An example of how to sustainably and strategically develop tourism: communication with the local community is a key step

The community supports the development of tourism in Međimurje County. We bring the whole story.

Author  Goran Rihelj

February 19, 2024.

The Tourist Board of Međimurje County conducted a survey of approx satisfaction of the local population tourism in Međimurje County. 

It is a key element in the development of tourism, which unfortunately is often neglected and makes the primary mistake in the strategic development of tourism of any destination. Of course, for those destinations that do not conduct research on the satisfaction of the local population with the development of tourism, nor do they have quality communication, both with tourism stakeholders and the entire community. 

Because everything revolves around people, space, way and culture of living, which makes a destination unique and authentic. These are the main elements of the motive of the trip itself. If tourism does not contribute to strengthening the local economy, connecting short chains, if people move out, they cannot afford higher prices in the destination because of tourism, if tourism does not increase the quality of the local population, if we do not have the added value of tourism through connection - then the question arises which is the meaning of tourism? For whom and why? 

If the main resource - people and space - is lost, then everything else makes no sense. Also, tourism is an added value, not the main backbone of development. A fact that colleagues at sea cannot understand. 

On the other hand, tourism is vacation, new experiences, fun, relaxation, experience and certainly by all definitions and significance it belongs to positive experiences. The irony is that tourism today usually has a negative influence or omen, which is absurd.

We build hotels in beautiful locations, but visually we do not fit them into the space, so we destroy the main resource such as the space and the environment. Instead of stimulating the growth of the local economy and local resources through tourism, it stimulates imports. Instead of tourism raising the quality of local life, the effect is often the exact opposite. 

Local residents' satisfaction with tourism in Međimurje County

But let's get back to research. The survey was conducted in November 2023, on a random sample of 302 respondents. The survey questions for the research were created by the Zagreb Tourism Institute, while the survey was conducted by the Hendal Zagreb agency.

Also, I must emphasize another important element. The first research was done in 2019, while the new one was done four years later (in 2023). Now in TZ Međimurje County they have reference comparison where they are, how the destination is developing, how tourism is perceived and what they need to improve.

All this is a key element of strategic development - research, monitoring and evaluation - but also proof of the fact that the leading people who develop tourism in Međimurje were "ahead of their time". 

As Rudi Grula, director of the TZ of Međimurje County, said last year in an interview for Croatian tourism, "Everything defined in the Sustainable Tourism Development Strategy, Međimurje already has. Na along the way we recognized three resources: space, people and time - and we must not waste this resource." Grula stated. 

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In the survey, the citizens of Međimurje County evaluated several factors, from attitudes about tourism in general, the type of tourism with the greatest potential to the rating the overall quality of the tourist offer. In order to accurately understand the results, the respondents evaluated each segment with the lowest score number 1 to the highest score number 7.

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The research showed us that our communication with the public, but above all our strategic planning and activities, are precisely related to the indicators shown in the research - and that is the satisfaction of the local community, he says. Rudi Grula, director of TZ Međimurje County and adds: 

"The presented results were obtained from the widest local community, and soon we will also present the results of the TOMAS survey for Međimurje, which will look at the satisfaction of guests and the motives of their arrival. We are also working on a survey of stakeholders who are actually involved in the provision of tourist services, from public to commercial ones. So we recorded the entire situation, practically all segments in the destination and product chain."

It is the base of sustainable tourism or the beginning and end of the development of tourism. If the local population is not involved in development, then there is no strategic development either, because it is they who make tourism. 

Three key elements according to the views of the local community, which were interestingly evaluated with the highest marks, are how the development of tourism in Međimurje County should be supported, how local products can be marketed more easily through tourism, and how tourism contributes to a better quality of life for local people and the development of destinations.

Tourism is not developed by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports or the Croatian Tourist Board - although they play an important role, but tourism is developed by the destination itself. 

When assessing the quality of the tourist offer, a growth trend can be seen in almost all elements (obviously thanks to the two survey referees). Interestingly, all but one parameter are growing in proportion to 2019. Not a single parameter is below 4, meaning above the "golden mean" or a solid four. 

"What is an important conclusion from the research is that we are not oscillating anywhere. We have a slight decline, which is at the level of statistical error, in the quality of hospitality, but it is by 0,02 or realistically we have remained at the same level. Which is also a success for me . We know what the catering industry depends on - the provision of food and beverage services, and that's where the workforce problem is first of all. Because Međimurje also has a problem with the quantity and quality of the workforce." Grula pointed out.

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rural tourism is highlighted as the type of tourism with the greatest potential for growth, followed by gastro i rural tourism. 

"The research shows an extremely sober view of the people of Međimurje on tourism, which is supported and which gives us confirmation that we continue to develop tourism in the direction we have been working so far, which is sustainable tourism in all elements. The complacency of the local community shows that we are in one to a solid four, which in my opinion is very realistic and sober. I myself think that we are a really solid Thursday, we are doing well, but we certainly have room for improvement." points out Grula. 

The local community is also aware of the challenges of tourism - from crowds and the destruction of natural and cultural heritage, in order not to repeat the mistakes of tourism development from the Adriatic. 

On the other hand, it is also positive that there is awareness among the local population about negative effects of tourism, such as crowds and the negative effect on natural and cultural heritage, in order not to repeat the mistakes of tourist development from the Adriatic. Which is the first assumption for future development, i.e. mitigating all the negative elements brought by tourism. We cannot positively influence society, in this case sustainable tourism development, if it is not aware of problems or dangers.

Ultimately, it is up to the local community = the destination to choose its direction of development. 

"People here are very sober and realistic in this regard. I think that the level of awareness of the people in Međimurje is really at a very high level, at the level of developed European countries that consider sustainable tourism, such as Slovenia, Finland and others. I can say that I am proud of this view and approach of our wider community." emphasizes Grula. 

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A key factor is that in Međimurje, as Grula stated, they can now compare the results, both from 2019 and today, as well as all other research they have done. Which is really an excellent example for all destinations and one of the key elements of development and ultimately capital (as well as the new Tourism Act), because they know why, where and how they go together as a community, i.e. a destination. 

An important element: The research was done on the basis of the widest community, not only tourist workers

Interestingly, the structure of respondents in the research satisfaction of the local population with tourism in Međimurje County, only 1% are tourism professionals, while 15% of respondents are indirectly related to tourism or tourism is an additional activity for them, and the majority, 74%, are those who do not and will not live from tourism.  

This makes the research data even more significant, because even though they are not in the tourism industry, certainly the development of tourism directly affects their quality of life. As we know, tourism is not a single industry, but vertically and horizontally binds various industries and certainly affects the development of the destination through several dimensions. 

"If we had conducted research with respondents who are directly related to tourism, it would not have been a realistic situation. The attitude of the wider community is important. The research was not only conducted in the tourist-developed part of Međimurje, but in the entire area, which is also important information. I think it gives us a strong incentive to work further. Also, it is interesting that when we correlate all the research with the research indicators that we have been doing internally since 2017 through a survey of ETIS tourism professionals, then all the results are further confirmed. " states Grula and adds that he will use all the data from the research to create a master plan and an action plan for which implementing regulations are expected.

"So thanks to all the research, we will have a really relevant basis for strategic planning." concludes Grula.

Tourism is not a point but a circle. 

Photo: TZ Međimurska County / illustration: hrturism

Author  Goran Rihelj

February 19, 2024.