Often described as a jewel in the Adriatic, Croatia is rapidly gaining popularity as a destination for tourists seeking something different from the usual Mediterranean holiday. Ecotourism options in Croatia are subtle, but strong, with about 340 eco-producers participating in the industry by selling their products to hotels and other buyers. Croatia also has some fantastic green sights and new ecotourism initiatives that are helping to bring environmental and sustainable tourism issues to the forefront of this booming industry.
Formed in 2009, this relatively new organisation is Croatia's leader in ecotourism and sustainable initiatives. EkoPartner is focused on the responsible management of family accommodation and tourist farms, multi-sector cooperation for the implementation of ecotourism initiatives, and increasing awareness in sustainable and environmental issues for tourists, tourism organisations, and local businesses.
EkoPartner achieved some success in 2009, with a pilot project of partial implementation of the program's ecotourism components in 10 family-owned hotels and tourist farms. Additionally, EkoPartner received crucial support and some financing from the EU, the Ministry of Tourism, and the Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency Fund of the Republic of Croatia. 2009 also saw the development of a comprehensive program for the environmentally responsible management of small tourist facilities in Croatia, and an accompanying strategic marketing plan for the implementation of the program from 2009 - 2011.
Organisations such as EkoPartner are essential for nations with burgeoning tourism industries, such as Croatia. While hugely popular for tourists in the late 1980s, the wars that occupied the majority of the 1990s yielded very few foreign visitors (low of 2.1 million in 1992). Since 1999, tourist numbers have more than doubled, and 2008 welcomed over 11.6 million visitors to Croatia. With this dramatic increase in tourist numbers came a proportional increase in the number of local tourism businesses and thus the impact of tourists on the Croatian environment. By providing support and educative programs to locally owned tourism businesses, EkoPartner is dedicating itself to a greener future for this exceptionally beautiful and wonderfully welcoming country that is only going to continue to gain popularity.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Designated as one of Croatia's seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the country's most beautiful environments. Plitvice is one of eight national parks and ten nature reserves in Croatia, and is a site that is the subject of ecological awareness and natural preservation. Located in the middle of the country, about halfway between Split and Zagreb, the park is dominated by gypsum and marvellous natural architecture. Sixteen lakes are surrounded by lush forests, rushing waterfalls, and fascinating wildlife, including some rare species of plants and animals, providing visitors with seemingly endless opportunities to explore and experience ecotourism at its finest.
Food and Wine
Really? Croatia is known for its food and wine? Well, no, but that doesn't mean it isn't amazing. Gastro tourism in Croatia is an integral part of the industry, and one of the most sustainable ways to get involved with the locals and their delicious culinary culture. Truffles are plentiful in Istria, as are wine-producing grapes, and other gastronomic marvels. In Dubrovnik, seafood is king, dominating the cuisine, with delicious shellfish and squid-ink risotto making frequent menu appearances. Organic produce grown on eco-estates is becoming increasingly common in the Croatian marketplace and on tourists plates, through supply partnerships with hotels and other tourism businesses.
Croatia isn't particularly well known for its wine either. Why? Simple - it doesn't really export it, but just because they don't send it abroad, doesn't mean it isn't delicious. In fact, Croatian wine is very good, and very reasonably priced. No wonder they don't want to share! One of the best ways to be sustainable and engage in ecotourism while in Croatia is to drink and eat the local produce, because it supports local economies and decreases the necessity to import products primarily for tourist consumption. By feasting on fantastic seafood and sipping their spectacular wines, travelers can ensure they are supporting locals, while further enriching their cultural experience. Win-win.
Local Organised Tours
With all the international influence, few tours in Croatia are locally owned and operated. Many tours advertised online are based in the UK, and managed in destination. This kind of foreign ownership tends not to benefit the destination itself, so try your best to find a tour operator that is locally owned and locally managed.
The local tours are a bit more difficult to find online in advance of your trip, but are pretty easy to find in destination. Adria Adventure is the only adventure tour operator that is actually originally from Dubrovnik. While there are other smaller operations dedicated solely to day sea kayaking or walking tours around Dubrovnik's city walls, Adria Adventure does short breaks and longer itineraries that show off the best of Dubrovnik and the nearby Elaphite Islands.
The Future Is Green
With a solid foundation of eco-conscious organisations, local experiences, and dedication to socio-cultural and environmental sustainability, ecotourism in Croatia has a bright green future. Providing the industry continues to develop in a responsible and considerate manner, focusing on local tourism businesses, empowering local communities to get involved, environmental protection, and socio-cultural preservation, Croatia could soon be a leading nation in ecotourism experiences.