Sustainable Rural Tourism on Saaremaa. Developing a Marketing Plan

Master's Thesis, 2011

103 Pages, Grade: 64%


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table of Figures

List of Abbreviations

Aim and objectives

Research philosophy and approach
Choice of research design
Construction of the method
Data Analysis

Literature review and matrices
Sustainable Rural Tourism
Tourism on Islands
Destination Marketing

Product Analysis
Introduction to Saaremaa
Brief history of Saaremaa
Tourism audit of Saaremaa
Current tourism management plan of Saaremaa

Position Analysis
Current Tourism Situation of Saaremaa
Market Position of Saaremaa
SWOT Analysis

Prospect Analysis
Customer Analysis
Future Customers

Marketing Plan
Current Marketing Situation
Marketing Goal, Objectives and Strategies

Future Research



This dissertation aimed to develop a marketing plan for sustainable rural tourism on the island of Saaremaa in Estonia. In order to achieve this, the current product of Saaremaa, its market position and the present and future customers were analysed. As all the required information on this topic could be found in the already existing literature, there was no need to do primary research. Secondary research was thus the chosen method to gather information.

As the concept of sustainable rural tourism consists in avoiding negative impacts on the natural environment of the destination, on the host community and its culture, the literature often mentions the carrying capacity, which should not be exceeded. Islands especially have to consider their natural carrying capacity when offering tourism because these destinations are spatially limited. Obviously, there is a contradiction between sustainable tourism and abiding by the carrying capacity on the one hand and attracting more tourists on the other. The challenge for this dissertation was therefore to find out if marketing for sustainable rural tourism on Saaremaa should be done and if yes, how it could be realised.

The main body of this work reveals the rich history of Saaremaa, its intact nature and great biodiversity, its natural and man-made attractions as well as the local culture, the traditions and the customs of the islanders. The product analysis thus showed that Saaremaa has a great potential for sustainable rural tourism. The Tourism Management Plan of the island, which was developed in 2007, also supports the further development of tourism in a sustainable manner. Additionally, different stakeholders, such as politicians, business owners and locals working in the Tourist Board, are in favour of promoting sustainable tourist activities on Saaremaa. On the other hand, it was found that tourism on Saaremaa is highly seasonal and restricted to the summer months June to September. On average, tourists only stay around 2.2 nights and revenue from tourism could be higher if the length of stay was increased. To solve these problems and to make Saaremaa more competitive, a Unique Selling Proposition was developed: nostalgic tourism. Tourists will stay on farms and experience life of the ‘good old times’. They learn about the culture of the island and live in harmony with nature. Especially in winter, when the days are shorter, visitors have more time for cultural workshops than in summer when the whole day is spent outside.

The conclusion of the research was that marketing of sustainable rural tourism on Saaremaa is acceptable and should be done if it meets the needs of the stakeholders, if the natural carrying capacity of the island is respected and if the seasonality problem is solved. Nostalgic tourism fulfils all these aspects and marketing the new product will not only attract more ‘sustainable tourists’ to Saaremaa but also make them stay longer. Since this will lead to a permanent capacity utilisation of the accommodation and a regular income all year-round, it will culminate in higher revenue from tourism. The recommendations for the Saaremaa Tourist Board are thus the implementation of the developed marketing plan and its constant evaluation. Future research should be conducted in 2013 to see if the aims of the Tourism Management Plan will have been achieved.

Table of Figures










List of Abbreviations

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“The islands off the Estonian coast are virtual dreamlands, unlike anything in Europe. There are more than a thousand of them lining the Estonian coast. They are retreats from a fast-paced city life and have a rather laid-back, friendly air about them. Together they form a vast and nearly untouched nature reserve, unique in the Baltic Sea” (Muhu Tourism Association, 2005, para. 1).

This citation highlights perfectly the attributes of Saaremaa, the biggest Estonian island in the Baltic Sea. Being on Saaremaa, people can leave behind their stressful city life and calm down in the intact nature with diverse flora and fauna. They can immense themselves in the culture of the island and experience old traditions and customs that are still living on. Visitors to Saaremaa are ensnared by the enchanting atmosphere throughout the island. Tourism on Saaremaa should thus not destroy this atmosphere but instead maintain and use the cultural and natural elements that make Saaremaa so special. The only form of tourism that is therefore appropriate for the island is sustainable tourism. The tourism activities on Saaremaa also form an important source of income for the local population, but as tourism on Saaremaa is still in its fledgling stages, this revenue could be increased. More tourists have to come to Saaremaa but it is important to respect the natural carrying capacity of the island. It is therefore the biggest challenge to convince tourists to visit the island also in spring, autumn and winter, not only in the summer months. These are the reasons why the author will develop a marketing plan for sustainable rural tourism on Saaremaa.

Aim and objectives

The aim of this Master’s dissertation is to develop a marketing plan for sustainable rural tourism on the island of Saaremaa in Estonia.

In order to achieve this, the following objectives have been investigated:

- To analyse the current product of Saaremaa
- To analyse the current market position of Saaremaa
- To analyse the prospect for Saaremaa
- To create a marketing mix for Saaremaa


First and foremost, the topic of this dissertation was chosen because of the author’s personal interest in the development of tourism on the island. The author had the possibility to take part in an international Summer University in Mustjala on Saaremaa in August 2010 for two weeks. The topic of this summer camp was sustainable rural tourism and the 22 students who took part, came from Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Germany, the UK and the USA. In the mornings, there were lectures about the topic and in the afternoon, the students had relevant fieldtrips or workshops. The group stayed on a farm in the countryside and the meals were prepared using locally produced ingredients. In this way, the author had the possibility to experience the local culture and nature, to meet local people and to hear many stories about Saaremaa. The author experienced sustainable rural tourism on Saaremaa and the enchanting atmosphere of the island caught her attention immediately. On the other hand, she learned a lot about the tourism situation of Saaremaa from the destination’s point of view and for this reason, she wanted to take part in the future development of this destination.

Saaremaa definitely has a lot of potential for tourism in the future. Apart from its atmosphere that nobody can escape from, it has many natural and man-made attractions to offer that will be presented later on in this work. As mentioned above, tourism on the island is still in its developing stage but Saaremaa has perfect conditions for sustainable nature- and culture-based tourism in rural areas. Sustainable tourism is an emerging trend worldwide, which will continue into the future, and every year, it experiences increasing tourist numbers (Weaver, 2006). The combination of the budding destination and the auspicious form of tourism was the perfect starting point for a Master’s dissertation. It was decided to develop a marketing plan for Saaremaa because the potential mentioned above cannot stay idle and at the moment, the island promotes tourism but does not have a proper marketing plan.

Additionally, the literature review has shown that a lot of written work exists on the general topic of sustainable rural tourism, also about tourism on islands and destination marketing, but there is no literature that combines all three topics. There is hardly anything to find on marketing a sustainable tourism product and if so, then not on islands. It was difficult to find points of view on the contradiction of attracting more tourists on the one hand and the sustainability concept of the destination on the other hand. It was also found that the case studies used for sustainable rural tourism do not take place in Eastern Europe or similar destinations. The islands chosen in the books and journals are mainly tropical or warm-water islands that have different characteristics and tourist attractions to cold-water islands such as those in the Baltic Sea. Saaremaa therefore is not investigated in specialist literature on the topic. This gap needed to be filled.

The topic of this dissertation is relevant for the Saaremaa Tourist Board and the island’s population. They can use the marketing plan and put it into operation. With the successful implementation of this plan, those people can profit from it directly and may achieve better living conditions.


This chapter explains and justifies the research method that has been used in this dissertation. To begin with, the research philosophy and the approach of the author have to be looked at. Afterwards, it will be reasoned why certain types of information have been used and others rejected. An assessment scheme for the literature proves the information’s thorough investigation. Exclusion and inclusion criteria for selecting the literature will be given and the sampling methods used will be discussed (Roberts, 2010).

Research philosophy and approach

Before starting with the actual methodology, it has to be decided which research philosophy will be adopted. The research philosophy contains assumptions of how people perceive and understand the world. These assumptions also affect the research strategies and methods and therefore the way in which research is approached (Saunders et al., 2009). According to Easterby-Smith et al. (2002), there are three main reasons why it is useful to understand the philosophical issues. First of all, it helps to clarify the research design. The researcher knows which evidences he or she has to look for, how to interpret it and also how this provides the answer to the research question. The second reason is that the researcher knows the right research design for him or her. This avoids needless waste of time while doing research and helps to choose the right direction from the beginning. The third reason Easterby-Smith cites is that the researcher can identify and then create research designs that he or she has never experienced before. This helps to adapt the right research design for different research questions and knowledge structures (Easterby-Smith, 2002). These reasons make clear that it is very important to know the researcher’s own philosophy. The research philosophy of the author of this dissertation is realism. This is the happy medium between positivism and interpretivism. The realist believes that the objective truth exists but that human beings apprehend it subjectively. First of all, the realist is convinced that the real world exists independently from people’s perceptions and their opinions about it. Secondly, he or she also examines how people acquire knowledge, believing “that this knowledge does not have a literal one-to-one correspondence to reality” (Hiebert, 1999, p. 69). The realist uses a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. Quantitative data is “information that can be counted or expressed numerically” (Cherry, 2010, para. 1). Qualitative data on the other hand describes “things in terms of categorisations” (Cherry, 2010, para. 3). Quantitative is therefore the hard and qualitative the soft data; quantitative is concerned with numbers and qualitative with words. Both types of data are necessary for writing this dissertation. The research approach used in this piece of work is inductive. This means that first, the data will be analysed and then a theory will be developed out of this data in the end (Engel & Schutt, 2005). The nature of this research is descriptive, which means that it is aimed at “describing the incidence or prevalence of a phenomenon or to be predictive about certain outcomes” (Blessing & Chakrabarti, 2009, p. 76).

Choice of research design

According to Kumar (2005, p. 7), “research is a process for collecting, analysing and interpreting information to answer questions.” All questions that were posed while writing this dissertation could be answered by reviewing the already existing literature. The literature review in the next chapter will show that there was a wide variety of secondary data available on sustainable rural tourism, tourism on islands in general and on developing a marketing plan for a destination. From 1st August 2010 until 15th August 2010, the author took part in an International Summer University on sustainable rural tourism in Mustjala on Saaremaa. During the lectures of this summer camp, particular information about tourism on Saaremaa as well as its management and marketing could be collected. Lecturers from Kuressaare College of Tallinn University of Technology and guest lecturers from Saare County Government were on site and willing to give further information about the current tourism situation on the island, which was needed for the main body of this piece of work at hand.

As mentioned above, secondary data on the different sub-themes of this dissertation were available and the acquired knowledge, which was found in the literature, could not have been obtained through primary research. It was therefore inevitable to go for secondary research. This method also had obvious advantages for the author: it saved time and money (Stewart and Kamins, 1993). Of course, the secondary data also had to be accessed, read, understood and evaluated, but this was still less time-consuming than planning, performing and analysing the initial research itself (Patzer, 1995). Secondary data also gave a good overview of the topic under examination and provided higher quality data than primary research because the reliability of the latter one can be questioned. If an interview had been conducted or questionnaires been analysed, the subjectivity of the researcher could have influenced the results. Return rates for questionnaires could have been low, which could have altered the outcomes as well (Green, 2000). Generally, primary research should only be done, if there is a gap in the literature, which cannot be filled by analysing a special case study, and if special information is nowhere available. As this was not the case for this dissertation, only secondary research was chosen. While evaluating the literature, the author had to ensure that the data was still up-to-date and that it was tailored to answer the posed questions. In order to be useful, the information also had to be detailed enough. The data therefore always had to be assessed critically and checked for its reliability (Hulley et al., 2007).

Construction of the method

All types of secondary data, which were helpful for writing this dissertation and which were accessible have been deployed. Books were used to access information on sustainable rural tourism, on the research methodology, on tourism on islands and on destination marketing because the definitions and the theory on these topics are still up-to-date, even if they are already a few years old. For the topic of sustainable rural tourism, it was even important to see how the definition has changed over the last 20 years and how new aspects came into consideration. Being more specific and newer than books, journals and reports on sustainable rural tourism, on tourism on islands and for special information on Saaremaa have also been used. Certain reliable websites, for example from the Saare County Government or the Saaremaa Tourist Board have been accessed to gain specific information about the tourism situation on Saaremaa. Additionally, statistics published by the Estonian Tourist Board or the Kuressaare Tourist Information Centre were needed to find out the exact tourist numbers of Saaremaa over the last few years. Since the author had the opportunity to visit Saaremaa in August 2010, collected leaflets and information brochures could be used to conduct the tourism audit of the island. During this summer camp on Saaremaa, the lecturers gave further useful information about tourism on Saaremaa. With some of the lecturers and experts, email contact proceeded after the camp because some of the information from the Saare County Government and other regional organisations was either not available online or it was only available in the Estonian language and could therefore not be found.


In order to get the maximum information out of the secondary data available, different sampling methods have been used while writing this dissertation. In the beginning, the maximum variation sampling method was applied to sample the diversity of opinions and theories. It was used to get an overview of the different topics of the literature review. It was important to find out how sustainable rural tourism is defined and seen by different authors and where they might differentiate themselves from each other; whether the definition has changed over the years, how rural is defined and whether tourism can be sustainable at all. This method was also useful to find out what role tourism plays for the economy of an island, why tourists are so attracted by islands and which problems islands might have to face. The maximum variation sampling method was the best to begin with to get a conceptual understanding of the theory needed for the case study of Saaremaa and to find answers for the questions mentioned before (Lindlof and Taylor, 2002; Rubin and Babbie, 2010).

After having gained a first overview of sustainable rural tourism and of tourism on islands, the criterion sampling was applied to analyse the literature more profoundly regarding specific aspects. This method was also used to find information on developing a marketing plan for a destination and on the tourism situation of Saaremaa because these topics were always searched for certain criteria, for example for a specific attraction on the island. The method also assured the quality of the information found in the chosen literature (Patton, 1987; Patton, 2002).

For all topics, snowball or chain sampling was always used. This means while scanning books, journals and reports, the references that those authors had used were always looked at. From this procedure, more and new relevant data could be found and used (Mertens, 2010). By applying this method, care had to be taken of the publication date of the references. If they were too old and the information was out of date, they could not be used. This was rather the case for books than for journals and reports. Sometimes, authors also used cross-references to other texts in their work. In these cases, snowball sampling was again applied.

In order to select only the reliable sources from the literature, the following exclusion and inclusion criteria were developed in the beginning.

Table 1

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Inclusion/ Exclusion Criteria

Source: Personal Model (2010)

Data Analysis

Once the literature had been accessed and selected, it had to be analysed. In order to do this critically, it was looked at the different aspects of the data mentioned in the following assessment schematic.

Table 2

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Assessment Schematic

Source: adapted from Cottrell (2005, p. 190)

Literature review and matrices

Sustainable Rural Tourism

The concept of sustainable tourism began in the late 1970s when the negative impacts of travelling, such as the destruction of natural scenery, overuse of natural resources and water pollution, to name just a few, attributed to the focus of the public (Sanftenberg, 2001). The call for a softer form of tourism became public knowledge. The new concept was called sustainable tourism as it involves the sustainability aspect. This is, according to the Brundtland Commission (1987), the

“development, which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Mintel, 2005, para. 3).

In terms of tourism, this means that sustainable tourism

“meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future “ (Countryside Commission, 1995, p. 5).

In the 1990s, German authors (Ludwig et al., 1990; Moll, 1995; Sinning, 1996) described sustainable tourism as environmentally friendly and socially responsible. In fact, there is a third very important element: the economic benefit for the local community. Coccossis (1996) presents these three aspects in a triangle, with the corners being environmental conservation, social equity and economic efficiency. In the middle of the triangle, sustainable tourism is embedded. Müller & Flügel (1999) make it even more complex by producing the Magic Pentagon-Pyramid of sustainable tourism. The five corners of the pentagon are formed by 1) economic health, 2) subjective well-being of the local population, 3) unspoiled nature/ protection of resources, 4) healthy culture and 5) optimum satisfaction of guest requirements. At the top of the pyramid is the creative right of future generations. This pyramid makes clear that the five aspects of sustainability are correlated and interdependent. Only if all of them are fulfilled, the sustainability of the destination can be assured.

Many authors agree with Müller & Flügel that the social aspect of sustainable tourism has to apply to both, the host community and the visitors. The Countryside Commission (1995) states that the needs of the tourists and of the host regions have to be fulfilled. Sugiarti et al. (2003) mention the high level of visitor experience and satisfaction that the sustainable tourism product must have and add that the local community must be involved in its development. Lebe & Milfelner (2006) state that sustainable tourism must meet the needs and expectations of the visitors but also those of the host population. Saxena et al. (2007) agree that the quality of life for host communities must have the same importance as visitor satisfaction. Besides the social aspect, sustainable tourism boosts the economy of the destination, creates job opportunities, improves the way of life for the local population and satisfies visitor needs.

Sugiarti et al. (2003) bring in another aspect of sustainable tourism: the educational one. Visitors must be informed about the destination (and also willing to learn something about it) and the locals must have certain knowledge about the natural and cultural attractions that their destination has to offer. Singh & Singh (1999, p. 5) mention another aspect. In their view, “the sustainability of tourism relies on ensuring that carrying capacity is not exceeded.” This term is defined as

“the maximum number of people who can use a site without an unacceptable alteration in the physical environment and without an unacceptable decline in the quality of experience gained by visitors” (Wallace & Russell, 2004, p. 241).

Instead of using the idea of the carrying capacity, these two authors present a slightly different concept, the so-called ‘limit of acceptable change’ because

“it emphasizes the participation of all interested parties, including local communities, in deciding what level of environmental and social impact is acceptable” (p. 241).

Considering all of the mentioned aspects of sustainable tourism, one of the best definitions comes from the World Tourism Organisation (2004a, para. 1):

“Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability.”

Besides the many supporters of sustainable tourism, there also exist critics on the concept. Sanftenberg (2001) declares that sustainable tourism always forms an intervention on the environment and that it can therefore only be environmentally friendlier than other forms of tourism. Kirstges (1995) agrees that sustainable tourism cannot be possible. As sustainable tourism is more and more in demand, it will also lead to mass tourism in a way. This will again contradict the original concept of it. The World Wide Fund for Nature (2001, p. 1) goes even further and declares:

“Sustainable tourism is currently an unachievable ideal, not least because of the significant contribution that air travel makes to climate change.”

There are also critics who say that sustainable tourism does not exist yet. Only some elements of it have been realised but not the whole concept. They say that sustainable tourism has a strong general principle but with regards to contents, it is actually empty. It rather represents a pretence of the politics to cozen the society (Grunwald & Kopfmüller, 2006; Mowforth & Munt, 2009).

Priestley et al. (1996) and Mintel (2005) agree that islands are especially designed for having sustainable tourism. Sinning (1996), Priestley et al. (1996) and Stabler (1997) add that it is of high priority for rural areas to establish sustainable tourism. But what does ‘rural’ mean? According to Sharpley & Sharpley (1997, p. 20),

“rural describes all areas, both land and water, that lie beyond towns and cities which, in national or regional contexts, maybe described as major urban centres.”

Although this definition is already 13 years old, it is still up-to-date and used in most of the literature about rural tourism. Sugiarti et al. (2003, p. 79) reveal what makes rural areas so attractive:

“With their distinctive characteristics, such as pristine environment, beautiful landscape, wide varieties of flora and fauna, village communities and their cultures […] provide unique experiences for visitors.”

Dhakal (2005, p. 3) agrees and states that the rural areas are the “depository of culture, environment, adventure, religious and other tourism products.” According to the European Commission (2005, p. 5), rural destinations are

“areas, which are separately identified and promoted to tourists as places to visit, where enjoyment of the countryside and countryside activities is a primary motive.”

This definition is, in comparison to the first one, only related to tourism in rural areas. Some definitions of rural tourism itself are very similar to the one of rural areas from the European Commission above. Mintel (2007, para. 3) states that the holiday location and the tourist activity must be “in a rural setting, close to nature.” The Countryside Commission (1995, p. 4) has a similar point of view. For them, rural tourism is

“visitor activity in rural areas, including inland and coastal locations, open countryside and villages and small towns.”

These definitions are very shallow and perhaps a little bit too easy. According to Page & Getz (1997, p. 195), rural tourism is

“much more than travel and related businesses in rural areas; it is the combination of environment, unique experiences and traveller expectations.”

The World Tourism Organisation (2004b) agrees with Page & Getz and states that the rural community forms the centre of the rural tourism concept. The other elements, on which rural tourism is dependent, are the countryside of the destination, its culture and heritage, the rural activities and the rural life. Rural tourism should, according to Hall and Jenkins (1998, pp. 28-29):

“1) Sustain and create local incomes, employment and growth
2) Contribute to the costs of providing economic and social infrastructure
3) Encourage the development of other industrial sectors (e.g. through local purchasing links)
4) Contribute to local residents amenities and services and
5) Contribute to the conservation of environmental and cultural resources”

Page & Getz (1997) add that rural tourism must meet the visitors’ needs and those of the region. These aims of rural tourism are almost the same as those of sustainable tourism.

Rural tourism has already existed for more than 100 years (Mintel, 2007) but what makes rural areas so attractive for tourists to visit? According to Wallace & Russell (2004, p. 238), it is the ‘authentic rural life’, which comprises the “people, territory and aspects of custom, value, and everyday life.” Mintel (2007, para. 7) additionally mentions the “romance of the rural.” Tourists desire an authentic experience on which they can slow down and relax; especially urbanites who prefer to spend their holidays in close contact with nature and leave behind the city life for a few days (Sugiarti et al., 2003).

Rural areas suffer from problems that might be solved through tourism in the region. Firstly, there is the economic situation that agriculture is not profitable any more and that people do not have any job opportunities in their home region. Secondly, there is the socio-demographic change that many young people move away from the countryside to the cities to find work while the older people stay behind (Moll, 1995). In the literature, rural tourism is often seen as the ‘magic bullet’ to save all these problems all at once and very quickly (Moll, 1995). Unfortunately, this is not the case. Tourism certainly brings benefits for the region: it improves the economic structure, the quality of landscape, the living conditions and it stabilises or revitalises cultural features (Sinning, 1996; Dhakal, 2005), but no author mentions the difficulties that first have to be overcome. Tourism cannot just start out all of a sudden. There have to be accommodation and restaurant facilities in the region. Tourism activities or, even better, a tourist product has to be developed. The region needs trained staff and a tourism management. Finally, tourists have to be attracted to the location through marketing and – once there – be lead by signs and brochures about the local sights.

Now that the concepts of sustainable tourism and rural tourism have been explained, sustainable rural tourism can be easily defined as the combination of the two: sustainable tourism in rural areas. While sustainable tourism does not necessarily imply a notion of rurality as it also may take place in urban areas, rural tourism is always linked to the idea of sustainability since “in the case of rural tourism, the attempt to sustain the rural economy is vital” (Sugiarti et al., 2003, p. 80). Rural tourism is dependent on the environment of the rural destination, its host community, culture and heritage. They must therefore be maintained; otherwise rural tourism will not be able to take place anymore. As mentioned above, rural tourism generally includes many sustainable aspects anyway. Rural tourism must thus always be a kind of sustainable tourism. To sum up this section, sustainable rural tourism can be defined as follows:

“A harmony or balance should be sought between the needs of the visitor, the place (or local environment) and the host community. Sustainable rural tourism is about finding the right relationship between these elements in rural areas” (Countryside Commission, 1995, p. 6).

Table 3

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Excerpt out of 103 pages


Sustainable Rural Tourism on Saaremaa. Developing a Marketing Plan
University of Birmingham  (University of Birmingham)
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ISBN (Book)
nach britischem Notensystem mit 64% bewertet = Merit at Masters level
sustainable tourism, rural tourism, Saaremaa tourism, Estonia tourism
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Lydia Zobel (Author), 2011, Sustainable Rural Tourism on Saaremaa. Developing a Marketing Plan, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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