Xavier Lechien, Director of Durbuy’s Local Development Agency, in Belgium, and President of Eden Network AISBL, came to Faial to participate in the trail ‘Triangle Adventure’.
In an interview with Tribuna das Ilhas the athlete revealed that “this type of event is involved with the community and is a good opportunity for tourists to see the nature of the islands”.
Additionally, the President of Eden Network AISBL got to know the last year winner of the Eden Innovation Prize, Natural Park of Faial and stated that “Faial is already serving as an example to Kainuu village, in Finland, that is considering Faial’s experience and thinking to do the same”
Tribuna das Ilhas - Xavier, you are the president of a European association that gathers approximately 60 destinations from over 20 countries. What are the aims of this association?
Xavier Lechein - Our association aim is to continue the sustainable tourism initiative of the European Commission. Every year, the European Commission organizes a contest with a specific theme, being this year’s theme cultural tourism. The awarded destinations can choose to join our association and receive help to sustainably develop their destinations, or not. Eden Network was created in 2012 and is open to all destinations who want to take a step forwarder with the prize. For the moment, there are more than 150 destinations labelled by the European Commission, but only 71 are members of our network. And Faial is one of them.
TI - What is, for you, sustainable development and how can tourism contribute for it?
XL -Sustainable development is related with environment, economy and society, it is the balance between these three areas. As sustainable development, working with tourism also means working with the environment, with the local economy and with the local people. Our network is composed by small cities or villages and not all of them are tourism professionals. Therefore, we want to lead them to sustainable tourism, for example, by working with local producers to help them to seize partnerships with local restaurants. This way, destinations are creating a solid local economy and satisfying the population and tourists.
TI - Europe and, especially, Azores are facing an unprecedented tourism growth. Which risks can arise from this growth?
XL -The main risk is to become overcrowded by tourists like big cities such as Venice and Barcelona, but we do not want that. It is important to create good publicity on sustainable tourism that suits certain destinations. If someone came to Faial trying to increase the economy, but at the same time pollute the environment, that person would not be welcomed by the population. There must be respect for a balance between incomes and the well-being of the inhabitants.
TI - In your opinion, are the Azores still an unknown destination in Europe? What do you think is the best we have to offer?
XL -I do not think the Azores are unknown. The weather forecast mentions many times the anticyclone of the Azores. If we hear about the anticyclone of the Azores, we know good weather is to come. So, the name Azores is attached to something positive and is well known. It is just that Europeans often think that the Azores are too far and therefore prefer to go to Spain or South France.
However, you have so many good points, many strengths. Azores are the best place for walkers who love green destinations. Every track is signalized correctly and just walking through the natural park, I saw many places in these three islands which are so marvellous, it is a real paradise.
TI - This is your first visit to the Azores and first time participating in the trail ‘Triangle Adventure’. Are you enjoying your visit? What do you think about the competition and its organization?
XL - Yes, very much indeed. Just between us, before coming here, I thought that Azores, as volcanic islands, were just rocks, but then I discovered such green islands. I ran the three islands (Faial, Pico and São Jorge) in the trail and it was very wonderful. The participants were quite involved in the local community and were very well received by the local people and the local association of sports who prepared meals and other necessary aspects to the trail. We cannot forget that this event was note organized by an international organization, but by the local community.
TI - In your perspective, how can this type of events help the sustainable development of a destination?
XL -This type of event is involved in the local communities and is a nice opportunity for tourists to see the nature of the islands. Moreover, it helps to grab Europeans and others’ attention to the destination.
TI - Natural Park of Faial received last year an innovation award, the Eden innovation prize, recognizing the management of tourism visit of a sensible natural area. Which importance does this award has? What is its aim?
XL - This is a prize within our network, so we must be discreet about it. Its main purpose is to help Faial to be well known inside our network. For that, we and our partner Europe Best Destination, are helping Faial, and other destinations, to work better and better with social media, on how to use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google, and others.
This prize Faial received, helps to put focus on a good example. Natural Park of Faial is a very good example of sustainable tourism, but it is only a part of the island. We must keep working towards spreading sustainable tourism to the entire island, so that we can show to the other destinations that is possible to do this.
Faial is already serving as an example to Kainuu village, in Finland, that is considering Faial’s experience and thinking to do the same.
TI - On your professional life, you are involved with a local development agency. How do you promote Durbuy’s local development?
XL -My job as Director of Durbey’s Local Development Agency was created and is paid by the Wallonia Government to support local economy. For instance, we observed that local people did not frequent local shops anymore, they preferred the big shopping centres. And so, we created a Facebook page for all the local shops in order to increase their visibility among the population.