“Tourism is not just about history, gloss and glamour: it is a service that companies provide. Many small enterprises manage their business not based on knowledge, but at the call of their hearts, which does not always have a positive impact on the quality of services provided by tourism companies.”
George Stampoulis, Head of the consortium of project implementers (Greece)
Even a family restaurant would perform better thanks to a business plan. Poor management in small businesses is a common problem for the countries of the Black Sea basin. Take for example tourism: it has an incredibly positive impact on employment and income, it is one of the fastest-growing sectors, and it still has a strong growth prospect. But in terms of numbers. The sector is dominated by many micro-enterprises with low managerial performance, which affects their competitiveness and viability, and therefore the attractiveness of the area. Many owners of small and medium businesses keep making common mistakes: they do not understand the importance of a strategy, of planning, of customers segmentation, etc. Quite often, owners of SMEs cannot explain the key advantages of their services compared to competitors. And here comes the Certour II project – implemented within the Black Sea Basin ENI CBC Programme – with the idea of supporting SMEs to become more competitive and successful thanks to improved managerial skills.
The main objective of the project is therefore to help companies understand and adopt professional management models. Thanks to this initiative, in each participating country 20 small enterprises have been selected to access mentoring support. In fact, the project involves the development and implementation of management tools, the creation of an electronic training platform, the organisation of study visits, and the establishment of a network of companies that could continue to exchange experiences.
Across the different countries, the profile of the target group is quite similar: they are small business-owners aged between 35 and 50, they often have a university degree, but they do not know how to apply that knowledge in real business. And it is difficult for them to recognise the importance of good management, because they cannot see immediate tangible results.
Here experts – mentors – play a huge role, as they are the ones who support companies in business planning, diagnostics, and evaluation of results. During the project, each mentor meets in person the owner/manager of the mentee SME at least once, because it is very important to establish trusted relationship. But the experts must be careful not to perform the work instead of their trainees!
Mentors are likewise beneficiaries of the activities: they gain new experience and improve their level of knowledge. “In the long term, the project will also benefit tourists, who will receive higher quality services – says George Stampoulis, representative of the lead beneficiary – So, we can say that this project is making a lot of people wiser and happier”. The initiative has in fact resulted in the creation of green tourism clusters, the largest of which are the Green Ring of Melitopol and the Smirnov united territorial community. Before the Certour II project – and its predecessor Certour I – the Zaporizhzhia oblast in Ukraine was not actually perceived as a touristic region, but now it is one of the popular green destinations in Ukraine.
Among the additional benefits, Certour II is helping small and medium Ukrainian businesses to leave the shadow economy. “Before the project, many small entrepreneurs did not know how to register a business, how to choose the right tax system – says Volodymyr Stepanenko, head of the partner organisation in Ukraine – They were afraid of working officially because they believed in the myth that taxes for small businesses are unbearable”. Another positive – and unforeseen – result of the project was the successful participation of Zaporizhzhia SMEs at a governmental programme for cheap loans: the enterprises which had joined the project were able to develop and illustrate particularly good business plans, and they were all granted the advantageous loans.
Like everywhere else, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has created a big challenge for the implementation of the project, which originally had envisaged a lot of face-to-face communication. Activities were quickly shifted online, and the funds spared from trips were allocated to different actions, like increasing the number of mentors or improving the mass media promotion.
Now, after a Certour I and a Certour II, the partners have already an idea about a possible future Certour III. Volodymyr Stepanenko sees a big potential in developing medical and wellness tourism not only in Zaporizhzhia but in other areas as well. “The project will not lose its relevance in the new programming period – concludes Stampoulis – also because the accumulated management improvements will require capitalisation. This project is not the end or even the beginning of the end. It is probably just the end of the beginning…”