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ISSN 1108-8931


 Year 8 - Issue 95 - Jan 08

Sponsored by: Hana Maui Botanical Gardens (US), Siam Safari Nature Tours (TH), Canyon Travel (MX), La Selva Jungle Lodge (EC),
Eco Holidays Malta (MT), Abha Palace (SA), St-Géry Historic Estate (FR), International Centre for Responsible Tourism (UK)

MART REIMANN: "The main challenge for Tourism in Estonia is marketing and making our country a better known tourism destination internationally"

ECOCLUB Interviews Mart Reimann
Index of Interviews

Mart ReimannMart 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:)

ECOCLUB.com: Please tell us a few things about yourself, what attracted you to this lifestyle, and what keeps you motivated

Mart Reimann: 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.

ECOCLUB.com: What are the main challenges for Tourism in Estonia today?

Mart Reimann: 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

ECOCLUB.com: 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?

Mart Reimann: 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.

ECOCLUB.com: Historic events have created certain divides in Estonia, do you see Tourism playing a positive role in intercultural dialogue & integration of Estonian ethnic minorities?

Mart Reimann: 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 successfully together.

ECOCLUB.com: Is Tourism a meaningful way to combat unemployment among youth in Estonia? Are there any special training / internship initiatives?

Mart Reimann: 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.

ECOCLUB.com: 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"?

Mart Reimann: 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.

ECOCLUB.com: 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?

Mart Reimann: 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.

ECOCLUB.com: 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?

Mart Reimann: 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.

ECOCLUB.com: 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 and practice?

Mart Reimann: 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.

ECOCLUB.com: 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?

Mart Reimann: 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 nights

ECOCLUB.com: 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 pursue there?

Mart Reimann: 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.

ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much!

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here

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