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Student's Research on the Challenges to the Successful Participation in the Tourism in the Eastern Rhodopes

The New Thracian Gold (NTG) can provide strategic leadership in bridging different organizations in the Eastern Rhodopes. This is the main conclusion of the internship of Manuela Ilakova, a student at Wageningen University, The Netherlands. She spent three months so far (September – November 2012) on the research Challenges to the successful participation of local people in the development of tourism in the Eastern Rhodopes.

The research was focused on the location of four municipalities - Kardzhali, Krumovrgrad, Ivaylovgrad and Madzharovo. Manuela interviewed 19 stakeholders in the target areas: representatives of the local authorities, farmers and tourism developers, discussing three main topics: the participation of local people in tourism entrepreneurship, decision-making and collaboration.

Having analysed the answers, Manuela found out that there was a polarization of the views of tourism entrepreneurs on the one hand, and the authorities on the other. The current interaction between the two parties is dominated by two main factors – the differing priorities of the businesses and the local authorities, as well as the tendency of the two parties to search the fault in each other, resulting into a low level of coordination between the private and the public tourism sectors in the Eastern Rhodopes. In addition, at this stage there is still little resolution among the interviewed stakeholders to formalize collaboration, which both sides – the authorities and the business - need to turn the potential of the region into advantages in the name of its sustainable development. 

Furthermore another conclusion of the research was that the NTG could play a key role in taking the initiative to forge connections between the main players in the region. According to Manuela's research, the perceived contribution of the NTG initiatives for the stimulation of local participation in tourism is focused on several aspects:

Diversification of the local tourism product

Promotion and popularization of the Eastern Rhodopes

Providing training seminars and experience exchange

Providing business guidance and advice

Valuable contacts within the network

The internship of Manuela has a second product – an overview of the recent history and specific social and economic problems in the region of the Eastern Rhodopes. 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. Manuela's study The Eastern RhodopesTerra Incognita of Bulgaria is a successful try for filling in this gap.

So far, ten students have done their internships on NTG topics, mainly on wildlife and tourism. The results of those student researches offer valuable input to the NTG project and to its objectives. In 2013, NTG expects the interest into the Eastern Rhodopes to bring more of Dutch and Bulgarian students to the region.

See here the presentation Challenges to the successful participation of the local people in the development of the tourism in the Eastern Rhodopes and here  The Eastern RhodopesTerra Incognita of Bulgaria

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