Association for Environmental Protection and Tourism Promotion – STEP:
Local communities are the foundation, the starting point and the end point of every step we take.

Non-profit, non-governmental organization Association for Environmental Protection and Promotion of Tourism – STEP directs its scope of activities towards education, promotion, management, use and improvement in the field of tourism and environmental protection. This organization was founded by a group of students of the Faculty of Science and Mathematics in Sarajevo in 2017, with the aim of using the acquired knowledge in the professional field and applying it to hitherto poorly developed areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their primary goal was to contribute to the development of strengthening social awareness of the problem of environmental protection, which is an increasingly common problem in the world. According to the activist of this association, Kemal Hodžić, their members want to become active participants in the development of awareness about the problem of endangering the environment. In addition to environmental protection, their activities also include activities related to the development of tourism. Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a country full of natural and cultural-historical resources, represents an exceptional potential for socio-economic development, which is completely unused due to spontaneous and unprofessional activities and development. The goal of STEP in the field of tourism is to provide modern and innovative models and plans in order to improve tourism through tourism planning, protection of natural and cultural assets, and to implement sustainable development in the process of tourism planning.

The members of this non-governmental organization, as part of their tourism program, organized a round table with the aim of gathering the most relevant factors in the field of tourism in the municipality of Vogošća. On that occasion, they discussed the problems faced by all employees and the ways in which they could jointly act in order to improve the situation in the field of tourism. The round table identified some of the priority points that need to be worked on. According to the member of this non-governmental organization, Kemal Hodžić, it was concluded at the round table that it is necessary to establish a joint body in Vogošća in the field of tourism with the aim of strengthening the joint action of local tourism actors. In the following, Hodžić states that there is a need to establish the role of an official in tourism in this local self-government unit, who is in charge of the needs of the development and operation of tourism in the local community, who would be a direct link between local tourism actors and the municipal administration, as well as a mediator in relations with higher authorities in the field of tourism.

“We emphasized the necessity of a more concrete connection of Vogošće with the Cantonal Tourism Institution Visit Sarajevo with the aim of positioning Vogošće as an accessible destination for weekend tourism, while respecting the available resources. We pointed out the need to create a more concrete offer according to which Vogošća will be positioned as a tourist destination with adequate and necessary branding and marketing. In addition, we said that it is important to improve all forms of infrastructure (accommodation facilities, hospitality facilities) as well as support for the creation of selective forms of tourism that are directly related to rural tourism, primarily agrotourism in recognizable locations with the aim of improving the offer. Finally, they emphasized the essential necessity of establishing joint initiatives and coordinated work and participation in the creation of projects and project proposals with the aim of achieving stronger and more successful applications for the allocation of financial resources from local and European grants, increasing the prospects for support and realization of the planned projects, he said. Hodzic.

Tourism and the environment as fields have an inextricable connection and are directly linked to each other through the pursuit of sustainability. Therefore, tourism and environmental protection represent an extremely important aspect of the development of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tourism not only contributes to the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also plays a key role in the preservation of cultural and natural heritage. Preservation of the environment becomes imperative considering all the challenges facing society, which have their causes on a global level.

“Municipalities and cities have a key role in promoting sustainable tourism, effectively managing destinations and designing policies that balance economic needs with environmental protection. Their role ranges from infrastructural development, implementation of ecological standards to education of the population about the importance of environmental protection, thus becoming key factors in the long-term prosperity of the tourism sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” explains Hodžić.

Through the activities of STEP, great attention is devoted to working with young people through workshops. In this way, young people are given a platform to express themselves, as well as an opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills. Accordingly, various types of workshops are continuously organized. Hodžić notes that as an organization they are also members of the Ilidža Municipal Youth Council. Organizing workshops on volunteering, youth activism, team organization and solving key problems in Ilidža attracted considerable interest, which confirms their desire for active participation in the local community.

“During the workshops, young people showed enthusiasm and engagement, asking specific questions about ways to get involved and solve challenges. Their messages point to the need to create sustainable initiatives, promote team spirit and cooperation, and emphasize the importance of solving specific local problems. Young people expressed their desire to build a positive social influence through volunteering and emphasize the need for support and resources in order to realize their ideas and contribute to the development of Ilidža. The conclusion of the workshop can be summed up through their willingness to actively participate in creating positive changes in the local community by encouraging new initiatives that strive for social responsibility,” explained Hodžić.

In the following, Hodžić states how work has been done to improve tourist signage along the Motka hiking trail in Vogošća, enabling an unforgettable hiking experience with information about rural elements. He explains that signage is one of the most important segments of tourism, because without quality signposts it is impossible to embark on any form of travel. He points out that several different results have been created through the Rural Vogošća project, which is supported by the Tourist Board of the Canton of Sarajevo and the Municipality of Vogošća, and signaling is one of them.

“The work on the improvement of tourist signage along the Motka hiking trail was key to enriching the wider area as well as creating new values ​​that can improve hiking experiences. Through the installation of information boards and signs, it was possible to provide hikers with relevant information about the Motka hiking trail, its characteristics as well as rural elements, enriching their understanding of the environment. Each posted board represents an important guide through natural and cultural landmarks, providing not only directions but also contextual knowledge of the area. It is safe to say that mountaineers thus received additional content that they can use for their needs. With the improvement of tourist signage, Motka becomes an even more recognizable destination that encourages connection with nature and local culture, creating unforgettable experiences for all visitors,” said Hodžić.

When it comes to the interest of young people in the activities of philanthropic non-governmental organizations, Hodžić notes that it is generally important to talk about many topics, but it is also a question of whether society generally talks or listens in the right way. In addition, he explains that it is a good question whether there is philanthropy in the true sense of the word today in Bosnia and Herzegovina or whether it happens sporadically and as needed. He points out that his opinion is that philanthropy must have one of the key roles because it promotes social responsibility and supports various initiatives.

“Unlike the period of 10 or more years ago, we are of the opinion that the interest of young people in the activities of the non-governmental sector is much greater. Of course, a large number of civil society organizations play a big role in this, increased activities on social networks and changes in the behavior of the NGO sector towards young people, where the doors slowly began to open for them. Of course, striving for positive changes, action and active participation in solving problems in the local community plays a big role in everything. In this way, young people are given the opportunity to express their values, participate in projects and develop awareness of global and local challenges. Talking about philanthropy also encourages dialogue about social justice and equality, which is important for forming young people’s awareness of social issues. Through active participation in the non-governmental sector, young people develop the skills of leadership, cooperation and understanding of the system, which makes them key actors in building a society based on solidarity and empathy”, says Hodžić.

Finally, Hodžić believes that society must be transformed. In addition, it is necessary to focus more on success and success stories and put them in the foreground.

“We need to change the value system and strive for openness towards learning, research, different perspectives and the creation of new values. With such an approach, it is necessary to act concretely to change the situation, with a special focus on local communities because they are the foundation of everything, the starting and ending point of every step we take, and only then can we say that we are ready for progress,” Hodžić concludes.

Written by: Hazim Okanović

This story was written thanks to the generous support of the American people through the “Local Works” program of the United States Agency for International Development in Bosnia and Herzegovina (USAID). The content of the story is solely the responsibility of the author and the “Network for Building Peace”. The views expressed in the story do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.