-What is sustainable development of tourism?

Here are some philosophic thoughts for you on this beautiful early Sunday morning.

I don’t know what you are thinking when you read these blog posts but to some extent I can guess, and I think that some are you are puzzled about what exactly we’ve been doing here in Gjirkokastra so far? Then let me rephrase that into another question: What is sustainable tourism development and what does it incorporate? At least I assume this is what you wonder and I base that on the fact that we are asked this very question every day.

”-Why are you in Gjirkokastra? = To do some form of tourism development
– Aha…. And what is that exactly?”

Well it is a very good question, and to be frank I actually asked myself the same question in the beginning of my third year of this education with all our courses done in subjects of culture, nature and economy. Still I asked myself how it was all connected to each other and I decided to write a paper on it that I called
Planning for sustainable tourism through regional, local and site development”
By writing the paper I traveled down to the foundation of planning: the structures of a project and its planning phases. I worked my way up to the theories on tourism planning and combined its different phases with strategies for a sustainable society. The end result was a hierarchical web of subjects, theories and different models.
Not an easy task to accumulate and thus the answer to the question “what sustainable development of tourism is” has no simple answer in the shape of a formula with one right number. Even the term “sustainable tourism” itself can’t be pinned down exactly, it all depends on which organization or author you choose. A person who likes math and answers like “1+1 equals 2” is likely to grow some grey hair during this education. The only real answer I found in the end is this: planning is more art than science.

Let’s expand our thoughts on this answer. What is art? What is the action behind art? We can visualize it whilst talking about practical things like drawing, writing or composing or more generally like “the act of creativity” or maybe most common in the planning world: designing. Yes tourism development is the art of designing for the future. But it is not ideas shaped in drawings on a white piece of paper. No, you are drawing on an already painted, layered and textured multidimensional cube that doesn’t wait for your painting brush. It is at constant change shaped by the minds of its inhabitants, in Gjirokastras case the minds of some 24 0000 people with their own ideas and thoughts about the future. And here Mehran and I come in for two months to add some color and texture to the cube. An easy task? Not at all…
You can’t just barge in and splash some color all over the place. To start with: who are you to decide the future for a place you’ve only lived in for a week or so? There is a great need to know the soul of the place first – what colors do they use here in terms of values, preference, traditions and culture? What colors is needed to change or promote issues of sustainability? The time dimension is also apparent: what colors will last, be appreciated and not painted over as soon as you leave? Indeed there are a lot of questions that takes time to answer.

In Sweden as a planner you are often spoiled with this kind of background information already on your table, done  by some government, organization, students or simply known facts. Maybe you already know a lot from growing up in the culture yourself? Most of the time then the do’s and dont’s, moral and ethics comes naturally to you – you simply know the place. Now picture yourself in our situation where you know nothing: you’ve never been to the country, never met anyone from the country, plus almost no research exists on ethnography, demographics, environmental issues, economic figures, flora and fauna etc. The little information we find is in Albanian. Okay picture this and now draw a strategical tourism plan for a sustainable future in terms of environmental, economical and cultural aspects. And be quick!

Hopefully now you understand why our work process might seem slow. Creativity is hard work and the whole process from start to goal cannot be materialized but rest assure it is ever present in our minds. We’ve been living in this new world of ours now for three weeks; observing it, trying to decode and lift the veil to view the subliminal parts of this culture, we’ve been viewing it from the inside, outside and in comparison to others. Slowly, slowly the big picture is materializing. But it takes time, a lot of time.

There is however a quicker option: To create your own vision on a piece of paper without attaching or affecting the real world. As up to now Mehran and I have been thinking about doing that. But we have been granted an MFS scholarship to help this community and we want to create something real, something tangible. We hope to choose a small quarter of this new world of ours to paint and affect. We want to give something back to this wonderful community of Gjirokastra who’ve met and greeted us with as much help as we could ask for.

Yes this was a lot of thoughts for a lazy Sunday morning but hopefully by now maybe I have answered at least a fragment of your initial question: “So, what are you doing in Gjirokastra?”

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