Nerea and Sara are the promoters of an initiative, Urdailife, which seeks to enhance the value of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, here on the coast of Bizkaia, in the Basque Country, by promoting the development of tourism with commitment and responsibility.
Today, at Ekohunters, we talk to these two entrepreneurs about their initiative and their concerns:
What is Urdailife? – Tell us how it was born, what it consists of, and what objectives this initiative has.
Urdailife was born in 2017 in one of our many talks sitting in the port of Bermeo, with the island of Izaro on the horizon. We realized that people who visited the Biosphere Reserve, were left with only the surface and did not know the essence of this wonderful place where we live.
We created what started out as a blog with a very simple objective: to show our heritage in greater depth, both tangible (landscapes, paths, monuments, etc.) and intangible (culture or traditions). We always try to put the focus on our identity as a people, to achieve a closer link between Urdaibai and our visitors, so that it is much more than a place to go on holiday. We have realized that we are also a source of information for the inhabitants of the reserve themselves.
In these two years, the project has evolved a lot and, in addition to the dissemination work we do on our website, we have moved on to collaborate on other projects. On the one hand, we work with companies in the area, through products that help visitors to know their products and services; on the other hand, with administration and town halls, in dissemination and communication work.
What is the archetype of visitors to Urdaibai? Are we facing a more international, more national or autonomous community tourism?
It is a difficult question, as there is everything, but our main visitor is national. In any case, Urdaibai is a protected destination, where we want to promote mainly ecotourism, so it is not strange to find many Europeans visiting, especially Germans and Dutch. On a smaller scale, but no less important, are the Americans, who seem to be attracted by our combination of nature and gastronomy.
What is tourism looking for in Urdaibai? Is it typical beach tourism or is it more interested in its cultural and environmental richness?
Everything, like everywhere. The one who comes to lie on the beach is more the local hiker. Those who come here to spend their holidays, do so with the aim of discovering the place: enjoying exploring the reserve through its trails, getting to know towns like Bermeo and Gernika, doing outdoor activities or simply looking for a quiet place with a variety of options to rest.
The coexistence of neighbours and tourist activity often leads to tensions. What is the relationship between the neighbours of the community and tourism in general, and with the reserve? Do the principles enshrined in UNESCO’s ‘Man and the Biosphere’ (MAB) programme manifest themselves in any way in the life of the Urdaibai reserve?
Well, Urdaibai is not a mass destination and is far from it, so the coexistence between tourists and locals is quite good and the same goes for the reserve. In fact, the Biosphere Reserve has just joined the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism of the Europarc foundation, precisely in order to anticipate a wave of tourists, which is uncontrollable, and to locate its tourist offer as an ecotourism destination. It is a very nice process, in which all the agents, both public and private, have been involved. In fact, within the charter, there is the figure of the “Permanent Forum” open to all those who want to participate in the process, give their opinion and learn about the different actions planned. By the way, Urdailife is also part of this forum.
As for the presence of the MaB program principles in Urdaibai, there are certainly some. It is the basis of the Biosphere Reserves: to seek harmony in the coexistence between nature and people. In this sense, to mention one, the reserve has three strategic plans precisely to guarantee this principle. One related to nature conservation; another, and for simplicity’s sake, to education for sustainability; and finally, the one related to sustainable socio-economic development.
How does the Urdailife project contribute to the sustainability of the area and to the model of sustainable tourism for which we must advocate especially when it is an area categorized as a biosphere reserve?
In the little that we can do, is to work on the communication of what the Biosphere Reserve represents to us. On the one hand, we have the section “The Reserve”, where we talk about the importance of this figure and the responsibility we all have over it, both for those who visit it and for those who live there. We have also looked for fun ways to spread the word, such as several quizzes with questions about the territory, the landscape and the culture.
As for the contents we upload, and especially when we talk about a path that passes through areas of special protection, we allude to its importance and how we should behave in order to cause the least impact. In turn, when cultural heritage is the object of our posts, we try to link them to our traditions and identity, which are in fact representations of our peoples. We don’t know if this has been successful, but if it has been intentional, we believe that in this way the visitor observes the place he is visiting with more respect, and even creates a certain bond with it and its inhabitants.
As mentioned above, the Urdailife project is part of the Urdaibai biosphere reserve. How aware do you think visitors are of their relationship with the reserve’s environment? Are they aware of the significance and impact of their activities in a biosphere reserve? Do they receive sufficient information about it?
We hope that our followers will be aware of this, especially since we are very reluctant to let them know that Urdaibai is a Biosphere Reserve! If we don’t succeed, it will be a failure for us.
As for those who do not follow us, and although it is not a scientific fact, the feeling among those of us who are dedicated to tourism is that many ask where the door to the reserve is. They know that there is a protected area but perhaps because of misinformation or bad information, they do not know what the Biosphere Reserve represents. We would say that yes, they are aware that they are visiting a protected area.
Nowadays that information is everywhere and most of those who visit us want to come and see the fashionable place, take the picture, arriving by a comfortable way and, if possible, without making much effort.
As people committed to responsible development and involved in the defence of a realm of nature of great ecological value, what is your position on the future of the planet and its society in the face of the challenge of global warming and climate change that threaten it? Do you see people with enough awareness to change their lifestyles in favour of safeguarding the planet, its biodiversity and its resources?
Depending on the day, we can be negative or positive, although being honest, we do not see a global commitment to change our habits as a society. It is an effort that many are not willing to accept and it will not be until it is really inevitable that we will take our hands to our head. Anyway, our optimistic side sees the light at the end of the tunnel, precisely here in Urdaibai, where very interesting actions are being developed in favour of the planet, such as CO2 compensation projects with native forest plantations. We hope that the new generations will become aware and really be part of the change. Not for us, but for themselves.
Urdaibai, a biosphere reserve, like so many other places on the planet, is threatened by human pressure and activities. It is the responsibility of all of us to contribute with our actions, with our attitude to its conservation, to its respect, so that all of us and the following generations can continue to enjoy such places. Sara and Nerea contribute to this every day by committing themselves to help in favour of its sustainability. Urdailife tries to give value and exemplify all this by defending sustainable tourism that protects the environment.
Inform responsibly about the biosphere reserve, its richness and its activities from the perspective of sustainable development.
If you want to know more about Sara and Nerea but above all about the biosphere reserve of Urdaibai, don’t forget to visit their website Urdailife and above all don’t forget to travel responsibly.