Enterprise Estonia held a round-table discussion on Tuesday on how to expand and promote nature tourism in Estonia. The participants agreed that Estonia has a lot of potential, but a lot more work is needed to provide tourists with quality services.
Tarmo Mutso, the director of Estonian Tourist Board, said that they aim to determine how the national and local governments can help develop a more comprehensive nature tourism sector.
"Nature is one of the main messages we have used to promote Estonia and it is one of the tourism products that we can offer in various ways in many different markets," he said.
The round-table discussion focused on visitors from abroad. There is a very distinct target group among this larger audience, namely the one consisting of people who have a deep interest in nature.
"They come here to see birds, animals, or plants and they are ready to travel thousands of kilometers to be here during the migration season or to see that one orchid that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe," he said.
The other target group are people who are looking for an active vacation. The activities may, for example, include bog-shoeing or canoeing.
The third and largest target group are visitors who prefer a mix of activities. "For instance, they come to Tallinn for a few days but once they've toured the old town, want to spend a day in the countryside."
Mutso said the nature tourism sector needs further development if it wants to attract all these types of tourists.
"The quality of the services varies and in some areas is not really up to the level that the foreign visitors expect," he said.
"If we consider the people who come here for a city break and want to spend one day in the bog, we have to think about the infrastructure: how do we get them there most comfortably," he said.
According to Mutso, the biggest challenge is to find ways to make nature tourism profit the local business and the state by extension.
The State Forest Management Center (RMK) has developed a network of over 200 forest paths, where people can hike and enjoy the surroundings. "The more general network, however, has not been build up around this by local municipalities in a way that allows to earn profit," Mutso said.
Even internal tourists cannot find catering or accommodation outside of the larger towns.
"We have to gain more know-how in this area, we have to learn. We want to include the businesses, local authorities and the government in the discussion to find out how the Tourism Board can help to create a functioning package for the visitors," Mutso said.
Nature tourism will only take off if the infrastructure and the services Estonia offers is one comprehensive package. This way the visitors get an excellent experience but the environment does not suffer damage as a result.