After over a year of reduced traveling, tourism has undergone a complete and total makeover. Many people have begun swapping big-city getaways for intimate local experiences. Luckily for one Italian region, that means a big increase in foot traffic.
In addition to a COVID-related shift in travel destinations, eco-tourism has been on the rise as a response to growing concerns about the global climate. Instead of over-polluting cruise ships, more and more people are opting for humble getaways that allow for an immersive visit into a foreign culture. In the Po Delta region of northeastern Italy, the community has seen a huge rise in tourism activity and is capitalizing on the traffic to bring awareness to several causes.
According to National Geographic, the Po Delta Biosphere Reserve is a conservation area with UNESCO certification. It is filled with scenic waterways that lead to the Adriatic Sea. From flamingos to herons, the swampy region boasts 360 different bird species in addition to a thriving clam population. Since popping up on tourists' radars, the region has met the needs of visitors, adding a number of annual events that uniquely fit its diverse ecosystem: "Slow Autumn" runs from late September up until December and capitalizes on the region's "unspoiled landscapes" while offering open-air activities and outdoor trails. The festival overlaps with the week-long "Bird Watching Days," which occurs in mid-October.
While the surge in tourism has brought a lot of awareness to the UNESCO-protected region's inhabitants, it has also benefited the roughly 118,000 people living in the area. Previously, the community relied on mussels and clam fishing and found themselves in a low socio-economic state. But thanks to more tourist action, the community has reported annual earnings of 100 million euros in the season leading up to the pandemic. Like many small eco-tourism destinations, both the region and its people are reaping the rewards.
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