EUSAIR Facility Point Capacity Building held in the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia
Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Croatia, as coordinator of EUSAIR Pillar 4 Sustainable tourism, organized a capacity building event for the representatives of Croatian ministries involved in the implementation of the EU strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian region in Hotel Jezero in Plitvice Lakes. The event was held on November 10th & 11th and was supported with guest speakers from the European Commission, Greece and Slovenia as well as external experts from Croatia engaged within EUSAIR Facility Point project.
Multiple goals of the meeting were: to exchange experience and lessons learned related to monitoring and evaluation during the implementation of EUSAIR in the past period to learn about the practical application of novelties in European regulations related to the implementation of macro-regional strategies, and to find out how to effectively integrate projects resulting from macro-regional strategies into operational programs, since macroregional strategies do not have their own funding sources and are financed on a project basis.
National representatives from the relevant Croatian ministries had the opportunity to exchange the latest knowledge and information with representatives of the Directorate General for Regional and Urban policy (DG REGIO) of the European Commission, experts from Interact, the Institute for Development and International Relations IRMO and Ecorys, as well as with Greek and Slovenian partners.
"The implementation of the strategy requires strong political will, because macro-regional strategies do not have their own funding sources and depend on the political decision to finance the activity from one of the operational programs. As the thematic groups of the EUSAIR strategy have done a good job in preparation, the financial period 2021-2027 is an ideal opportunity to capitalize on this through prepared and developed strategic project proposals", said Mathilde Konstantopoulou, national coordinator of the Facility Point project for Greece, in her discussion.
Tourism is a unique thematic pillar existing in only one macro-regional strategy
Tourism has a very important role in AI countries and is one of the four EUSAIR thematic pillars. In this way, EUSAIR differs from the remaining three macro-regional strategies, the Baltic, the Danube and the Alps, in which tourism is not a separate topic but is integrated into broader thematic areas. This, on one hand, shows the greater dependence of the AI region on tourism flows, but at the same time it also presupposes stronger political support for the implementation of the Strategy. Contracted experts from the Institute for Development and International Relations IRMO and Ecorys Ltd. presented the results of the monitoring and evaluation for EUSAIR TSG4 at the meeting
The pandemic has had a strong impact on the tourism industry, which, however, is showing a strong recovery trend throughout the region, although pre-pandemic levels have not been reached yet. Unemployment has decreased, the number of employees is recovering, GDP growth is present in most AI countries with a renewed significant contribution from tourism, although not yet at the levels of 2019. Progress in the development of tourist attractions is a good indicator: compared to 2018, there are more than seven new sites registered on the UNESCO world heritage list in the region. The number of destinations included in thematic cultural routes is growing, as well: through the Routes4U project, eight macro-regional routes have been developed related to human origins in Europe, heritage, civilization, life, knowledge, design and nature. As many as 88 projects dealing with innovations in tourism were implemented in the past 8 years, and a total of 313 cross-border and regional investment projects were implemented through various EU programs worth as much as 690 million EUR.
Data showing that tourist consumption is growing again is encouraging. But a lot of work has to be done: AI macro region should make a strong shift from mass tourism to more sustainable ecological, economic and social solutions using innovation and diversification tools and stressing the quality of the offer in order to enable stable growth. Furthermore, experts also pointed to great dependence of the AI region on European markets and to the necessity of creating preconditions for attracting tourists from distant markets.
Indicators and/or storytelling for strategy impact and results evaluation and communication?
Indicators are an important part of the framework for monitoring and evaluation and a total of 31 quantitative indicators were proposed and used to evaluate the implementation of EUSAIR by the experts from IRMO and Ecorys.
However, Ilza Ciganska from Interact pointed out that the indicators by themselves do not always tell the whole story. Instead of just explaining the indicators of a thematic area or MRS, impact stories use a real story, with real people and events, to stress an emotional connection among users. She stressed it as a useful tool when one cannot invest in complex monitoring and evaluation systems (cannot support expensive research) which helps demonstrating the impact of complex systems such as MRS.
Why EUSAIR? A laboratory for a new Europe
EUSAIR, Interreg and IPA programs can play an important role in establishing stability and encouraging integration in the EU, in addition to contributing to growth and jobs in the macro-region.
"Macro-regional strategies like EUSAIR and IPA pre-accession programs are a good and very cost-effective tool for harmonizing practices and policies and an excellent way to find common solutions to problems, compared to the situation when individual countries do it themselves. For countries that are not members of the EU, the macro-regional approach can be stimulating, because through participation in decision-making and policy-making, they gradually and more quickly gain a sense of belonging than through the accession process, which lasts longer and for each step closer to membership, much more needs to be done in order to progress. " - concluded Gilles Kittel, representative of the DG REGIO, responsible for EUSAIR monitoring, IPA program coordination and participation in negotiations for EU accession.
In order to assist key EUSAIR implementers in establishing a territorial knowledge base AI macroregional monitoring framework has been developed, expertise, research studies launched, and analytical documents produced within EUSAIR Facility Point Project WP Monitoring & Evaluation. In addition to the above, capacity-building activities for monitoring, evaluating and revising the Strategy and its Action Plan are also supported and planned within the same WP.
This was the third in a series of yearly based national capacity building events aimed to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation capacities of EUSAIR key implementers at national level. In July, the capacity building event was held in Italy, in Bologna, for pillar 2 Connecting regions and in September in Slovenia, in Izola, for pillar 3 Environmental protection. This one in Croatia, in the Plitvice Lakes National Park, has been designed for pillar 4 Sustainable tourism.
Capacity building took place in the Plitvice Lakes National Park. This is the oldest and the largest national park in the Republic of Croatia composed of 16 named and numerous smaller unnamed, cascaded lakes ended with imposing waterfalls, under which the Korana River begins. Since 1979, it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It inspires and encourages productive business meetings out of the main season like this one capacity building event was combining it with productive and rejuvenated walking breaks within natural attraction and sustainable tourist infrastructure.