Welcome to Uzundere, the Secret Gem of Çoruh Valley
Firdevs is a young woman living in Uzundere, a small rural town in the Coruh Valley in Eastern Anatolia, Turkey. After leaving her hometown for five years to find a job, she found an opportunity to return back home. Firdevs and her friends now work in a women-led association to create an added-value with their home-made products and create new opportunities with increasing tourism activities.
Despite the natural richness and the diverse cultural values of Uzundere and its environs, alternative rural income resources- like rural tourism- did not develop in the region. Lack of entrepreneurial spirit, mechanisms developed to support entrepreneurs or community based structures hindered development of a local tourism sector.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) initiated Tourism Development in Eastern Anatolia Project (TDEAP) in 2007, in partnership with Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism and a private sector company Efes.
The main objective of the project is to make Çoruh Valley one of the prominent destinations of alternative tourism and provide support to the efforts of enhancing life standards of the people of the region with an increase in employment and income level, while building a good example for alternative tourism development. Uzundere is one of the three pilot districts selected for this initiative.
- Three new local NGOs (Tourism/Youth & Sports/Women) and one local cooperative established
- 25 family pensions (B&Bs), 128 new beds, 8 new tourism facilities established
- Participation of women to economic and social life increased. One ceramic atelier established. More than 50 women became home based producers, local cuisine servers at the restaurants, ceramic souvenirs manufacturers, cut-flower producers and family pension operators.
- 350 km of trekking route, 280 km of mountain biking route, 60 km rafting route in three different rivers, bird watching points and routes, 5 historical artefacts, two flora and one wild fruit inventories and local unique gastronomy (local recipes) compiled with the partnership of local community and authorities
- 10 different brochures and booklets, two websites prepared depicting the natural and cultural assets of the region (datur.com / choruh.com)
- 15 new tourism agencies have included Coruh Valley into their tour programmes and six existing agencies have increased the period of stay in the region.
- In order to ensure sustainability of the activities started within TDEAP, project’s local partners initiated 8 different development projects funded by national and international funds with a value of US$ 1.2 million.
When the project started, there was not even one accommodation facility in Uzundere serving for tourism. Besides, daily facilities like restaurant and camping fields were quite insufficient. Although local authorities had interest in developing tourism, development was considered to be a problem of physical execution. Efforts for human and social capacity were neglected.
UNDP implemented a strategy for improvement and promotion of tourism products on the one hand and community-level capacity development through participatory methods on the other.
Specific labour-intensive and small-scale capacity development activities were supported including;
· Training of local guides for outdoor activities (trekking, hiking, biking, rafting, canoeing, bird watching, butterfly watching, photosafari),
· Women vendors in creating new income generating activities (producing natural home-made food, flowers, souvenirs etc.),
· Establishment of family pensions (B&Bs),
· Improvement of service quality and labor skills (restaurants, local coffeehouses, camping fields).
UNDP’s role in this initiative is a catalyst role by bringing in national and local partners together where local actors are usually detached from the central government. This role also entails identification of the need and provision of technical support and international knowledge to effectively leverage tourism for local economic development.
The Project’s government partner Ministry of Culture and Tourism sees the project as the first important implementation of “community based tourism development approach” in Turkey. They supported this project with the aim to develop a model which could be replicated and improved.
The private sector partner, Efes provided financial support to the project and did a comprehensive promotion of the Çoruh Valley and its tourism potential.
The project’s local partners consisted of local authority, civil society organizations and local tourism establishments all of which undertook various critical roles in execution of the project activities and ensuring sustainability.
Back in Uzundere, Firdevs became the leader of the newly established women-led local association in 2009. She has been operating the ceramics gift atelier since 2011. Firdevs made an appearance on 11 November 2011’s “One Day on Earth” the documentary movie shootings, saying “I have a job now; women in Uzundere have jobs now.”