Green tourism or ecotourism is the category of activities focusing on sustainable practices, on preserving and appreciating the environment (both natural and cultural) that visitors come to see. While there are several interpretations, in general ecotourism is promoted as an “ethical” tourism, one where it is also considered essential to foster the well-being of local populations, and this is reflected in the structure and operation of the companies, groups and cooperatives that offer services of this kind.

This movement appeared in the late 1980s, and has managed to attract enough international interest for the UN to dedicate the year 2002 to it. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people.”

Despite its short history, ecotourism is seen by a range of conservation groups, international institutions and governments as a viable sustainable development option. There are countries like Costa Rica, Kenya, Madagascar, Nepal and Ecuador (the Galapagos Islands), where ecotourism accounts for a significant part of the foreign currency earned by the tourist industry, and in some cases by the national economy as a whole.

Genuine ecotourism adheres to the following seven principles, governing both tour operators and visitors:

  1. Minimise the negative impacts generated by the activity on the environment and the community.
  2. Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect;.
  3. Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts;.
  4. Provide direct financial benefits for conservation;.
  5. Provide financial benefits and strengthen participation by the local community in decision-making.
  6. Create sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
  7. Give support to universal human rights and labour laws.

The European Charter for Sustainable Tourism, recognition of our commitment to our region

The European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (ECST) is a scheme that sets out to foster sustainable tourism development in protected areas. In the case of the Priorat, the protected area is the Montsant nature park, which together with other bodies, organisations and businesses in the area undertakes to implement a local strategy to foster sustainable tourism that cares for the environment.

The Montsant nature park was visited by about 80,000 people in 2015. Neus Miró, director of the park, believes that “ECST is part of the potential of a nature park, and in an area like the Priorat, where work is going on to preserve the landscape and foster sustainability, accreditation would mean further recognition of a job well done.” Priorat Enoturisme is one of the bodies that form part of the ECST work group and has made this commitment to sustainable tourist development.

When the Montsant nature park started to work on the ECST, it was decided that “Bearing in mind the situation in the county, creating a charter for the nine municipalities that form part of the park did not make sense, as different bodies were working at county level for shared goals in the areas of sustainability and conservation, like the Priorat Landscape Charter or the PRIORITAT bid for World Heritage status, and this is why we proposed to include all twenty-three municipalities in the county,” explains the coordinator of the park authority.

To earn ECST accreditation a process has to be followed, and this is divided into different phases. “We needed finance, institutional support to pursue the project and set up a work group to start working together,” states Neus Miró. The work group was created taking into account the bodies working for the county, including the county council, the DOQ Priorat, the DO Montsant, the association of municipalities in the Montsant nature park, the local olive oil producers’ association, Prioritat, Priorat Enoturisme, the Catalan cultural heritage agency, the Leader Priorat-Baix Camp consortium, the Serra de Llaberia consortium, the Tarragona provincial authority and the Rovira i Virgili University.

“Sustainability in the Priorat has to be approached as a condition founded on environmental factors and under no circumstances must economic development have a negative impact on environmental and social issues. It is a matter of appreciating and taking pride in what we have and not looking for things that are not realistic in our area. Making sustainability compatible with development means understanding that we can do lots of things but we have to look at how we go about them,” explains Neus Miró. The Montsant nature park is and aims to be “a factor in development in the area and over the years we have tried to work in all areas: sports, spirituality and mysticism and culture, as well as striving to conserve our flora and fauna.”

“We have to see ECST as a tool for ongoing work, which goes beyond the tourist sector because it also adds value to local produce and therefore for farmers. With the studies of biodiversity, flora and fauna we have at the park, what we are sure of is that in areas where there is agriculture, the increase in biodiversity is much greater, which is why it’s important to protect the farming community and also the diverse agro-forestry mosaic, which includes hazelnut and almond trees, vegetable plots, vineyards, olive groves and so on,” explains Neus Miró.