Biebrza Eco-Travel – a nature tourist agency operating in the Biebrza Wetlands (north-eastern Poland, Podlaskie region) – shows how to integrate local entrepreneurs and community around tourist services. It is also an interesting example of reversed tendency in the development of services in rural areas as the additional services were a trigger for the development of accommodation services (whereas in the other good practices detected within the CesR project the accommodation was the basis for the development of services). Thus it proves that once the additional services exist, the accommodation facilities starts to develop.
The founder and owner of Biebrza Eco-Travel is Katarzyna Ramontowska, who as a Biology student started her own business at the age of 20. There were neither accommodation facilities nor transport for tourists available in the area of the Biebrza Wetlands in early 1990s. Katarzyna was the only qualified and available tour guide and she started to organise the entire tourist sector from scratch.
Biebrza Eco-Travel has been operating by combining various services in one place and offering them as a whole package for tourists for the past 20 years. It involves close cooperation with 15 guides (selected from among 180 people who were trained by Katarzyna Ramontowska), 28 lodging providers (selected out of 300 existing now in the region), several transport providers, around 20 souvenir manufacturers, 15 tourist equipment rentals and over 20 food providers (restaurants, bars, etc.). All services are available in one common tourist portal of the Biebrza Wetlands:
- rental of equipment (rafts, kayaks, bicycles, canoes, binoculars, spotting scopes, etc.),
- folk artists and producers of souvenirs,
- rental of buses, minibuses, off-road vehicles,
- nature coaches, guides, experts in the Biebrza River,
- taverns, restaurants, bars,
- visiting the Biebrza National Park.
Photo 1: Kayaking on the Biebrza River
The most important element of success is a tailor made offer for enjoying wildlife in the form of well organised packages that include nature trips, accommodation and additional services. The main motivation for coming to the Biebrza Wetlands is nature. Biebrza Eco-Travel took advantage of this amenity and started to offer trips into the remote parts of the region. The company offers the broadest selection of regional highlights like: bird-watching, night escapades, rafting, ballooning, walking through the wetlands, wolf tracking, elk (moose) trip, beaver trip, etc. Some of them are arranged as separate short trips during the tourists’ stay in the Biebrza region. The company also offers full-programme stays, consisting of professionally guided, few-day-long nature exploring tours including: accommodation, food and transfers.
Examples of packages and products offered by Biebrza Eco-Travel:
Photo 2: Package: Biebrza in a nutshell, Product: “happy cows” from Brzostowo (cows crossing the river every day at 5 pm in summer)
Photo 3: Package: wolf tracking, 130 km by car, 12 km on foot + 1 km through swamps
Photo 4: Package: wolf tracking, Product: swamp trail crossing
Photo 5: Package: wolf tracking, Product: snooping on an elk
Biebrza Eco Travel recommends and cooperates only with the leading lodgings providers and guides by means of cooperation agreements that lay down the rules and responsibilities to ensure the best quality and service for customers visiting the region. The company runs its own ranking of accommodation and service providers using specific evaluation criteria. The lodgings are monitored by Biebrza Eco-Travel on a regular basis, several times a year, in order to constantly improve the tourist service standards.
Photos 6-7: Examples of accommodation available in the Biebrza region
Such a system ensures reliable service for customers and ethical approach to nature when visiting the Biebrza region with qualified guide. Moreover, it is a natural incentive for other providers in the region to upgrade the standard of their services and their own professional qualifications in order to be more competitive.
The company invests significant financial resources in their website: its structure and positioning. A new website in Polish (http://new.biebrza.com) was launched in 2011 and the English version can still be found in the old version of the website (http://www.biebrza.com). As a result, Biebrza Eco Travel is listed on the first page in all search engines when potential customers are browsing for the word “Biebrza”. Good leadership and strong motivation of Katarzyna Ramontowska are the key issues that contributed to the success of this project. What is more, further development of the company (the scope of their activities and services) should be emphasized, as the company’s owner takes care also about the publicity and the improvement of people’s ecological awareness. Katarzyna Ramontowska has already taken part in over 100 TV and radio programmes and served many press study trips to the region. She is also a winner of the contest for “The best guide in 2011”, organised by Rynek Podróży (one of Polish leading tourist magazines). Such a professional approach may encourage other local entrepreneurs to join the company and in this way to strengthen their position on the local market of services providers. As a consequence, it may contribute to the creation of new jobs in the area or at least to the maintenance of the existing ones, improving their sustainability in the whole year.
ul. Kościuszki 26/11, 19-110 Goniądz