The Plitvice Lakes National Park has been awarded the prestigious Green Destinations Award for sustainability. This recognition not only confirms the adoption of sustainable practices at Plitvice but also signifies that it will be promoted globally as a "green destination" for environmentally conscious tourists.
Ecologically aware tourists seek destinations that implement sustainable practices, and in Croatia, this certification is held by Plitvice Lakes National Park, Međimurje County, and the town of Mali Lošinj. This signifies the acknowledgment and validation of their current responsible practices. It also provides a framework for continuous two-year monitoring and improvement upon the existing practices during the upcoming assessment.
The director of Plitvice Lakes National Park, Tomislav Kovačević, stated that the Green Destinations certification is an affirmation of significant progress in fostering sustainability at Plitvice. It serves as an impetus for the park's management to further enhance and create new sustainable practices. Kovačević highlighted that Green Destinations offers guidance for sustainability enhancements, improved communication regarding sustainability with staff and the local population.
Over the next two years, during the revaluation of the certification, a sustainability coordinator will be appointed. Efforts will focus on visitor monitoring, reducing harmful gas emissions—especially in transportation—and transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Additionally, local inhabitants will be involved in environmental protection and sustainable, indigenous tourism goals. Feedback from tourists regarding the sustainability of the destination will be monitored, emphasizing the importance of an authentic experience by strengthening local culture and traditions and implementing them in the real life of the destination.
The Green Destinations certification process includes 84 criteria across four dimensions of sustainable development: social, environmental, economic, and cultural.
UNESCO's concerns have been addressed in recent years by reducing visitor pressure on the Plitvice Lakes National Park through a visitor management plan, alleviating objections raised by UNESCO, which has listed the site as a World Heritage Site since 1979. The area represents the richest biological and geomorphological region in Croatia, and its preservation is of public interest for the country and the world. Therefore, it should be safeguarded from excessive tourism exploitation and overdevelopment, risks that UNESCO highlighted for Croatia in 2016.
Kovačević mentioned that UNESCO's monitoring previously alerted to issues of overcrowding in visitor zones and inadequate solutions for wastewater. These problems have been rectified through the implementation of a visitor management plan and the installation of wastewater treatment facilities. Further steps are being taken to develop sustainable tourism in the region, guided by Green Destinations' recommendations.
Addressing the most sensitive issue—the number of visitors in July and August—remains a priority, although the visitor management plan has proven successful. The average daily number of visitors this summer was ten thousand. Efforts are directed at providing necessary information about the destination and proper conduct within the park to all visitors.
Plitvice Lakes National Park actively collaborates with both domestic and international protected areas. The park's experiences and techniques are utilized in preserving travertine barriers at Ruidera Lakes in Spain, which were damaged due to hydroelectric projects. Through the Green Destinations network, this collaboration will expand.
Green Destinations conducts activities on climate change, public-private sector collaboration for sustainability, national and regional perspectives, destination management, sustainable solutions for tourism businesses, communication of sustainable practices, planning sustainable events, and digital transformation in tourism. A specialized team in Plitvice is implementing these strategies.