European Union-Supported Certification of Tourist Offer for Sustainable Tourism in BiH

Recognising the growth in demand for green tourism, sustainability and the trend for tourists to turn to environmentally friendly destinations, Bosnia and Herzegovina, within the EU4BusinessRecovery project, which is co-financed by the European Union and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, opens the way to a new chapter in the development of green destinations in tourism.

From April 2018 to December 2020, through the then EU4Business project, the European Union and the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany invested in the development of the private sector in BiH, focusing on the export-oriented economy and tourism sector, with the aim of stimulating growth, opening new jobs in BiH through innovation, and for companies and farmers to become more competitive for the EU market.

Through the same project, the DINARDICA – Ka prirodi. Ka sebi. destination was chosen, which unites three municipalities – Mrkonjić Grad, Ribnik and Šipovo. Gathered around the same vision together with partners and a common interest to protect intact nature, this area focused on eco and outdoor tourism in the valleys of the upper reaches of the Sana and Pliva rivers.

Through EU4BusinessRecovery, an even greater investment in sustainable tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been launched. Five destinations in Bosnia and Herzegovina were selected that are of sufficient quality and ready for the green certification process.

Selected destinations that will receive support in the forthcoming period are: Bosanska Krupa, National Park Kozara, Nature Monument Skakavac near Sarajevo, Šamac and Trebinje.

The partners of the EU4BusinessRecovery project, the Green Visions experts who organise and promote successful destinations in the countries of the Western Balkans, were also part of the jury that selected the destinations. According to them, numerous challenges await them in the next period.

Ahead of us are the appointments and trainings of sustainability coordinators in each of the destinations, which will be led by Green Visions. We shall train the sustainability team in each of the destinations, help start the certification process, which includes responses to the Green Destinations standards, and help prepare an action plan for sustainable tourism in each of the destinations,” said Snježana Derviškadić, Head of the Green Visions project.

She adds that at the beginning of March, selected destinations from Bosnia and Herzegovina will be presented at the world’s largest tourism fair, “ITB Berlin”, in Germany.

The EU4BusinessRecovery project aims at developing capacities and supporting strategic planning, with a focus on the green economy. Through the project, assistance is provided to partner institutions at the state and entity level, in order to build capacities for understanding European practices and improve skills in three key areas: green economy, strategic planning for green economy and team management.

The Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina (MoFTER) points out that the green economy and sustainable tourism are the future, and that the development of the tourism industry also supports the competitiveness of other sectors such as agriculture, textiles, furniture and energy.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, five destinations were selected for primary certification. Considering that the process of primary certification of destinations is a new product on the tourism market of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we face many challenges. First of all, it is necessary to raise awareness of its importance in local communities, the private sector, non-governmental organisations as well as entities in the tourism sector. We believe that through the examples of good practice of our destinations that are in the certification process, we shall also encourage other destinations to see the importance and positive effects of the certification,” says Jelica Grujić, Head of the Tourism Department at the Ministry.

In the process of implementation, the cooperation of all competent institutions at all levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina is of key importance, wherein special focus should be placed on local communities, which must be informed and advised of all the benefits of certification. Through this process, the implementation of the principles of sustainable development, the promotion and raising of the reputation of destinations, the quality and value of products and services, and the more efficient use of natural resources are ensured.

Apart from global GDS standards or the so-called primary certification, countries can decide to establish a national sustainability model or secondary certification, which includes a certification scheme that can be used as a practical, efficient and simple tool to accelerate the introduction of sustainable business models in tourism at the level of destinations and companies.

With the continued support of the EU4BusinessRecovery project, state and entity ministries in Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to work on defining the appropriate scheme for sustainable tourism development and certification.

The MoFTER believes that foreign tourists are more environmentally conscious, aware of what the green certificate means and implies, and that they highly value facilities that invest in recycling, renewable energy sources, proper waste disposal and growing organic food. In this light, the support of state and entity institutions is crucial.

The process of national certification has not yet started in BiH. The primary certification of destinations is underway, which is a big step and we expect that the results of the primary certification process through the EU4BusinessRecovery project will be visible and successful on the ground. Certification of green destinations and companies is among the priority measures in the entity and strategic documents of the Brčko District. “In all subsequent steps regarding national certification, the Ministry will support the agreed position of the competent entity and Brčko District institutions,” said Grujić.

The strategic approach to the development of the selected destinations was one of the most important elements in the selection.

It was of critical importance that the destination had the capacity for the processes to be applied. In this, the same template cannot be applied to all. The elements that were considered included clear strategic decisions of the destination towards sustainable development in Bosnia and Herzegovina, tourism development, transparency of operations, existing mechanisms of consultation with various stakeholders, as well as the involvement of the local community in planning,” said Derviškadić, the Green Visions project.

MoFTER, together with entity ministries and the Brčko District, actively participates through its work in the Tourism Sector Coordination Committee and provides advisory support in the implementation of the certification process.

We are in the initial phase of primary certification, but even the longest journey begins with the first step. It is very important that strategic documents recognise the importance of certification and that we have successful initial examples. The situation on the market, trends in tourist demand and the struggle to achieve better competitiveness will certainly accelerate these processes in the future. The current situation on the ground shows that we are still not even close to the countries that have been doing this successfully for years, and that base their almost entire tourist offer on green certification. We hope that with the financial support of the European Union and GIZ, which implements the EU4BusinessRecovery project, we shall follow the positive examples of successful countries,” Grujić concluded.

The “EU4BusinessRecovery” project aims at providing support to Bosnia and Herzegovina in mitigating the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project is worth 13.7 million euros, and it is jointly financed by the European Union (13 million euros) and the Federal Republic of Germany (700 thousand euros). It is jointly implemented by GIZ, ILO and UNDP.