By Marie Fischborn, IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme.

The first World National Parks CEOs’ Forum – the title certainly raised expectations; so did the fact that the Korea National Park Service, which organized the event, handed out Swarovski crystal-decorated USB keys – something I had not expected to be taking home from a nature conservation conference.

Dressed up and curious, I headed to this workshop feeling slightly out of place amidst 150 heads of park agencies and foundations, government officials and a few high-level representatives of private companies.

They assembled to ponder the question “how to connect people with nature” – what may sound somewhat vague at first, was an attempt to “milk from the participants every last drop of knowledge and experience”, as facilitator Ed Gillespie put it, to develop ways of increasing awareness of nature through parks and other protected areas.

Based on the draft “Jeju Declaration”, some good ideas were raised: to focus on youth and motivate children to visit a protected area; move away from ‘doom and gloom’ communications when talking about nature conservation.
 
Someone said “All you CEOs, commit to bringing a 10-year old to the World Parks Congress (in 2014)”, while someone else suggested “take your president to dinner and do it in a park”.

While this kind of suggestion might be based on “blue sky assumptions”, “what would we do if there were no restrictions?”, it marked the more inspiring moments of the evening.

Other participants seemed to repeat what has been said many times before, pointing the finger at the usual suspects and staying with “Convention on Biological Diversity Action Plan on Protected Areas/learning network/ecosystem services” speak.

Rationality-based arguments are probably to be expected from a group of people who are mostly scientists though. It’s probably worthwhile to ask folks different to the ones that are always being asked, otherwise, we’ll always hear the same answers.

So how to turn the “Jeju Declaration”, which was passed unanimously, into something concrete, namely a global campaign to motivate urban people to visit protected areas?

The baton now needs to be handed to communication and marketing experts who know how to sell ideas – in this case, it’s selling to a young urban audience the idea that visiting a protected area is worth the effort.