Sustainable tourism development has been adopted as a policy and planning approach by governments around the world that seek to make minimal impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate income and employment for locals, and promote the conservation of local ecosystems. At Novi Sad Business School in Serbia, in addition to study programmes in Finance, Banking, Accounting, International Business and Entrepreneurship, the Tourism and Hotel Business programme looks at creating a new generation of sustainable tourism managers and leaders. I had the chance to speak with Natasa Papic Blagojevic, Principal Assistant for International Cooperation, and Professor of Tourism Tamara Gajic about this programme, and sustainable tourism more broadly in Serbia.
How is sustainable tourism being approached in Serbia?
Sustainable tourism in Serbia aims to minimise environmental and cultural damage, optimise visitor satisfaction, and maximise long-term economic growth for the region. It is a way of obtaining a balance between the growth potential of tourism and the conservation needs of the environment. But it is also important to say that each stakeholder group approaches sustainable tourism development from a different perspective and, therefore, focuses its effort on different aspects of sustainable tourism development. For example, local companies are often more concerned with local issues, such as the effects of sustainable tourism on their community, their quality of life, and the need for sustainability. Eco-tourism in Serbia has an impact—potentially good—on the culture and character of host communities, landscape and habitats, and the rural economy, all of which constitute aspects of increasing value for tourists.
What is Novi Sad Business School doing around the topic of Tourism?
The concept of sustainability in Serbia must be multi-purpose if it is to succeed. The aim of working withstudents is to point outto them that the importance of sustainable development is reflected in sustaining (1) the culture and character of host communities, (2) the landscape and habitats, (3) the rural economy, (4) a tourism industry that will be viable in the long term—which in turn means the promotion of successful and satisfying holiday experiences, and (5) developing sufficient understanding, leadership and vision among a region or area’s decision-makers, so that they realise the dangers of too much reliance on tourism and work towards a balanced and diversified rural economy.
We have a wide range of courses open to all business students on this important topic including, but not limited to, ecology and sustainable development in tourism, and natural resources in tourism. Another course in rural tourism provides students with insight into the complexity of rural development and explore promising solutions relevant to development, both at the macro and micro level.
How are students contributing to Serbia becoming a more sustainable tourist destination?
In December 2013 the students from this programme participated in an event organised by the United Nations Development Programme and Coca-Cola called, “Promotion of eco-tourism and environmental protection of Vlasina lake.” The students had the opportunity to present their vision of Vlasina as an eco-tourism destination in 2020. The common feature of all presentations was a vision of Vlasina as an active tourism destination that offers recognisable products in line with sustainable development principles, thus creating a brand that should become recognisable in the future.
The proposals were presented to a selection committee consisting of representatives from the Coca-Cola Company, the United Nations, and the Ministry of Energy, Development and Environmental Protection. Winning teams received a three-day visit to Vlasina Lake where they had the opportunity to meet the people who are in charge of Lake Vlasina management and further discuss their visions.
The students proposed that the lake would become a more well-known tourist destination for the country and thus contribute to promoting Serbia, but also contribute to the economic and social development of the entire area. The students had a wide range of ideas including creating an area suitable for activities such as Nordic walking, horseback riding, biking, and bird-watching. They also explored having a theme park, perhaps a zip line. There were some proposals around the development of specific accommodation which as pile dwellings, dugouts or tree houses, or putting in a series of ecological Jacuzzis.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
There are many good-practice lessons from this work. Eco-tourism must be seen as an agent for rural economic regeneration and as a way of raising the value of conservation. This is an important issue because of the role rural areas play in many nations as repositories of both natural and historical heritage. Sustainable development enables the development of a market-oriented supply in line with local resources and capacities, which can be more effectively tailored to the needs and requirements of tourists, ultimately increasing the value of the tourist experience. Sustainable development should be introduced as obligatory in the education system in each area because education is an important factor and the basis for any development in the area of economic structure. By educating young people in eco-tourism, we are preparing them to enter into any business with awareness of the natural and social environment.This can only be accomplished with such education adhering to the principles of sustainability, and teaching how to manage and develop tourism over the long-term.