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Research on Tourism in the Eastern Rhodopes

A research on the community participation in the development of tourism in the rural areas of the Eastern Rhodopes is starting in September. It is part of the four month internship of Manuela Ilakova, student at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

Eco tourism is a new economic motor of the Eastern Rhodopes region, where the declining tobacco cultivation and sheep herding has been dominating for decades. The participation of the local population is an essential prerequisite to make the new eco tourism initiatives sustainable. During her research period Manuela plans to examine the tourism as a new activity in the context of the current socio-economic state of the region, which has suffered many demographic and economic problems related to the transition period in post-communist Bulgaria. Local acceptance and participation in the tourism development will be explored to see how the local people perceive the concept of sustainable tourism, what opportunities and limitations they identify for their involvement, whether they have started considering tourism a viable alternative for the current economic activities.

The outcomes of the document study and of the interviews with local stakeholders will be analyzed in terms of challenges to the participatory tourism development in the rural areas of the Eastern Rhodopes.

The internship of Manuela has a second aim. The image of the region has been promoted so far as a place with unique biodiversity (the “green gold”), rich historical heritage, authentic culture and hospitality. However, visitors to the region often go beyond that and have expressed interest in the underlying reasons that led to the current socio-economic status. Therefore, Manuela is planning to concentrate part of the internship on the recent history and specific social and economic problems in the region. The data will be collected through interviews with municipalities and local people, as well as through studying written information. When the results are interesting New Thracian Gold (NTG) might publish a booklet about this recent history.

So far, eight students have done their internships on NTG topics, mainly on wildlife and tourism. Currently, one more student is doing research on wolves. The results of those student researches offer valuable input to the NTG-project and to the promotion of the region.

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