Development of Ecotourism along the River Drava in Hungary and Croatia:
steps towards implementation
David Reeder, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme
Nature Protection and Ecotourism
Ecotourism is not easily defined: we are all familiar with tour companies who use the term to promote tourism which is far from sustainable, far from the best practice we would like to see followed everywhere. One of the successes of our last workshop in Astana was the presentation of the Code of Practice for Ecotourism Development in Kazakhstan that our friend and colleague Tim Healing drew up, which dealt with such issues. Personally I feel that ecotourism must work hand-in-hand with nature protection, that they are mutually dependent and share many of the same objectives; also that promotion of 'community-based' tourism is vital, making sure that local communities themselves benefit directly from the income that ecotourists bring.
Different solutions for different biogreographical
regions and cultures
Our part of Central Europe is far from mountainous, which is the theme of our workshop. But as I have found before, there are always common elements in what we are trying to do in our different regions, and there are many ways in which we can learn from each other's experiences. Essentially we all have to market the unique nature and culture of our regions whilst at the same time protecting them from the impact of visitors and negative development: because if we don't protect them, we could very easily lose the special qualities which attract the visitors in the first place.
It is now widely recognised that transboundary approaches to environmental management are generally more logical than dividing natural systems with administrative boundaries. Cross-border approaches to ecotourism share that logic: visitors can explore natural ecosystems which cross national frontiers. At the same time these tourists can enjoy the contrasts between the different cultural settings which have developed on either side of the border. Crossing the River Drava between Hungary and Croatia, for example, tourists remain in the same Central European floodplain ecosystem, but can experience different cultural landscapes, farming patterns and artifacts, architecture, music, traditional costumes, language, currency and so on. At the same time the tourist infrastructure is very different in these countries.
The Hungarian Danube-Drava National Park: a
The entire Hungarian bank of the River Drava, and many contiguous areas, are protected under the authority of the National Park. The park is 80% financed by the Hungarian government and its main role is to increase public awareness of the valuable environmental capital of this region, of its attractiveness as a visitor-destination and consequently of the need for careful conservation of its natural assets. Nature protection is paramount; other aims are to involve local people and improve local infrastructure; and to increase scientific knowledge and educational potential. A total of some 250,000 visitors are registered each year, but access to the strictly-protected areas is granted to very few.
Throughout the entire park there are 27 rangers who act as guides; an information-centre holding about 50 people; 8 'research houses' and 4 exhibition places. There are 7 managed campsites along the Drava and some 20 'education trails' and 6 narrow-gauge forest trains. Cycling trails and a network of village accomodation is being developed.
Ecotourism Services of the DDNP:
In terms of ecotourism, the nature of the DDNP as a government body does not foster entrepreneurship, it is not its role. So although the park actively attracts many visitors, and some local services are developing, in many places there is a shortage of accommodation, restaurants etc. This is of course in part a result of decades of Communist rule.
The Croatian Drava League: Bottom-up
The Croatian Drava League is a coalition of 8 member NGOs from settlements along the River Drava, representing through their memberships the views of - and on some public events and projects, bringing together - several hundred people. The League was formed following a joint decision made on February 17th 2001, following the announcement by the Croatian government that work would soon begin on a new hydro-power facility on the Drava, which the NGOs all oppose.
Vision of the Drava League
"It became clear that to win the local people over to our point of view, we had not only to oppose environmentally-destructive projects, but also to promote a positive alternative: to 'set a vision against a vision', to offer a sustainable alternative model which is economically sound as well as more appealing than the conventional development offered by the developers.
Hence we are developing a strategy - from the bottom up, i.e. planned and initiated by local NGOs and some sympathetic communities - of building an 'eco-economy' to run in parallel with the existing local manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors, all of which could benefit from our initiatives. This will be based on ecotourism, 'cultural tourism', educational tourism and the marketing of local products."
Activities of the Drava League
The first major step was the establishment of an 88km cycle route, using existing tarmac roads and some dirt tracks, connecting some of the villages and natural places in Koprivnica county. This was suggested by a Swiss consultant working with the Swiss Cycling Federation, and developed by the county authorities and the Drava League. This year the League held a Drava Youth Expedition to promote the route: some 20 youngsters on bicycles travelled for 3 days, exploring local villages and natural places and on their way collecting information on water quality, plant and animal species, and existing potential for ecotourism. There was good press coverage throughout the trip.
Two main initiatives have developed from this: one is the planned extension of cycle routes into neighbouring counties, and eventually throughout the whole Croatian Drava region; the other is the decision to establish an ecotourism 'mini-zone' based around the axis of the cycle route. This is especially interesting as it concentrates resources on a small model area - although at the same time initiatives are being encouraged in other places, some of which are proving very successful. In the designated mini-zone we now have a well-co-ordinated group of ecotourism service providers: restaurants, pensions, local museums and private collections, guides and owners of fishing-places. Our eventual aim is extend this mini-zone along the Drava in both countries, so that visitors could find plenty to see and do over a period of days or weeks.