Fifteen kilometers from Mitrovicë/Kosovska Mitrovica, beside Gazivoda Lake and Mokra Gora/ Mokragorë Mountain, is the village of Ibarski Kolašin/Kollashini i Ibrit, full of natural beauties in the municipality of Zubin Potok. Most of the villages are connected, and as you drive you enter one from another. The mountainous environment is marked with pastures, pine forests, streams and a river. In this beautiful environment the local organisation, Institute for Territorial Economic Development, inTER, operates.
With financial help from the European Union in Kosovo, inTER launched the project Outdoor In with the aim of utilizing the natural potential of the area to develop the tourism sector in Zubin Potok municipality, improving the condition of tourism infrastructure, increasing the capacity of service providers, and promoting tourism potential to initiate tourist-generating activities. Launched in March 2013, the project was a result of a previous EU-funded project that was established in cooperation with Zubin Potok municipality and acted as a local tourism organisation. While this project came to a close in February of 2015, they continue to build on the success achieved with support from the EU.
While the general goal of the support was to develop the tourism infrastructure, specific results have made a real impact on the area. For instance, a beach and children’s playground was built on Gazivoda Lake as well as an artificial wall for free-climbing activities, while the numerous hiking and biking trails are now adorned with informational signs and resting points. Today, these attractions can be enjoyed by citizens and visitors to the area.
To better attract tourists to the area, the professionalisation of tour operators was also a major output of the project. Training was provided for guides and instructors for free-climbing, paragliding, diving, windsurfing, kayaking and first aid services to ensure the experience of tourists was not only safe, but on par with other adventure travel destinations in the region. Management and marketing training was also provided for hotel and restaurant owners in Zubin Potok to improve their business practices and reach new clients.
The city was also host to two international summer camps and regional extreme sports and hiking competitions in 2013 and 2014, promoting north Kosovo as a premier destination for adventure tourism.
Now, a tourism development strategy is in place, and a local tourist association and network of tourism service providers has been established to build on this initial support, while Outdoor In will continue to promote the region with a website and promotional activities.
Responding to local needs in the north of Kosovo, the project also sought to increase the opportunity for young people to engage in outdoor activity and to stimulate inter-ethnic communication among people living in the area, leading to a more positive image for Zubin Potok. By doing so, the project supported local economic development and has also contributed to environmental protection efforts, further encouraging the project’s implementation.
“Today, Outdoor In has become an institution for the city, a non-profit entity that gathers the tourism industry from Zubin Potok and other northern municipalities, and continues to help develop tourism, protect the environment in Zubin Potok, and engage actors from the public and private sector too. Starting from 2020, we will focus on reaching 20,000 tourists per year, collecting 2M euro income from tourism.” said Dragiša Mijaćić, Director of inTer in Zubin Potok.
Mijaćić adds “Just in 2016, tourist sector contributed to Zubin Potok’s economy with approximately 200,000 euro which is a direct result of a team work. This area has a great potential for active tourism, nevertheless, prior to our work there were no tourism initiatives in the municipality. And with the support of the European Union in Kosovo, we have developed tourist products that are attractive for people to come and enjoy the beauty of our municipality.”
In 2018-2020 the municipality of Zubin Potok will invest at least 3 million euro in projects directly related to the 2015-2020 Strategy for Tourism Development that was developed by inTER. This investment is expected to make a significant impact in the tourism sector and help achieve the strategic vision to become an area internationally known for active tourism that offer a variety of high quality products and unique cultural experiences for tourists.
Dragiša Mijaćić sees Kosovo as having a great potential for development and cooperation in tourism sector, saying that “There are initiatives in Pejë/Peć region, in Rugova valley, where NGO Marimangat works on similar tourist products. However, Outdoor In and NGO Marimangat do not compete on the same market so we rather see each other as partners and support each other whenever we can. As of 2015 Outdoor In and NGO Marimangat organised several joint projects, and in January 2017 we organised a joint training for Via Ferrata Guides and Rescue Services.”
Outdoor In’s customers include a variety of people from other municipalities in the north, other Kosovo municipalities and internationals.
Outdoor In provides a unique experience that combines all sorts of activities on the mountain and at the lake. They are also operating in an area that is not yet congested with tourists, so the experience is even more extraordinary than in other places. Outdoor In pays significant attention to the quality of tourist packages and safety issues, which also generate a high level of satisfaction among customers.
Outdoor In received initial support from the EU Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) funds in the amount of €30,000 and was implemented by the Municipality of Zubin Potok in cooperation with Institut za Teritorialni Ekonomski Razvoj – InTER and local NGO Kosovo Relief Committee – KRC. The IPA funds build up the capacities of the countries throughout the accession process, resulting in progressive, positive developments in the region. The Outdoor In project contributed to economic development and quality of life in Zubin Potok municipality and other municipalities in northern Kosovo through improved green space and increased potential for tourism development.