26 January 2017

3rd Annual "SMTA - Sustainable Mountain Tourism" Ostana, Italy

Heading over towards Monviso, in the distance, to Ostana
It's the beginning of another annual ride around the sun for all of us who mark our calendars beginning with January 1. 
What will 2017 bring to us and what will we focus on in our alpine Italian life?  
Good questions that had one immediate answer when Fabrizio was searching around the internet one night last week. Lo and behold he found a symposium on "Sustainable Mountain Tourism" that was to take place in 2 days time in Ostana, Italy, which just happens to be 65 km away and a couple of mountains over from us, where mighty Monviso peak resides.                                                               
Approaching Monviso -Ostana in the Summer
Naturally this piqued our interest as we started our own "Sustainable Mountain Eco Tourism" - "T.E.M. Association" ( Tourismo Ecosostinible Montano- Associazione Di Promozione Sociale) about 10 years ago. 

What is sustainable mountain tourism you might ask?
 A simple definition of sustainable tourism that lines up with our beliefs I found on the   The Sustainable Tourism Gateway website. 
"Sustainable tourism in its purest sense, is an industry which attempts to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate income, employment, and the conservation of local ecosystems. It is responsible tourism that is both ecologically and culturally sensitive."

Our Eco Sustainable Mountain Tourism Association Logo

The addition of Mountain into Sustainable Tourism, creates a specific viewpoint as life in the mountains can be a delicate balance between maximizing economic development and protecting fragile environments and sensitivity to cultural heritage.
According to "Euromontana", a European association of Mountain areas, with whom we presented our Bella Baita B&B  mountain living model to their annual meeting in 2013; 60% of all Europeans live in the mountains. I found that statistic to be rather astounding and important to consider how important it is to support these rural and sometimes fragile communities. 


We were thrilled to write to the SMTA and within minutes find out that they were happy, on short notice, for us to attend their 3rd annual international  edition of "SMTA  Sustainable Mountain Tourism Alliance"
It was with great excitement that we set off to join the discussion. We really knew nothing about them, but off we went on Friday (the 13th no less)  to check out this day of exploring what Sustainable Mountain Tourism means, building a meta-network (a network of networks) and the circular economy. 

Arriving at Ostana in winter was just as as impressive as arriving in summer. We drove over there in July for a days outing on my birthday to see a restored and revitalized mountain village that we had heard a lot about. The mayor of this village has been committed to revitalizing for the village for the past 20 years or so to try and breathe new life into what was an almost deserted village.  The buildings were neglected and crumbling after the town was all but abandoned when people moved on to look for economic opportunities, mostly after WWII. We have the same scenario in our mountain neighborhood.  And it was the same story in the mountains of Colorado that I use to live in until they started the ski areas. 

Ostana has struggled along, mostly being home to a few hearty souls and a few who came for the beauty of the area and the outdoor mountain activities that are on hand. The Monviso ski area use to draw in people in the winter when the ski industry was buzzing in the 70's. That however has slowed to a trickle as many ski areas have felt the sharp pinch of the Italian economic slow down along with aging equipment and a lack of funds to upgrade. 
The town's mayor has made a real effort to bring in support for getting the buildings renovated and attracting new life into this small but now growing community. 
Sant Antonia - a small borgata, a part of and up from, Ostana, where our meeting was held. 

We had lunch this summer and also during the symposium at the beautiful Galaberna rifugio, another project that has brought business into the  mountains. There is also a bar and a couple of stores, one offering quaint home accessories and another with outdoor sporting goods and local artisanal products which adds quite a lift to this charming hamlet. The revitalization of this community is a testament to commitment to a vision to bring growth and find the ways and means to do so. Good for Ostana and its residents, you are inspiring. 

Back to the symposium. 
Our symposium was up, and I do mean up, the hill to another cluster of houses and buildings  that had a very state of the art meeting room,  along with a tiny bar that made for a cozy day of exchanging ideas and lively discussions on mountain tourism. 

We met some fascinating people that share many of our ideals of supporting life in the mountains through tourism that supports tradition and innovation. The symposium was led by one of the founding members of SMTA, Swiss educator, Dr. Tobias Luthe, who presented what work they have done in working towards making sustainable tourism a concrete and  viable means of income in the mountains of Europe.  Starting with the focus on concrete means of bringing money for rebuilding and attracting others to live in rural areas that are in need of new ideas for saving abandoned hamlets and revitalizing these communities through reconstruction and touristic activities that can support small local businesses. Tobias was the main moderator but there was at least one other founding member and other students and educators and various business partners who participated and shared their vision for mountain redevelopment. 

We broke out into several small groups to discuss specific topics and came back together to share our thoughts.  One of the things that struck me was even thought we all had the exact same discussion topics, we came up with such diverse ideas and angles of approach. I think that is what makes getting people from different countries and diverse touristic backgrounds together such a worthwhile endeavor. It brings many different points of views and ideas to the table. I found the topics stimulating and the company pleasantly interesting. 
SMTA 3rd Annual Symposium Ostana, Italy
 Dr. Tobias Luthe presenting in the top middle photo
We took a break for lunch with a walk down to Galberna Rifugio for a convivial and traditional Piemontese mountain lunch that was outstanding. High quality food and wine, prepared simply with the personality of the chef shining through, made for a delightful meal together with new friends. Then after our break we trudged back up the hill which seemed to get just a tad longer and steeper on the way back, but the fresh air and beautiful mountain scenery made it all worth the effort. It also helped to keep us alert after such a satisfying meal and enabled us to remain engaged for the afternoon topics. 

Photos of Ostana this past July when we had lunch at La Galaberna.
The food was excellent both times we ate their. Highly recommend it!
The small group discussions included not only what exactly is needed to identify what exactly sustainable tourism is, but how to you brand it so that people will know what they are looking for and what exactly they will be receiving.  Also, how do you measure if this type of approach to mountain tourism is easily recognizable and effective. How do we bring this movement forward together and also concretely measure progress being made. 
Sharing our ideas 
I'm not sure how the symposium found its way to Ostana, but I am sure there is an interesting story there. We learned there is the beginnings of a "Monviso Institute" in progress to bring yet another portion of this cluster of mountain neighborhoods back to life. 
Some of these same folks have bought a small cluster of abandoned houses even further up from these buildings and have started to renovate them to turn them into a project 
"as an experimental real-world laboratory for sustainable design and living." MonViso Institue  
It all sounds very exciting to not only meet people that are trying to generate a way of bringing economic life back to the mountains, but who are actually putting in to practice the systems they are trying to create and nurture. 
In summing up the whole concept of sustainable tourism we talked about a circular economy. The term has been used in the industrial realm to move away from the linear model of 'take, make, dispose' economic model to  "a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design, aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. "  
For me a circular economy is really just a getting back to basics of relying on your community to provide services and goods from local sources and sourcing things closer to you so that the money stays in the community and recycles itself around. I love purchasing our food from the farmers that produce it and try to make a habit of keeping that in mind whenever possible. From my perspective we are looking to go back to a system that we lost sight of when the promise of globalization seemed to be an answer to so many needs. Communities use to rely more on each other. I think you still find this interdependence in rural communities still, but it is ever increasingly important to commit to buy and work with local professionals for supporting a healthier and more robust local economy in order to keep the circle to include your neighborhood.  
I think that one of the biggest takeaways from the conference was to generate enthusiasm for thinking globally and acting locally, through talking together and sharing ideas to take back home and see what can be implemented and what other ideas can be generated with ones own community. Our concerns for our natural environment, our neighbors, and communities economic health is brought into clearer focus with an eye towards generating more opportunities to work together with ur neighbors to build the community we dream of. Lofty goals indeed, but starting from where one is situated and reaching out to others is a place to start and communicating around a table, usually laid with  great food, is where we like to start. So we shall see what we can bring about in our community and we look forward to participating with this group again as well as discovering what the MonViso Institute will have on offer as well. 
View of Monviso from our neighborhood
Onward and upward, I say. 
Ciao for now!!

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