Beaches that draw tourists are a tremendous asset but also present specific challenges
A number of popular EU tourist destinations face the detrimental effects associated with mass tourism which are manifested by damaged landscapes, endangered bio diversity, depletion of natural resources and increased waste production. This leads not only to a diminished quality of tourist experience, but more importantly, to a reduced quality of life for local inhabitants and a loss of local identity. The long-term sustainable development of an area implies economic growth and development that meets the needs of present-day inhabitants in ways that do not endanger the future of new generations, but also an eco-social system which contributes to the quality of life of its inhabitants within its reception capacity.
The principles of spatial and ecological sustainability are the basics for the valorisation and definition of development projects of the public and private sector, especially in the context of determining their maximum size / capacity and location, but also in the quality, biodiversity, waste management, energy supply, wastewater treatment, noise, etc.
The key principles of tourism development of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County reflect the vision of the competitive and sustainable region characterised by social justice, which is desirable for life and work, as envisaged in The Development Strategy of the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County 2016-2020.
Key principles for sustainable development
The basic principles reflecting the socio-economic development of the County that supports sustainability are stated in the Strategic Tourism Development Plan of Kvarner, i.e. Primorje-Gorski Kotar County 2016-2020, as:
• The principle of responsibility towards space is focused on rationality in the use of limited, but still available space (area) for development by respecting the micro-locational capacity for investment projects, or by respecting the limited capacity of existing infrastructure systems.
• The principle of sense of proportion - it is a question of not only defining the optimal way use of available, tourist-interesting, development space (so-called opportunity cost), but also the need to control the dynamics of the desirable “tourism” of the entire project area.
• The principle of local recognition (in order to preserve the "local spirit") represents a necessity of the preservation of a specific spirit of some locality (s.c. genius loci) in the formation of development space, creation of tourist and non-tourist attractions as well as various facilities in the function of enrichment of the social life of all inhabitants of the local communities in the County.
Beaches: A valuable asset
Beaches are one of the most significant coastal resources with great recreational and economic potential. During the season, they are a focus of tourist interest, making them the most commonly used space among the tourist destinations. It is a high-value resource from the aspect of natural, social, economic and recreational potential.
As beaches are one of the key motives of tourist arrivals in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, enhancing their attractiveness while taking care of long-term sustainability and protection is one the key issues. To this end, it is necessary to enrich the beach offer according to the wishes of the market segments while respecting the principles of sustainable development. Therefore it is crucial to establish a quality beach management system, towards which the adoption of the Regional Programme for Beach Management in 2015 represents a crucial step. According to the Plan, in the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County there are 406 beaches as defined by a spatial planning document.
Challenges facing popular tourist destinations
While this resource represents a high and diverse attraction based on the beauty of locations, purity of the sea, security and accessibility, there are many elements that need to be improved. They are mostly related to infrastructure interventions such as access, parking and sanitary conditions in some cases, as well as a number of unused opportunities for raising the quality of tourist offer, introduction of various recreational contents, and stronger profiling of offers to specific target groups of guests.
The challenge is also the seasonal feature of tourism in Primorje-Gorski Kotar County, which results in problems of overcrowding and noise at the peak of the season, making the beaches in some destinations lose part of their attractiveness. This Plan aims to improve the quality of beaches in Kvarner by intensifying activities at the regional and local level by defining the needs of local communities, developing and implementing beach management plans with organisational support.
Strategic planning is necessary to avoid the scenario of irresponsible development as seen in some other popular EU destinations, characterised by a “chaos” destination management due to overwhelming interest from international investors. Without clear objectives and the criteria for the destination’s development, most of the entrepreneurial ideas are accepted independently of the project's features, its impact on the environment and space, quality of life of the local population, or long-term destination image. In other words, in the conditions of maximum dedication to attract investments, all other development criteria are neglected, which ultimately can lead to substantial social, economic and environmental imbalances.