EU4Business: Bringing alive cultural and natural heritage into new tourism era
The immense cultural and historical heritage intertwined with pristine natural beauty of its forests, rivers, and mountains represents a great potential for tourism development in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the country’s tourism industry experienced significant growth prior to the pandemic, a lack of a strategic approach along with the poor quality of tourism infrastructure, products, and services, significantly hinders future growth and competitiveness of the overall sector.
In order for the country to capitalize on its key comparative advantages, the European Union and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany provided an investment grant of over EUR 1.6 million for eight outdoor and cultural tourism projects that supported improvements in infrastructure, digitalization, and development of new services. The grant was complemented with an investment of EUR 467,000 by the beneficiaries.
From abandoned rails to cycling trails
Searching for ways to enrich tourism offer in five municipalities in central Bosnia, the Regional Development Agency for Central BiH Region (REZ) agency together with its partners, proposed a plan to revive the abandoned rail track dating from Austro-Hungarian period and transform it into a 96.5 km long cycling trail offering a unique experience to holiday makers. The old rail trail takes cyclists through diverse terrain - forests, meadows, city centers passing by important cultural and historical attractions including a birthplace of Ivo Andric Nobel prize winner.
Adnan Gazija from REZ said that “In addition to infrastructure works, that also encompassed route marking, installing three bridges, 12 wi-fi spots and four rest stops, we worked with local businesses to secure adequate facilities and services essential for cyclotourism. We partnered with accommodation providers, restaurants, bike rentals, tour and cycling services along the trail to enhance their facilities and skills. A group of 17 cycle guides is now trained, certified and can be easily reached through our new website.” This trail is now part of Via Dinarica, a long-distance network of hiking trails in the Dinaric Alps connecting seven countries and territories.
New adventures in National Park
In order to meet the demands of a more diverse group of nature lovers, the Development Agency of City of Prijedor (PREDA) designed “Feel Kozara” project. With 90 percent of its territory covered by dense forest, Kozara National Park was proclaimed a protected area 50 years ago. Traditionally the mountain Kozara attracts tourists eager to visit the Memorial Complex Mrakovica and to reconnect with nature, but partners gathered around “Feel Kozara” project wanted to offer a wider range of services that would cater to different age groups.
Natasa Savanovic from the PREDA said “We started by upgrading the existing infrastructure. Thanks to involvement of the volunteers from the Klekovača Mountain hut, two additional sections of the via ferrata trails so-called Sector Ivy were made, rock climbing safety was improved by installing additional anchors, iron ropes, and over footsteps, so all adrenaline seekers can enjoy a unique climbing experience along the demanding vertical rock of Bijeli kamen. Protective equipment for rock climbers was also secured through the project, and a cooking area is now set up at the Mountain hut providing basic cooking facilities to visitors.” In addition to being the only one in this region, this via ferrata is one of the most technically demanding trails in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
For bikers, a 54 km long cycling trail has been improved, marked, signalization installed, and a new bike rental service offers nine mountain bikes, e-bikes, and mopeds. The Adventure Park offer has been significantly expanded; visitors can now explore three levels with 28 platforms with the maximum height of 14 meters. To make learning about nature more fun for children, a new educational trail was made with 51 didactic elements highlighting information about flora and fauna along with wooden sculptures of animals native to this area.
Rock climbing on demand
Since the construction of via ferrata Sokolov put on mountain Romanija red rocks, over 10,000 tourists climbed it over the past 18 months. It takes around three hours to climb this 350-meter long ferrata with an altitude difference of 160 meters. There are two suspension bridges that connect two rocks and provide climbers with breathtaking view over the area. The project also included procurement of climbing equipment and training of professional guides. In addition, 45 km of hiking trails are now marked, and three viewpoints installed on mountain Romanija. Branka Spasojevic from the Tourist Organization Jahorina – East Sarajevo said that Sokolov put ferrata served as an inspiration to other tourist areas, and seven new ferratas were made throughout the country. Together with partners various trainings were organized for 40 service providers, restaurants and households, to improve their offer and skills. In addition, within the “Enjoy Sarajevo-Romanija Region” initiative a children's play area and an artificial rock for climbing has also been installed at very popular picnic area Brus at mountain Trebević.
Cultural heritage and outdoor adventures
Regional Economic Development Agency for Herzegovina (REDAH) together with four partners worked on expanding tourist offer on the bike path “Ćiro - World heritage trail” that stretches along the UNESCO protected area in Herzegovina region. Twelve tourist guides from Mostar, Stolac, Čapljina and Ravno were trained in storytelling so authentic stories based on rich cultural, historical, and religious heritage of this region are now shared with visitors. To enrich tourists’ experiences, the concepts for seven new products covering health, gastronomy, cultural heritage are created and will be further finetuned by travel agencies and businesses.
REDAH, as regional technical secretariat for Bike Friendly Standard (BFS) certification for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia, certifies facilities that cover five categories of standards: accommodation facilities, catering facilities, travel agencies, service stations and parking lots. Himzo Tule from REDAH underlined that as part of the BFS certification, 15 facilities were certified in partner municipalities through these five categories. Through this project over 80 km of cycling routes in Herzegovina have been mapped and information are available on the Europe’s largest outdoor platform that gathers nature lovers, hikers, mountaineers, bikers, explorers. The BFS certification aims to get the trust of visitors confirming that service provider with BFS certificate-signage really wants to help cyclists and treat them with respect and understanding. The School on rural tourism brought together entrepreneurs interested in starting businesses so they were briefed about legal requirements, finances, digital marketing, etc.
Overall, the EU4Business project supported two projects in the area of cultural tourism, building on UNESCO heritage proclaimed tangible and intangible sites, and six projects focused on outdoor tourism on locations along Via Dinarica Green Trail. With the aim of strengthening BiH’s economy EU4Business, stimulates development of entrepreneurship, export-oriented sectors, tourism and agriculture, as well as rural development. EU4Business is worth EUR 16.1 million; EUR 15 million is funded by the European Union and EUR 1.1 million by the Federal Republic of Germany. Project is jointly implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), UNDP and International Labor Organisation (ILO). EU4Business is part of the Local Development Strategies – Local Self-Government and Economic Development Programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).