Reimann is an Estonian Ecotourism educator and entrepreneur. He is a
board member of the Estonian Ecotourism Association and has worked as
nature conservation expert in the Estonian Ministry of Environment and
planned recreational areas for state forests. He has been training other
Estonian nature and adventure tourism entrepreneurs, and has acted as a
visiting lecturer of Ecotourism in universities in Finland, Norway,
Holland and the United States.
Mart founded his
company Reimann Retked
(Web: www.retked.ee ) five years ago which
organises active natural and cultural tours to Estonian islands with
sea-kayaks, to Estonian wetlands with bog shoes, to rivers with rafts, to
forests with walking tours and skies and kicksledges in winter. His company is
also working in ecotourism consulting. Mart Reimann is head of the Department
of Leisure Sciences at Tallinn University, where he also teaches several
ecotourism and outdoor recreation courses. His department focuses on outdoor
recreation research and education. Mart’s research interests lie in the fields
of landscape recreational values, tourism impact on local communities and
visitor behaviour. Mart Reimann holds an A.A degree in adventure sports from
Garrett College, Maryland, USA, a BSc in Geoecology from Tallinn University,
and an MSc in Physical Geography from University of Tartu. He has been working
on his PhD at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the University of
Tartu. His studies and travels have taken him to over 30 countries around the
world but his favourites are cold climate regions like Siberia, Greenland and
British Columbia, and the traditional farm where his family has been living
hundreds of years.
(The Interview follows:)
Please tell us a few things about yourself, what attracted
you to this lifestyle, and what keeps you motivated
I have had this lifestyle as long as I remember. I grew up in forests and in
rural setting where roots and traditions are important. I liked to have long
walks in Estonian nature and long talks with locals already when I was very
young. I have always been impressed by my ancestors’ wisdom who lived in great
harmony and respect to nature. They knew very well how to live in a sustainable
way. After travelling and being abroad I just became to value much more this
lifestyle I learned from my parents and friends in Estonia and I got to know
that this was called ecotourism.
What are the main challenges for Tourism in Estonia today?
The main challenge is marketing and making our country a better known tourism
destination internationally. Despite that we are historically, culturally and
economically very much connected to other Northern European countries, a shadow
of Soviet occupation is still following us and many people in the world
associate us more with former Soviet Union countries and Eastern Europe.
Another big challenge is how to keep our authentic and traditional attractions
while European Union regulations are implemented by our eager officials.
Provision of traditional food and accommodation in traditional Estonian log
houses gets more and more complicated
Estonia is incredibly & densely forested, with a dramatically beautiful
coastline, however the Soviet era has left lingering environmental problems.
From your personal experience as a tour operator, do these environmental
problems affect nature tourism / adventure tourism? Can/does the private
Tourism sector take any initiatives to repair the environmental damage in the
areas it operates, and protect from future degradation, or is it purely a
matter for the government?
I see negative and positive aspects of the influence of Soviet regime to our
environment. Soviet military reckless behaviour with our nature left polluted
areas; our government’s first priority after independence was to clean up those
places. Soviet army closed large areas from public to military trainings,
pollution covered relatively small areas, most of the areas remained untouched
and turned to the wilderness. At the moment many our most remarkable nature
conservation areas are former Soviet military training areas. Some military
buildings in the deep nature give some extra flavour to the nature tour. Soviet
industry left also many empty buildings, but thanks to our rapidly growing
economy and real estate boom most of them have found owners and also new usage.
Thanks to Soviet border guard we could call our coastline a virgin coastline,
because majority of our coastline was closed to public and in order to visit
friends or relatives who lived in border zones people needed a visa. Now the
real estate development is active in coastal zone, but new laws are protective
and without soviet border guard our coastline doesn’t look as wild now. In
order to remind this to Estonians we paddled all Estonian coastline in summer
four years ago and introduced it through our media.
Historic events have created certain divides in Estonia, do you see Tourism
playing a positive role in intercultural dialogue & integration of Estonian
Integration is one of the hottest issues in Estonia at the moment...I think
that tourism is playing quite good and positive role in integration process
because in many cases temperamental and open Slavic people are better to serve
international tourists than slow and reserved Estonians and in tourism sector
it is possible to see many Estonians and Russian-speaking people working
Is Tourism a meaningful way to combat unemployment among youth in Estonia? Are
there any special training / internship initiatives?
Due to our enormous economical growth, unemployment among youth is close to
zero at the moment. Many young and active people find attractive and
challenging jobs in tourism and there are several schools and courses who
provide tourism training for young people.
In terms of E.U. funding for Tourism & the Environment in Estonia, is it so far
a good thing, or "too much of a good thing"?
It is true that if you want people with little knowledge to mess everything up
just give them money. It is not too easy to get EU funding and good thing is
that applicant backgrounds are well checked. Good projects are funded and EU
money has helped many tourism attractions in Estonia. Most of my favourite
ecotourism sites have got some EU support which helped them a lot.
As a Tourism Educator, do you see an increased interest for Ecotourism &
environmental issues in Tourism from your students? How satisfied are you with
the level & content & facilities for Tourism Education in Estonia, and are
tourism university graduates easily employed, compared to other disciplines?
Interest for Ecotourism is rising in Estonia and among Estonian students. In
university level curricula and programs are well planned. But in professional
school education the level varies a lot. There are many good vocational schools
in Estonia. But during the Soviet time we had many agricultural vocational
schools in countryside which nowadays teach tourism but often the people are
the same and the quality level is suspicious. In case of employment in tourism
sector the key factor is that personality is very important, some people can
study for years but if charisma is not suitable for tourism service then it is
quite hard to find a job, but who really wants finds jobs quite easily. Many of
my former students have created also their own companies.
Your family also owns a wonderful, ancient farm, producing milk the traditional
way. Have you considered entering farm tourism? Or do you perhaps prefer to
keep life at the farm authentic - i.e. no tourists?
It is difficult to say that we produce milk in a traditional way. For Estonians
traditional farm means 10-20 cows, sheep and other animals, some forest and
agricultural land not more than 100 hectares. Also our farm looked 10 years ago
like that. Then we had to take a hard decision: to stop or to extend, because
Estonian agriculture has been based on free market economy with very little
support. At the moment we have 120 cows and we cultivate more than 300 hectares
and this is the smallest size to survive. As part of the land we cultivate
includes Estonian oldest fields where Estonians have been working for 3000
years I have been using it for agriculture history tours. We start from oldest
agriculture settings, look at buildings in my farm where the oldest building
dates from 16- hundreds and end up in modern farm according to all modern
standards. I have not promoted that package actively because at the moment our
main tours are nature exploration tours but I see quite high potential to
expose also our farm because in growing urbanization process people are often
more exited to see a living cow than wilderness.
Some try to justify Hunting Tours in terms of income generation for
impoverished communities and a profitable way to control wildlife
overpopulation. What is your view, with reference to the Estonian experience
As I have gone through large amount of biology in my university studies and
worked with nature conservation some time I can say that hunting is necessary
for wildlife regulations. 10 years ago we had serious wolf overpopulation in
Estonia, we had 700 hundred wolves, but an optimum for Estonian size country is
100-200 wolves. I’m sure that this population could be normalized without
hunting but they had serious influence on elk, roe-deer, wild bore population
and killed many dogs and sheep. In that case hunting helped to stabilize our
wildlife population. Our government worked also hard to get permission from EU
to hunt wolf, bear, lynx etc. But in case of ecotourism I think that we do not
have to make only right decisions, but also decisions that look right
internationally for people from different cultural and natural environments. I
remember a conference in Sweden than many ecotourism related persons seemed
unpleased when they heard that Swedish Natures Best ecolabel system has
included also hunting tours. I think that this is not a good idea when we will
consider hunting as a ecotourism in Estonia.
Tallinn is a wonderfully-preserved medieval city, rightly recognized as a
UNESCO World Heritage Site. However it is also developing as a city-break for
stag nights, with young tourists arriving from places as far as the UK, with
bars and other associated establishments proliferating. Do you see this as a
problem, and what is needed in your view to attract those tourists who would
better appreciate Estonia's vibrant nature & cultural traditions?
This is a problem that Tallinn has had reputation as a good party place with
cheap alcohol and beautiful girls. A good thing is that alcohol and also
tourism services are getting more expensive here, so our tourism sector has to
rely on other attractions than cheap prices. I think that this is just a
question of time when the image of a small cosy country with rich natural and
cultural heritage will get stronger than a nice party place. We do not have
gorgeous natural attractions as Victoria Falls or Grand Canyon that sells even
without marketing efforts. Most interesting is how Estonian cultural and
natural heritage are harmoniously combined. We have big amount of predators,
but it is not possible to find fear, anger and conflicts among local
communities towards them. Our most diverse natural habitats are actually
semi-natural wooded meadows. People have lived for centuries between nature and
adjust their life well with natural forces. Some places are prepared that
natural floods bring water to their house every spring and they can paddle with
boats in the room and put their bed to higher places in order not to have wet
Finally, at what time of the year should our readers visit Estonia, which top
eco spots they should not miss, and what type of eco activities could they
I usually invite my friends in August when the biggest tourist crowds are gone,
weather is usually still nice and our Baltic sea has warmed up. I think that
our biggest treasures are our 1500 islands were nature is well preserved and
traditional lifestyle has been preserved to a large extent. As most of islands
are uninhabited it is good to take a trip with a fishermen boat or a sea kayak.
As 22% of Estonia is covered with wetlands, Estonians have used bog-shoes for
centuries those are similar for snow-shoes which are widely used in snow
regions around a world. Thus bog-shoeing is definitely a must to do ecotourism
activity, this protects soft and fragile bog ground and avoids people to sink.
In southern Estonia old traditions are kept also very well. It is worth to
visit farm networks where good local guides will show and explain how
traditionally bees are kept, honey made, bread baked, etc. Estonian limestone
cliff is in UNESCO natural heritage list, together with waterfalls this is the
is a pearl of our Northern Estonian sites. In Soomaa (bogland) National Park
one can still experience making of a traditional one aspen log-boat and paddle
with those on the rivers.
Thank you very much!
complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here