The internet is a place and a destination. During coronavirus lockdowns, image-laden websites fed armchair travelers’ wanderlust. With a few clicks potential travelers experienced interweb versions of a places they weren’t able to visit in person. Many of us developed favorite travel sites authored by insider, outsider and in-between (digital nomad) bloggers who endorsed attractions and accommodations with photos and stories of their own travels.
There are many Croatian travel blogs with significant followings. Three comprehensive standouts are the Begonja family’s Chasing the Donkey, Cultural Anthropologist Andrea Pisac’s Croatia Honestly and Ivan and Sarah Cošić’s Royal Croatian Tours. These blogs make travel meaningful by making it personal and based on relationships. The authors are welcoming hosts whose insider perspectives emphasize core Croatian values about family, cultural heritage and natural wonders.
Once a place becomes recognized as a travel destination what happens to the local economies? Ecosystems? Culture? How does this manifest on the internet? The 90s were a pivotal time in the internet’s history and in Croatia’s history. Croatian national identity was being formed as the country gained independence in 1991 amid a devastating war. Tourism played an important role in Croatia’s economic recovery. An active national tourist board displayed stunning images of Croatia’s sunny coast and later developed digital platforms promoting Croatian holidays. In the past 10-15 years drone imagery of protected areas and heritage sites seemed to take on lives of their own.
Images play a huge role in determining the desirability of a place—and its money making potential. The power of Croatian images come not only from striking natural beauty captured by talented photographers Timotej Gošev but from existing ideas, mythologies and popular cultural driven by social media. But internet reality can be deceptive. Do images authentically represent a place? Anthropologist Owe Ronstrom evaluates sustainable practices and the meanings of travel images. His studies show how images create feedback loops resulting in path dependence which turns real places into commodities—and internet images the real destination.
Breath-taking images can reveal disconnects between the needs and priorities of local communities and those of tourists. Some of the most glaring tensions between tourism, cultural heritage and ecosystem health are related to the ideas about sustainability. If not scrutinized, website images and testimonials can escalate social dislocation (no natives live here—its more profitable to rent your apartment!) and ecological damage (selfie vandalism) making the destination a victim of their own success. The Croatian National Tourism Board has a long history of research and development of sustainable practices which address and monitor the impacts of tourism.
In 1980 the UN designated September 27 as World Tourism Day. These efforts to encourage global travel worked. Since 1950 the United Nations World Travel Organization documented the increase in international travel, from 25 million annual tourists in 1950 to 1.4 billion in 2018. The next year, 2019 saw the highest number of tourist overnight stays in Croatia.
How many people can visit a place during a season or of a year without causing damage? There are differing perspectives. Author and poet Miki Bratanić discusses how negative perceptions of tourists add an unnecessary layer of complication to the relationship between guest, host and sustainability. In a 5 June 2020 article titled Tko se boji turizma još /Who is still afraid of tourists? Bratanić counters anti-tourist sentiments.
Rijeka Karneval’s month long celebration draws local and global audiences. It’s rooted in centuries old tradition that adapted to changing circumstances. This year’s karneval parade did not take place during Lent–it will be held in the summer. Journalists, photographers, bloggers and authors cited here are thoughtful advocates for Croatia. Their work is worth exploring further. It is more important than ever to ask ourselves when, why and how we will visit dream destinations.