Lahemaa Community Innovation Lab

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EMU Workshop 3.jpg

About the Lahemaa Community Innovation Lab

We (Roger Evans and Tarmo Pilving from EMÜ and Kaisa Linno from NGO Ökokuller) started with the community workshops in January 2019.

During the winter and spring (2019) five community workshops (January-May, one workshop in each month) were conducted.

Areas of Focus

Word map of identified challenges

A number of challenges had previously been identified, and the decision was to develop the Lahemaa CIL to address the following challenges:

  • Lack of occupational opportunities
  • High seasonality
  • Competition from companies that are based in Tallinn
  • Restrictions on land use
  • Lack of collaboration, cooperation and partnerships between state, locals and municipalities
  • Lack of rural and recreational tourism coordination between different stakeholders
  • High dependency on EU projects
  • Local entrepreneurs lack a number of skills: online marketing, social media content creation, guiding, law, making their services suitable for different target groups etc.


EMU Workshop 2.jpg

The community workshops were aimed at:

  • Identifying the challenges in Lahemaa National Park
  • Identifying the challenges facing local stakeholders
  • Facilitating the learning process (for both community members and students of EMÜ)
  • Encouraging the generation of business ideas
  • Encouraging social interaction between local stakeholders and EMÜ students
  • Familiarising EMÜ students with Lahemaa and the local community with the university
  • Finding summer placement hosts for the students

Lahemaa Community Workshop in Kolgaküla Community House

EMU Workshop.jpg

Almost 50 local stakeholders attended the first workshop and the group consisted of mostly local micro-entrepreneurs, officials of the Environmental Board and State Forest Management Centre, a representative of the local newspaper and the head of the local government; 10 EMÜ nature tourism students were also present.

During the first workshops, local challenges were identified and grouped them into four categories:

  1. Marketing and local image
  2. Collaboration
  3. Workforce
  4. Seasonality

Workshops on Idea Implementation

During the later workshops, we took a more personalised approach and set our focus on the needs of each entrepreneur who wanted to develop an idea through the innovation lab. This then progressed on to working with entrepreneurs who wanted student help during the summer.

These enterprises are:

  1. Tammistu Sheep Farm: a small family farm maintaining semi-natural coastal meadows and wants to develop small-scale family tourism
  2. Muuksi Stable: a horse farm also focusing on family tourism
  3. Kärka Accommodation: home accommodation
  4. Viinistu Hotel: one of the largest hotels in the area that also focuses on nature tours and harbour services
  5. Kolga Manor: an art gallery

Lahemaa Mobile Tourism Info Cafe (LMIC)

Opening of the LMIC in August 2019 with EMÜ staff and local stakeholders

During the 2018/2019 period, the first Estonian mobile tourism info cafe was built. The LMIC was co-created by EMÜ and NGO Ökokuller. The mobile info cafe is a place for EMÜ students in their summer placements and local youth for learning entrepreneurship. It will offer local services and products and information to Lahemaa National Park visitors. The LMIC will be fully operational in the summer of 2020.

Services Being Developed What the LMIC Will Deliver
  • Marketing & area information point
  • Local food & souvenirs
  • Café & shop
  • Environmental education
  • Classroom in nature
  • Advertising of local services
  • Service provision point
  • Bringing providers together
  • Coordination point
  • Student hands-on experience
  • EMÜ Student placement site
  • Business planning support for entrepreneurs

EMÜ Student Summer Placements

EMU Summer Placement.jpg
EMÜ students helped to organise a guided early morning sunrise hike

Five EMÜ students helped local entrepreneurs during the summer of 2019. They were involved in a range of tourism and business development activities including:

  • Marketing
  • Social media content creation
  • Guiding
  • Sales
  • Making photos and videos
  • Building
  • Repairs
  • Mowing

During the summer the students learned many new things including:

  • In small enterprises you must do everything with your own hands
  • Previous experience is extremely important
  • How people behave when they are taking a tour
  • People from different nationalities behave differently in nature
  • Previous knowledge helps to implement ideas more quickly

Lahemaa Tourism Association

During the autumn / winter of 2019 the idea of a community-led tourism organisation that would include all the stakeholders of the whole national park and the buffer zone around it, was born.

After much discussion and planning in March 2020 Lahemaa Tourism Association (LMA) was registered just before the difficulties caused by the arrival of the Corona virus in the country.

Members of the Lahemaa CIL and Tourism Association on a field visit to Hara Port

Celebrating the Day of the Parks

Due to the 2020 Corona virus pandemic, tourism almost ceased throughout the world and for months most events were either cancelled or transferred online. But, when Estonian restrictions became less severe, the Lahemaa Tourism Association took the initiative and used the “Day of the Parks”, a traditional European annual event (which this year was celebrated online in most countries), for a campaign to open the post-corona season. Other protected areas in Estonia were invited to participate and the campaign became national. On 24th May 60 European Day of Parks themed events were organised where more than 770 guests were able to visit 35 protected areas in small groups with local guides on hiking, canoeing and other programmes. In Lahemaa, a dozen hikes took place, from shorter cultural history walks to longer Nordic walking tours. Other activities included manorial and cinematography heritage, management of semi-natural communities and appreciation of edible flowers. Local restaurants were open, some offering take-away picnics.

Visitors enjoying a walk on the Day of Parks

Video: European Day of Parks in Lahemaa National Park

Development workshops

Workshop training and discussion activities continued throughout 2020 and into 2021 whenever the Corona restrictions allowed, topics included were all based on member feedback of perceived needs and included the following:

  • digital marketing
  • product development and packaging
  • Lahemaa development
  • creating tourism packages
  • creating a webpage
  • creating the persona of Lahemaa visitor
  • introducing the persona
  • introducing the ViSEnet project learning materials
  • introducing the “It`s safe here” sign
  • creating Lahemaa visuals

Green Destinations programme

Tourism awoke in summer 2020 and CIL/LMA entrepreneurs in Lahemaa were busier than usual that year. Lahemaa Tourism Association decided to take part in a 2-year Green Destinations pilot programme organised by the Enterprise Estonia. We have now reached the first phase and Lahemaa has been announced as one of the TOP100 global sustainable destinations!

Partner projects and further information