The international conference ‘Proceed with Care – Living with Tourismwas held in Šibenik from 2nd – 5th May 2019 under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Croatia, UNESCO and the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Croatia, along with the City of Šibenik as the main partner. Experts from the fields of humanities, architecture, geography and economy who are studying tourism covered a number of subjects from the vital importance for the sustainability of cultural tourism and the development of tourism in general. Find out what we spoke about, which challenges we encountered, who were the main people involved and why is it so important to talk about the coexistence with tourism.

The Croatian National Theatre in Šibenik hosted a large number of international and local experts and young researchers who exhibited their works, research and conclusions about the subject of the coexistence with tourism – from the global views which give a broad picture by comparing various systems of the management of tourism to the local levels of small narrow Dalmatian streets. On boards that refer to life there followed speakers, presentations and discussions, and many, often conflicting opinions were presented. Over the three days of the conference, everybody present was able to uncover the specific face of the coexistence with tourism, and the dynamic discussions indicated how we are the same and how as experts we distinguish ourselves and realise how to find a common language so that we can live and work with tourism better.

Why an international conference about the coexistence with tourism?

The ‘Proceed with Care’ conference was organised by a team managed by Jelena Skorup, Ankica Mamić and Dragana Lucija Ratković. Jelena Skorup PhD from the firm Juračić Skorup Architects is an architect with great experience of working in the field of architecture, design and planning which she conducts via independent research work with heritage and tourism. Ankica Mamić is a pioneer of communications in Croatia and the owner of the Agency IMC. She has been working in public relations for 20 years during which she had led some of the most important projects in the field of communications in Croatia. Dragana Lucija Ratković Aydemir has been the leading interpreter of heritage in Croatia for many years.With her Muses, she has completed a number of successful projects in the field of the interpretation of heritage and cultural tourism. In the work she connects knowledge from the field of the protection of cultural heritage, the policies of culture management, museology, heritage interpretation and cultural tourism with management in culture and cultural tourism. These three women, together with their teams joined up in the organising of the scientific/expert conference ‘Proceed with Care’ conceived as a place where the issue of the coexistence with tourism, the issue of the relationships of culture, cultural heritage and tourism and the issue of sustainability could be problematized from different aspects. The platform for the organisation of the conference was the National Association for Interdisciplinary Activities in the Field of Heritage and Tourism which Jelena, Ankica and Dragana Lucija had established beforehand. The European Association for Heritage Interpretation ‘Interpret Europe’ of which Dragana Lucija is a prominent member also gave the conference support.

The conference was supported by local partners the Faculty of Architecture of Zagreb University, the Institute of Art History, IRMO the Institute for Development and International Relations, and European and international partners Universtà IUAV di Venezia, Universitát politécnica de Catalunya, the University of Ljubljana , and ICOMOS – the international organisation for the protection of cultural heritage.

When we take into consideration cities such as Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia, or Venice and Barcelona on the European level which are already facing, on a large scale, the problem of mass and overtourism, it is easy to see how it is necessary to act as soon as possible to prevent or at least ease the negative and undesirable consequences which tourism can bring to local communities if it is not managed cautiously. With the aim of the preservation of the wealth which we possess in view of the cultural and natural inheritance and culture in general and the everyday life of people, it is necessary to raise awareness in society in order that the positive and negative aspects which tourism brings are better understood. The scientific community and practitioners who work with tourism are therefore a valuable source of new knowledge because they bring a deep understanding of the local communities which live with tourism on the one hand, as well as tourism management policies on the other. It is precisely a lack of dialogue between one and the other which often becomes the cause of the problems which arise. The ‘Proceed with Care’ conference is therefore extremely important as the first attempt in creating such a dialogue in Croatia. Also especially important is the fact that there is little talk in Croatia about the aims of sustainable development which is a subject which has long been recognised on the European and global level. Within it already are many located and isolated problems which have been dealt with well in the UN’s 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development, through seventeen global Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs. The SDGs represent a UN plan for the realisation of a better and sustainable future for everyone in a way that they address the challenges which we face on a global level such as those of poverty, inequality, ecological problems, prosperity, and the question of peace and justice. Within these global goals also dealt with is the subject of the sustainability of cities and the communities in them. Due to the poor dialogue about SDGs and the lack of awareness about the importance of these subjects in Croatia, consequently, there are few activities that take into consideration the broad picture of development and (non)sustainability. Here in Croatia in the field of tourism it often happens that the decisions made lead to the short-term goals of success and they neglect the empowerment and needs of the local communities as well as their future.

Conference participants – world-renowned experts on the stage of Šibenik’s theatre

A number of experts gave interesting insights into their fields of work participated in the conference. Besides the well-known and globally acknowledged experts, on the first day of the conference authors and experts who work in the field of tourism or who are doctoral students who are researching the subjects connected to tourism had the opportunity to present their works.

Yonca Erkan PhD, head of UNESCO’s office for the promotion of world heritage opened the conference and she spoke about the importance of inclusiveness for the sustainability of society. With her presentation she placed the development of cultural tourism in a wider context as a good way towards the achievement of many of the goals of the sustainability of society described in the SDGs.Amongst these goals, and in the context of the development of cultural tourism, of local communities and heritage the concept of inclusiveness rightly takes a central place.In this way, Yonca Erkan’s presentation also represented one of the main ideas and messages of the whole conference which with the syntagm of coexistence with tourism highlighted indirectly the importance of inclusiveness.

The second day featured the lectures of key speakers in two sessions. The first session of the second day of the conference dealt with the subject of the goals of sustainable development (SDGs), and it was moderated by Dragana Lucija.

Michael Turner PhD, a high-positioned official of UNESCO opened the session and spoke about the aforementioned global goals of sustainable development for the year 2030 which the UN had published. He provided an insight into the importance of the linking of history, urbanism and landscape explaining how the key to the sustainability of cities is, in fact, the empowerment of local communities. Due to the changes which local communities in contact with tourism or its consequences face, they actually (if their empowerment is worked on) represent the guardians of the place and diversity, and they become an important factor in the resistance against the negative influences of tourism. Economic growth is exceptionally important for the empowerment of a community, however, the conservation of the environment, the social factors, urbanisation and the digitalisation of society are also important factors of change and empowerment. Each of them has a significant influence on the people and alters the spirit of a place.

Aleksandar Lukić PhD from the Geography Department at the Faculty of Science at the University of Zagreb stood out with his presentation in which he suggested perceiving the negative influences of overtourism as an initiator and an incentive for the developing of better strategies of territorial development within which the connections between local communities and external influences are analysed and understood more deeply.

The second session which dealt with the issue of tourism although from the perspective of architecture, urbanism and planning was led by Jelena Skorup. A number of local and foreign architects participated in the conference. They opened and described numerous subjects connected to architecture and tourism. Amongst them was Bojana Bojanić Obad Šćitaroci from the Faculty of Architecture in Zagreb and Benno Albrecht from the University of Venice. Benno Albrecht PhD raised the issue of the capacity and saturation of towns, for example, that of Venice (carrying capacity). He highlighted the powerful spatial dimension of tourism and presented a project which offers solutions in the direction of systematic planning which he developed based on the example of Venice, a city faced with overtourism. Architects from Barcelona who represented the younger generation of leading experts and innovators in their fields also took part. They were Carles Sala, Relja Ferušić, Xavi LLobet and Juan Manuel Corso Sarmiento. With their presentations they presented a number of new methods of work in the field of architecture which take the interest, sustainability and culture of a local community as a starting point.

The third session which dealt with the issue of overtourism was moderated by Ankica Mamić. In the third session architect Mar Santamaria PhD showed how one small company from the private sector could have a powerful influence on the public sector. She used publicly available data from the Internet (big data and open data) in her work by which she followed the movements of people in Barcelona. By mapping the movement of people, she uncovered the most frequent meeting points and the so-called comfort and conflict zones. The data that she gathered is now being used for the further and systematic planning of tourist activities in Barcelona. This kind of research provides the possibility of gaining knowledge about the phenomenon of overtourism and can be used for the planning, urbanisation and empowerment of local communities.

Jana Vukić from the University of Zagreb presented the quality of life with tourism from the field of sociology, whilst Dejan Verčić from the University of Ljubljana elaborated an anthropological concept of the material cultural heritage as a “non-place” although from an economic and commercial perspective. Also appearing were Yoel Mansfeld from Israel and finally Dimitri Ioannides from Sweden who proposed a pro-active approach to the management of tourist destinations in the future.

After each block of lectures taking part in the panels were the speakers and the audience who prompted discussion and raised many questions. The interesting and dynamic discussions demonstrated the melange of problems and possible solutions which arose. During the panels, amongst other things, it was shown how distant political leadership is from the recent findings from the profession and science. This lack of cooperation and connectivity results in the polarisation between the managers of tourism on the one side and the scientists and experts who are studying or working with local communities and heritage on the other side.

How to “proceed with care”?

A transdisciplinary approach which combines and connects the various scientific disciplines is needed for responsible handling in the management of tourism. The interests of local communities and their sustainability in coexistence with (especially over-) tourism, are key for an attempt at solving the many challenges from this field. What proved itself to be interesting and alarming was the lack of the presence and will of the political representatives of government who deal with tourism in Croatia. The ‘Proceed with Care’ conference pointed out many problems and gave rise to many interesting conclusions and suggestions to the solutions which should be taken into consideration on national and local levels in the leading of strategies in tourism.

However, there was a very small number of representatives present from the national and local government.It is, therefore, worthwhile to ask those who should hear the voice of science and the profession because they have to power to change the situation and act, or are they simply not willing to listen? How then to implement the global goals of the UN intended for the improvement of the lives of future generations when those who can do it disregard the voice of the profession? Muses firmly believe that continuous dialogue between the profession and the managers of tourism is key for the successful leading of tourism policies in Croatia. What remains is, therefore, to involve new knowledge in the old and to act with great enthusiasm and the love of heritage, as Muses have been doing so far, in the interest of the complete sustainability of local communities in our country.