Cross-border Cooperation in Tourism

1.  WHY cross-border cooperation IN TOURISM?

The relationship between national borders and tourism development is complex, for borders manifest themselves in tourism and influence it in many ways. Border institutions are built up and maintained by state governance in order to control and regulate movement and transport between states. A physical border can form a barrier to tourism flows, or it can be crossed almost unnoticed. Border permeability, the barrier effects caused by the border such as regulations for the movement of people and goods, will directly influence tourism flows and the development and distribution of tourism infrastructures in a border region. Border permeability, political situations and socio-cultural cohesion also affect to the potential emergence of cross-border partnership and development (Timothy 1999, 2001).

Globalization, and especially the making of a "Europe of regions" has whittled away many restrictions that international borders have previously placed on mobility. The European Union's internal borders have been opened up both physically and symbolically, and cross-border regions have become places for communication and interaction.

The understanding and implementation of state borders as barriers – in terms of both mobility and development – has left border regions in a rather peripheral and marginal position. Similarly, tourism development in border regions has been state-centric, characterized by hierarchically organized centralized state institutions, including the regional and local administrative districts.

Bordering regions in Serbiaand Bulgaria need some joint, cross-border approach since:

  • There is a common administrative border between them;
  • Tourism is common development priority for all three border regions;
  • Tourism and as well natural and cultural setting doesn’t consider state or any other borders;
  • Natural and cultural potentials of the area are a significant comparative advantage and an important development asset stretching across the border;
  • We have to change border discourse – from barriers to resources.

Various Territorial Analysis indicates that tourism is a growing sector but the growth is not associated anyhow with the trilateral CBC region as a tourism destination. On the one hand, the area have own problems and challenges in developing tourism that certainly affect negatively the development of overall tourism in the area. On the other hand, there is a tourism potential that is currently not utilized. Such potential is significantly correlated with the urgent needs to overcome challenges that this CBC region is facing. Uniting the forces from both sides, the challenges would be better approached and problems solved in comprehensive manner.

To achieve sustainability, tourism actors have to recognize both external and internal accelerators for tourism in a desired area, possibly manifesting in tourism planning where has to be shown awareness of the possibly negatively circumstances affecting natural and cultural heritage. In the context of border regions, natural and cultural heritage in neighbourhood countries has to be respected at highest level.


Project covers two bordering regions from Serbia and Bulgaria:

  • Zajecar districts which includes municipalities: Zaječar, Sokobanja, Boljevac and Knjaževac. Region has 104.000 inhabitants.
  • District Vidin with municipalities Vidin, Belogradchik, Boynitsa, Bregovo, Gramada, Dimovo, Kula, Makresh, Novo selo, Ruzhintsi and Chuprene. Region has 84.865 inhabitants.


An overview of tourism in Project area clearly presents great potentials for joint tourism development.

These potentials are mainly reflected in Danube River and its surroundings, mountain ranges of the Balkans and as well its corresponding natural and cultural features.

Main on-going tourism activities and existing tourism locations are already recognized by international tourism sector and some of them are very successful. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of intervention needs among the area.


Regarding the Strategy for Tourism Development in Republic of Serbia for the period of 2016-2025, Eastern Serbia with Zaječar District is well recognised tourist area. Belonging to Serbian part of Project area, three priority destinations are identified within the Strategy: Lower Danube, Sokobanja and Stara planina. Republic of Serbia initiated drafting the Master plans for most important tourism destination is Serbia and as well for three destinations within the project area.

The Regional Spatial plan for Eastern Serbia includes municipalities Majdanpek, Kladovo, Bor, Negotin, Boljevac, Zaječar, Sokobanja and Knjaževac. Main topics of the Spatial Plan for Eastern Serbia are: regional spatial development, agriculture, forestry, mining, population, network of settlements, public services, economic development, tourism, traffic, water management, infrastructure – energy, telecommunications, communal infrastructure, environment and nature protection.

Regarding the topic of tourism development, Regional Spatial plan for Eastern Serbia defines that tourism should be developed:

  • in the area of Danube, NP “Djerdap”, Nature park “Stara Planina”, spas Sokobanja and Gamzigrad, archaeological settlements Lepenski Vir and Felix Romuliana
  • to create a connection between old Roman settlements at Knjaževac, Zaječar, Kladovo as well as other municipalities and traditional places in the Eastern Serbia.

The Spatial plan also gives a reference to the need of promoting and developing bicycle network at “EuroVelo 6” and between EuroVelo 6 and connecting routes.

In the section of priority activities, the Plan foresees completion and improvement of existing tourism packages, development of new tourism packages and offers.  In addition, it foresees development of infrastructure on Danube e.g. ports and marinas, visitor centres… 

Other important planning document for the region is the Regional Development Strategy for Timocka krajina (Eastern Serbia) which focuses on strategic priorities: Agriculture, Energy from renewables, Tourism, Mining, and inter-sectional priorities: Accessibility and transport, Support to the entrepreneurship, Human resources and Environment.

Regional Development Strategy identified six development directions in this Strategic development priority:

  • Cultural tourism,
  • Health (spa) tourism,
  • Mountain tourism
  • Nautical tourism,
  • Rural tourism,
  • Specialized forms of tourism

The current state of tourist infrastructure within this document could be described as unsatisfactory. Insufficient investments and lack of modernization caused the unattractiveness of tourist facilities (including town cores) including accommodation capacities. In fact, their average occupancy level measured by occupancy of beds on the annual level is approximately 25% of full occupancy of the all existing capacities. In addition, the quality of products themselves and associated services is not in majority of cases on desirable level and they are not commercialized enough in the domestic and foreign markets as well.



According to the Strategy for sustainable tourism development in Bulgaria 2014-2030 the Bulgarian part of Project area is covered by two main touristic regions: Danube region and Stara planina region.

The strategy proposes for each region basic and extended specialization of activities. The main specialization is a combination of two types of tourism, which in combination define the uniqueness of the regions. Extended specialization includes besides the basic types of tourism and up to 4 complementary types of tourism.

For the Danube region the main specialization includes Cultural and cruise tourism and the extended one includes:

  1. Cultural and historical tourism
  2. River cruise tourism
  3. Adventure and Ecotourism
  4. City entertainment and shopping tourism
  5. Wine and culinary tourism
  6. Religious and pilgrimage tourism

For Region Stara Planina the main specialization includes Mountain and ecotourism and the extended one includes:

  1. Mountain hiking and recreation
  2. Adventure and Ecotourism
  3. Cultural and historical, and artistic festival
  4. Rural Tourism
  5. Religious and pilgrimage tourism
  6. Mountain Ski Tourism

There is an underlined discrepancy between the various tourist potentials and opportunities and practically undeveloped tourism that is focused on individual cultural and natural sites. The established base Tourism North Western Region covers only 3% of the total number of beds in accommodation facilities in the country and implements minimum income from tourism - 2.1%, including foreigners - 0.5 percent.

Many potential tourist attractions are not designed in a way to exploit their potential and associated adjoining tourist infrastructure is incomplete, outdated, worn or missing.

Northwest Bulgaria need investment in staff training to service the tourist development of the region, to support the development of regional products and market information, inventory and assessment of tourism resources, tools and services, regional marketing, regional studies for possible market segment and expectations of tourists, development of regional strategies for tourism development, development of travel packages and etc.

One of the most important factors in strengthening the overall competitiveness and integration of the territory is the territorial cooperation with Romania and Serbia. Cooperation strategies adopted in both cross-border regions are responding to identified needs, obstacles and weaknesses in them and is expected to be a tool for socio-economic development of the regions, increase of competitiveness and accelerate territorial cohesion.



This whole Bulgaria – Serbia CBC region is characterized with diverse landscape (hills and mountains, but also wide plains), the rich forests (over 30% share of the total regional territory), the exploitable thermal springs, the outlet to the Danube river, and favour continental-temperate climate, which is a prerequisite for development of agriculture, forestry and woodworking, as well as various forms of tourism throughout the year. The programme area encompasses large number of places recognized as tourism centres for cultural, spa, mountain, adventure and eco-tourism, where the Danube’s potential as tourism resources represents a common development asset to the entire programme area. The favourable natural and environmental characteristics of the programme area combined with the rich historical and cultural heritage are unique regional assets and one of the key factors for the sustainable development of the border area, and the improvement of the its attractiveness as a tourist destination.

Challenges and opportunities of the tourism in the area:

  • Promoting the development of niche tourism activities (e.g. eco-, ethno- gourmet tourism) thus valorising the favourable conditions for diversified tourism in the border area;
  • Improving access to sites of touristic interest thus stimulating the utilization of natural and cultural heritage;
  • Exploiting the cultural heritage as a potential generator of new products and employment possibilities;
  • Improving the image of the border area as touristic designation through creating common cross-border touristic brand;
  • Promoting traditional productions, leading to cross-border area specialization (branding, trademarks, and certification) thus utilizing proximity to markets;
  • Promoting joint territorial management by the regional authorities;
  • Balancing the conserving and developing aspects of natural resources in creating sustainable tourist attractions used to improve the quality of visiting environment and also to contribute to the quality of living environment.

The main conclusion of the situation analysis shows that the border region between Bulgaria and Serbia possesses certain economic potential. Tourism (eco-tourism in particular) is a good perspective for the future.

Tourism was identified as a main opportunity to balance regional disparities and job creation. Additionally, the Programme area tourism development could substantially benefit the existing European brand that the Danube already is.

The possibilities for the border region to offer products that are naturally connected to Pan-European products would increase the attractiveness of the area – e.g. cycling routes (Eurovelo 6/the Danube Bike Path and Eurovelo 13/the Iron Curtain Trail), cultural routes (the Roman Emperors Route), hiking routes, etc.

The areas of developing tourism, tourism infrastructure and improving tourism services, historical heritage and intercultural dialogue are typically inter-related topics. They benefit particularly from the integrated approach such is the development of joint cross-border destination(s), meaning common products, synchronized policy for developing the elements of the tourism product, joint management and marketing, etc. Tourist destinations are usually formed on the base of common resources, regional identity, products, management, etc., therefore it would be reasonable to expect (and support) the establishment of more than one destination (e.g. among the Danube, in the Balkan area, etc.)

The project is co-funded by EU through the Interreg-IPA CBC Bulgaria–Serbia Programme.

 This website was created and maintained with the assistance of the European Union through the Interreg-IPA CBC Bulgaria-Serbia Programme, CCI No 2014TC16I5CB007.
The contents of this website are the sole responsibility of the Institute for Cross-border Areas and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union or the Managing Authority of the Programme.

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