Next activities of successful cross border partnership

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Meeting of the Partner municipalities and Steering Group in Shkodra, 6 - 8 May 2013

Four weeks after being awarded the winner for Destination Stewardship in this year's prestigious World Travel and Tourism Council´s (WTTC) Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in Abu Dhabi, the Peaks of the Balkans project partner municipalities and the Steering Group got together in Shkodra, Albania, to discuss and decide on further cooperation, and to deliver the recognition of partnership to the GIZ program and teams for their contributions and support in the introduction and implementation of the project.

On the first day a presentation on the project implementation process and the WTTC Awards with certificate ceremony was given by the project Steering Group members Merita Kazazi, Development and Programming Director of Shkodra Regional Council and Sokol Ukaj, Director for Economic Development in Peja. Media, local tourism business and NGO partners were welcomed by Maxhid Cungu, President of Shkodra Regional Council, Albania, Ali Berisha, Mayor of Peja, Kosovo,  and Said Cekic, President of the Municipality Parliament, Plav, Montenegro. Mr. Cungu thanked the GIZ for their work and four Certificates of Appreciation were handed out to the representatives, followed by a greeting speech of GIZ Albania.

After the ceremony, the municipality representatives visited the Mayor of Shkodra, Lorenc Luka, while the Steering Group had the opportunity to pay a visit to local projects with sustainability aspects in their work, such as the Winery of Zef Pashuku in Hajmel, the Agrobusiness Educational Training Center, and a Ceramic Handicrafts Cooperative, both in Krajen.

The following two days were dedicated to work of the Steering Group on immediate cooperation activities, future plans and further partnerships. To support local information and cooperation, it was decided that next meetings will continue taking place in the municipalities of Plav, Peja and Shkodra, in a rotating mode like so far, and for two days. The first day will be committed to work with local businesses and NGOs, and the second day for treating all cross border and international issues in the Steering Group.

The latest media publications (*examples further below) and new interest from international media were discussed, in order to find support and increase publicity. Current website content update needs and social media were presented, and an immediate expanding of capacities to local levels in using them was started. The currently active channels Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can then also be served from all three regions of the Peaks of the Balkans. For travel agencies, tour operators and media access to official pictures will be provided by a Dropbox service link. As a next piece of international promotion, WTTC is in partnership with BBC preparing videos of the four category winners of 2013, which are expected to be published soon.

Concerns of local businesses in communication and getting border permissions outside the official border crossings were discussed and solutions to potential problems will be handled at national and local levels before the summer season starts.

Apart from declaring 2013 as the “Peaks of the Balkans Tourism for Tomorrow 2013 Year of Celebration”, a yearly event is envisaged from 2014 onwards: The last week of June shall be dedicated and branded as “Peaks of the Balkans – Tourism for Tomorrow Days”, including environmental, cultural and nature based events and campaigning in the project region.

On the side of statistics, the cooperation wants to start to collect facts, figures and qualitative indicators, to follow for example the development of visitor numbers, source markets, the seasonal distribution, income to local communities, and service quality. A list of further needs to maintain and continue to develop infrastructure, services and marketing was started. It will be discussed with existing private and public partners as well as potential new partners and potentially supportive cross border cooperation projects in the region.

About the project: The Peaks of the Balkans Trail (www.peaksofthebalkans.com) is the ambitious project of 192 kilometres of breathtakingly beautiful passage through Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Uniting the mountain regions of the countries in a sustainable tourism destination development model, the multi-stakeholder process spearheaded by the Peaks of the Balkans Steering Group has led to the successful creation of a new 192km Peaks of the Balkan hiking trail. The project is playing an important role in preserving the natural, cultural and spiritual heritage of the region, as well as restoring mutual trust, collaboration, and economic opportunities between these three Balkan countries. In addition, the project has provided training, capacity building and support for the development of local tourism enterprises in the small communities along the trail, as well as addressed trans-border issues to ensure easier movement across neighbouring borders for visitors on the trail. “The Peaks of the Balkans is recognition of the harmonious working partnerships between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. It’s special we have such constructive relationships in a formerly troubled region. Now we can offer safe access and travels for visitors, protect our heritage and bring new social and economic benefits.”

For further information, please send an e-mail to: info@peaksofthebalkans.com

About the competition: The WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are one of the world's highest accolades in the Travel & Tourism industry. They are aimed at
recognising best practice in sustainable tourism within the industry worldwide.
More information: www.wttc.org/tourismfortomorrow/

*Publication examples:
The New York Times, 31 March http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/travel/balkan-promises-hiking-the-albanian-alps.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
Trax, 10 April, http://www.trax.de/wandern-in-den-verfluchten-bergen-der-peaks-of-the-balkans-trail/id_62382718/index
The Travel Mole, 8 May http://www.travelmole.com/news_feature.php?news_id=2006020
Green Travel, 18 April, http://www.green-travel.de/news/artikel/lesen/2013/04/tourism-for-tomorrow-vier-gewinner-ausgezeichnet-50269/