Outdooractive: Digitisation of outdoor tourism in the Western Balkans.

How the partnership between the private sector and development cooperation promotes sustainable development.

In recent years, digitalisation has changed the way we travel and experience tourism. At the same time, there is an increasing focus on the need for sustainable development to protect the environment and address the social and economic needs of current and future generations. The combination of digitalisation and sustainable tourism opens up enormous potential for the industry and offers opportunities to improve both the traveller's travel experience and the protection of our environment and value creation at the destination.

Harnessing digital potential

Outdooractive is a leading digital platform for outdoor tourism with 14 million registered users. Users can use the app and web services for travel inspiration, tour planning and navigation in nature. As a provider of Software as a Service (SaaS) for about 4,500 stakeholders from the tourism and outdoor industry, the provider digitises destinations and makes the information available to the Outdooractive community and other outdoor enthusiasts via various digital channels. Sustainability has become a prominent focus for Outdooractive, because the preservation of intact natural and cultural landscapes is essential, especially for nature lovers.

"On leverist.de, we have been looking for competent partners with whom we can jointly create added value through digitalisation in outdoor tourism," says Dominik Huber, Senior Research Manager at Outdooractive. The company came across a project of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on leverist.de. The business opportunity called for strengthening mountain tourism in the Western Balkan countries of Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Northern Macedonia as an important source of income and employment for the local population. The strong focus on nature-friendly, regenerative tourism moved Outdooractive to get in touch.

Supporting emerging markets

The Western Balkans include the six countries Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Serbia, some of which are potential candidates for accession to the European Union. Tourism has meanwhile developed into an important economic pillar there: Between 2010 and 2019 alone, the number of international holiday guests has tripled and risen to almost 13 million per year, according to figures from the statistics authorities. For about ten years, an Eldorado for active athletes has been developing in the Western Balkans; the untouched nature offers perfect conditions. Among them are numerous national parks, such as Biogradska Gora in Montenegro, one of the last primeval forests in Europe. The offer for sustainable tourism is growing, branding and capacities have to follow suit.

"In these countries, there is a lack of structured destination management and effective marketing of travel regions. Local tour operators, accommodation providers and other private sector actors therefore take on the marketing of their region in addition to their daily business. Here, however, there was often a lack of supra-regional reach - and that's where Outdooractive comes in," explains project manager Simon Reuter.

Integrating regional know-how

Within a few days, contact was established between Outdooractive and the GIZ project "Boosting the Economy in Rural Areas of South Eastern Europe (SEDRA)". The parties quickly engaged in an intensive exchange of ideas on how to increase the region's visibility as an outdoor and adventure destination. The result: the "Open Tourism Data Initiative for Emerging Destinations in Southeast Europe (OTDI-SEE)" implemented by Outdooractive in cooperation with GIZ. The project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), aims to effectively support local actors in developing and marketing their nature tourism offerings through digitalisation and capacity building. A stakeholder mapping was carried out by SEDRA together with GIZ in Albania and Kosovo, which was able to contribute valuable knowledge about the local conditions and the already existing networks as a multiplier.

In a further step, key actors were supported and trained in the creation of digital content, the use of digital tools and marketing at destination and offer level. An online course for an even wider target group of guides, guesthouses, tour operators and many others is currently being developed. This form of capacity building enables actors of the local outdoor and adventure tourism industry to make their region and offers accessible to a much broader target group through the wide reach of the Outdooractive platform. In this way, tourism acts as a lever for sustainable regional development and a motor for employment and income. New distribution channels, such as the Wild Western Balkans travel portal based on Outdooractive technology, give local knowledge and high-quality content from the region a platform and ensure that travellers find inspiration and information about the Western Balkans. "We are particularly pleased," says Simon Reuter, "that we can also use this to strengthen the development successes of previous projects in the region in the long term, such as the development of the long-distance hiking trails High Scardus Trail and Peaks of the Balkans, which were supported by GIZ."

Thanks to the cooperation between Outdooractive and the GIZ partners in the Western Balkans, digital offers could be expanded, which contribute to the preservation of the unique natural landscape on site, strengthen the visibility of sustainable outdoor businesses on site and raise awareness of the natural beauty of the region.

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