/Ljubljana: a model for tomorrow’s tourism

Ljubljana: a model for tomorrow’s tourism

Parks and walkways line the Ljubljanica River that winds through town. Photo: Creative Commons

Bennet Nichol

Paris, the city of love, is home to some of Europe’s most famous tourist attractions. The Eiffel Tower alone sees more than seven million tourists every year.

Yet, unbeknownst to the average site-seer, these seven million visitors have turned Paris’s hallmark of beauty into Europe’s most popular rubbish bin.

Two separate reviews by tourists on the popular online travel platform Tripadvisor reveal a less than romantic picture of the tower. Titled “Huge pretty, but lots of litter” and “Beautiful landmark, sullied by litter,” they highlight a recurring problem in Paris and across Europe.

Tourism, with all of its economic and social benefits has a major downside – pollution. Visitors flock to Europe’s historical and serene locations, taking photos and leaving litter. However, despite the doom and gloom of the Parisian situation, hope does remain for Europe’s esteemed tourism industry.

Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, is now standing up to the camera-toting litterbug phenomenon with a clear and deliberate solution – sustainable tourism.

The scenic and historic city, once plagued by excess traffic and pollution, is now an example for the future of environmentally friendly tourism in Europe.

Dubbed the ‘2016 European Green Capital’ by the European Commission, the city has transformed its centre into an environmentally friendly tourist destination.

The city’s tourism department Tourism Ljubljana has used the award’s publicity to promote ‘green experiences’ throughout the city. Sporting walking tours through various parks and gardens, paddle boarding along the Ljubljanica River, an open-air library, hiking and biking, Ljubljana is moving away from the traditional see, snap and run version of tourism that more traditional destinations experience.

Green spaces and parks dot the city centre. Photo: Ljubljana Tourism


Olivia Brise, Directory of Policy and Communication at the World Travel and Tourism Council thinks that this transition towards sustainable tourism will be inevitable for all European destinations.

“There’s no point in having a niche of sustainable tourism if the rest of the tourism is busy destroying the world that it depends on,” Ms Brise said.

A spokesperson from the cities tourism authority Visit Ljubljana said they have implemented a large number of investment programs and initiatives since 2007 in order to develop the city.

“In 2007 we introduced sustainable development vision until 2025, with 93 infrastructure projects that are important for our environment and quality of life,” they said.

“We have adopted a package of sustainability documents and have so far implemented more than 650 larger and smaller investment projects, each of which is aimed towards improving the quality of residents’ life in Ljubljana.”

“The number of visitors in Ljubljana has doubled in the last 10 years as a result of an efforts of Ljubljana Tourism and City of Ljubljana.”

But how can other, larger European destinations such as Paris or Berlin mimic Ljubljana’s success?

Brise says that cities and their management have a key role to play in sustainable tourism.

“It’s really tied in to the existing infrastructure, and the desire of that city to be a sustainable city,” Brise said.

“This is really strong in Ljubljana… the city has taken a very clear strategic direction that they want to be sustainable, and they want to promote not just tourism, but their citizens lives.”

“The ethos is there, the planning is there, the infrastructure is getting there to make that happen.”

However, Ljubljana’s success is not a simple thing to replicate. Each European city has a unique set of environmental and social challenges to overcome in order to achieve sustainability.

Brise says that whilst other cities can learn from Ljubljana’s “shopping list” of projects, the city is a significant example of developments’ how rather than the what.

“The real learning [from Ljubljana] is actually one of process. It’s all very well to say ‘were going to remove cars from the city centre,’ but what’s the process? What actually made that happen?” Brise said.

“For example there is a very strong mayor, who is very committed and willing to take difficult decisions… [and] really getting your population on board, they need to benefit from it too.”

In turn, alongside their numerous sustainability projects and tourist attractions, Ljubljana stands as an example of how cities can sustainably develop their tourism. Strong leadership, clear planning, and connection to their population have ensured Ljubljana’s future as a tourist destination. Now it is up to the rest of Europe – and the world – to follow suit.