Western Balkans Geotourism Program

Improving the image and providing an opportunity for economic development of the Western Balkans through the marketing of key geotourism sites and promoting it as one destination.

  • Client: National Geographic
  • Partners: USAID's Regional Competitiveness Initiative (RCI)
  • Project Duration: May 2011 – July 2012

Project Description 

The Western Balkans is a region with vast sustainable tourism potential. Encompassing Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, the Western Balkans possesses a rich and diverse cultural heritage, some of Europe’s last and rarest wilderness, and a long and storied history. All of this presents a diverse menu of attractions for visitors, from action-packed adventures to tours of medieval multi-cultural sites to food and music festivals. With this wealth of natural and cultural assets, tourism emerged as one of the vehicles for economic growth and cooperation among countries, which, until recently, was damaged by severe conflicts. In this context, tourism in the region was facing two significant challenges. First, the civil unrest and economic troubles from the past had generated a negative image for the region. Second, while travelers to the region prefer to visit more than one country at a time, there was limited cooperation across borders.

The Western Balkans Mapguide Project helped address these challenges by facilitating cross-country cooperation for the development of a market-oriented tourism promotional platform for the entire region. The project was based on the principles of geotourism, which emphasizes a focus on sustaining and enhancing the geographical character of the region — its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents. It facilitated the establishment of a cross-country partnership unit (Western Balkans Geotourism Stewardship Council) and development of an interactive online Mapguide produced and co-branded by National Geographic.

Supported by the globally recognized National Geographic brand, the MapGuide presents the Western Balkans region to more responsible and educated travelers who will be curious to explore this “undiscovered” destination. The MapGuide solution does not only help create a more positive and distinct image of the region, but facilitates efficient cooperation among the countries in promoting the entire region as an integrated destination. In addition, by focusing on authentic local attractions and service providers the Mapguide secures increased market visibility for smaller local businesses, which adds to the socio-economic benefits generated by tourism.

The launch of the Mapguide was promoted with a series of exciting events, including open-air photo exhibitions in Washington, D.C. The project has generated energy and cooperation, which are continuing to fuel strengthened partnership and integrated efforts in attracting more visitors to the Western Balkans.

Major Activities

  • Facilitate relationship building and cooperation: establishment of a six-member (one from each project country) Western Balkans Geotourism Stewardship Council to oversee and implement geotourism activities in the region.
  • Develop Geotourism MapGuide: members of the Council initiated a process of nominating attractions and tourism service providers, which adhered to geotourism principles. Initial nominations were reviewed and included in the Mapguide while Council members and local stakeholders continue to generate nominations and add to the content of the interactive platform.
  • Develop online travel tools: continue enriching the Western Balkans Geotourism MapGuide with trip planning tools and different information on the region’s authentic culture, history, and environment.
  • Facilitate integrated promotion of the region: the Mapguide project has facilitated cooperation across the countries in the region, which continues to operate beyond the life of the project. Local industry stakeholders are seeing the benefits of working together and continue to plan joint initiatives that enhance and promote the local geotourism offer.

Results

  • Establishment of the Western Balkans Geotourism Stewardship Council
  • Creation of the Western Balkans Geotourism MapGuide
  • Development and launch of the Western Balkans Geotourism website, which includes an interactive, online version of the MapGuide as well as additional geotourism sites.

 

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