Tourism and nature conservation strengthen collaboration in the Wadden Sea World Heritage

Since 2011, nature conservation and tourism stakeholders have been cooperating in an international project entitled ”PROWAD: Protect and Prosper – sustainable tourism in the Wadden Sea World Heritage“ which was co-financed by the INTERREG IVB North Sea Region Programme.

At a one-day final project conference in Hamburg on 12 May 2015, representatives of the three Wadden Sea states, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands as well as stakeholders from the business and conservation communities discussed the results of the transnational PROWAD project and explored the possibility of continuing this collaboration in the future.

Participants agreed that the PROWAD project had developed a joint strategy for sustainable tourism in the Wadden Sea. This strategy was regarded by the conference as a milestone of the Wadden Sea Cooperation, as it establishes a closer link between tourism and conservation. It was acknowledged that as a result of this unique process and broad partnership, the project was carrying out work to reconcile tourism planning and conservation of a World Heritage site out at an unprecedented scale, involving three countries and stakeholders from various sectors and levels.

In his opening address, Rüdiger Strempel, head of the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS) noted that UNESCO regarded PROWAD as a worldwide model for other sites supporting the implementation of the World Heritage Convention and the new UNESCO Tourism Programme. He , emphasized that “This is also because our strategy does not merely  focus on making tourism more sustainable, but on how tourism engages in the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value while at the same time benefitting from this engagement.”

Harald Marencic, (PROWAD project leader, CWSS) presented the main results of PROWAD and concluded that all main objectives had been reached. “Through a participatory approach we have managed to involve also local tourism stakeholders, which helped us to focus the project on their needs”. The project had laid the foundation for the future World Heritage work and provided strategies, tools, networks and mechanism to strengthen communication and marketing across the entire property, Mr. Marencic said.

The international World Heritage expert Dr. Lisa King (Curtin University) presented her research on branding of World Heritage in an international context. She underscored the inclusiveness of World Heritage as a brand which belongs to all of humanity and involves every person on the planet. This narrative was unique and established a new dimension of World Heritage communication and awareness from which all partners benefitted, in particular the national parks which were regarded as the World’s best-known protected areas brand. Lisa King provided several international examples of benefits of World Heritage branding but also stressed that developing a transnational brand awareness may take as long as a generation. “The effort is worth it as it creates a stronger sense of ownership and broader support in society, which strengthens the protection of the site”, she stated.

In her presentation, Ulrike Sassenberg (inspektour, Hamburg), presented the ongoing feasibility study for establishing a transnational framework for a Wadden Sea World Heritage business cooperation programme. This study is one of the projects being carried out in the framework of PROWAD and will be concluded shortly. As there was no model world-wide for establishing such a partnership programme across three countries and involving a variety of business sectors, the development of such a programme would be a new challenge for the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation. The conference welcomed the concept of such a partnership as it enables business partners to also engage with World Heritage, but underlined that partners had to embrace and live up to the heritage values and its protection to safeguard the reputation and credibility of the brand across the entire property.

In the last talk of the morning session, Anja Szczesinski (WWF Wadden Sea Office Husum) presented the educational and outreach products developed in PROWAD, including among others a 4-language poster showing animals and plants of the Wadden Sea, a booklet encouraging people to experience 25 key species and landscape features of the Wadden Sea (referred to, respectively, as the small, big, flying, flowering and moving five) extended with the, and comprehensive teaching resources addressing tourism and nature conservation issues.

During three breakout sessions, participants had the opportunity to discuss the results in detail and exchange ideas for a future collaboration and the preparation of a new trilateral project. In the final plenary discussion, the conference compiled these ideas and suggested to concentrate on World Heritage awareness building through face-to-face communication and joint projects, namely bird watching and bird flyway cooperation, establishment of a transnational World Heritage Cooperation Programme, and extension of the World Heritage education programme to include teacher training courses in the region and additional target audiences by providing tailor-made educational material.

The successful conference ended with a closing statement by the new Chairman of the Trilateral Task Group Sustainable Tourism Strategy, Mr. Oeds Beijlsma (Province of Friesland), who commended the project for the excellent results. Mr. Oedsma concluded: “PROWAD has delivered and it is now up to us to make use of this momentum for the benefit of the local communities and our prestigious Wadden Sea.”