Before the pandemic, Montenegro had over two million annual visitors and over seven million overnight stays a year, which can be considered as success for a country with a population of just 600,000. These visitors are mostly focused on the beautiful coastal regions for summer holidays or ski resorts in the North. However, Montenegro has also other very exciting wildlife tourism opportunities, in particular in the north-east region bordering Serbia, which is very little explored. The Centre for the Protection and Research of Birds (CZIP) NGO from Podgorica, along with partners from both Montenegro and Serbia, is working to open the area as a destination for wildlife-lovers.
Globally, wildlife and bird-watching has become an increasingly popular tourist activity, recognised as important as a tourist niche market. However, as a consequence of this area’s relatively remote position and poor transport connections, tourist infrastructure is underdeveloped here, despite it being the location of four national parks.
Meeting the need for tourism development
Lejla Abdić is an environmental activist and project manager at the Centre for the Protection and Research of Birds. She explains that she and her colleagues were well-aware that the region was underdeveloped in terms of tourism infrastructure and outdoor activities. “As there was huge potential for tourism development, but also a need for support, we decided to take action to open this fairy-tale landscape for visitors,” says Lejla.
With this aim, they applied to the Montenegro/ Serbia EU-funded cross-border cooperation call and were granted the funds for launching the so-called “Hoo project – Creation of Owl and Other Wildlife Experience.” As the bird population of the region is very rich, the main focus of their project was on activities related to bird-watching through mapping and signposting bird-watching trails. They are also working on training and motivating local people to engage in businesses related to wildlife tourism, and branding and promoting tourism products which were developed as part of the project.
Lejla explains that the project area has a lot to offer to nature-loving tourists: owls, for example, have the charisma that provides exciting tourist experiences. But this area is also home to other similarly compelling birds, such as golden and imperial eagles, griffon vultures, and peregrine falcons, or rock partridges and black grouse, as well as rare bird species requiring larger natural forest complexes as their habitats. “The region has unique wildlife tourism assets that haven’t been exploited yet, but soon they will be promoted locally and internationally, so that visitors can enjoy them,” says Lejla.
Lejla further explains that the project is having an important succes in terms of cross-border cooperation. The partner organisations will be organising study tours and coordination activities with the aim of connecting communities, businesses and tour operators from both sides of the border. “At the end of the day, the development of the region is closely linked to cross-border cooperation,” she says.
About the project
“The Hoo Project: Creation of Owl and Other Wildlife Experiences” started in February 2021. The main goal of the project is to encourage natural heritage-based wildlife tourism in the cross-border area between Serbia and Montenegro. The total value of the project is €262,029 and the planned duration of the project is 24 months. The project envisages, among other things, the establishment of two wildlife tourism itineraries, the training of tour guides for wildlife, birdwatching and study visits and the establishment of a digital platform to promote wildlife tourism in the region.
Photo credits: Centre for the Protection and Research of Birds (CZIP)
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