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Filed under: Development Development 2.0 Environment Poverty Social inclusion

Montenegrin coast

Did you know that Montenegro is mentioned in Dante’s Inferno? It turns out that in a small northern town located on the river banks of the UNESCO protected river Tara, 13th Century King Uros II “earned” a place in the eighth circle of hell for manufacturing replicas of Venetian coins and passing them off as his own.

There are many more hidden gems (both natural and cultural) in the country’s northern region, which is also the most underdeveloped. And yet, while Montenegro gets some 1.5 million visitors a year (and this number is growing), only five to seven percent of them venture to the country’s north.

The relatively marginalized population and the unique biodiversity are both integral parts of UNDP’s mandate. So with my team we started to wonder: is there a way to use social networking to reach 1.5 million tourists, attract them to Montenegro’s protected areas for a one or two day trip and inspire them to try out goods and services the local population offers?

We recognize of course that successfully attracting potential visitors would create the need for investment in infrastructure, conservation programmes and more diversified goods and services – in other words, aligning economic and environmental policy.

Could social networking help in that respect, too? Could we for instance track (with their consent!) where the toursits go and feed the information back to local municipalities to improve infrastructure, and to local businesses to offer better targeted goods and services?

We don’t have a solution at the moment, but in the meantime we’d like to test a location-based social networking service like, say, foursquare to empower local communities to generate their own tourism content, and offer some new experiences not featured in mainstream marketing.

We’ve chosen four groups of graduate students who are currently taking a course called Public Participation and Protected Areas and teamed them up with local communities to venture out in the North of Montenegro to identify four compelling stories from the region.

They will narrate their stories through lists of things to do, places to see, and experiences to try, with unique tips about cultural, historical and outdoors things to do.

Our idea of using geolocation services for promoting tourism is not unique. You can follow Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Florida and the state of Pennsylvania also partners with foursquare for tourism. We came across some fairly high profile examples from Mexico and Japan, too.

We have a hunch that social media could play a role in linking people who wish to experience something different with people who are economically disadvantaged, living in beautiful protected areas and who want to offer these types of activities.

So far, we identified some potential drawbacks:

  1. Geolocation services have a still relatively limited penetration outside of the US.
  2. Internet access in the targeted regions is limited to WI-FI areas and the rest is mainly only satellite, so the cost reduces the likelihood of usage especially if the user is already roaming.
  3. A project like this is likely to raise expectations that need to be managed; and if it is perceived as a failure it is likely to reduce the chances of similar initiatives in the future.

On the other hand, we can also see some obvious benefits:

  • The project between the students and the local community will generate new stories about little advertised destinations in Montenegro.
  • It will introduce a new means of harnessing community activism, provide new avenues for entrepreneurship and marketing, and eliminate the need for an intermediary between tourists and local communities.
  • Geolocation services seem like a natural fit for the tourism industry and Montenegro could position itself strategically on that front.
  • By potentially unleashing the fastest growing niche in tourism (ecotourism), this initiative can stimulate investment in a variety of services, including infrastructure, Internet access and conservation programmes.

So, that’s where we are with our brainstorming! We’re sharing these early ideas with you in case you might have any experiences to share, skills to contribute or might be interested in partnering with us to explore this concept further. We’d love to hear from you!

  • Ivo Visincic

    What a cool idea! I will certainly forward to my fellow colleagues from department of science. We will look out for how this project develops as Foursquare community in Montenegro is growing!  best of luck, marko

  • Miroslav Radojevic

    so cool

  • http://www.facebook.com/chicoharris Eric A. Harris

    How well is the northern region advertised in Budva and Kotor (and even Dubrovnik) as a destination point? This may be a sensible starting point for this venture.  This should certainly be aimed at tech-savvy backpacking college kids – with an initial incentive – then once the idea spreads more demographic sectors might engage in the 1 or 2 day excursions. Good luck! 

    • Millie

      Dear Eric,
      Many thanks for your post!  You have a very good point and we will certainly consider targeting the southern operators with this initaitive in hope to have them lure the visitors up north.. again, the key here will be uncovering some very unique stories and then being creative in terms of location-based services as a promotional tool.
      Again, thx for comment and stay tuned- the continuation of the blog will focus on the actual stories we come up with!
      Millie

  • Ivana Vujovic

    When can we expect the stories to be ready? i really need some good tips on where to take (…and what to do once we get there:)) my friends who come to MNE only in the summer and have never been to the North! It would possibly be good to also get in touch with real estate developers/agents as they are always looking for a way to make their potential buyers fall in love with the whole country – as this is what makes them invest – when they know that in just a couple of hours they can be in a lovely national park, etc. away from the summer crowd

    • Millie

      Ivana, thx for a very good idea- getting real estate developers involved. We will definitely factor it in- and you could point them to the blog for more updates on the stories! Speaking of which, we hope to have the first ideas about the story coming in at thw beginning of March and we will definitely start broadcasting them once the consultations with local communities are in final stages,so stay tuned :) and thx again!

      • Ivana Vujovic

        blog already shared on my FB profile…Looking fwd to reading the stories ;) 

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