INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM MONTHLY
Year 5-Issue 50, July 2003
Mr. Zoltán Kun
Mr. Kun attained a forestry technician diploma at the Secondary school in Sopron, Hungary in 1990. This diploma was not quite on the topic of conservation but it did display his interest in nature. He graduated with an MSc in landscape architecture in Hungary at University of Horticulture and Food Industry in 1996 and his final thesis was on flood-plain restoration written in the Netherlands at the Wageningen Agriculture University in the framework of TEMPUS ICER programme. He joined the PAN Parks Initiative in August 1997. He was appointed Executive Director in March 2002 after working with PAN Parks for five years as Conservation Manager. He has the overall responsibility for the operation of the Foundation, represents PAN Parks towards WWF and other international organisations and is also involved in fundraising.
About PAN Parks Foundation: The PAN Parks Foundation began as a WWF project in cooperation with the Dutch Leisure Company, Molecaten in 1997. In 1999, it was launched as an independent Foundation under Dutch laws (Stichting PAN Parks). As an independent, non-governmental organisation, the PAN Parks Foundation co-operates with protected area managers, local and international businesses both on a local and European level. As of January 2003, there are three Certified PAN Parks and nine other protected areas awaiting verification. The PAN Parks Foundation connects certified partners through its quality brand, and helps to improve the management of protected areas by utilizing and implementing the following essential goals: § to ensure the long-term survival of pristine nature while encouraging local communities to flourish, § to promote wilderness management in protected areas in Europe, § to facilitate sustainable tourism development in and around these protected areas, § to increase knowledge of and pride in Europe's nature.
What and who is Pan Parks, what was the main reason behind its creation and who took the initiative ?
The main reason to create PAN Parks is the existence of "paper parks". A WWF study in 1997 showed many protected areas exist only on paper, but their management has never reached a good standard. Imagine destroying Eiffel tower in Paris, and build a supermarket on its spot. No one would accept that, because Eiffel tower has so strong recognition and acceptance among Europeans. But for-profit activities, such as logging, hunting, mining, are happening in most of our protected areas in Europe. Nature conservation is still not the highest priority in many protected areas! The present situation is due to the low recognition of protected areas among the non-conservationist! WWF Netherlands carried out a research in 2000 finding out how much people know about protected areas. Most of the people could not mention any protected areas, or could only mention from their own country! We are heading for an enlarged Europe on political level, but Europe's nature is still somewhat unknown. I want Europeans to value their protected areas as much as their cultural heritage! The PAN Parks first started as a WWF project in Europe in 1997. Two years later, 1999, it was launched as an independent foundation registered in the Netherlands. The organisation was founded by WWF, the conservation organisation, and the Molecaten, which is a Dutch leisure company. Our Foundation as a non-profit organisation aims to increase effectiveness of protected area management, and also enhance the image and the recognition of Europe's diverse nature.
What have been so far the main achievements of Pan Parks and what is the geographical focus of your activities?
The PAN Parks Foundation connects certified partners through its quality brand. The main achievement was to develop an objective verification procedure to check out management effectiveness of protected areas. PAN Parks is the only certification system, which is used in practice as a tool to improve nature conservation in protected areas. It is also important to highlight that PAN Parks and its partners commit themselves to wilderness management in protected areas! There are three certified PAN Parks at present: Bieszczady in Poland, Fulufjallet in Sweden, Oulanka in Finland. The fourth applicant, Central Balkan in Bulgaria, is still under the verification process. At the same time there are 8 other areas awaiting for the certificate. These areas, so called Candidate PAN Parks, have signed a letter of intent to state their willingness in fulfilling PAN Parks Principles and Criteria by 2006. Our geographical focus is clearly Europe! Although it is our mission to share experiences with other continents as well. The PAN Parks experience will for instance be presented during the World Parks Congress in Durban in September 2003. We hope to get the attention of a wider audience to the problem of paper parks, and to use certification as a tool to improve the management effectiveness.
What were the main obstacles that Pan Parks had to overcome and what are current challenges?
Looking back the past 6 years, I see two major obstacles our team had to tackle with. At the very beginning it was hard convincing people about the necessity of wilderness management in Europe. Most people think, our continent changed so much due to the human interference that it is impossible to find or return wilderness. But we still have space for it! Developing an objective Principles and Criteria (P&C) was also a very demanding tasks. The whole process actually took 3 years, and it is still a living document. It can be modified in every 5 years based on the experiences and changing circumstances. It is also important to note: although PAN Parks is promoting wilderness management also through its P&C, I do not want to degrade the nature conservation importance of man-made landscapes. These are also important features of Europe, and contributes to the continent's biodiversity. The current challenges are rather simple: to set the foundation as a financially self-sufficient organisation, to enlarge the network of certified protected areas, and last but not least increase the recognition of our brand.
How easy is it to certify a protected area, does Pan Parks certify it as a whole, or rather the constituent parts, e.g. hotels?
First of all we not only certify protected areas! The P&C sets also the standard of how the protected areas and local business should work together in order to develop a regional sustainable tourism development strategy. Protected areas are too often seen as islands with restriction, and controversial activities can happen at their borders. PAN Parks would like to change this, and develop the regions around protected areas on a way that does not negatively effect the biodiversity. The local businesses participating in the strategy development are also certified, and pay for the certification. Getting back to the original question, we only verify whole protected areas, and not parts! The verification process is quite simple, and defined in a verification manual. There are independent trained verifiers carrying out the technical process. They are all independent from the foundation, contracted consultants without business interest in the success of an application!
Most protected areas in Europe are still free to visit and publicly-owned. Do you aim to change these two points?
Yes and no! We do not aim to change ownership at all! But what free to visit means? It means that protected areas are not benefiting from being visited. No matter how many tourists they attract per year, their budget will not increase that much. Governments are too often cut nature conservation budget. Tourist and tourism businesses should recognise: their activities are based on a free public service! Visitors should sometimes pay, for instance in visitor centres, or getting permission to do kayaking in a protected area. At the same time we must not develop our protected areas into entertainment parks.
Do you support differential pricing for locals and tourists?
It is really a hard question, because we first have to define two issues: what local means? and where shall we have different pricing? I am completely against putting up different prices in hotels, restaurants, which I as tourist would find insulting! And being local person, does it depend just on the distance? Whether I live 10, 20, 50 km from a park? Or whether my father lived there? Within PAN Parks local businesses are usually in the surrounding communities of protected areas. Based on my experience on the field, this question appears quite often but formulated on a bit different way: should the local people have more benefit from a protected area than tourists? I can personally agree with that! Local people should get free training, visits to the park in order to understand its existence and goals. Without such cooperation we can end up with a fight and misunderstanding between the local people and the protected area managers.
Have you / would you refuse membership to a Park, and on what grounds?
Any protected area can join the PAN Parks Network, if it fulfils the P&C! If an area applies and fits to our standard there is no way to refuse the membership. Our P&C, which is available on our website, provides a transparent decision making for us.
Does Pan Parks make agreement with individual parks or directly with regional & national governments?
For example, say I was the manager of a state-owned, Protected Area in Greece. What can Pan Parks do for me? In my view these are two separate, quite different questions. Our organisation, as aiming at improving the management effectiveness of protected areas, always starts to work with the protected area management. Once an area is certified there is a contract signed with them, and small funding is provided to facilitate the creation of Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy. Similar contract is signed with the certified local partners too. However regional governments, municipalities shall also take part in the process. The second question what can PAN Parks do for me? How can a protected area benefit from PAN Parks? One of the benefits is the international recognition, which can help the protected areas to apply for additional project funding easier. For instance EU DG Environment listed PAN Parks as one of the two most relevant initiatives to manage sustainable tourism in Nature 2000 sites. Due to our independent audit the managers can also use PAN Parks as a tool to improve the standards in protected areas. Last but not least we also help the protected areas in controlling tourism within the protected areas. This is why the cooperation with local businesses is so important.
What or who is your main source of funding: corporations, small businesses, consumers, governments, NGOs, or all of these? Is there a screening process for donors?
Our fundraising goal is to make PAN Parks Foundation fully self-sufficient in 10 years time. At present all our funding comes from the founding partners: WWF and Molecaten. We signed a 3-years financial agreement with WWF Netherlands, which considers PAN Parks as one of its focal project. Our fundraising activity has anyway just started. We submitted a project concept to the Dutch government, and another proposal is being prepared to the EU Interreg IIIC call. In a few weeks a new marketer will join our team whose responsibility is to start liasing with the business sector. There are 5 tourism companies which are of interest in cooperating with PAN Parks. Our policy is to start dealing with specialised eco-tourism companies. However there is no special guidelines why to approve or refuse a sponsor! We will probably follow just our ethical belief.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to inform the readers about our upcoming conference, which we call "Europe's Wilderness Days". It will be held in Bulgaria in October, in cooperation with the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water. The conference main subject is how to combine sustainable tourism and wilderness management. We were able to get the World Tourism Organisation, WWF International, EU DG Enterprise, and several protected area managers as speakers. Thanks to the support of USAID, there will be a separate conference website from early September, which will serve the people not being able to attend. Last but not least I would like to encourage your readers and members to visit our website to gain more knowledge about PAN Parks.
Thank you very much.
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