EARTH interviews Natasha, a young Macedonian woman that is doing her internship with AITR in Italy. It is an occasion for her to learn more about tourism in Macedonia and to understand how alternative tourism is emerging and growing. Macedonia has more than 50 lakes and 16 mountains (higher than 2,000 m) and counts for more than 2 million inhabitants. It is now developing new forms of tourism including eco, cave and herbal tourism. Please read on to discover more about it through Natasha’s eyes.
EARTH: So Natasha, what can you tell us about the alternative (responsible) tourism in Macedonia?
NATASHA: “The desire to escape from an industrial and fast paced style of life is persuading people to choose responsible (alternative) tourism as a way to relax. Returning to nature and seeking out new traditions and cultures are pleasures that modern tourists today are often seeking out.
Macedonia has a rich and natural beauty It is also has a vastly interesting historical and cultural past. Many call it ‘the pearl of the Balkans’. Macedonia has excellent conditions for the development of cycling tourism, cultural, wine, village, cave and eco-tourism. Areas such Vevchani, Brajchino, Konjsko, Berovo, are only a fraction of the places where in which rural and eco-tourism may be developed.
We have the ability to offer excellent terrain for mountain tourism including trekking and biking routes in places such as Shar Planina, Mavrovo, Galichica, Vodno. Bicycle paths of this kind are common and varied in inclination and soil structure with different slope structures and natural aspects. These include the presence of rocks, water vegetation and other obstacles. Some examples of the many bicycle paths in Macedonia include: Golemo Ezero (35km), circular bicycle path in Begova Cheshma-Golemo Ezero-Nizhe Pole (45km), Malovishta (35km) and Kopanki (1.9km). Vrelo caves, Peshna, Ubava, Sharkova Dupka, offering opportunities to develop sustainable or recreational tourism.”
EARTH: You mentioned eco, cave and herbal tourism. Could you expand more on these topics?
NATASHA: “The main regions which have the opportunity to develop eco-tourism are national parks (Galichica, Mavrovo, Pelister). They present different sites with distinctive history and nature with rich biodiversity (many endemic species) including caves, waterfalls and more, all of of which create the perfect area for this type of tourism to be successfully developed. Rural areas where tourists can deal with farming, livestock operations, manufacturing and craft production with traditional characteristics, participation in ceremonies and events, gatherings and folklore meetings are also highly attractive. Tourists are attracted to unpolluted environments, clean air and fresh spring water, idyllic village brilliancy, traditional rural architecture and exteriors, landscaping, traditional family relationships, food and domestic animals and pets. In this regard, active participation in preparing and serving the food is a very attractive aspect for visitors. Specific rural nomadic-tourism like this is a very well-known attraction for tourists. Activities related to an active participation in the grazing, milking and feeding of sheep is also popular. Tourists also enjoy taking part in the processing and manufacturing of milk and its products, preparing and serving thereafter its various specialties. Famous places which offer these activities include Galichnik, Belica, parts of Vevchani, Podgorci, Labunishta and Lakavica, the western part of Macedonia, parts of Malesevija and parts of the Osogovski mountains as well. The development of this tourism holds significant recreational features that are related to the consideration of rural areas and active recreation.
Herbal tourism is a base for tourism development which should be sought out thanks to the richness of the vegetation. The flora includes beech, birch and pine forests and are an opportunity to observe, collect flowers, leaves, fruits, barks, roots and resin.
Cave-tourism has not been promoted and the conditions for development are limited to a few caves in Macedonia. This means that the caves are still not sufficiently studied and not available to be used as a tourist attraction but are only available in terms of educational and research activities. Localities that are famous for this kind of responsible tourism are: Radovo, Kopanje, Shiovec, Boro Pole and the high parts of Karadjica. Other significant caving facilities include: Jasika, Canyon Matka and its Vrelo-Matka, Ubava-Matka, Srt-Ivanje, Zdunje, the black cave at river-valley Ocha, ruin Sitoica-Rudine and ruins: Slovachka Jama, Shiovec 1, Kopanje 1 and 2, Rade Niva and etc.”
EARTH: What about the development of this sector of tourism in your country?
NATASHA:“Tourism takes an increasingly important role in the economy of each country. The ambition of a country is to attract, through tourism as many foreign tourists to visit and review its travel and other amenities. The ‘tourist cake’ in the world is very big and every country, small or large, is trying to win as much of it. Macedonia has its touristic offer, trying to attract as many tourists to its resorts, lake shores, urban and rural, natural beauty, and more. Macedonia has a huge potential for development of responsible (alternative) tourism, but what is lacking most is a good international promotion. One example of this is in Koleshino waterfalls near Strumica, which were promoted in 2005 and ever since, the number of tourists has increased by one hundred percent so far, because before that there was no marketing dedicated to it.”
EARTH: What are your thoughts on this subject?
NATASHA: “My thoughts are the folloowing; is it possible for alternative tourism as a form of tourism development in our country to be developed independently, without the help of the stationary mass-tourism? I mean, in what form and how many tourists would be attracted to our country exclusively through alternative tourism? How much money therefore will be generated from it? I mean that without investing in the promotion of our biggest touristic centres, the famous Ohrid and its Ohrid-Lake, attracting as many foreign tourists as possible, the development of alternative tourism effects will not be significant.
My point is that in Macedonia there are about 5-6 thousand quality hotel beds with two, three, four and five stars. As a result, in Ohrid and at the Ohrid-Lake there are about three thousand hotels that have good propaganda and its professional conduct can fill about two thousand beds for a period of about 5 months or 150 days, which would mean about three hundred thousand tourists. I am convinced that at least half of those guests stationed at the lake would be customers of alternative tourism. This means daily cruises of twenty or more buses across the state or excellent attendance of most types of alternative tourism throughout the state. So my hope is that this thought will give greater impact to domestic touristic organisations for a greater engagement and throguh this bring as many foreign tourists as poissible to the state.”
EARTH: Is there something else you would want to share with us?
NATASHA: “Among other things, Macedonia has a significant number of cultural and historical monuments, spas and national parks. All of that if used, can greatly contribute to the development of the region and to an increase in the number of jobs.
The Republic of Macedonia has not clearly defined a legal framework relating to the development of ecotourism, but it is encouraging that there is awareness towards the needs of the development and promotion of this type of tourism. This commitment is set out in more development documents, but particularly highlighted the National Strategy for Tourism Development (2008-2012).
I hope that Macedonia will become a symbol for alternative tourism because there is a lot to see and to do.”