Ideal for tourism, but also with many challenges
For the first time in our own history, the Župa was visited by tourists. They came here thanks to Meanderbug agency which made arrangements with a few local partner. So,apart from the accommodation, tourists could try their homemade food and visit natural surroundings of Župa. With the director of this agency, Brit Boone, we discussed about the idea and plans for the future of the rural tourism in the areas of Župa and the Balkans.
- How and when did start your idea to come and make Montenegro like place for life and work?
My travels to the Balkan region began back in 2010. My work brought me to the area at least once a year. While traveling through the area, I was impressed with the beauty of the mountains, canyons, and rivers. The color of the natural water looked surreal. Our family had a lot of overseas experience including living in another culture for 10 years. We knew we would make another international destination jump at some time and we found the Balkans intriguing. My first visit to Montenegro was in 2012. The nature here was even more fascinating than what I had already seen and admired in other places. My wife and I decided to move our family here to start a social enterprise that would help promote travel. The initiative morphed over time. Today www.meanderbug.com has become the leader in promoting rural tourism in Montenegro.
- How did you recognize the potential of the Montenegrin village and the neglected rural places in Montenegro?
Before moving to Montenegro we had been impressed with the rural aspect of the Balkans. But, after living in Montenegro for a few months we began to be asked by our neighbors if we had been to the village. When we replied no, then they shared that we did not know the real Montenegro still. Our friends and neighbors insisted that we had to try the local food and see the nature there. We were ready, we were just waiting for an opportunity. Now that we have been in the villages at least a hundred times, we still enjoy it and continue to look for opportunities to go back and to explore new villages.
- What is your impression about development of rural tourism in Montenegro?
It is still early in the development of rural tourism, but we are excited about what is coming together. We see so much opportunity here to share a great story about the tradition and ways of the local people. We also see areas that need development and we hope to continue to be a part of that story. If people can continue to come together for the good of their family and their neighbors, then the future of the north could be brighter than some have hoped for some time.
- When and how did you first meet the natural landscapes of Župa Nikšićka?
NVO Morakovo reached out to us. One of our staff went out to see five potential partners. She came back and shared that I had to go as soon as possible. It was really encouraging for us to see a community that was already working together for the good of the whole. My first time in Zupa we made contractual agreement with more partners in a day than ever before. The people were ready to do something. We continue to go back to Zupa often and love exploring your nature.
- Is it strange to you, to hear the fact that in this rural place nobody before your arrival didn't think on households in terms of tourist destinations?
Not really. It seems like culture has moved along at a very slow and steady place for a long time. I think there are philosophical views on why people generally had just one vision for tourism for some 40 years. In the past decade people have been more deliberate in pursuing more adventure, nature, organic foods, local expressions of culture, etc. Shifting views along with massive changes in technology make new forms of travel possible and possibly more needed than ever before. We believe there is a great future for tourism that is connected to the family and local farm in rural, natural settings. We believe the best of Montenegro’s tourism opportunities are still to come.
- Is the potential of the Župa adequate for the development of tourism in the future? In what direction should that development go?
Zupa has so much going for it and some challenges as well. On the super positive side, it is the only village area in the country that has sustained or increased its population in recent years according to information I have received. While I am not sure of all the factors for this, it is clearly a huge positive for the area. Anything that can be learned about village viability here could possibly impact other parts of the country. The nature of Lukavica and the increasingly popular Kapetanovo Jezero are huge for the long-term success of the area. Challenges that I observe which need to be addressed include trash management, planning and maintenance. The trash management challenge is critical at both the macro and micro levels. Planning is critical for areas that receive some popularity to not be overbuilt or built with varying styles. The more nature can be preserved, the better an area and the country will do long-term. Maintenance is a challenge anywhere there is infrastructure. Roads, bridges, and buildings need to be maintained or deconstructed.
- This year you made several tourist arrangements in Župa. Were the tourists satisfied with the custumer service, accommodation? What should be done, by your opinion, to make the tourists happy when visiting Župa?
Yes, tourists have been satisfied so far. We have received positive feedback about the nature, the food, and the hosts. Besides the items mentioned above, four key things will help move things forward. First, increase exposure about the area. Meanderbug.com is working on this in a number of ways right now including through an upcoming video, blog content, and social media. Local residents can help to promote this through sharing existing and future content and even creating new content. Second, discover and develop the stories of Zupa. There is history worth telling, hikes and trails that are worth rediscovering and maintaining, etc. Anything that can improve the overall offer through story is key. Capture these stories in written and video form to share with future or current travelers. Third, signage is critical in moving forward. Having things marked on mapping software and applications like Google Maps and the maps.me app are essential. With this effort, road signage that is clear and frequent will help increase travelers’ confidence. When it is evident that someone has prepared for a guest, the guest feels more welcome and their experience is better. This will translate into increased word of mouth marketing, a critical aspect in today’s travel scene. Finally, more partners are needed. Family farm stays as well as adventure opportunities in the region are key for growing rural tourism in the area faster.
- What are your expectations for 2018. about visits of tourists in Župa?
We are working to help travelers see Zupa as a good launch and finish point for road trips coming through Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is a very popular route for travelers from Western and Central Europe. If they will spend their first couple or last couple of nights in the Zupa area, it will be a huge boost to the rural tourism initiative in the region. We are early in the season, but we are seeing first bookings move along that line. We will keep working to get more business to more of our partners, and to hopefully see this little effort in its earliest stages grow into something that brings pride and makes a difference in the region. Of course this will not all be realized in 2018, but we can take strong next steps toward that end.
Photo: Christine Vliegen