Management of Protected Areas for Green Tourism in Croatia

Key Contact
Natasa Vetma, Vera Dugandzic
Start Date
End Date
Funding Amount
$ 24,029
Knowledge-providing Countries
Knowledge-receiving Countries


More than one third of the Croatian national territory is included in the European ecological network Natura 2000. This is due to its exceptional natural and ecosystem value. Croatia is one of the EU countries with the highest proportion of protected areas versus the totality of its territory. The Croatian natural heritage constitutes a valuable economic and touristic asset. Some of the sites are listed as top international tourist destinations, known and recognized at a global level. In recent years, approximately 1 of 4 foreign tourists visited Croatian protected areas and Natura 2000 sites.

A deeper analysis of data show that most tourists tend to concentrate on a small number of protected sites or target only particular areas. This creates problems related to over visitation and significant tourism pressures. On the other hand, some of the nature protected areas, not included in the classical tourism routes, show an extremely low number of visits leading to financial sustainability issues.

Through the World Bank-funded EU Natura 2000 Integration Project (NIP), the common branding of nature and national parks has been planned, designed and successfully implemented. The action resulted in the creation of an umbrella brand "Parks of Croatia" that visually covers and includes the logos of each park. This new, modern and appealing visual identity resulted in increased visibility of every park to both national and international public. There is an increased sense of belonging among park managers and employees. The opportunities created by the common brand, including the financing of protected areas and conservation initiatives, have still to be fully explored.

The challenge is to create a common branding and marketing strategy for parks to boost tourism and visitor management. Effective marketing of a common brand would help address the problem of imbalanced tourism flows. More targeted communication is required for tourist groups that have an appreciation for biodiversity and site conservation. Strengthening Croatian current visitor management policies and practices would help promote responsible and sustainable tourism.

As the visibility of a specific protected area increases, so do tourism flows giving rise to new challenges. These include the negative impacts of mass tourism actions such as tensions with landowners, land users and private investors. Excessive construction of touristic facilities results in a larger ecological footprint in the area. Croatia needs to improve the conflict mitigation measures between nature conservation and private investment sector. There is need to find common ground between nature conservation and private investor interests. Conservation efforts are further hindered by a lack of awareness and involvement of local population and stakeholders.


Responsible tourism in Costa Rica is a genuine success story. Tourism has supported the creation of vast protected areas, improving livelihoods for the local communities and assisting with the protection of wildlife. Costa Rica with its rich biodiversity and extensive ecosystem is inarguably one of the global leaders in ecotourism. Ecotourism is rapidly becoming the largest sector of the country’s thriving tourism industry. The Costa Rican government has successfully stimulated economic growth and environmental conservation by marketing the country’s ecotourism destinations.

The goal of the knowledge exchange with Costa Rica was to increase the knowledge and capacity of the Ministry of Environment and Energy of the Republic of Croatia. There is need to create synergies between nature conservation and further development of green tourism practices. These are expected to contribute to branding the Republic of Croatia as a globally recognized "green" destination.

A knowledge exchange visit to Costa Rica took place from April 28 to May 6, 2018.


Visit to Irazu Volcano National Park

This National Park is home to Costa Rica’s highest volcanic mountain. During this visit, the Croatian delegation was hosted by Alejandra Varela, the Park Manager. An overview of the management practices of this protected area were shared. The park management shared how it established a conservation partnership with the local communities living around this natural resource. This being a high-volume tourist attraction, the park management has developed mechanisms to regulate the areas tourists visit to safeguard the biodiversity. The Croatian delegation leaned about the visitors’ safety and emergency response policies. The park management shared examples of practical ways to expedite evacuation in case of volcanic activity.

"Effectively managing visitors is one of the priorities of this National Park. During the last year we have worked on setting up of comprehensive system of visitor management, primarily through the preparation of the visitor management action plan as part of the Park’s management plan. We created an on-line ticket sales platform to reduce the long lines on the entrance points"- Tomislav Kovačević, Park Director.


High Level Meeting

A high-level meeting was held with the Costa Rica Minister of Environment, Edgar E. Gutierrez. Among the key issues discussed were the Costa Rican national orientation towards sustainable tourism, the importance of mainstreaming biodiversity and creating biological corridors. The Minister emphasized the importance of sustainable tourism which is the basis for Costa Rican innovative financing and tax policies. Some of these policies include a payment model for ecosystem services (PES), water tax, wildlife tax, and transport taxes all contributing to Costa Rica’s ambitious goal to become the first carbon neutral country in the world.


Meetings with Nature Protection and Conservation Experts

Experts from the Nature Protection Institute of Costa Rica; National System for Conservation Areas (SINAC); National Commission for Biodiversity Management (CONAGEBIO) and National Forestry Financing Fund presented different mandates, policies and institutional arrangements of the Costa Rican nature conservation system. They also shared the Costa Rican National Biodiversity Strategy, the national reporting system and implementation of the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD). They have a working national Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) which oversees responsible research and utilization of wildlife species. The Croatian delegation found these presentations very useful. They were able to identify potential areas for implementation in the Croatian legislative framework and ways to establish a National Clearing House Mechanism in Croatia.

The Costa Rican experts shared their experiences implementing Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) protocols. The emphasis was on ensuring improved livelihoods of local communities and providing incentives for various stakeholders to participate in conservation efforts. Costa Rica actively engages with local communities, private investors and civil society organizations using legal and institutional frameworks for each biological corridor. Croatia was interested in learning how it can improve the way it engages local communities and stakeholders in the management of EU ecological network Natura 2000 sites.


Visit to Braullio Carillo National Park/ Biological Corridor San Juan de la Selva

Braullio Carillo National Park is one of the largest national parks in Costa Rica. It encompasses over 44,000 hectares with a very rich plant and animal biodiversity. It is also home to several rivers and waterfalls making it an important national water resource. The Croatian delegation was able to observe firsthand the rich biodiversity and visitor management practices in the protected areas.

The tour guides are locals who have been trained and certified as biodiversity and conservation guides. The guide certification model was very useful for Croatia that has a shortage of qualified biodiversity and conservation guides. The park management shared how they work with local communities to promote awareness of good agro-forestry and agricultural practices to protect the biological corridors. Local communities are involved in the preparation and implementation of the park management plan and conservation policies.


Visit to Tortuguero National Park

This park is in the north eastern part of the Caribbean coast and is rich in wildlife, rainforests and waterways. It is also a sanctuary for protected species such as the Green Turtles, Jaguars, and Green Macaws. The park has a strict regime for visitor management with restricted numbers and zones that can be visited. The park has a unique "Turtle Spotter’ program that involves local communities in the protection of marine turtles especially during nesting season. Trained local people also referred to as "Spotters" help to locate turtle nesting places and communicate this information to the guides on the beach who then facilitate their group of visitors to approach these areas in a manner and numbers that do not disturb the turtles during the nesting session. Since the beginning of the Turtle Spotter Program the turtle nests are increasing with tourist visitation allowed in the controlled manner. There are opportunities for visitors to purchase stickers during the visitation and directly support the conservation of sea turtles in Tortuguero and improving local livelihoods. The Croatian delegation was able experience and learn from these collaborative conservation practices.

Representatives of the Ranger Services shared how they work in protected areas to enforce the Forestry Act, Biodiversity Act and Wildlife Act. The main challenges they face include illegal hunting, logging, egg poaching, illegal human and drug trafficking. To combat these vices, the Ranger Services coordinates their work with the National Coast Guard, the Police force and the Judiciary system.


Visit to Bell Bird Biological Corridor and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Experts gave presentations about the Bell Bird Biological Corridor. They also shared the conservation efforts and incentives to protect the Bell Bird which is an endangered species. The park management in collaboration with local communities developed a rural development strategy to expand conservation areas by promoting rural tourism. The park has a Green Seal Certification program for sustainable tourism. The Costa Rica Tourist Institute is the official entity responsible for this program. It is regulated by the National Accreditation Committee to ensure activities and services offered by businesses have minimal negative impact on the natural environment. From this example, the Croatian delegation learned practical ways to strengthen the certification process of the Natura 2000 ecological network sites

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a privately owned protected area and is popular with tourists. The management shared how they participate in developing education programs in environmental conservation for schools in biological corridor areas. They also give lectures in schools and regularly host field visits for school children. The park management shared how they generate revenues and 30% of revenues is allocated to conservation efforts.

Lessons Learned

Importance of clarifying and understanding the development priorities to guide the design and collaborative delivery of the study visit

Having consultations and early discussion involving both the client and counterparts in the planning and design process helped to identify the client knowledge and capacity requirements. This clarity and understanding guided the careful selection of technical experts, institutions, parks and communities to include in the site visits. It also highlighted the types of new knowledge, practices and experiences the that would be most beneficial to the Croatian delegation. It is important to clearly define the knowledge gaps and challenges the knowledge exchange should focus on. In addition to these discussions, guidance and support from the South-South Facility Knowledge Exchange Facilitator added value to the teams planning and design of a customized set of activities and tools to support optimal knowledge transfer.

Value of conducting Pre-visit surveys

A brief survey was emailed to participants in advance of the knowledge exchange visit. The purpose of the survey was to gather and confirm directly from participants their top three institutional challenges, top three things they were most interested in learning during the exchange, the last knowledge exchange they participated in addressing a similar challenge, what was the most useful knowledge from that exchange, and if they were interested in sharing some of their experiences and expertise during the exchange visit and if so what two aspects would they like to share. This survey was useful in surfacing the participants expectations, expertise and identify possible areas for peer-to peer learning. Knowledge sharing is not linear or passive. Creating opportunities for mutual knowledge sharing enriched the level of participation by the Croatian delegation who also had opportunities to share their knowledge and experience seven though they were the knowledge recipients.

The information from these surveys can also be used to create a participant directory to facilitate rapport and networking. It can also as serve as a basic baseline and any important aspects that surface should be shared with the knowledge providers to enable them to better customize the knowledge exchange. In this case, feedback from the Croatian delegation was shared in advance with the Costa-Rican knowledge provider institutions which helped them customize the presentations, the selection of experts, structure of group discussions, the selection of sites and plan activities at each site.

End of day debrief and check in

At the end of each day, the teams gathered in the evening to debrief the highlights of the day, discuss key lessons learned and address any concerns. This was a useful exercise in tracking progress of the knowledge exchange and provided the flexibility to make some adjustments as needed.

Study Visit Evaluation

A post study evaluation was shared with all participants and the responses were consolidated and compared to aspects of the pre-visit survey. It was useful for both the clients and teams to get a sense of what knowledge and experiences were most useful, what expectations were met or not met, how participants intended to apply and disseminate their new knowledge.

Beneficiaries / Participants

Croatian Delegation

The Croatian delegation of twelve included expert from:

• Ministry of Environment and Energy, the ministry responsible for the development and implementation of nature protection policies, the management and coordination as well financing of nature protected areas in Croatia.

• Members of the NIP project implementation unit (PIU)

• Members of the Croatian Agency for Environment and Nature which is the expert national institution responsible for the protection and conservation of nature in Croatia

• Representatives of Public institutions of National and Nature Parks in Croatia

List of Participants

• Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE), Assistant Minister

• Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE), Chief Advisor to the Minister

• Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE), Head of Head of Service for Strategic Affairs in Nature Protection

• Croatian Agency for Environment and Nature (CAEN), Head of Department for Nature Impact Assessment

• Croatia EU Natura 2000 Integration Project (NIP)/Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE), Project Coordinator / consultant

• Public Institution of Nature Park Telascica, Director

• Public Institution of National Park Paklenica, Director

• Public Institution of National Park Mljet, Director

• Public Institution of National Park Krka,Director

• Public Institution of National Park Krka,Expert Manager

• Public Institution of National Park Plitvicka jezera, Director

• Public Institution of National Park Plitvicka jezera,Head of Department Marketing and Sales

Costa Rica Delegation

• Ministro de Ambiente y Energía Minister

• Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía Dirección de Cooperación Internacional,

• Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación (SINAC) Coordinador Investigación Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación (SINAC)

• Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, Departamento Gestión de Servicios Ambientales

• Comisión Nacional para la Gestión de la Biodiversidad (CONAGEBIO)

• Coordinador Coordinador Programa Nacional de Corredores Biológicos Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación

• Irazu Volcano National Park, Co-manager de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas

• Comité Local del Corredor Biológico San Juan La Selva, Miembro del Comité

• Área de Conservación Tortugero – SINAC,Forestal,Programa Controlor and Protection

• Área de Conservación Tortugero – SINAC, Investigacion Acto

• Área de Conservación Tortugero, Head of Spotter Programme

• Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve,Head of Research programme,

• Área de Conservación Pacifico Central Director Técnico del Área de Conservación Pacifico Central

• CB Pájaro Campana, Miembro del CB Pájaro Campana

• Reserva Bosque Nuboso Monteverde

World Bank Contribution

The objectives of this knowledge exchange were in line with the Country Partnership Strategy (FY 2014-2017) under which EU Natura 2000 Integration project was supported under Pillar III: Maximizing the benefits of EU membership; Preparing National reform program for effective use of EU funds. In the addition, the challenges that the Ministry of Environment and Energy is facing even after the successful implementation of the project are tackled in the 2017/2018 Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD). The SCD emphasizes the importance of natural resources and assets and the key role tourism plays in boosting Croatia’s prospects for shared and sustainable social and economic development. This knowledge exchange was an important and timely catalyst to the reform efforts and development of a thriving green tourism sector in Croatia.

This knowledge exchange was funded through the South-South Facility, a multi donor trust fund executed by the World Bank. A Knowledge Exchange Facilitator provided support and guidance to the task team.

Moving forward

Upon return, the Croatian delegation prepared a report outlining the experiences, important knowledge gained and key lessons during the visit to Costa Rica. A presentation was made during the annual Croatian Nature Conservation Forum attended by conservation experts from 47 Croatian public institutions. This was a strategic gathering in which to disseminate the knowledge and lessons learned from the Costa Rica experience.

Following this event, the development of strategic management plans for Natura 2000 sites are underway. These plans will incorporate aspects of the new knowledge gained i.e. establishing biological corridors and ecological networks, innovative payment models for ecosystem services (PES) to support biodiversity protection, community involvement in the management of biological corridors, establishing an enabling legal framework and institutional arrangements, protocols to ensure visitor safety and emergency evacuation, improved visitor management practices in protected areas, and the development of certification for Natura 2000 ecological network sites.


New knowledge:

• Exposure to means and ways to implement bottom-up approaches and involvement of stakeholders in the management of protected areas

• How to implement common marketing strategies and tools to achieve positive impacts in supporting conservation efforts in protected areas through sustainable tourism practices

• Effective visitor management policies and practices

• Innovative taxes and payment for ecosystem services (PES)to generate sustainable revenues

• Establishing supportive legal, institutional and expert frameworks for green tourism to thrive.

Enhanced skill:

• How to improve stakeholder involvement in the management of biological corridors

• How to establish successful mitigation measures between conservation needs and the pressures of mass tourism

• Finding common ground and synergies between nature protection, local communities and private interests

• Ensuring local communities benefit from improved livelihoods

• How to strengthen tourist safety and emergency evacuation policies

• How to establish and operationalize a National Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) to oversee national biodiversity management, research and reporting

New ideas for improved actions:

• How common branding can widen opportunities for reaching financial sustainability in protected areas

• How marketing tools can support the promotion of responsible tourism in protected areas

• How to establish and implement a national Green Seal Certification program

• How to promote awareness and conservation practices among schools and local communities

• Strengthening institutional collaboration and coordination in the national conservation effort

• How to establish and manage biological corridors

• How to connect local and tourism stakeholders with professionals and institutions involved in nature protection

• Raising the capacities of professional nature conservation services, certification of biodiversity and conservation guides, park management and ranger services


• Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica

• National Commission of Biodiversity Management – CONAGEBIO

• National System for Conservation Areas -SINAC

• National Forestry Financing Fund

• Irazu Volcano National Park

• Braullio Carillo National Park Management

• Tortuguero National Park

• Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

• Monteverde Institute