Effects of Mass Tourism in Croatia and the Attempt for a More Sustainable Approach

Croatia’s increased tourism over the years has had dramatic effects on its coastal regions. While the effects are clearly felt by the local population, some initiatives and stakeholers try to take a more sustainable approach. These challenges were at the heart of the final conference of the German-Central Eastern European Programme of the International Journalists’ Programmes. From May 12 to 15, ten alumni of the programme converged in Zagreb, Rijeka and Krk to engage in critical discussions with local stakeholders.

by Ann-Kathrin Leclere, IJP - International Journalists' Programmes

Published: 17 June 2024

Crowds of tourists meander through the alleyways of the Croatian island of Krk. The asphalt shimmers with heat, there is no turning back, only pushing forward. Rental prices are rising due to the numerous Airbnbs and vacation apartments. And then there’s the garbage left behind by the thousands of tourists who flock to the Adriatic every summer!

These pressing issues were the focus of the final conference of the IJP German-Central-Eastern European Program 2023/24, which this year examined the effects of mass tourism in Croatia. From May 12 to 15, ten alumni of the program gathered in Zagreb, Rijeka and Krk to discuss critical perspectives with local actors. 

We journalists from Germany, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia met with journalists, academics and cultural workers over the course of four days. A particular focus was on the coastal region near Rijeka and the island of Krk, which are affected both by the renewed increase in the number of tourists following the pandemic and by the impact of the climate crisis. Croatia is already massively affected by climate change, like for example the flood disasters of 2023 and the heatwaves. We should learn more about all of this at the final conference. 

On Monday, after a bus ride to the island of Krk, we met our tour guide Marijana Jadro, who grew up on Krk herself. She showed us the oldest places on the island, including Fulfinum, a settlement from the Roman Empire. However, this place was interesting for us environmental journalists for another reason: Croatia’s only LNG terminal is within sight and not far from it is an oil refinery – a sign of Croatia’s efforts to enable an independent energy supply and, at the same time, the ongoing environmental pollution. 

The island of Krk, Jadro told us, has been plagued by mass tourism for many decades, with tourists coming to the island mainly in August. We were able to experience for ourselves what sustainable tourism can look like on the island. Villa Menta, run by Marija Koeffler, is built sustainably. She cooked for us with seasonal vegetables, purely vegetarian and with herbs from the garden. The inviting little house is powered by solar panels. “More people should do that here on the island, since the sun shines so much here,” said Koeffler.

Ivan Jurešić, director of the local utility company Ponikve, agrees. During a tour of their facilities, he explained the challenges and progress in waste management and water treatment on Krk. His conclusion: The introduction of separation systems for consumers can only work if the cities and municipalities also have a functioning waste system, such as a separation plant and a possibility to resell waste. 

Boat excursion with Professor Robert Hofrichter_photo Nicole Reuter

Another highlight was the boat trip around the island of Krk, accompanied by marine biologist Prof. Robert Hofrichter. He explained the effects of climate change on the Croatian coast and the urgent measures needed to protect the environment and make tourism sustainable at the same time. Along the way, we learned useful facts about the vegetation, such as what sea fennel looks like or that most of the fish from aquaculture in Croatia is exported to France.

Visit of the exhibition Criticaltourism at Gallery Kortil in Rijeka_photo by Nicole Reuter

The conference ended with a visit to Rijeka, the former European Capital of Culture. Here, we met cultural professionals and visited the “Critical Tourism” exhibition, which deals with the impact of tourism on society and the environment. The author Doris Pandžić and Katarina Podobnik, herself a journalist and local cultural worker, gave us an insight into the local perspective and the efforts to find a balance between tourism and the quality of life of the locals over a drink in the Book Café.

LNG Terminal at Krk_photo Nicole Reuter

In summary, the final conference of the IJP German-Central Eastern European program not only provided a platform for exchange and networking, but also valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of tourism in Croatia. The perspective of Roma in Croatia, for example with regard to environmental racism or the work of (climate) activists, would certainly have made our perspectives even more diverse and an expansion of the program in this regard would be desirable. Nevertheless, we were able to return to our home countries with new ideas and critical perspectives. We can now incorporate the discussion about sustainable tourism into our journalistic work.

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