The programme (Partner oft the National Natural Landscapes) The programme “Partner der Nationalen Naturlandschaften” (Partners of the National Natural Landscapes) is managed by the umbrella organisation Nationale Naturlandschaften e. V. These are local networks of tourism providers and regional businesses located in National Parks, Biosphere Reserves and Nature Parks in Germany. The partners act as service-oriented ambassadors of their protected area and support the goals and administration of these regions, as well as being pioneers of sustainable, nature-compatible and climate-friendly tourism and regional development.
National Parks and other large protected areas are becoming increasingly attractive as holiday destinations, especially for nature enthusiasts. The demand for sustainable travel options is also rising and in order to minimise the negative impacts of visitors on the fragile and precious natural environment, strong collaboration between tourism and nature conservation organisations is not only necessary, but also mutually beneficial. The partnership programme is a certification scheme with clear objectives and rules which provides a framework and structure which can be applied to a wide variety of tourism providers and regional businesses. There are currently 30 such NNL regional partnership programmes in Germany with a total of over 1400 partners.
The partnership programme fosters collaboration among tourism businesses, nature conservation organisations and the protected area management organisation. The aim of the scheme is to create a network of businesses which act as role models for regional development and nature conservation tourism and raise awareness among visitors for the importance of the protected area and ensure they behave in a respectful way to the protected areas. The partners support the aims and measures of the protected areas and therefore contribute significantly to the political acceptance on a regional level. In many cases, the partners take on activities related to education, information provision and monitoring, thus helping the protected area management and enhancing quality standards. At the same time, the partner programmes promote sustainable regional development by supporting local businesses to improve their sustainability efforts and act as good examples to inspire others in the region.
The partners work in the region of the respective protected area and have direct contact with their customers or guests. The majority come from the classic hospitality industry, i.e. hotels and restaurants. In addition, there are many nature experience providers, as well as educational and information institutions, producers and providers of regional products, but also municipalities, transport companies, tour operators or art and cultural institutions represented in the network.
For quality assurance purposes, uniform national minimum criteria have been set for the partner initiatives: the network should be managed by a separate committee, a steering group or an awarding council with the participation of partners and administration. Rights and obligations for partners and the management of the protected area must be set out in writing in contracts. The contracts with the partners should be reviewed after a maximum of three years. In order to ensure a uniform external presentation, the corporate design of the National Natural Landscapes should be used.
For the participating companies, identification with their National Park, Biosphere Reserve or Nature Park and the motivation to get involved in the protected area are indispensable prerequisites. Sustainable management is also expected; the companies must prove that they operate in an environmentally friendly manner and that they are aligned with the regional identity. In addition, high quality offers, excellent service and willingness to provide information are the minimum criteria. Partner companies must be able to inform their guests and customers about the protected area, as well as about the other members of the network. To ensure that the information is reliable and up-to-date, they should regularly take part in training courses and information events.
These minimum criteria were first drawn up in 2008 in a project funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) with funds from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and updated in 2016. The minimum criteria are reviewed and updated at regular intervals. They form the basis and should help to establish the partner initiatives of the National Natural Landscapes nationwide – as a brand that is known, successful and credible. Since there are very special conditions and requirements in many protected areas, these may also be taken into account in the application documents. In some cases, further certificates or labels are used. Some protected areas use expert external support to review and evaluate the completed application documents.
Both sides benefit from the partnership. The particular advantage for the protected areas is that the partners act as multipliers. They can reach more people with information and nature experience offers, and thus gain a better understanding of nature conservation measures. That means more protection for nature and at the same time more nature experiences for people. In addition, the acceptance among the local population is increased through cooperation with the regional economy. The participating companies use the partner award for their own branding and for marketing purposes. For this they are allowed to use the official signet and receive support from the protected area administrations via websites, training courses and numerous information and marketing materials.
Another important aspect of the partnership is the network concept. Partners from different areas work together for their protected area, learn together and can develop new, attractive offers together. Regular nationwide partner meetings (so-called ‘dialogue forums’) have been organised, thus enabling exchange beyond the boundaries of the protected area. The nationwide newsletter with best practice examples for the partners, which is published four times a year by the Nationale Naturlandschaften e. V.office, also serves this purpose.
The partner initiatives in the National Natural Landscapes are a good instrument for constructive, profitable cooperation between nature conservation, tourism and regional business. Protected areas can start small with comparatively few resources and set up a partner project with a few committed companies. The nationwide cooperation is exemplary and promotes networking between the protected areas. Nonetheless, challenges remain around assessing quality standards, verifying applications and the tension between growing the programme and managing growing demand.
Some examples illustrating the range of partners:
Nationalpark Wattenmeer: Waddensea.Travel (tour operator, events and shop)
Biosphärengebiet Schwäbische Alb: NABU mobile biosphere information truck
Biosphärenreservat Schorfheide-Chorin: Solar-powered citizen science boat
Nationalpark Hainich: Canopy walk
UNESCO-Biosphärenreservat Flusslandschaft Elbe:
Nationalpark Bayersicher Wald:
Biosphärenreservat Thüringer Wald:
There is a high diversity of how the 1400 different partners engage themselves for the various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The criteria for becoming a partner also differ from one protected area to the other. By learning from each other what or who works best, the overall quality standards of the partner programmes could be advanced. More focus could be given to partners, which offer direct political, educational or even financial support for the management and raising the quality or size of the national park or biosphere reserve.
The model is well-suited to be replicated in other countries. In Denmark and Norway similar schemes have already started, and there is much one can learn from each other. In Germany, it is coordinated by one member of staff in the Nationale Naturlandschaften e.V. Head Office, as well as by local management staff in each of the protected areas. It requires a small amount of funding and can then be run to a large extent in a self-sustaining way.
The partners have been hard hit by the pandemic, as the whole tourism industry around the world. The value of being part of the network became even clearer during this time, as they could share concerns and offer each other support on a personal level. Many businesses made use of the extended period of closure to upgrade their properties / businesses and implement more sustainability measures, as well as make adjustments to their offers, e.g. adding online options.
The PROWAD LINK videos illustrate how partners from the Wadden Sea region have adapted to the COVID situation:
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