Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. This Top 100 entry, submitted in 2021 from Bosnia, shows how a catalytic citizen battle to save a river – even if only partially successful – can knit together a new, community-based sustainable destination: Dinardica.
Fly fishing is one popular outdoor activity that remains possible after the successful fight to save the Sana River. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]
Submitted by Emir Dervisevic, Sustainability Coordinator
Dinardica Creates Itself by Fighting for its River
Located in western Bosnia and Herzegovina, the rural Dinardica region faced off in 2009 against a proposal for an externally funded hydropower plant to be built on its signature Sana River, which is extremely important for the biodiversity of a wide area of western Bosnia. A coalition of 20 citizens associations and hundreds of individuals actively opposed the construction of the dam. Dinardicans placed 230 hectares of land under official protection, including sources of the Sana River threatened by the dam – all during their first year at work. While assorted legal battles, campaigns, and protests failed to stop construction, they did succeed in moving the dam to a less harmful location.
The hydro campaign also succeeded in giving birth to a multi-stakeholder collaboration and a shared vision allied against domestic and international investors who sought to tear up local landscapes and ecosystems. In Dinardican eyes, preserving nature for the public and future generations was deemed far more important than exploiting natural resources for the short-term benefits of individuals.
The conservation of healthy ecosystems was a top priority for the region of Dinardica. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]
Dinardica’s story shows that it is possible to form a destination’s identity around protecting natural resources and transform itself into a green tourism destination. This success came as a result of establishing a formal organizational structure for destination management and development, which included government institutions, NGOs, and private companies as stakeholders. From there, the partners designed and launched a series of concrete actions to strengthen the brand of the local destination and transform Dinardica into a green tourist destination. A plan was initiated to protect the most valuable natural habitats. They renovated an old, abandoned school building and transformed it into a Visitor Center. Currently in the works, the Visitor Center is working to support solar panels with the intention of demonstrating the renewable energy potential for private households and tourist facilities to adopt.
A local farmer leads his cattle across a field. [Photo courtesy of Green Destinations]
Driving these environmental actions is the destination’s ambition to have a good future for their community, while using renewable energy and providing younger generations the opportunity to live decent lives.
The story of Dinardica is an inspiring example for other rural destinations who might be fighting against forest exploitation, coal mines, power generation stations on rivers, or mass tourism. Although Dinardica is still in the early stages of tourism, they have achieved significant results of environmental conservation. To read more from this Green Destinations’ Top 100 story, click here.
[Above: Trebinje, Bosnia. All photos by Cristina Angeles; videos by Juan Carlos Rodarte.]
Our video project on the Adriatic’s Balkan coast shows what tourism should do—and not do.
Here at the Destination Stewardship Center we want to encourage sustainable tourism practices that preserve today’s impressive places for enjoyment tomorrow.
The Adriatic coast of the western Balkan peninsula is one of those places—a destination of great promise and also at great risk. Imposing mountains rise only a short distance inland from the coast, a combination that supports a diversity of ecosystems. The region enjoys a warm to hot Mediterranean climate, which makes it an appealing destination for vacations—and hasty development. Similarly attractive parts of the Mediterranean have already been touristically exploited. Just look over at some of Greece’s heavily built-up islands to see what is coming.
So we on the video team went there to see how the area is doing, and why it’s special. Listen to the people who live there talk about their home, in their own voices:
The hope of course is for tourism in the region to generate jobs and raise local people’s quality of life. But is it being done in the best way? We found the answer was “yes” in some places, definitely “no” in others.
Thanks to the collaboration with Western Balkans Geotourism Network(WBGN), we spent 21 days documenting the Adriatic regions of Albania, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and meeting the people associated with the WBGN. They are the heroes of this story, working against tough odds to turn tourism in a better direction.
Our expedition revealed three red flags signalling touristic overkill: the coastal city of Sarandë and the archaeological zone of Butrint in Albania, and the coastal development at Kotor Bay, Montenegro.
Auron Tare, Albanian National Coastline Agency Director, shared with us his professional experience as a pioneer in the preservation of Albanian culture. Listen to his observations on overcommercialized Sarandë, once a quaint fishing town:
“The town went completely crazy with its tourism concept.”
In the red flag areas, rocketing growth of globalized products was overwhelming more sustainable local commerce and sacrificing the cultural diversity of lifestyle, so basic to destination appeal. Tourist complexes deface the scenery with buildings that do not respect the landscape. Reinforcing all this are thousands of people hopping on and off all-inclusive cruise ships.
Now overtourism has come to the Greco-Roman ruins at Butrint National Park, the World Heritage site preserved and managed by Auron Tare. He explains what’s happening:
As for Kotor Bay, we asked our guide Jack Delf, chairman of the Western Balkans Geotourism Network, why tourism was out of control on the coast of Montenegro. Is a change in direction possible? The only way, he says, is to emphasize value instead of volume:
“We can’t preserve this through mass tourism.”
Is everything lost? Not at all. Various NGO’s and companies are seeking to develop and promote tourism products under management plans that protect the land, empower the locals, and provide them with market opportunity.
Nancy Tare, Albania Regional Director for the WBGN (and Auron’s wife), told us that a key factor for sustainability is the important role that locals can play in taking care of what is theirs. They have in their hands the power to sell their land, or not. They are the only ones that can preserve their natural, cultural, and social resources. Here’s Nancy on the true meaning of sustainability:
“Keep it real is by keeping locals involved. That’s a success.”
As an example, we present the destination Nivicë, the first village in southern Albania’s Project Nivicë route. What is it about this initiative that has impressed us? Its authenticity. Auron Tare is project coordinator, working with an emphasis on restoring vernacular architecture:
“What we’re trying to do here is set an example.”
Auron has a personal connection to Nivicë. “He is building a house in Nivicë on his grandparent’s land and enjoys spending time there with his family,” notes our producer, Erika Gilsdorf, who sums up his difficult task this way: “The town was abandoned during war, and now people are coming back. He wants it to grow and thrive but keep its charm and authenticity. He struggles with maintaining balance. If you promote it, it is at risk of exploitation. If you don’t, it is at risk of poverty and abandonment. So, he’s trying to see if they can manage it sustainably, grow organically, and do so slowly to handle challenges as they arise.”
For projects like this and in general for the Eastern Balkans, is there an economic argument for their sustainability? Yes! Jack Delf explains why:
“Adventure tourism is now a 680 billion dollar business, growing at 23 percent per year.”
During our expedition we had the opportunity meet the various personalities who are charting the routes to sustainability. One of them was Kirsi Hyvaerinen, a board member of the Global Ecotourism Network, who calls for redefining tourism for her adopted home of Montenegro, confirming that the ultimate goal is to capture value and not volume, and that local people are the key:
“It’s not too late.”
Environmental millionaires? In a globalized world, poverty is commonly equated with lack of money. We often heard that a main reason for growing tourism in the region is to generate jobs and so improve the people’s quality of life. Whereas the purpose may be noble and the solution correct in economic terms, it is precisely the migration of this concept into this region that we see as a major challenge. What we admired in the people we met was the means of production they already have, the freedom they have to enjoy their day, the air they breathe away from polluting factories, and their community lifestyles.
In this sense, they are environmental millionaires. They can feed themselves with pesticide-free produce harvested in their backyards, far from the problems that come with the processed products of the industrialized world. Many people in the Balkans that have no job can still live off their land.
To learn more about why we found so much of the western Balkans to be an unspoiled, immaculate, and authentic place, please see our account (originally posted on National Geographic Open Explorer) and soon to appear as an Esri StoryMap. It was sad that Open Explorer closed, since the WBGN came into being in conjunction with the National Geographic’s geotourism initiativesof the 2000s, which defined geotourism as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, geology, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”
What have we learned from this raw, unexpected travel experience? Erika offers an answer. She writes: “Hidden in stone, food, and ancient trails, far from the coasts, lies the hope and heart of old Europe. And in its past lies its future; not just for the western Balkans, but for destinations around the world who struggle to maintain the balance of growth and preservation.”
Please let us know your comments, doubts, or questions about this beautiful region. We are Erika Gilsdorf, producer of the expedition, Juan Carlos Rodarte, in charge of videography and editing, and Cristina Angeles, your storyteller.