„Stirring The Appetite Of Nature Connoisseurs”

PAN Parks Courier, Spring 2000: “Stirring The Appetite Of Nature Connoisseurs”, autor: Chris Hogan

Biebrza for connoiseurs was established in October 1999. Its mandate is sustainable tourism development of the Biebrza region. More precisely, as Ramotowska explains, “this means responsible and profitable use of the natural and cultural heritage of the Wetlands. The society wishes to raise the level of environmental awareness of the local people. As well, we solicit subsidies and donations for tourist development”. Its members primarily include nature guides and farm guest-house owners. Training of the society’s guides was organised and conducted by Ramotowska in co-operation with WWF’s Dr. Przemek Nawrocki and Biebrza National Park. Upon completion of the first phase of training participants wanted to continue meeting. Thus Biebrza for Connoiseurs was born.

The activity of the Connoiseurs has sprouted two co-operative business: the tour office Biebrza Eco-Travel, and a souvenir shop (located in the tour office). At the centre of this trio of regional nature investment – Biebrza for Connoiseurs Society of Ecotourism, Biebrza Eco-Travel office and souvenir shop – you find Katarzyna Ramotowska: president, founder and owner.

“For years I was an orthodox biologist”, explains Ramotowska, “protecting nature against local people. But since that time I’ve become a ‘local person’. I’ve come to a conclusion that the only way to increase the level of environmental awareness of local people is to provide people with alternative sources of money from nature through tourism for example”.

Biebrza Eco-Travel now offers a selection of special programmes collected into full tourist packages, or programmes especially tailored to the interests, time, physical condition, etc. The tour office employs only members of Biebrza for Connoiseurs as nature guides. The souvenir shop sells only local handcrafted and natural products and mainly services those torists who have been guided. “Such co-operation helps in the communication and tourist development co-ordination.”

You’re probably now wondering the same thing I am: How does one manage to balance it all? “The most difficult thing”, reveals Ramotowska, “is seasonal changing of duties and profitability which depends on different tourist demands. But all the activities I’m engaged in are balanced together … one depends on another, and they compliment each other. All the activities we are involved in are included as tasks for realising the Marketing Strategy for Biebrza Region. This document was developed as a compromise between the different interest groups acting in the Biebrza region”.

So just who are the visiting explorers with a taste for the wild? Four years ago the number of foreigners and Polish tourists was 50:50. Since this time the number of Polish tourists has been gradually increasing. They mostly come from big cities with about 70% from Warsaw. Among foreigners, the biggest number of torists come from Germany (about 50%) and from Netherlands (about 35%). Year by year, more and more torists of general interest (Poles and foreigners) arrive here quite by accident, or simply because it’s the new fashion to practice eco-tourism.

What’s the next step for Ramotowska?

“I’m consumed by a next ambition: to practice nature teaching, through nature exploring workshops, instead of traditional guiding”.

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