INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM MONTHLY
Year 5-Issue 52, Sep 2003
Sir Patrick Fairweather
Sir Patrick is the Director of the Butrint Foundation, which funds archaeology and conservation in the World Heritage Site of Butrint, in south-western Albania, since 1997. A former member of the British Diplomatic Service, his career took him to more remote or less well-known parts of the world such as Laos, Angola, Sao Tome and Albania, as well as Rome (twice), Paris, Brussels (EU) and Athens.
What and who are the Butrint Foundation, what was the main reason behind the Foundation's creation and who took the initiative?
The Butrint Foundation is a non-profit organisation
set up in 1993 by Lord Rothschild and Lord Sainsbury of Preston
Candover to assist the Albanian authorities with the archaeology and
conservation of the World Heritage Site of Butrint. Lord Rothschild,
who has a house in Corfu almost opposite Butrint, was struck by the
extraordinary beauty of the site when he was first able to visit in
the early 1990s after the collapse of the Communist regime.
After the collapse of the Communist regime, archaeology and conservation in Albania suffered from lack of financial and manpower resources. The Butrint Foundation has provided funds for:
· The conservation of the monuments of Butrint.
We have also:
· Raised the profile of Butrint, both
internationally and in Albania. In 2000 the World Heritage Site of
Butrint was enlarged from a few hectares to 29 km2 and the Butrint
National Park set up to manage the site.
The main problem was and is the absence of environmental conservation legislation and planning procedures. Until recently this was exacerbated by the lack of communication between central government in Tirana and the local authorities in Saranda and by poor communication between ministries. For example shortly after the setting up of the Butrint National Park in 2000, the Albanian Government approved projects for hotel development within the National Park. Butrint's greatest asset is its pristine quality. Building in the National Park or in sensitive areas outside the park represents a real threat.
So is Tourism helping or harming? How easy is it to get to Butrint? Will a tourist construction boom follow the first tourists?
Tourism is essential. Ticket receipts are a key element in the budget of the Butrint National Park. Some 15,000 foreigners came to Butrint in 2002. The numbers are expected to increase substantially in 2003. The park is just able to cope with these numbers but it is essential that attention should now be given to the provision of appropriate facilities or the site will be spoiled.
Butrint is about 45 minutes by road from Saranda which has daily ferry links with Corfu. It is easily possible to visit Butrint and return to Corfu within the day. However the Butrint Foundation would like to encourage visitors to stay longer and to visit some of the other interesting sites in the region including the late Ottoman town of Gjirokastra.
Saranda is already experiencing a building boom. The hope of the Butrint Foundation is that, through proper planning controls, building will not take place near Butrint.
Has the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation been helpful in practice for the Butrint site and in what ways?
Very helpful. UNESCO sent official missions to
Butrint in 1997 and 2001 and their observations on the conservation of
the site were important in persuading the Albanian Government to set
up the Butrint National Park. UNESCO also provided funds for emergency
action at Butrint.
The Management plan for Butrint, which was written by the Butrint Foundation in 2001, drew heavily on the views of the local community. They regard Butrint as a special place which has to be preserved. The conservation of Butrint rests ultimately on the local community. They will be involved.
How do Albanian officials at a regional and central government level view the prospects for eco-tourism in the greater Butrint area, as compared to mass tourism and how does that view differ if at all from the view of your Foundation?
The Albanian Government regard tourism as the best and quickest way to create desperately needed jobs and a measure of prosperity in southwestern Albania. There is no doubt that some officials are tempted by the Corfu model of mass tourism. However, as they become better informed on the nature of modern tourism, there is growing recognition of the importance of the conservation of Albania's environmental and cultural heritage, both for its own sake and as the foundation for ecotourism.
Can such important and vulnerable sites be really protected in times of turmoil, can a foundation like yours make or assist with the development and implementation of contingency plans?
The first UNESCO mission to Butrint in 1997 was prompted by the Butrint Foundation in response to press reports that the site had been looted during the disturbances of that year - these stories proved to be untrue, though some objects were stolen. Organisations like the Butrint Foundation can play an important role in the conservation of sites like Butrint, even in turbulent times, by lobbying national governments and cooperating with international organisations like UNESCO.
What is in your view a sustainable way of financing such important sites, in Albania and beyond, in the long run are donations by foundations like yours adequate?
I have already referred to the importance of ticket
receipts for sites like Butrint. They will always be an important
element in the budget of Butrint. Central government needs to play its
part by funding a management structure for the park. These two sources
of funds should be sufficient to pay all the normal day-to-day costs
of managing the site. Organisations like the Butrint Foundation can
assist by providing funds for major projects, which cannot be funded
out of current expenditure.
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