Unleashing the economic potential of ecosystems to catalyze sustainable development of rural mountain communities in Dinaric Arc eco-region.
“After a couple of challenging decades countries of the Dinaric Arc region are focusing again on regional cooperation,” said Mr. Alexander Avanessov, UNDP Resident Representative/UN Resident Coordinator to Montenegro at a media conference where the Ministry of Sustainable Development and the UNDP Montenegro announced a new joint initiative in the Dinaric Arc region in the domain of nature-based tourism. The initiative is based on the New Zealand experience. “Taking into account the growing popularity of adventure tourism, huge potential of this market and role of tourism as one of the major driving forces of the Montenegrin economy, and in line with the political commitment of representatives of governments from the Dinaric Arc states to cross-border collaboration, the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro supported the idea of joint efforts to create the Dinaric Arc up to ‘Via Dinarica’, to become one of world top long trails,” Mr. Avanessov explained.
The partners in this endeavour will strive to establish the ‘Via Dinarica’ Long Trail as a corridor for sustainable livelihood development that would facilitate local development, job creation, entrepreneurship development and improvement of life of local communities. The initiative was developed within the frameworks of the Revised Tourism Master Plan, and implementation of the recently signed Resolution on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Dinaric Arc countries and neighbouring regions.
Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro, Mr. Predrag Sekulić said: “Setting up of the ‘Via Dinarica’ long trail, which can become a regional brand, would boost the tourism and economy in the countries of this region. By initiating a project of cross-border cooperation in the Dinaric Arc region, Montenegro is entering a new phase in the implementation of its strategic tourism goals.” He also stated that Montenegro needs to respond adequately to the constantly changing tourism demands. “This means that, along with the exceptional natural beauty and appropriate hotel accommodation, Montenegro needs to offer much more. One of the best potentials for extending the tourist season lies in the development of the North of Montenegro, i.e. in the creation of an aggregate tourism offering where the North and the South would make a unified package of the coast and the hinterland,” he said. Minister Sekulić expressed his belief that Montenegro has unique competitive potentials to attract those who are looking for nature-based tourism, as well as to differ from other countries’ offering. “Experiences of the countries that are recognized as top destinations for adventure tourism, such as New Zealand, are very helpful to us. In New Zealand they managed to revive the abandoned places with tourism potential and to make them very attractive for tourists,” Minister Sekulić emphasized.
Mr. Alexander Avanessov, UNDP Resident Representative/UN Resident Coordinator to Montenegro said that for UNDP as a development agency this new trail is a means of local development. “This is one of the means of stopping migration, particularly migration of youth, from the North to the Centre and the South of country. The working visit to New Zealand provided sufficient information to conclude that the ‘Via Dinarica’ has an excellent chance to create jobs, family business, to recuperate local economies. It also has a lot of potential to stimulate regional cooperation, which brings more stability in the region, and facilitates EU accession,” Mr. Avanessov stated. He further stressed that in light of EU accession as a strategic goal for most of the countries in the region, this initiative could be an excellent platform for cooperation at the regional level in order to secure local economic development through responsible planning and use of natural resources.
Mr. Saša Radović, Director of the National Tourism Organization stressed that the ‘Via Dinarica’ initiative fits perfectly into the Development Strategy of Montenegro by 2020, as it includes two very important segments – development of the North and regional cooperation. “If all countries of the region recognize the importance of this initiative, a huge step forward will be achieved in the promotion of green and nature-based tourism. The experiences of New Zealand can be applied to Montenegro and the countries of the Dinaric region, as these are some of the most beautiful places in the region where population should migrate back to,” Mr. Radović stated. He also expressed his belief that the ‘Via Dinarica’ will soon be recognized worldwide as a regional brand that will sell itself easily.
Mr. Zoran Mrdak, Director of the National Park ‘Skadar Lake’ said that national parks cover 10% of Montenegrin territory and they bring significant benefits to the local communities, as well as to the state. He also reminded that a lot of work has been done in the previous seven years, so that all national parks now have visitor centres, hiking and biking trails, and an increase in visitors of 15% per year. “Based on the experience gained in New Zealand, we believe that active stay in nature should be seen as a way of life and that it should be presented to tourists as one of the key reasons to visit Montenegro. This concept would support the tourism industry to become a leader in the environmental protection. Therefore, the National Parks will strongly support this initiative,” Mr. Mrdak stated.
About the Dinaric Arc initiative and New Zealand experience
The Dinaric Arc is a region of south-eastern Europe encompassing some 100,000 km2 and more than 6,000 km of the Adriatic Sea coastline, from the city of Trieste (Italy) to Tirana (Albania). It includes portions of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. The region hosts in western Bosnia being the largest karstic field in the world. Towards the southern end of the region, the Prokletije Massif and the “Albanian Alps” are among the wildest mountains in Europe. The Dinaric Arc hosts important freshwater ecosystems and wetlands of international importance, such as the Neretva delta (Bosnia and Herzegovina/Croatia), and Skadar/Shkodra lake (Montenegro/Albania). The river Tara, which flows through Montenegro into the Drina, is well known for forming a long and wild canyon which is the second deepest in the world, after that of the Colorado.
Over the past decades cross-border cooperation between the Dinaric Arc states has decreased, leaving this region in a rather peripheral and marginal position. However, recently there has been a political and economic shift towards more active cross-border partnership and cooperation, manifested in elaboration of common tourism development strategies and building of cross-border destinations. Similar approach is being considered for the area of the Dinaric Arc Region as well. In light of the conclusions from the XI Alpine Conference and the I Dinaric Conference titled “Alps as development potential of Europe – a common future” held in Slovenia in March 2011, and by signing a joint statement, representatives of the Governments from the Dinaric Arc states expressed political willingness to cooperate and forge links in this region.
By accepting the “Resolution on the protection and sustainable development of the Dinaric Arc and neighbouring regions” Montenegro made commitment to support initiatives that will contribute to the development of this region. As the first step in this endeavour, the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism of Montenegro and the UNDP Montenegro started activities in order to understand what should be done to establish the ‘Via Dinarica’ Long Trail as a corridor for sustainable livelihood development in the area of Dinaric Arc and how it could facilitate local development, job creation, entrepreneurship development and improvement of life of local communities.
In order to secure “know how” transfer not only with countries in the region, it was agreed with the Government that Montenegro representatives will visit New Zealand to meet various stakeholders, including Government, private sector and local communities with experience in establishing of the Te Araroa Long Trail. Opening during 2011, Te Araroa is one of the world’s longest trails. Hundreds of volunteers have helped create the continuous 3000 kilometre-long route. Te Araroa today stands as a bright example of regional authorities and local authorities cooperation to achieve a joint goal – Te Araroa to become a leading influence in their local and regional walking, cycling and local economic development strategies.
Subsequently, the UNDP Montenegro organized a working mission for representatives from the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, National Tourism Organization, Public Enterprise National Parks and the UNDP. The experiences gained from this working visit will serve as a basis in the forthcoming period for the plans focusing on development and implementation of the ‘Via Dinarica’ Long Trail initiative. In the next six months, UNDP in cooperation with partners, will organize three regional meetings with a goal to present the concept for establishing a corridor of sustainable development in this region, as well as to ensure the common understanding on challenges and opportunities and to obtain support for the initiative.