USAID Assistance Helps Boost Rural Economy in Belarus

USAID Assistance Helps Boost Rural Economy in Belarus
Volha Makhanenka, a coordinator of a regional greenway, is engaging tourists into the Harvest Granddad rite that seeks to appease the field and the harvest god.

The assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) helps develop the green tourism industry in Belarus. As a result, the number of agro- and ecotourism operators has grown from 34 in 2006 to almost 2,000 in 2012.

For over seven years and in support of rural economic growth initiatives, USAID has facilitated the inception and promotion of ecotourism by providing consultations, expert advice, training, and exchange opportunities to first time bed and breakfast (B&B) owners. Joint efforts of USAID and New Eurasia Establishment (NEE), a USAID partner in implementing ecotourism development projects, resulted in a multifold increase of green tourism businesses. The “greenways” concept, an approach that encourages developing land plots for public recreation and travel, was introduced to Belarus. The concept became the basis for the first organized functional tourist routes that contribute to revitalization of rural regions’ economies.

Volha Makhanenka started with a very simple B&B service but gradually expanded and turned into a full-fledged traditional ethnic festival program available to the tourists year round.  “Thanks to the professional expertise and support from the USAID project and assistance from its partner, the Rural Tourism Public Union Country Escape, my B&B business has grown significantly,” said Ms. Makhanenka. “Now my farmstead is included into several European Greenways, and I have had the pleasure to host tourists from the U.S. and European Union," added Volha Makhanenka proudly.

Within the framework of the USAID project, Country Escape provided financial management trainings to B&B owners. The trainings’ graduates were eligible for low-rate state loans to further develop their businesses. It also initiated a public dialogue and cooperation through creation of public councils on rural tourism in many regions of Belarus. The councils bring together NGOs, civic initiatives, local governments, the media, and rural tourism players to promote green tourism development projects. Country Escape also runs a resource center that offers consultations to rural tourism startup businesses and experienced entrepreneurs.

As a result of USAID support, rural tourism business owners have formed a tightly knit network, which is the basis for sustainable social and economic development in the regions. The ecotourism concept promotes the environment conservation by responsible travel to natural areas and improves the well-being of local residents by creating new jobs and contributing to the local infrastructure development. It directly benefits local economic growth, and performs educational, natural and cultural preservation functions.

USAID assistance supports the development of green routes shaped as ecotourism clusters, concentrating the set of activities and services organized as an ecotourism supply chain. They are especially efficient in rural development, as they encourage local citizens to take on entrepreneurship activities, providing various services to tourists and as a result, work and income opportunities to a wider variety of local community members.

Last updated: June 10, 2014

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