What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?
In GBTs short time-span, we have recruited over 4,000 volunteers from around the world. These generous souls have helped build a hundred different sections of the Great Baikal Trail, whilst learning about the need to conserve this vulnerable landscape. For two weeks at a time, these international participants have worked side-by-side with local Russians, making new friends, and opening up new vistas to their once-isolated Siberian colleagues. This has increased eco-tourism in the area and also made the area more accessible for future tourists. GBT also conducts a regional eco-tourism training programme, which is currently small in scale, but ultimately will allow rural populations to profit from an environmentally benign profession. It will provide the skills for locals to guide the predicted increase in tourism (that the World Bank and others forecast for the Baikal region), so that it will have minimal impact on the diverse and productive biological system at the lake. At the same time it will show locals how to profit financially from tourists, while offering them a world-class experience in exploring our beautiful countryside.
The GBTA has reached out to many local communities, as well as to many under-served sectors of society (such as at-risk kids, orphans and other, oft-forgotten youngsters). The GBTA has also provided educational opportunities for many local residents, mostly teaching them how advantageous it is to protect their environment.
First action is to provide volunteers with the necessary skills, this helps to create sustainable growth. Therefore, we have a programme, where share everything we know about the effective leadership of volunteers.
The second important action is to concentrate on the eco-education in Irkutsk and rural communities. The object will be to show how building a low-impact trail might attract more tourists, making it possible simultaneously to protect the environment and create jobs at the same time.
The third action is eco-tourism education. Awareness workshops and meetings are held at the rural communities. We want to illustrate the full gamut of professional opportunities, whether our clients might want to become a home-stay host, a nature guide, or someone that makes souvenirs or other tourist “treasures”, or, for that matter, anyone that might want to provide some kind of service to visiting tourists.
The results of this program will increase local people’s professional involvement in the eco-tourism business by teaching them the art of opening and running local bed & breakfast inns, while also providing them extensive training so that they can work as tour guides, nature interpreters, etc., Thereby create a more comprehensive and effective infrastructure for eco-tourism development around Baikal, while continuing to reconnect people with nature, and preparing new leaders for our still-emerging environmental movement in Siberia.
What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.
To keep our project going, and our movement growing, we need to constantly prepare new leaders and involve more volunteers in our project implementation. The idea is to first educate local folk about the environment and then, if appropriate, invite them to have more of an active role in our organisation. This is a grass roots movement that continues to enrol new leaders from the community. This way the local communities will have a better sense that they actually “own” the GBT. We have invested much time and effort to ensure that all volunteers have the chance to gain and develop new skills. By attaining these skills, they will help us improve the efficiency of our organisation, with all volunteers being in a better position to negotiate problems that arise and to communicate efficiently as a team. Even those who move on from the GBTA will find themselves better suited to work in a way that enhances their (and our) environment.
Our organisation has the potential to be self-funding. But to date, most of our success in this sphere is due to the international volunteers who contribute a small amount of money (@200 British pounds) for their attendance during the summer eco-projects. Over the next three years we plan to increase awareness of Lake Baikal and the projects that GBTA runs. In this way we might also increase the number of paying volunteers who come to us, making our work all the more sustainable.
What would prevent your project from being a success?
The GBTA has commenced on various eco-education and eco-tourism programmes around Lake Baikal. But due to the lack of funds our work has been on a very small scale, and not intense enough to have the far-reaching impact that we are looking for. Russian NGOs have little support and few opportunities for local funding, since charitable giving is a rather novel concept here—even to the newly rich entrepreneurs in Russia. This lack of a local funding base often prevents the GBTA from expanding to reach the communities that live on Lake Baikal’s shorelines, except in our specific trail-building projects. Thus, it has been difficult for us to help these local people lead a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, or act as experienced hosts to visiting tourists.