Land-use for tourism has been growing significantly in certain European areas, such as the Alps (ski resorts), the Mediterranean coast (hotels, camping resorts, beaches) and the North Sea coast. More extensive forms of tourism such as hiking, cycling, fishing, and hunting are also on the rise. This increase in land-use for tourism is expected to continue, at the expense of land previously used for natural resource or agricultural purposes. The Tovel project tackled the general problem of unsustainable tourism in an alpine area - Val di Tovel - which is an area well-known for the reddening of its lake waters and its extremely interesting flora and fauna. Every year, Val di Tovel is visited by an increasing number of tourists, which are concentrated during the summer months and are usually day-trippers. This has created a socio-environmental imbalance, in which the 'tourism' factor is not contributing to the economic and social growth of the local communities, but is instead deteriorating the natural resources. Therefore, action was needed to avoid the phenomena of deterioration resulting from human pressure on a fragile eco-system.
The Tovel project intended to test an innovative model of area planning and tourism development, with a view to safeguard and enhance the area's outstanding natural resources and rich historical heritage. The project was to introduce innovative joint-planning modules, encouraging the consultation and participation of local representatives, which would lead to the definition of development themes for the area. By means of specific actions targeted at schools and universities, the project aimed to promote the start-up of economic initiatives linked to educational and environmentally friendly tourism. The educational component was to contribute to the diffusion of awareness about the area's resources. Lastly, the project envisaged the creation of a series of infrastructures and services, with a low environmental impact (e.g., thematic routes, outdoor workshops, information points), which would enhance the tourist offer.
In overall terms, a large majority of the key project milestones and expected results have been achieved, in particular:
- The project has managed to reach a large proportion of the population and economic actors in its efforts to promote a more sustainable path for local development and has collected valuable data to envisage an improved organization for traffic access and flows in the lake Tovel area;
- The involvement of local firms has been successfully carried out; 31 enterprises have signed the “Tovel agreement”, a voluntary agreement drawn up with the local authority which commits the contractors to carry out their activities in a more environmentally friendly manner and enables them to use the Tovel trademark, which builds the base for further developments (eg. Ecolabel);
- A useful marketing study was prepared, providing a coherent approach and operational suggestions to diversify and promote a sustainable local economy. New eco-tourism and didactic packages have been promoted, although it appears that the quantitative targets set at the project’s beginning were not fully achieved. It may well be that in the short to medium term these figures might improve.
- A study about past and current traffic and visitors’ flows was produced, and a Mobility plan was approved by the Tuenno Municipality, although it only became operational during the Summer of 2004 and a limited evaluation of the results were made available (although they were fairly positive).
- A modern and efficiently organised Park Visitors’ Centre was set up beside the Tovel lake and its opening was considered a success by the local press.
- A wide range of valuable educational materials for teachers and students were produced, and approx. 40 teachers passed a vocational training course. Three Summer schools were successfully organized in 2003, and three new didactic trails were set-up in the project’s area.
- An attractive project web site was set-up, which counted some 30.000 visitors each month until April 2003. Several dissemination initiatives were organized mainly at the local and national levels (2 international meetings).
All the above mentioned results are very encouraging, taking into account that the beneficiary is represented by a tiny mountain municipality (approx. 2.500 inhabitants) and that the project’s partnership was fairly limited (apart from the Municipality of Tuenno, it included a Park Authority and a small local scientific institution), and that the project lasted just 29 months (including a 5 month extension).
Other positive factors for the overall project's implementation included: a clear management structure (initially the Agency for Tovel”, and afterwards the Tuenno Municipality); a committed Park Authority, that was interested in finding new socio-economic models for the many municipalities pertaining to its boundaries; a motivated scientific museum, that needed to enlarge its current activities to find new opportunities for its staff. Furthermore, the project partnership appeared very motivated to continue working together on similar objectives.
The following follow-up initiatives were indicated in the Final report:
- an enlargement and/or better looping of the didactic trails;
- the limitation of car access to the lake Tovel area was to be complemented by the creation of a pedestrian area by the lake shore;
- the Park intended to start the process for adhesion to the European Chart for Sustainable Tourism.
- a new trail to link the project area with the main tourist zone (Paganella), and with a view to fostering new private initiatives to retain the population in the mountain areas;
- a new Visitors Information Centre should be created in the Tuenno village, renovating an old school building;
- a new promotional activity for the Tovel area will include eco-tourism packages and the use of public transport (train + bus) to the area.
To conclude, it appears that the TOVEL project has successfully provided a tool for enhancing the overall management of a valuable protected area, which has outstanding natural resources and a rich historical heritage. It has forged stronger links between the Park administration (the beneficiary of a recent LIFE-Nature project LIFE00 NAT/IT/007131 URSUS - protection of the brown bear population of Brenta) and the local authority. Both partners should be able to exploit further synergies in the future. The project has provided a good base for fostering further initiatives aiming at diversifying the local economy and moving towards a more environmentally friendly and sustainable path for tourism development.