The Heritage Trails project - initiated jointly by Ecotourism Ltd, ECOVAST and PRISMA - was designed to address that challenge. It was funded by the tourism directorate (DG XXIII) of the European Commmission, and by the governments and local authorities of the two pilot regions chosen for the project, Dolenjska/Bela krajina in Slovenia and the Dobroudja region of Bulgaria.
The project team defined a Heritage Trail as "a regional network of natural and cultural heritage sites which is created within a well-defined product identity, in order to support an interesting and varied tourist visit of up to one week". In each of the two regions, the team studied a range of heritage sites; identified those sites which might attract visitiors; and worked closely with the landowners and with local people to decide whether the sites had the capacity to receive visitors (if a site did not have the capacity, it was omitted from the Trail).
The team then undertook a detailed marketing study, to establish which kinds of visitors might be attracted to the region; prepared an outline of a Trail which might be marketed; undertook intensive consultation with local authorities and others to complete an agreed Trail; and helped to create a Heritage Trail Association. This Association is responsible for the setting up and marketing of the Trail. The project team gave detailed advice on standards and product quality to the hotels and other enterprises who will service the Trail.
The Slovenian Trail was ready for marketing at the World Tourism Fair in London in November 1996. Already, this Trail has attracted substantial interest among potential visitors. The Trail in Bulgaria was completed in summer 1997, and was marketed from that autumn.
The project included an International Workshop held in Slovenia in April 1997, aimed at encouraging similar initiatives throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Nearly 100 delegates came from 22 European countries, including 11 countries of Central and Eastern Europe. They expressed strong interest in the concept. It became clear that Heritage Trails could have relevance for many countries, and particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe. The subsequent initiatives in Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia are described in News from ECOVAST.