Sustainable Traveling in the Balkans

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In The Balkans, the concept of education for sustainable development is integrated only very slowly into the educational system. Many projects have supported the development of links between local communities and schools in the Balkans with the aim of contributing to sustainable development. The Balkans /ˈbɔːlkənz/ BAWL-kənz, also known as the Balkan Peninsula, is a geographic area in southeastern Europe. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch throughout the whole of Bulgaria from the Serbian-Bulgarian border to the Black Sea coast.

The Balkan Peninsula is bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Aegean Sea in the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The highest point of the Balkans is Mount Musala, 2,925 metres (9,596 ft), in the Rila mountain range, Bulgaria.

For centuries, the Balkan Peninsula was a theatre of the geopolitical pursuits of the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, Austria–Hungary and Russia, and – later – the United States. As new players like China – as well as Arab states and Japan – enter the region, governments of the Balkans and Black Sea countries seek to balance cooperation with different external players in ways that best suit their own respective national interests. Where new developments in European tourism are concerned, the substantial and steady growth of the Balkans as a destination for vacations and travel is one of the most significant trends in recent years.

How You Can help?

“Stay local. Choose locally run small hotels or guesthouses, trek or snow shoe with local guides, and eat in local restaurants – the food is superb! Your money will go much further and will reach those who genuinely need it.”

Sustainable development within the Balkans

The global sustainable development and climate change within the Balkans is not a visible governments’ priority. This has led to the low level of engagement of the Balkans civil society, especially youth. Tourism is an interdisciplinary branch that builds economic and ecological connections and creates social benefits. According to Eurostat, 65% of tourists travel independently and choose to stop in several spots, which is a good opportunity for the Balkan region to offer a unique and unified destination.

Tourism and agriculture are the largest potential sectors for economic growth across the Balkan countries. While tourism constitutes a growing source of revenue for the Balkan countries, much of that growth has been fueled by domestic demand and cheap package tourism, often with adverse environmental effects.

The potential for developing scaled up, regional initiatives and sustainable tourism products that can celebrate Balkans diversity remains under-explored. The region is an emerging destination and tourism is new to most of the countries in the region. Sustainable development of tourism needs infrastructural and communication programs and connection of the tourism sectors between countries, before rapid economic development and recognition and affirmation of the region can be achieved. The Balkan region can offer many different experiences from gastronomy to natural and cultural heritage, traditions, hospitality, historical sites, impressive coastlines and so much more.

Unfortunately, uneven economic development, socio-political dynamics associated with the break-up of former Yugoslavia, and severe military conflicts of the near past, including unresolved issues between the countries has made cooperation in the region difficult. To function as one integrated travel destination (as frequently desired from the demand perspective) countries in the region must establish effective cooperation to develop joint tourism products.

There are several underlying issues that will challenge any effort to develop a shared vision for regional tourism based on sustainable development. There remains a lack of consensus on the mutual benefits of shared tourism products. Some regional and European initiatives have brought positive momentum to regional cooperation, notably through projects which are expected to have an economic and social impact.

With respect to the other Balkan countries, foreign tourism in Greece, Croatia and Montenegro has grown at slower rates in recent years

What can be done?

Some of the underexploited potentials that need future development on and possible further activities includes:

  • Supporting family businesses in tourism, especially in rural areas and places that struggle with high levels of unemployment among youth and women.
  • Raising awareness of the importance of ecology and eco-sustainability in pace with the development of tourism
  • Encouraging local entrepreneurs for opening side businesses with complementary offers in under-populated places.
  • Exploring the potential for cross-border connecting and cross border itineraries and business networking
  • Promoting opportunities for unified approach of Balkan countries to distant markets instead of the popular “competitors” approach.
  • Education of the population – local people who may participate in creating the offer are not currently confident with inventions mainly because they are the opposite type of traveler than the tourists they are about to offer to.

Photo credit: open-balkans.com

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