World heritage sites in Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia risk losing their UNESCO status due to mass tourism that is damaging both the sites and the surrounding environment.
UNESCO heritage sites in Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia are suffering unprecedented damage from uncontrolled mass tourism that is putting their heritage status into question.
Besides pollution of the surrounding environment, the uncontrolled number of tourists is said to be completely overwhelming some of the sites, which could even result in them losing their prized status altogether.
Those sites most in peril in the Western Balkans include the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik, Byron’s famed “Pearl of the Adriatic”, and the Plitvice Lakes national park in the interior of Croatia, as well as the ancient seaside town of Kotor in Montenegro and Macedonia’s most historic city, Ohrid, as well as the nearby lake.
Concerns about Dubrovnik centre on the growing number of cruise ships docking near the city in recent years, drawing parallels with Venice, which has also been at risk of losing its UNESCO status.
Dubrovnik’s Renaissance-era old town – a popular TV and film set – is a globally known symbol of European culture and was included on UNESCO’s list back in 1979.
But, with a population of only about 40,000, it is struggling to deal with over one million tourists a year in 2016, who stayed for a total of 3.4 million nights, according to data that Dubrovnik’s tourist bureau gave BIRN.
Moreover, these overnighting numbers do not include all the visitors coming for the day on cruisers.
According to the Dubrovnik Port Authority, just under 800,000 tourists came to the city on cruisers, sometimes reaching over 10,000 visits a day.
Since there are no reliable data about how much money Dubrovnik earns from brief cruise passengers, many question the profitability of such tourism.
The Croatian Institute for Tourism calculated in 2010 that Croatia earned 53 million euros a year from cruise liners – more than 80 per cent of which was in Dubrovnik.
However, the same data said the total costs amounted to a far higher figure of 338 million euros, when damage to the environment was factored in.
“It’s a pure catastrophe what’s happening there,” Vjeran Pirsic, a veteran ecological activist from Croatia, told BIRN.
He also mentioned the UNESCO site of the Plitvice Lakes, a series of lakes embedded in a national park known also for its natural dams that have created a series of lakes, caves and waterfalls.
Last year, this was also said to be in danger of losing UNESCO heritage status due to the high number of visitors – around 1.3 million a year – reaching around 15,000 a day in the peak season in July and August.
Pirsic said that both UNESCO sites need to be run according to a management plan that includes “capacity carrying” – including how many people visit Plitvice a day and how many cruisers dock in Dubrovnik.
“This way leads to doom. Firstly, natural phenomena are being destroyed; the Plitvice Lakes are surely not benefiting from these hordes of tourists. Secondly, the touristic destination itself is being destroyed, which should benefit from UNESCO status,” Pirsic concluded.