The paradigm of travel is changing. What was supposed to be a transformative experience is, with mass tourism, anything but – stress on travelers, locals and the environment. Rather than improving quality of life for everyone, the spiraling growth in travel has in many ways done the opposite, and with no end in sight.
Tourists are becoming more aware of what is lacking in their experience and are seeking out those very elements: connecting to their surroundings by aligning with human values and needs; in other words, by allowing oneself to transform through the experience of being a guest in someone’s home. The culture of the individual is being augmented by the simultaneous emergence of a new culture of togetherness: by raising traveler consciousness through respect and connection with the local residents and their surroundings.
This integration of the needs of the individual traveler and a tourist region’s environment and residents is the aim of the biosphere within the UNESCO Geopark Swabian Alb. By offering the chance for travelers to marvel at the region’s prehistory and experience the lifestyle and culture of harmony with the land, the local tourism industry seeks to reach out to the human within the tourist and trigger personal growth through unique experiences.
The Geopark’s most important partners are 20 Geopark Infocenters that present local phenomena in an educational setting for the general public and for schools in particular. Trail guides and infocenter personnel are specially trained and publications covering the area’s geology and paleontology are produced for the purpose of raising consciousness not just of tourists but of Alb residents as well.
The UNESCO biosphere designation for the Swabian Alb has propelled many firms to offer Alb products that are subject to strict criteria. The over 100 partner companies must have clearly defined objectives, such as commitment to nature conservation, regional economic cycles, service quality, and informing guests and customers. Through the partner initiative, innovative transportation concepts have been developed: the “Albhoftour” cycling/hiking biosphere tour as well as a “biosphere bus” that transports visitors and locals across the reserve. “Biosphere ambassadors” also offer special landscape tours. Every year in May, visitors have the opportunity to experience the biosphere reserve at over 70 events. There are tours, nature excursions and cultural events, as well as displays of traditional craftsmanship. Regional markets and festivals offer Alb products and local cuisine as well as sports and wellness programs.