Brac, Croatia, 19-20 September 2013 – Efus and the Croatian magazine specialised in security issues Zastita organised a Manifesto Debate Day on the topic of tourism and security during the first international conference on security in tourism held on the Croatian island of Brac on 19 and 20 September 2013.
This international conference brought together experts from Croatia and neighbouring countries as well as from the UK – about the security plans of the London 2012 Olympic games –, Germany – on the security policy implemented by Munich for the Oktoberfest – and the U.S. – on their expertise on tourism and police.
Croatia’s high level of security is regarded as a real asset for its tourism industry, which all agree must be promoted and supported by an active prevention policy. Throughout the conference, participants discussed the opportunities and risks linked to the rapidly increasing tourist industry in Croatia. While it might lead to small conflicts in the use of public spaces, or to more serious risks such as sexual tourism that must not be overlooked, the tourism industry is also a most promising avenue for Croatia’s economic development. However, the sharp increase in the number of visitors since the end of 80s, and in particular in the Dalmatian region where the island of Brac is situated, has raised questions about the impact of tourism on local culture and the environment and about the sustainability of mass tourism.
A key theme: relations between tourists and the local population
The Manifesto debate brought together a broad range of civil society organisations – tourist guides, Erasmus student organisations, youth groups – to discuss the recommendations of the Manifesto of Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis on the topic of tourism and security and to specifically address the relationship between local residents and tourists.
Raymond Saller, of the Department of Labour and Economic Development of the city of Munich, which is member of Efus, discussed in greater detail how Oktoberfest was prepared and organised to attract visitors and to contribute to the development of Munich.
Nick Colgan, a British citizen established in Croatia for many years, organises music festivals that attract up to 17,000 visitors from 38 countries. The partnership between the local authority, the national and local tourist board and the local community are key to the success of these festivals, he said.
Before and after each event, Mr Colgan holds regular meetings with local partners in order to receive feedback and suggestions and to find solutions to problems that have arisen in previous years.
A local tour guide pointed out that alcohol abuse among tourists is a problem, more so than drug abuse, and that it can lead to anti-social behaviour, violence among individuals and drunk driving, which all pose different levels of security threat.
“Buddy system” and “Fan embassies”: exemples of initiatives to foster better understanding
One of the key questions with regards to tourism and security is the coexistence of different groups of population who use public spaces and services in different ways and have varied needs and expectations. The issue of respect between local residents and tourists was widely discussed as many Croatian organisations feel that tourists have a disrespectful attitude towards the local population and environment due to lack of knowledge or interest. Tourist guide organisations stressed the importance of educating visitors about the host communities. A participant suggested the idea of training members of the community as guides so as to multiply the number of interlocutors who are able to ensure mutual understanding.
The Erasmus student organisation shared its innovative scheme of pairing each visiting student with a local student in order to facilitate his/her integration in Croatia. This “buddy system” enables visiting students to learn about the host community and better understand customs and ways of local life, thereby preventing potential misunderstandings or conflicts between visitors and residents.
The qualification of policemen was also suggested as a means to improve tourist-resident relations.
Some representatives of residents’ associations said they suffer from the presence of tourists and feel the local police do not necessarily intervene sufficiently.
Speaking in the name of Efus, Executive Director Elizabeth Johnston said that all conflicts do not require police intervention and that mediation must be supported by residents and local associations in order to address small-scale and yet important conflicts. For instance mediators located in strategic public spaces or at particular times of day or night can help promote peaceful coexistence and prevent negative interactions.
The example of football “Fan embassies” was also presented: during international tournaments, foreign fan groups set up “embassies” that welcome visiting supporters and provide them with information about the local community, and liaise with local authorities in order to prevent misunderstandings and potential conflicts. Such informal and civil society embassies could be envisaged for groups of visitors to Croatia.
Representatives of the police of Split shared their strategy of cooperation between the police, tourist guides and local authorities. The regular exchange of information and coordination of actions help prevent and reduce incidents for tourists and residents alike.
Other themes discussed during the meeting included the information given to tourists about the risks they incur when visiting Croatia (natural disasters such as earthquakes and criminal acts); the role of fire fighters and the information given to tourists about the risks of wild fires in the summer; the capacities of local and regional institutions in the field of tourist safety; the development of public-private partnerships in order to improve tourist security; and the availability of European funds for the development of search and rescue capacities.
Pictures are property of Zastita