Bringing ecotourism and volunteerism together: a Case of the Great Baikal Trail
Situated in south-east Siberia, the 3.15-million-ha Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world. It contains 20% of the world's total unfrozen freshwater reserve. Known as the 'Galapagos of Russia', its age and isolation have produced one of the world's richest and most unusual freshwater faunas, which is of exceptional value to evolutionary science (UNESCO, 1996). Apart from being a natural wonder of the outstanding universal value, Baikal Lake also attracts thousands of tourists annually. Touristic exploration is present at both sides of the lake, i.e. in Buryatia and Irkutsk Oblast. As the most visited areas around Baikal are at the same time special protected natural areas, development of environmentally friendly infrastructure at National Parks and outside would be a reasonable solution to a mass-tourism-caused challenge. With that in mind Great Baikal Trail – a former interregional NGO and today an Association of Leadership, Ecological Education, and Trailbuilding has been built environmentally sensitive trails around Baikal Lake for the last 15 years. Through its diverse projects in environmental education and volunteerism it also aims to cultivate social responsibility in the modern society. Not only GBT’s projects evolve around environment that is a primary field within the discourse of sustainable tourism development, but they also clearly reflect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities. Thus, the local region is a home to Buryats, the largest ethnic minority in Siberia. Every trailbuilding project involves introduction to this culture, including cuisine and traditions. Hence, such projects raise awareness about the unique local population domestically and internationally.