In southeast Europe, the Danube River connects history and commerce. The calm waters attract tourists and commercial enterprises continue to grow.
By Natasa Radic in Zagreb, for Southeast European Times -- 09/01/12
Sandy shores and rich history are attracting tourists to the Danube region. [Petar Kos/SETimes]
In 1867, the colour of the Danube River was so clear and serene, it inspired Austrian composer Johan Strauss II to write The Blue Danube Waltz, as a nod to this beautiful, powerful river that flows from Germany to the Black Sea. It serves both as an important trade, transport and business route and a tourist attraction, with cruise ships gliding across its waters.
The 2,850km-long Danube River originates in Germany's Black Forest, flows eastward across central Europe, through eastern Europe and finally reaches the Black Sea. The potential of this transport path is increased by the Danube-Black Sea Channel, which allows goods to be moved to the port in Constantza, Romania.
The river is a powerful economic engine for the communities it touches throughout southeast Europe. From Croatia to Moldova, the Danube links the region together, pumping an estimated 500m euros per year into the region through tourism. An estimated 400 cruise ships, transporting 50,000 tourists, traverse the river each year. The EU plans to invest 100 billion euros through 2013 to boost further economic development in the river basin.
Commercial activity on the river is important to provide socio-economic development and a better relationship with the EU, said Dragan Stefanovic, secretary of the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce Association for Transport and Telecommunications.
The Danube separates the new and old parts of Belgrade -- its waters meet the Sava River near the Kalemegdan Fortress, built around the end of the first century AD. The fortress has been destroyed and rebuilt over 40 times, capturing the rise and fall of different cultures and peoples throughout its history.
"The Danube is not only the backbone of co-operation," Stefanovic told SETimes. "The Danube is regional, European co-operation and sustainable development."
Romania is working hard to promote the biodiverdity of the Danube Delta, positioning the Reserve there as nearly rivalling Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Ecuador's Galapagos Archipelago. A bird watcher's paradise, the reserve boasts over 5,500 species of flora and fauna, potentially a flagship for eco-tourism.
Croatia's tourism sector -- the country's most lucrative -- enjoyed a record year in 2011, despite the global economic downturn, and is expecting more of the same this year.
Croatia Minister of Tourism Damir Bajs says the 2012 action plan is set, targeting more distant markets -- China, India, Japan and the United States, as its chief goal.
"These are growth markets for the entire world. We will implement measures for airlines and tour operators; reward the ones who bring tourists from these parts of the world. This is a complete novelty."
During an event last month in Sibenik, Marcio Favilla de Paul, executive director of the World Tourism Organisation, said "Croatia has become a success story that has gone beyond the Mediterranean and today is one of the most important tourist destinations, not only in Europe, but the world."
Zoran Sesto, marketing manager of Danubium Tours in Vukovar, Croatia, said European rivers will also be popular tourist destinations for years to come.
"These guests have already taken the ocean cruises and they want something new now," Sesto said. "The [Danube] is really interesting as they can travel through different countries and cities that are connected by history."
Sesto pointed out that in Vukovar, between 150 and 170 river cruise ships dock each year, with 150-200 passengers each.
"[In 2011] for the first time, we had guests from Japan. And when they disembark, they can visit Vukovar or Osijek. They can enjoy ethno-tourism or see the sights from the war. It depends on what they prefer," said Sesto.
Tourists also get a taste of traditional cuisine, including stuffed paprika, mashed potatoes, goulash and homemade brandy.
Sesto added that Danubium Tours is wrapping up preparations for its own panoramic glass ship, which will set sail on the Danube this year. It is expected to represent a new tourist attraction for guests from far away countries or from within the region.
Especially in the summer, the Serbian, Bulgarian and Romanian sections of the Danube offer lovely beaches and landscapes -- a haven for wilderness enthusiasts and recreational fisherman.
Vukovar, where the Vuka and Danube rivers meet, is a key tourist attraction despite war scars still dotting the landscape. [Petar Kos/SETimes]
The river plays an especially symbolic role in Bulgaria where exiled revolutionaries hijacked the Romanian steamship Radetzky in 1876 to return to their homeland. It became one of the brightest symbols of Bulgaria's struggle for liberation and set the tone for the country's liberation from the Ottomans in 1877.
But a reconstruction of the ship built in the 1960s has no sailing license due to lack of funding. It sits in a wharf on the Kozloduy bank. Although described as a “unique sacred place” by the accompanying museum, the struggle to keep the project funded drags on.
However, there has been a recent notable increase in tourism in Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia, both along the Danube. Data supplied by the Bureau of Statistics suggests that in the first seven months of 2011, the number of foreign tourists visiting Belgrade climbed to 242,821 from 206,556 over the same period in 2010.
In Novi Sad, over the first six months of 2011, the number of foreign tourists was up 40% over the same period in 2010. The newer figure factors in attendance at the Exit music festival at Petrovaradin Fortress, which topped 200,000 people.
Novi Sad is also known for its art and music academies and as a place where artists come to create works. Other Novi Sad destinations include Fisherman's Island and Strand, a popular beach known for its night-life, sports and concerts.
Southeast European Times correspondents Tsvetina Borisova in Sofia, Gabriel Petrescu in Bucharest, Ivana Jovanovic in Novi Sad and Biljana Pekusic in Belgrade contributed to this article.