Landscape and leisure

Landscape Dimensions - Reflections and proposals for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention

Niek Hazendonk, Marlies Brinkhuijsen, Chantal de Jonge, Hugo de Jong, Dirk Sijmons, avril 2017

The European Landscape Convention (ETS No. 176) of the Council of Europe is an innovative international treaty which makes it possible to define an approach to territory that takes account of the landscape dimension, i.e. the quality of the living environment of individuals and societies. It also makes this dimension part of the Organisation’s concerns about human rights and democracy, by inviting its member states to involve people closely in all stages of landscape policies. The Council of Europe has continued the work begun when the convention was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and opened for signature in Florence in 2000, in order to examine and illustrate certain themes linked to the text of the convention, certain « dimensions of landscape ». Leisure activities, in all their forms, have a strong impact on the landscape and this study provides innovative ways of improving the management and development of infrastructures while respecting the landscape for the well-being of all.

666 favourite tourist destinations, the concept of sustainable tourism development is given special attention. As part of its Action Plan for Protected Areas in Europe, the IUCN Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas in 1994 requested governments to prepare management and zoning plans for each protected area to prohibit certain activities (Eckert and Cremer, 1997).

Ecolabels and competitions

Organising competitions or awarding ecolabels is a good technique to encourage sustainable tourism development. The aim is to encourage tourism managers to become more environmentally friendly and to help tourists choose their destinations and accommodation (Eckert and Cremer, 1997). In Austria, the criteria for an Austrian Ecolabel for Tourism were defined in 2008 to encourage environmentally friendly management of tourist accommodation. Since 1995, six European islands have been participating in an « eco-island » project and have formed a cooperation network. The island of Hiiumaa in Estonia is part of the project and is part of a biosphere reserve. The aim of the cooperation is to explore ways to develop environmentally friendly tourism on the island. To this end, the Hiiumaa Ecolabel was created (Eckert and Cremer, 1997). Since 2009, the island has participated in the Baltic Sea Ecoregions project, which also focuses on sustainable tourism and includes 40 other initiatives. In the 1990s, the German Tourist Board and the German Ministries of the Environment and Trade organised competitions to reward environmentally friendly tourist locations. These competitions assessed the ecological and economic efficiency of the activities of almost 6,000 German tourist destinations, as well as their results in terms of nature and landscape conservation (Eckert and Cremer, 1997).

Financial aspects

Tourism and recreation could be a source of funding for the preservation and management of natural resources and landscapes. Possible mechanisms, both direct and indirect, are as follows

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has recommended that part of the tourist tax be used to finance environmental infrastructure and conservation actions (Recommendation Rec(95)10 on a policy for sustainable tourism development in protected areas). In Austria, the Land of Salzburg introduced a tax on second homes in 1992, which is used to finance landscape conservation initiatives. The Balearic Islands levy an ecotax on hotel nights and France levies a tax on passenger transport to small islands. A tax on scuba diving collected in the Medes Islands Nature Reserve (Catalonia, Spain) generated 68% of the reserve’s budget.


In these times of change and multiple crises (economic, environmental, construction, etc.), regions whose economies are highly dependent on tourist influxes could be threatened. The change in tourist behaviour can be disastrous for the societies concerned. In addition, other changes, such as changes in climate or hydrology, can affect the attractiveness of a landscape for tourism and have consequences (direct or indirect) for its future. Recent examples include the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, the volcanic eruption in Iceland and the revolutions in the Arab world. Current trends include a growing interest in quality in the broadest sense. The quality and identity of landscapes is therefore an opportunity for the tourism sector. To date, most sustainability policies and programmes pay little attention to landscape as such, and as an integrating concept or objective. These efforts usually focus on environmental issues related to watercourses, energy and materials, and to a lesser extent on natural and cultural heritage. It must be recognised that in the consideration of sustainability, the notion of landscape is often the last to be addressed. Moreover, everyday or ‘ordinary’ landscapes are usually forgotten. Yet they too are covered by the European Landscape Convention and so the holistic approach to landscape advocated by the Convention is rarely applied. European and national policies to stimulate tourism and its industry can be useful in supporting the local economy and, therefore, the landscape, which is developed, influenced and managed for these purposes. We therefore need to understand and look at the leisure industry as a driver of utmost importance for the development of landscapes and their quality (Mommaas J. T. 2006; Berker R., Emonts T. and Hillebrand H. 2011).

The Council of Europe and the Contracting Parties to the European Landscape Convention should take this into account and use every opportunity to present the concept of landscape as defined by the Convention. In the current dynamics, as the European Union is increasingly involved in sustainable tourism policies and programmes, minds are ready to integrate the landscape concept. Of course, the national and other levels are equally important. From the beginning, the notions of landscape and tourism (recreation) have been closely linked. The Landscape Convention should ensure that this relationship remains fruitful in the future. This requires not only a national, but also an international and European vision of recreational landscapes. At all levels (international, national, regional, local and commercial), our thinking and actions in tourism and leisure policy should be geared towards sustainability. It would be desirable that the concept of landscape, as promoted in the European Landscape Convention, should be an important aspect of this sustainability. The general working method set out in the Convention, and explained in more detail by Michael Dower (2008), outlines this integration between leisure and landscape. Landscape should be integrated with tourism policy; conversely, recreation and tourism should be integrated with landscape and land use planning. All policy, plan, development and project development should involve landscape identification and assessment. Landscape objectives should also be developed. (Recreational) landscapes should be properly protected, managed and developed, and the projects carried out should be monitored. It is also necessary that all tourism and recreation initiatives are accompanied by actions to raise awareness of tourism and landscape projects, to explain them and to show that they are worthwhile. In order to achieve good planning, information based on international data on recreation and the relationship to the landscape is needed. The studies on which this report is based show a lack of comparable and synchronised data. This is particularly the case for leisure activities outside the tourism industry, such as outdoor recreation or tourist visits within national borders. The European Environment Agency, Eurostat and the European Spatial Planning Observatory Network (ESPON) could play a role in this respect. The development of the European Recreational Landscapes Map should be continued: this map can be an interesting tool to monitor the evolution of tourism landscapes and policies in Europe and to take into account analyses in other sectors, such as agriculture. We have tried to take a European perspective. The European Landscape Convention covers all landscapes and therefore all leisure landscapes, whether they are in urban, peri-urban or rural areas; it is not limited to outstanding landscapes, but also covers ordinary landscapes and even those that have deteriorated.

Landscapes are the setting in which we live; they play an essential role in our quality of life. Leisure needs and recreation as drivers of landscape design influence the environment in which we live, whether on a daily, weekly or annual basis. The general public should therefore be encouraged to take an active part in landscape conservation; but so should professionals and businesses, from small and medium-sized enterprises to multinationals. Moreover, Europe’s recreational landscapes are cherished by all Europeans: their value goes beyond local or national borders. Public authorities at all levels should therefore act to protect, manage and develop them in such a way as to maintain and enhance their quality, as part of the process of developing recreation in a sustainable way. There is always a tension between residents, visitors and users of recreational landscapes. We would like to emphasise that in the planning, development and maintenance of these landscapes, explicit attention must be paid to the rights, involvement and needs of the people who live and work in these landscapes. Here the responsibility lies primarily with the public authorities.


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