Undeveloped Bosnia Sees Chance in Eco-tourism

by VR Sreeraman on  July 30, 2007 at 2:35 PM Environmental Health   - G J E 4
Rahima Comor smiles while welcoming a small group of tourists in this tiny village. She knows she will not be seeing strangers for much longer.
Undeveloped Bosnia Sees Chance in Eco-tourism
Undeveloped Bosnia Sees Chance in Eco-tourism

In a few months from now this remote mountain settlement and its eight inhabitants will be cut off by snow that will loose its icy grip only in April next year.

Lukomir, with its traditional stone houses and wood-shingle roofs became a tourist attraction in recent years, as foreign tourists slowly started returning to this Balkans country still recovering from its 1990s war.

"It's fascinating!" said one tourist, 26-year-old Denis Hendriksen of the Netherlands as he walks through the village.

"It is interesting to see the contrast between these primitive homes with electricity meter and telephone cable attached to them," he added.

"People in my country are not looking for luxurious holidays any more. They want to see the untouched nature," said Hendriksen, who is currently touring in the western Balkans region.

Located on Bjelasnica mountain near Sarajevo on a 1,469 meter-high (4,800 feet) plateau on the edge of Rakitnica canyon, the pictouresque village is the highest settlement in the country.

Its inhabitants like doing things the old way. They wear traditional hand-made clothes that have been worn for centuries by nomadic tribes in the region.

Comor, in her 60s, explaines the long process of handmaking the cloth. She does everything from shearing the wool off a sheep, to spinning, weaving, tailoring and in the end, painting the fabric.

The village had several dozen inhabitants before the country's 1992-95 war, but most of them left in search for easier jobs and education for their children, she lamented.

"God knows what will happen with the village," she said, a worried look on her face.

As soon as the group of six tourists enters the village another woman approaches them, offering hand-knitted, multi-colour socks with traditional geometrical patterns.

"Women here developed a kind of competition in handcraft business, so we try to keep it fair," said Sebastian Venuat, a guide, as he prepared the group for a 90-minute walk to the river some 800 metres (2,650 feet) down the canyon formed by the Bjalasnica and Visocica mountains.

The Rakitnica's water is so crystal clear that one can drink it. It is also rich in crayfish and trout.

Besides from an accidental shelling on one occasion, the Muslim village was practically untouched during the war that killed at least 100,000 people and devastated the country's economy.

The gravel road to the barely accesible community leads from Bjelasnica ski resort, which hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, via hills sprinkled with yellow and violet mountain flowers.

Since it lacks luxurious accommodation capacities and modern roads, Bosnia has to count on its cultural heritage and untouched nature, said Tim Clancy of the Sarajevo-based Green Visions eco-tourist agency.

"Eco-tourism is a great chance for this country. It should be our brand," he added. His agency offers rafting on four rivers, village tourism, hiking and biking tours on several mountains in the country.

He reported growing numbres of tourists visiting Bosnia, with growing sales to tour groups from Britain, France and United States.

However, the official figures on tourism are still not very encouraging.

The country has recovered to only a third of its pre-war number of tourists, with half a million tourists in 2006 staying on average just over two days.

Clancy said his agency wanted to change that by offering "niche adventures", and extending the holiday season by including snow-shoeing.

Hamza Ajanovic of the Bosnian foreign trade ministry approves. Unspoilt places like Lukomir disappeared from many other European countries long ago, he said.

But he complained over "symbolic" budgetary support for the tourism sector.

"There are so many problems in this country that there is hardly any attention left for tourism," said Ajanovic, who leads the ministry's tourism department.

But the first positive moves were made this year, with a the launch of a worldwide advertising campaign promoting tourism: "Enjoy life - enjoy Bosnia", runs the slogan.

Tourism ministers and workers from Bosnia's two entities -- the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serbs' Republika Srpska -- are working together on a tourism development strategy for the country in 2008.

The widespread grey economy also affects the sector.

"Some 70 percent of overnight stays are not registred," Ajanovic said.

It is estimated that the southern town of Medjugorje, one of the world's most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites, attracts around one million tourists annually.

But accomodation providers there and touring agencies report and pay taxes for only about 50,000, Ajanovic noted.

Nevertheless, Ajanovic hopes that the country can achieve a lot in the future and become one of the top ten tourist destinations in Europe in the coming years.

Source: AFP

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