19.5.1 Management and Visiting of UNESCO World Heritage in Croatia
Tourism has a very important role in the Croatian economy, with UNESCO World Heritage Sites and main promoters in tourism markets and attractions for potential visitors. These sites are managed in several different ways, but only few have own management plans, which points out the importance of heritage in political priorities on different government levels in Croatia. Lack of data on visitors in many heritage destinations makes monitoring and managing tourism impacts difficult and inefficient, ranging from an almost neglected Stećci to overtourism
in Dubrovnik and Split). Here we discuss in more detail policies and management of UNESCO Sites in Croatia and impacts of growing pressure of tourism on UNESCO cultural heritage in Croatia, by presenting the case study of Dubrovnik.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Croatia are managed in several different ways, and they differ significantly in terms of their functions and level of visiting. National and nature parks are managed by their own public institution (javna ustanova in Croatia) and have special spatial plans, while natural heritage outside these parks is managed by public institutions on the counties’ level (21 in Croatia), aimed at nature protection. The UNESCO cultural heritage in Croatia (except Stećci) is located within cities and, therefore, are managed by local administrative units, whose governments are in charge of managing the cities.
As regards the protection and management of cultural heritage, it is important to have a starting point based on the critical principles in this area, which have already been established and internationally accepted. Some of the key issues for the management of the world heritage are included in the Handbook for the World Heritage - Management of the World Cultural heritage (UNESCO, 2013). The basic principles of efficient management of the world heritage are: placing heritage concerns in a broader framework, recognizing the role in sustainable development, protection and management based on values and participation of stakeholders. According to this Manual, there are nine key elements that are common to all management systems: elements (legislation, institutions and resources), processes (planning, implementation and monitoring) and results (UNESCO, 2013).
The starting assumption is that there are all necessary elements in the Croatian policy, such as the legislative and institutional framework, as well as available resources. We are primarily interested in the management planning process, and whether there is a management plan for the UNESCO sites in Croatia. Formulating a management plan, implementing it and monitoring its implementation is essential for the good management of the world heritage. Preparation and implementation of the management plan enables systematic care and management of cultural goods, and helps to identify shortcomings of the existing management system.
Among the UNESCO sites, only the natural national sites have formulated the management plans, while the formulation of management plans for cultural heritage is still in progress. In December 2015, the draft of the Management plan of the historical centre of Split and the Basements of the Diocletian’s palace were presented, but the document has not yet been adopted by the City
Council. The contract for drafting the management plan for the city
of Dubrovnik was signed in July 2019. The plan will encompass the period 2020–2025. The fact that there are no management plans clearly shows that heritage preservation is not high on the priority list of urban policies in Croatia.
Number of visitors of UNESCO World Heritage sites is very difficult to estimate, as most of them are located in public areas (e.g., cities), while only some objects require an entry fee and are not attended by all visitors. Even in those cases, statistical data are generally not available to scientists.
Therefore, the estimated number of visitors included registered number of tourist arrivals in the local administrative units in which the UNESCO sites are located and the number of cruise ship passengers in the cruise ports Zadar, Šibenik, Split and Dubrovnik (in 2018). Same-day visitors are excluded from estimations, as their arrivals to the destination is usually not reported, although they make quite a large share of total visits (e.g., Dubrovnik).
UNESCO World Heritage represented by historical cities of Zadar, Trogir, Split and Dubrovnik has mixed functions, ranging from a place for living, accommodation for tourists (hotels, hostels, apartments for rent, etc.), shops, restaurants, bars, to museums and other public functions (e.g., churches, cultural centres, seats of local government, theatres, museums, etc.). These are also the largest coastal cities in Dalmatia, famous for their sun and sea tourism. Cultural tourism based on UNESCO Sites overlaps with coastal tourism, and therefore it is impossible to determine main motivation for visiting. Only some visit monuments that require a ticket (e.g., Dubrovnik City
Walls (managed by the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Heritage), Basements of the Diocletian Palace in Split and Split Walls (managed by the Museums of the City
of Split), Kamerlengo Fort and the belfry of the church in Trogir). Dubrovnik is the most visited UNESCO Site in Croatia with 2,072,000 visitors, out of which two thirds are overnight tourists and a third comes on day trips from cruise ships (see Table 19.1). Beside historical street, the most famous monuments are the City
Walls that were among the most visited tourist attractions in Croatia, with 1.3 million visitors in 2018 (Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Heritage, 2019).
The second most visited is Split with 1,646,000 visitors, with almost equal ration of overnight tourists and cruise ship visitors (see Table 19.1). However, historical monuments in Split are much less visited by tourists – only 247,000 visited the Basements of the Diocletian Palace in Split in 2016 (Slobodna Dalmacija, 2017). The Defensive System of Zadar is today a consistent part of urban fabric and it has a public function (as parks or public streets), which are available to everyone. The city
itself recorded 725,000 tourists in 2018 – 558,000 staying in the destination and 167,000 from cruise ships (see Table 19.1), but only few actively visited the fortifications. Trogir is least visited among UNESCO heritage cities, with only 147,000 registered arrivals.
Individual cultural monuments on the UNESCO World Heritage List are also located in coastal cities (Poreč and Šibenik), where cultural tourism overlaps with much more intensive coastal tourism. The Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč and the Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik have kept their original sacral functions as seats of bishoprics, while the Fort of St. Nikola in Šibenik opened for public in 2019, after a two-year-long restoration, with the main purpose of visiting. Even though all three sites are available for visiting with an admission, statistical data on the number of visitors is not available. Slobodna Dalmacija (2017) has only a rough estimation that the Šibenik Cathedral is visited by 100,000 visitors annually. However, these sites are included in sightseeing by a much higher number of visitors, with potential market of at least 551,000 registered tourists in Poreč and 376,000 in Šibenik (90 percent of which are overnight tourists) (Table 19.1).
19.5.2 Tourism Pressure
Despite exceptional value of heritage, positive economic impacts of tourism and predominantly good management of heritage sites themselves, most UNESCO sites in Croatia suffer from high pressure of tourism. Most of them face large crowds of visitors during the tourist season, particularly next to main attractions (e.g., Dubrovnik, Split), generated mostly by cruise ship visitors who have only a few hours in the destinations and are less informed on tourism supply. Overcrowding affects both local residents and tourists, whose experience is deteriorated by crowding together with other tourists in the same place and by waiting in long queues to enter the attractions. Furthermore, most destinations occasionally experience large traffic congestions, as streets and roads that had originally been planned for a smaller number of local users, are heavily pressured by numerous cars and buses with tourists. Those destinations often lack enough parking places on the outskirts of historical centres, as well, which contributes to overtourism
(e.g., Poreč, Split, Dubrovnik).
On the other hand, due to high tourism demand, historical cores are gradually transformed into tourism enclaves. These processes particularly affect local residents, whose quality of life diminishes with large crowds of tourists, noise and lack of services for them. Furthermore, motivated by growing prices of real estates, they often sell or rent their properties and move outside the historical core and these properties are increasingly converted into hotels and other accommodation for tourists (particularly in Dubrovnik). Historical centres slowly stop being places of living and working and become open-air museums (musealization) with business and services catering only to tourists. In a later stage, services for all tourists give place to those that cater same-day visitors (usually from cruise ships), e.g., fast food and street food facilities, souvenir shops, etc. (see Russo, 2002). At the same time, large areas of former public spaces are largely given into concession to tourism businesses (e.g., terraces of restaurants or cafés) and they become unavailable for the local population and tourists.
Another huge problem that has affected the entire Croatian coast is illegal, abusive and/or anaesthetic construction
of houses with accommodation for tourists, often oversized and unadjusted to vernacular architecture and cultural landscape. Although the UNESCO sites themselves are perfectly conserved and maintained, very close surrounding areas have been more or less severely affected or even degraded by these processes, particularly in Zadar, Šibenik, Split, Hvar and Plitvice Lakes. Those areas generally lack urbanist planning and appropriate organizations of transport, as well.
19.5.3 The Case of Dubrovnik
To get an insight into the dynamics of tourism and management of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Croatia, we present the case of the Old City
of Dubrovnik as one of the most famous tourist destinations in Croatia, with a population of 28,000 (CBS, 2011). It has an almost two-century-long tourism tradition and is one of few coastal destinations in Croatia that has recorded continuous tourism growth since the mid-1990s (Šulc, 2016; cf. Russo, 2002).
Dubrovnik is also one of the most important ports of call in the Adriatic and wider. For instance, in 2005, the city
recorded 420,048 tourist arrivals and 1,665,732 overnight stays and registered 168 cruise calls and 121,148 cruise passengers (CBS, 2006; Port Authority Dubrovnik, 2019; Šulc, 2016). In 2013, the city
reached the maximum in cruising tourism with 553 calls and 942,909 passengers (Port Authority Dubrovnik, 2019); while the overnight visitors made 646,295 arrivals and 2,173,539 overnight stays (CBS, 2014). After 2013, overnight tourism continued to grow and reached 1,139,725 arrivals and 3,484,667 overnight stays, putting Dubrovnik as one of the most visited destinations in Croatia in 2018 (CBS 2019). At the same time, the intensity of cruising tourism slightly decreased, with 414 cruise calls and 732,431 passengers (Port Authority Dubrovnik, 2019).
Considering that the Old City
covers an area of less than 1 km2 and used to host more than 10,000 people at the same time, the city
has faced a serious problem of overtourism
, for which cruising is usually blamed, as in many other cruise ports in the Mediterranean. After a cruise ship visits the Dubrovnik Port the visitors are transferred by organized shuttle buses to the Pile Gate, the western entrance to the Old City
. Considering the large size of most cruise ships, such high number of visitors in the Old City
at the same time causes large overcrowding in the historical core and traffic congestions in the Pile area, as many cars and buses are supposed to leave or pickup groups of visitors.
Most cruise visitors are less informed of everything that the city
offers and have only a few hours for sightseeing, which is additionally reduced by waiting in traffic congestions. Hence, they tend to group next to main attractions (Stradun, Luža, City
Walls) and cause congestions, which deteriorate the experience of all visitors (Fig. 19.2). Since their cruise package usually includes all meals on the ship, they make little use of restaurants and bars in the city
, making very small economic benefits for the city
, while their pressure on the historical core is huge. At the same time, certain segments of the Old City
that are worth visiting remain almost empty even on peak days.
The case of Dubrovnik confirms previously described transformation of businesses, from those oriented on services for the local community towards services for overnight visitors (restaurants, bars, etc.) and, eventually to services for same-day visitors (fast food restaurants, souvenir shops, exchange offices …). At the same time, prices of real estates have reached the sky due to large demand for flats and buildings that are converted into hotels and Airbnb accommodation, galleries, restaurants, etc. As less than 1500 people remained residents there, the historical core has lost the character of a vivid city
and has been transformed into an open-air museum, with a large difference between overcrowded streets in summer and empty streets in winter. Furthermore, tourism has pushed the prices so high that the real estates in the whole city
has become unavailable to the local population and newcomers. Those who have not inherited a house or a flat can hardly afford to buy or lease a flat for a long term. Eventually, the population is pushed out of the city
, which contributes to the urban sprawl in the whole urban region.
In 2016, UNESCO warned the city
stakeholders to put the Old City
on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The reasons were growing pressure of (cruising) tourism in the historical core and the proposed greenfield project of a golf resort on the Mt. Srđ that would include construction of rather large buildings with apartments for rent to tourists and would change the cultural landscape of the city observed from the sea
(UNESCO, 2016). UNESCO recommended to limit the daily number of visitors to the Old City
to 8000 (Responsible Tourism, 2020), while main tourism stakeholders additionally decided to reduce the limit to maximum 4000 visitors a day. Even though the latter goal has not been accomplished yet, it demonstrates that the city
authorities are well aware of the problem. They also partially limited cruising tourism, by making a schedule of cruise ships that visit the city
, with maximum two cruise calls a day and a maximum of 5000 passengers per ship (Responsible Tourism, 2020). In 2019, due to large traffic congestions, the city
authorities put restrictions on stopping cars and getting daily visitors on and off Thursdays and Saturdays (when cruise ships usually come to the city
) and plan to ban private shuttle bus companies to transfer cruise tourists between the cruise port and Pile Gate, which will be organized by the city
public transport service Libertas (Dulist, 2019). It is still too early to claim if the implemented restrictions will reduce the pressure of tourism on the historical core or additional restrictions will be needed. However, these measures are not expected to influence significantly the quality of life of the population living in the Old City
and to attract newcomers.