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Developing a recreation area - FLAG Lake Võrtsjärv - EE

The main aim of the project was to develop the tourism potential of Jõesuu, an area in the north of the Lake Võrtsjärv region, by developing fishing tourism and building on the area´s fishing culture and traditions. A supportive entrepreneurial environment was established and, with the help of fishing–oriented tourism products, visitors were attracted to the area. These tourism products have included trips in an old sailing boat (“kale-boat“) and demonstrations of traditional fishing methods and tools.


The Lake Võrtsjärv region is made up of seven municipalities bordering the lake. The municipalities are situated in the territories of three different counties: Tartu, Valga and Viljandi. The population of the Võrtsjärve region is around 18 000, with a population density of approximately 6.7 persons/km². An important feature of the area is the presence of the lake, the second largest in Estonia, covering an area of 270 km². This supports the local fisheries sector, which includes 45 licence owners and 65 professional fishermen.

Thanks to its historical, cultural and natural assets, the region has many potential visitor attractions. However, before the project it was not actively promoted as a tourist destination and its tourism infrastructure was underdeveloped. Because of this, local entrepreneurs had little interest in investing in tourism products or services or in raising standards. Many potential tourism attractions were poorly presented and were sometimes inaccessible. Võrtsjärve’s nature reserves, which form part of Estonia’s Natura 2000 network, attracted large numbers of hikers and campers, but their movement was unregulated and sometimes caused disturbance to wildlife and/or pollution of the natural environment.

Project objectives

The main objective of the project was to develop the tourism potential of Jõesuu by establishing an integrated, varied and sustainable network of visitor services, and by developing activities on the waterway. The ultimate aim was to create one of the most attractive tourism destinations in the south of Estonia. Specific objectives included:

> Making the area of Jõesuu an attractive and environmentally sustainable tourist destination

> Preserving and harnessing the cultural and historical assets of the Võrtsjärve region

> Developing the image of Võrtsjärve as an attractive tourism destination and raising its profile at international level (promotion, information dissemination etc.)

> Increasing visitor awareness of Võrtsjärve’s natural environment and the threats it faces

> Improving access to the Jõesuu recreational area

> Creating a supportive environment for entrepreneurs

> Facilitating navigation and cruising on Lake Võrtsjärv (e.g. by developing marinas or berthing areas)

> Creating a supportive environment for hiking tourism in the region (e.g. information stands, toilets, signageetc.)

Project description

The project follows the implementation of a previous development plan for the Jõesuu Recreation Area, which saw an investment of €127 800, including the construction of a visitor centre with a watchtower, a caravan park, campsite and pier. These projects were supported financially by the EU and the EIC (Environmental Investment Centre). The interior of the visitor centre was also equipped with the help of the LEADER programme (€76 694).

However, certain work still needed to be carried out and this is where Axis 4 came in. The project included a clean-up of the coastal area, the planting of hedges and the erection of waymarks and traffic signs. Additional buildings for visitors were required (booths for swimmers, bicycle ranks), canoes (for renting), and the kaleboat, “Paula”, needed certain repairs and maintenance. Safety problems also had to be addressed (fire-extinguishers, lifejackets etc).

The kale-boat, in particular, was intended to capitalise on the area´s fishing heritage by demonstrating traditional fishing methods to tourists on board, telling stories and jokes and presenting an overview of the local fishing area, Lake Võrtsjärv. During the kale-boat tour, tourists will be offered smoked fish to eat and will also learn how fish is cleaned and smoked.

Main actors involved 

The project leader was the Võrtsjärv Foundation, which was established in 2000 to organise the joint planning of the development of the Lake Võrtsjärv region. The Foundation has two staff members; a director and a tourism coordinator, and its activities are planned and overseen by a seven-member board, nominated by the seven municipalities bordering Lake Võrtsjärv. The manager of the Axis 4 project was the director of the Foundation, Jaanika Kaljuvee. 

Project outcomes

The project was an additional step in the overall development of the Võrtsjärv region as an internationally recognised and competitive tourism destination. It also helped to establish a more supportive environment for entrepreneurship and to raise living standards in the region.

In general, the project had the greatest impact on the following interest groups:

1. Consumers of tourism services in Võrtsjärv region and those interested in nature and culture benefited from:

a. The availability of a wider range of services;

b. An improvement in the quality of the services available;

c. The development of fishing-oriented tourism services;

d. Better access to information.

2. Service providers benefited from:

a. New infrastructure which encourages investment and entrepreneurship;

b. Better marketing and an improved image of the region, which has also promoted better cooperation between different actors. In particular, the project has helped to establish a basis for better cooperation between the seven local authorities around Võrtsjärv and has made it easier for them to jointly implement development plans for the region.

3. Fishermen:

The investments enable fishermen to offer their services and products as the project should attract more tourists and visitors to the area. Different services and products are mixed and combined and fishermen can offer their products on the kale-boat trip.

The success of the project activities was demonstrated by the fact that the number of the visitors to the Lake Võrtsjärv Visitor Centre increased from 3 990 in 2007 to 7 829 in 2010. Of these, 70% were Estonian tourists. In addition, 2 490 people sailed in the kale-boat in 2010, compared with 2 100 in 2007, and two jobs were created and maintained in the Võrtsjärv Foundation.

The project was the winner of the contest, “Undiscovered treasures of Estonia 2010”, in recognition of its focus on cooperation and sustainable tourism, the quality of its tourism products, and its identified need for a long term tourism strategy. It was also recognised as a “European Destination of Excellence” in 2010.

Overcoming obstacles: key lessons 

The project highlighted the importance of process for the success of the actions undertaken. The coming together and joint working of the different actors concerned helped to promote a better awareness of the potential of the area and to develop a cooperative mindset. This process took time and resources but ultimately it helped the different sectors involved to develop a common perspective on the development of tourism in the area. This cooperation meant that human and financial resources could be combined and used more efficiently. It also helped to ensure that a wider range of services were developed and that the uniqueness of the region was better expressed, which in turn contributed to the success of the marketing activities.

Future prospects

During the project it became clear that in addition to the development of tourism products and infrastructure, marketing is also necessary to establish a successful tourism area. The need for a marketing strategy and plan has, therefore, been identified. To inform this, research will be conducted to learn more about existing and potential target groups. The development activities initiated by the project will also be continued in the future, with basic financing provided by Lake Võrtsjärv Foundation.


This project represents a good example of how an area’s fishing “story” (fishermen, the kaleboat, fish, fishing tools and facilities, the life of a fisherman, and a fishing village) can form the basis of a tourism development strategy. However, key to the success of such a venture is the need for cooperation between the actors concerned, which can help to ensure a diversified product that is developed and promoted in a coherent way.

The project demonstrates that a lot can be done with minimal resources once those involved are prepared to start small and remain focused on a longer term goal (“big rivers emerge from small streams”). Small investments for the purchase of a lifejackets might seem unimportant at first, but they helped to establish the basic requirements that had allowed subsequent activities to take place.The project also shows how an active project team, following proper procedures, can successfully implement a project and effectively manage the project finances.

Total cost and EFF contribution

Total Project cost: € 24 232

  • Axis 4 contribution: € 18 174 (75%)
  • Lake Võrtsjärv Foundation € 6 058

The Võrtsjärv Visitor Centre is now managed by the Võrtsjärve Foundation and the income from the centre’s commercial activities (the sale of souvenirs, renting rooms, kaleboat trips, etc) has helped it to become a profitable ,stand-alone enterprise.

Project information

Title: Developing a recreation area in Jõesuu

Duration: 1 year (Feb 2010 – Feb 2011)

Case study date: April 2011

Project promoter:  Võrtsjärve Sihtasutus (Lake Võrtsjärv Foundation)

15 Kruusa, Elva 61 503, Estonia

Lake Võrtsjärv Visitor Centre - Jõesuu recreation village Kolga-Jaani MunicipalityViljandi CountyEstonia


Vortsjarv FLAG factsheet