and experiences would you be happy to see on our #LocalsFromZero marketplace?
In Slovenia: Everything that is typically Slovenian and can bring people together in doing something together, for the good of nature, wildlife, culture and heritage and the life in your local communities.
- What would you say is the key to building a successful community within your network?
Accountability in leadership, open and regular communication, transparency, and coming out of “silos” such as public administration vs. businesses vs. NGOs. Defining together some clear, common goals.
- What would you recommend to students of tourism?
Have a few favourite working toolkits and theories, and continue with lifelong learning – get all kinds of practical experiences – also outside of travel and tourism. Participate in experiences and projects with students and professionals from other careers in order to understand the richness of systematic group co-operational work.