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Volodymyr Vasylyev, head of the Union of Green Tourism Promotion in Ukraine and editor in chief of Turyzm sil’sky zeleny (Countryside Green Tourism) Magazine, answers questions put to him by Yuliya Verkhovynska, a WU correspondent.
Let’s begin with defining what “green tourism” is. What are its main features? Does it contribute anything to the development of the Ukrainian countryside? What place does it take in the general structure of tourism in Ukraine?
Ukrainian rural areas boast a considerable historical and cultural legacy. Life in the Ukrainian countryside has its own, specific features. The landscapes are scenic. Add to it a vast recreation and curative potential. Green tourism can be generally defined as tourism to the countryside with people staying mostly at peasants’ homes rather than at hotels or motels.
At present, the Ukrainian village faces many challenges. In many areas there is a lack of jobs and many people find themselves redundant. Tourism to the countryside can help create new jobs without requiring big capital investments, and green tourism has been on the rise in the past ten years.
It has been established that those villages live better and more prosperously where the peasants, in addition to working in the fields, tending the livestock and doing so many other things that people living in the rural areas occupy themselves with, process the agricultural raw materials, develop all kinds of craftsmanship, and do other things that are not directly connected with the agricultural work. With the progressing development of science and technology, the share of manual labour in the rural areas diminishes, and thus the number of jobs shrinks.
Green tourism plays a positive role in creating new jobs and giving peasants, women in particular, a chance to find useful employment and earn some extra money. With the number of tourists growing, such typical tourist requirements as adequate transportation, communications, all kinds of services and entertainment facilities must be dealt with.
You were among the imitators, organizers and promoters of green tourism in Ukraine. Now you head the Union of Green Tourism Promotion in Ukraine. What doest this Union actually do?
The Union takes upon itself popularization of green tourism. We promote the development of tourist infrastructure in the countryside, we promote ecological ideas and preservation of environment and nature. We organize folk art exhibitions and festivals, workshops and training. By promoting tourism to the countryside, we help create new jobs and give employment to many people who otherwise would remain redundant. We publish our magazine, Turyzm sil’sky zeleny, and tourist guides, catalogues and manuals, of which more than 150,000 copies have been released.
How does the Union get financed?
We get our financing from various projects, which are in turn financed by international funds, such as the International Fund Vidrodzhennya, the Fund Eurasia, the EU programme TASIS, the British Council and others. About ten percent of the financial support comes from various charity funds. Members of the Union pay their membership fees but they are really very low — only 30 hryvnyas annually.
And who are the members of the Union? What kind of people do you employ in the administrative work?
Among members are individuals, households, villages and whole regions. We employ people of various educational backgrounds and of various ages but they are, all of them, enthusiasts of green tourism promotion in Ukraine.
Do you have any foreign partners?
Since 2003 the Union has been a member of the European Federation of Rural and Farmer Tourism (EUROGITES) whose membership includes public organizations from 22 countries of Europe.
Do you provide any consultations or training for the owners of those households that receive tourists? Do you provide them with the standards they must keep?
Of course, we do! We provide training and organize workshops within our various projects. We have published booklets and catalogues which promote green tourism and provide necessary facts and advice.
Could you expand on these projects? The one in particular within which you created the database of the Ukrainian countryside households that receive tourists?
That project was financed by the Swiss Bureau of Cooperation and it was carried out jointly with the public organization Nezalezhna sluzhba ekolohichnoyi bezpeky (Independent Service of the Ecological Safety). Over the years, we have accumulated a lot of information about the households that receive tourists, and now some of this information has been processed. We have established an electronic database of some 600 households all over Ukraine that provide tourist services. Each of such households can accommodate between 6 and 10 persons. And the best of these households have been included in our catalogue Ukrayinske selo zaproshuye (Ukrainian Village Welcomes You!).
Also, we are organizing an exhibition, Ukrayinske selo zaproshuye, which will be held at the Open Air Museum of Folk Architecture in the vicinity of Kyiv on May 18–19 2007. In fact, it is going to be the fifth exhibition of its kind. So far almost 900 households from 20 Oblasts of Ukraine have taken part in such exhibitions which also double as tourist fairs.
Do you set certain standards that the households which provide tourist services must meet?
Yes, we do. In setting these standards, we proceed from the practices established in Europe in the sphere of green tourism. We regularly publish these requirements, standards and advice in our magazine Turyzm sil’sky zeleny.
Earlier, you’ve mentioned some work done by the Union in promotion of environmental protection awareness. Can you add anything more concrete?
In 2004, we introduced the voluntary ecological certification within the programme Zelena sadyba (Green Farmstead). We want to make sure that ecological considerations become a top priority for the rural households, which receive tourists, and we hope that through these households ecological and environment protection concerns become a priority in the countryside in general. Rural areas still lack many of the features typical of the urban areas — developed transport and communications infrastructures, industries and others. It causes a lot of inconveniences for the inhabitants of the rural areas but at the same the absence of many of these features or their low development has resulted in a much better preservation of nature than it would have been possible in and around urban areas. Thus, it provided excellent conditions for green tourism — no traffic or industrial noise, no air pollution. Characteristically enough, the less “civilized” the villages are, the more tourists want to go there. Among the things that primarily attract tourists are scenic landscapes, absence of trash that litters the environs of urban areas, wild life, availability of fish in the rivers or lakes of the area tourists are planning to go to, ecologically clean food and water, natural landmarks. Villagers themselves — aided by the local authorities — must take care of the environment if they want tourists. That’s what the Zelena sadyba programme is about.
In many European countries green tourism is promoted and sponsored by the government, with households that receive tourists getting all kinds of privileges, tax privileges included. Is there anything of the kind done in Ukraine?
No, no government support is provided for the development of green tourism, though there’s a law, Pro silsky zeleny turyzm (On Rural Green Tourism) that provides for such support. We have been sending our proposals to the Ministry of Agrarian Policies of Ukraine to promote the construction of housing in the rural areas through special credits and loans. Such loans could be particularly useful for the less developed villages which have a potential good for developing green tourism. Unfortunately, none of our proposals have been accepted so far.
Which areas of Ukraine have the greatest green tourism potential?
We think that practically all the rural areas of Ukraine can be made attractive for green tourism — except for the closed zone around Chernobyl (after the nuclear power station disaster of 1986). Our Union has its branches in 19 Oblasts of Ukraine, in all parts of the country.
In some of the villages that receive tourists, tourists can not only enjoy nature and relax, but watch milking of cows and goats, or making of cheese, and then take part in such activities themselves. We have published information about such households in our recently published catalogue Ukrayinske selo zaproshuye. Ukrainian villages do welcome you to come over and enjoy the benefits of green tourism!
Yuriy Motruk’s house. Village of Tatariv,
Horse riding at Ihor Bondar’s
Reconstruction of typical Trypillya