Tourism for Conservation – the Balkans Bear Story

Through the Western Balkans Geotourism Network of responsible local businesses, (the ones which value culture, nature and local communities), and with the support of USAID (REG) program, National Parks in Europe’s wildest corner are creating new conservation experiences for visitors.

Guests will responsible for setting and monitoring camera traps.

Starting at the end of this year, visitors will be able to join in the conservation work undertaken by Park Rangers in Macedonia and Serbia. Tracking, setting of camera traps, park rehabilitation work and stocking of the feeding stations are just some of the activities which help to preserve Europe’s last truly wild populations of: Bear, Lynx, Wolf, Wild Boar, Horse and Deer. This vital work goes on year round and dependent upon the season guests will travel to work on skis, (with some Nordic skiing instruction) or snowshoes, by mountain bike or by boat (another partner in the program is the Hydro-biology Institute on the beautiful Lake Ohrid).

Tara NP – Serbia

The work undertaken by guests will be a crucial contribution to the parks, as will be the large percentage of the tour price which goes directly into nature protection and study programs. The first guests will even help to create the infrastructure for future visitors. So build the first Bear viewing hides alongside local volunteers and be the first to sit in watch for the animals!

Food for the bears donated by local farmers (they died of natural causes)

The Parks involved are Tara in Serbia, Mavrovo and Pelister in Macedonia (Macedonia has the highest bio-diversity in Europe!). All have large areas of primary forest, and provide a home to all of Europe’s Big 5 Land Mammals. (The region also has Dolphins … in the Adriatic). Within these 3 small to medium size parks live at least 300 Bears, at least in the parks they can be safe. These are wild animals and not fenced into the protected areas, many wander freely across the borders and roam throughout the Western Balkans and Dinaric Alps.

Camera Trap footage …its not just about the Bears…

So look out for more new in the next couple of months! Just now we are preparing the activities, sourcing equipment and starting to spread the word among communities and conservations groups/NGO/NVOs in the region.

In the meantime, if you would like to find out more about the program – you can contact me on: or our local tour partner in Macedonia Gorki Balojani on:



Walking the halls of hope and despair, WTM 2014 (from Conscious Travel)

I was lucky enough to attend both the ATTA sessions mentioned in this piece. They were inspirational.

The problem of constantly chasing growth is common to all industries, but Tourism directly values assets such as culture , nature , escape , tranquility, which are the most vulnerable to volume growth. The case was made very convincingly for a new approach, to consider the travel companies as a community, not as an industry, and to value quality experiences over quantity products.

In the Western Balkans we have a chance to get this right , we must do.


World Travel Market 2013, ExCel, London, ExCel, London

I confess I have never been wild about the World Travel Market – its central hall was the site of my personal “Road to Damascus” several years ago when I experienced the full extent to which tourism has become an industrial production and consumption machine.

I admit to being overwhelmed by the sheer scale, busyness and sterility of the event where products are pushed and deals done; brochures and media stuffed into plastic bags then discarded; and sustainable clichés fall like feathers from the upper galleries onto the hard selling activity in cubicles on the shop floor.

Walking the central hall this year I felt a visceral inner and outer tussle between despair and hope.

The number of “responsibility” seminars was, encouragingly, greater than ever before but still totally outnumbered and out attended by sessions devoted to trends, technology, social media, and market segments. Within the responsible tourism stream, the same…

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Some observations regarding success and failure in Aid funded Tourism Development.

A couple of years ago I was invited to chair the innovation session at an EU parliamentary summit in Brussels. The summit discussed projects to support SME’s in tourism.  I was the only SME representative in a hall full of ‘experts and project heads’. Frustrated at the lack of understanding of Tourism businesses, I set aside my prepared script anf  I took the opportunity to tell them where they are going wrong, ( perhaps a little rudely) which directly led to my work for the European Council.

The main points of my speech were as follows…
In Montenegro, throughout the Balkans and with projects in Ukraine and Moldova I have seen lots of different approaches, all designed to achieve similar outcomes. The reasons for success or failure are many, but there are a few issues common to all.

1. Motivate local partners. 

Example: A failed project in Montenegro – lack of local support was the main reason for the failure.

Rather than embrace the opportunities in the project, potential local partners became outspoken critics. The problems began when the donor agency publicized the amount of money (millions of Euros), that the project would be spending. The intention was to generate interest and support, but the way the announcement and press coverage was handled, created an expectation that there would be easily obtainable cash grants for SME’s. I attended the first meetings and found that many would-be project supporters had come with a ‘shopping list’ of items (equipment, marketing support), that they expected the donors just to provide. Their expectations were dashed and they were lectured about their shortcomings as businesses and their ‘unreasonable
attitude’. The atmosphere turned hostile and the project looked unlikely to succeed from then on. The situation was compounded by the project team spending ostentatiously on their work, cars and drivers, a helicopter trip to tour Montenegro etc. etc. The predictable comment was ‘so that is where the money is being spent’.

My take away from this debacle is that development agencies can lack tact and have a poor understanding of the people they wish to help. The donor agencies also share the blame for creating a dependency culture here in the past and they still like the kudos and publicity of giving money. (I do appreciate that favorable publicity is one of the main intended consequences
of aid money).  If you tell people you have millions of Euros in aid for them, it is not ‘unreasonable’ that they might expect to directly benefit in Euros.

Before donor agencies lecture potential supporters about ‘wanting something for nothing’, they should look at their own failings in this regard. Time and again projects have approached my business asking for our suggestions, our product ideas and our contacts. I am always asked to attend meetings at their convenience and to support their project. I am a business man and I want something in return. The development ‘experts’ are receiving a salary and all expenses, what do I as a business get from the project?
Normally our ideas just end up in a final report, to win new project funding for the ‘experts’ themselves.


I. Approaches to potential partners should be personal. As any good salesman
knows you need to go out to your prospective partners, to their place of
work and to learn from them, about their business, their problems and their
needs. You do this before you make any claims about what your project will
be and what it will deliver.

II. Tailor the project. If you listen, the businesses will tell you what is
required to bring them success, don’t rely on academic theories and best
practices elsewhere, they are a guide not a one size fits all solution,
every situation is different.

III. Develop relationships by adopting the stance of an equal, not an
expert. So you have money to spend. (It is not your money it belongs to a
tax payer somewhere). So you have been successful in another market or
destination, that doesn’t make you automatically smarter than a businessman
who is struggling in THIS market or destination.

IV. The project goals have to match the stake holder’s own goals. This is
particularly true if the project is to be part funded, or rely on support
from tourism businesses. For example, many projects aim to develop new
signage, produce guides, and publish information sources, these are all
great for increasing the volume of independent travelers but the benefits to
supporting businesses need to be thought through and explained. A tourism
business which has invested time and effort identifying attractions and
gathering information will be reluctant to provide this information freely
to a new ‘visitors information portal’  Thought should always be given as to
how these new resources can be used to generate revenue for the individual
businesses not just to the destination economy as a whole.

The above are all time consuming but worthwhile. In Moldova rather than call a large  initial meeting and launch straight into a two day training seminar, we facilitated a structured discussion based around Moldova’s brand attributes, the experience visitors have in visiting the
country, good and bad, and used this discussion to identify needs. I stayed an extra week at my own expense and travelled with the local businesses, stayed with local family home stays etc to get a real understanding of what was needed but also to build relationships necessary for the project to succeed.

2. Set worthwhile goals.

A detailed final report, a training seminar, a web site or an inventory of tourism assets are not goals in themselves, they are a means to an end.

Why are so many projects afraid to say that they will achieve a measurable increase in bums on bus seats, or new tourist visits? I guess because it is hard to achieve and too measurable.   It is much easier to concentrate on delivery of specific elements within a project (boxes ticked), than the overall goal.
In my media days, the marketing director of one of the UK’s largest advertisers told me
that he wasn’t interested in what his ads looked like, whether they formed an association with my TV shows, or even how many people saw them, what interested him was how many units he sold. Most tourism businesses feel the same way. For example, if you want businesses to be more environmentally friendly you have to explain how this improves their bottom line.


Develop a business strategy for the project, in most cases, with the clear
aim of attracting specific market segment(s). Take time to set an
achievable, measurable goal which has the support of stake holders. Each
task within the project should be directly relevant to achieving the goal.

3. Be innovative (break with tradition).

Example: The DEU (European Union) responsible for IPA funding are too risk
averse in my view. They award grants to the same kinds of projects time and again. They
are so predictable that an industry has grown up teaching businesses how to
complete the application forms, which terminology to use, how to get points
in the scoring process. This means that the same approaches are tried again
and again. It also means that the same people are awarded the grants time
and again, often because of their political affiliations. I appreciate that
some checks are needed but the system still allows for money to be wasted.
For example, I can cite grant funding for projects which are just directly
duplicating previous work, (developing a mountain guide book, when one
already exists, training seminars which are identical to those given the
year before). There seems to be no consideration given to other projects
already in place, hence overlaps and duplication.

I do understand the requirements of the donor agencies, to ensure that they are legal and fair but the system creates many distortions in the design of projects. In general the emphasis from the EU for grant support is for:

Class room based capacity building training, whether appropriate or not.

Tourism cultural routes development, whether these are desirable/ marketable
or not. (One example, the much trumpeted Balkans ‘Routes of the Caesars’
based on the fact that some of Rome’s more obscure leaders were born in the
region, in my view the money spent on the project is not justified by the
potential consumer interest in the theme, yet the website and leaflets
produced look so good that the whole project is considered a success).

Emphasis is given to supporting Government or NGO’s rather than businesses
or business associations. I am afraid to say that in our part of the world
many government institutions and NGOs are not fit for purpose. (USAID also
seem to have a fear of any project which can clearly bring financial gain to
businesses).  This usually means that the project is not sustainable once
the grant money has been spent.

There is a general uneasiness about directly funding marketing efforts or
the staging of new events.

Aid support goes to those who are best at lobbying for it, not to the most
deserving or those who can really make a difference.


If the objective is to develop and grow tourism, marketing should be at the
center of any project. (Instead of a ‘limited print run leaflet’ tacked on
the project objectives as an afterthought).

New approaches to capacity building training are needed, much better to
support and coach stake holders to work together to deliver a catalytic
event as a marketing tool than to kill them with power point in the

Do not be afraid of building a project which generates an immediate profit
for the stake holders, this may be hard to explain politically but it is the
best guarantee of sustainability.

Be prepared to bypass internal political and cultural blocks to change,  where these
stifle development. (For example in Montenegro the Govt. had been insisting on their own national guide’s qualifications, but, they have been too slow to act and anyway, international tourists want to see internationally recognized qualifications).

There is a cultural ‘condition’ in government departments in many Eastern Europe’s transitional economies that kills innovation, avoids risk and is resistant to change!! It is not true that for change to happen Govt. has to be in agreement/support. 

Anti-hangover recipe from Moldova

Thank you Lords of the Drink, I am in Moldova now, enjoying the great wine, will be cooking this tomorrow

Lords of the Drinks

We already gave you some tips and tricks to get rid of your hangover. But every country has its own traditional dishes to make the process go faster. We like to give you a taste of the international anti-hangover cuisine. In this episode a dish from Moldova: zeama.

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Last week Leonid Rosca walked into the CEED II office in Chisinau, he had heard about our new website and wanted to know why we had no information about opportunities for Kayaking and Mountain Biking in Moldova. The reason was simple, we had not met Leonid before….

The Moldova Holiday website is the most comprehensive list of all that’s on offer in Moldova, for travellers and tourists. We have been building our web site since May and we are quite pleased with our efforts. The site has detailed listings of travel businesses, visitor attractions, accomodation, travel advice and, well, just about anything a visitor would need, or like to know. But, we didn’t have much information about Mountain Biking, Kayaking or outdoor adventure activities in general, thankfully Leonid was about to change all that.

Leonid runs ‘Explore Moldova’ for 6 years they have been organising trips on foot, mountain bike, kayak and boat…

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Roll, Race, and Float through Mountains, Plateaus, and Canyons: This is Montenegro

Roll, Race, and Float through Mountains, Plateaus, and Canyons: This is Montenegro.

Piva Canyon Kayak Stage

Find yourself crossing over, through, and under every imaginable geological feature imaginable when you try Montenegro’s 48-hour Expedition Challenge.  You’ll raft the Tara Canyon (the deepest canyon in Europe) and do your best to avoid flat tires as you race through the Sinjajevina plateau.  Not to mention about 80 kms of trekking,15 kms of kayaking and other unknown surprises thrown into the mix.

Although these feats themselves are worth a few months of bragging rights they are almost incomparable to the raw beauty that each racer has the chance to experience up close through each kilometer that they cover.

Troy Farrar, President of the United States Adventure Racing Association (USARA), noted the growth in Adventure Racing, and took interest in Montenegro’s Expedition Challenge.  USARA has decided to award this year’s Number One Nationally Ranked team, free entry into next year’s challenge.

Adventure Races in Montenegro have been open to locals for a long time. The idea behind the sudden rise in recognition of these many races and challenges being issued out by Montenegro and local adventure enthusiasts is to bring together local businesses, tourism, and non-profits in a way that benefits the entire community and creates lasting value among all participants.

“I have long wanted to do something to protect Montenegro’s ‘big 5′ (Bear, Wolf, Lynx, Chamois and Wild Boar),” says Jack Delf, Director of Black Mountain and Adventure Race Montenegro. “All of the ARM directors wanted a strong conservation goal for the race,” funds raised from the race will fund the first scientific census of large mammals species in Montenegro and continue the work of promoting a national ‘Leave No Trace‘ educational program, dedicated to the responsible enjoyment of Montenegro’s pristine wilderness.

If 48 hours is 24 hours too many, take a look at Montenegro’s Coastal Challenge taking place September 25th around the Bay of Kotor.

These races are all a part of a yearlong Adventure Series taking place throughout Montenegro. Check out past events that have taken place this year and start marking your calendar to participate next year.

If you are interested in registering for the race or would like more information send an email to: or contact the following people:

Hayley (English) +382 (0)67 268 971

Janko +382 (0)67 603 712 (Crnogorski).

To register online visit : Montenegro Expedition Challenge

From – ‘Off the Radar’ Online Magazine for Adventure Travellers

Some of our work for the Global Sustainable Tourism Alliance

Tourism Working Group Forum in Montenegro a Success.

The STARS Program aims to improve Northern Montenegro’s tourism sector by attracting investment, enhancing linkages, increasing marketing capabilities, and developing cohesive regional branding.

On May 25th and 26th 2009, STARS held two Tourism Workgroup Forums in Zabljak and Kolasin for forty-one individuals from private, non-profit, and government sectors. The participants included representatives from local and regional tour operators, restaurants and accommodations, and destination management organizations.

Jack Delf, owner of Black Mountain tours and former advertising executive, introduced the workshop’s goals and explained the emergence of an adventure-driven European market in which northern Montenegro could position itself as a leading destination. Mr. Delf previewed the STARS marketing and packaging workshop that occured in late June 2009 by offering best-practice techniques for running successful operations, identifying target markets, attracting western European travelers, and creating networks for future cooperation among tourism businesses.

Participants wish to continue to discussion in-between monthly workshops. They held interim one-on-one meetings in order to fully prepare for the June Workshop, where they will received further information from STARS tourism development experts, Costas Christ and Christina Heyniger.

The Forum concluded with a frank roundtable discussion on current business needs and their potential solutions, helping to define target areas for STARS project assistance.

As workshop participants acknowledged the need for additional dialogue on tourism business needs, STARS will be conducting small group sessions to further identify business-specific and cross-sectoral assistance opportunities.

“This project will be much help for our future business development. We need assistance bringing more tourists into our beautiful Northern part since we still have not shown them the true beauty of it.”

-Bijelp Polje, local tour operator

The STARS Program aims to improve Northern Montenegro’s tourism sector by attracting investment, enhancing linkages, increasing marketing capabilities, and developing cohesive regional branding.

Taken from the Global Sustainable Tourism Newsletter – December 2009

Postcards from Herceg Novi

Herceg Novi, (once known as Castelnuovo), has changed little in 100 years. The railway has gone, to be replaced by a pedestrian promenade. One castle fell into the sea during an earthquake, but the town would be still be familiar to a Austro-Hungarian soldier from the 1890’s

Main Square 2011                                                                                   Main Square 1900

Travel in parts of Montenegro often feels like travel back in time. Many destinations claim to be ‘the Mediterranean as it once was’. Few places can live up to that claim.  Herceg Novi,which is often bypassed by tourists hurrying to see Dubrovnik or Kotor, certainly does.

Marina 2011                                                                                                   Marina 1926

The old town is still partly walled and contains 3 castles. Hispaniola was built by Spanish Crusaders, Fort Mare and Kanli Kula (Bloody Tower) were built by Ottoman Turks.

Sea View 2011                                                                                        Sea View 1915

In the quiet cobbled streets of the old town it is easy to forget the passage of time and imagine that the spirits of the past still swap gossip over a rakija or bustle to the market, just as their successors still do today!

So don’t worry if your postcard takes 100 years to arrive, little will have changed.  🙂