The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is a challenge to the world – primarily from the medical and economic point of view – but also to the search for new forms of tourism and the urban environment. Prior to mass vaccination, the main strategy to manage a pandemic were non-pharmaceutical interventions. Global travel restrictions and “home” regulations have caused the most serious disruption to the global economy since World War II. International travel bans affecting more than 90% of the world’s population, widespread restrictions on public gatherings and community mobility have severely curtailed tourism since March 2020. Evidence of impacts on air transport, shipping and accommodation has been devastating. According to available statistics, world tourism fell by 35-90% in 2020 compared to 2019. Yet, there are differences between countries. Tourism is particularly sensitive to measures against pandemics due to limited mobility and social distances. The paper compares the effects of COVID-19 with previous epidemics, pandemics or other types of global crises. Above all, however, it examines how a pandemic can change the society, economy, tourism and its projection into the territory. It discusses why COVID-19 is analogous to the ongoing climate crisis and why the mass growth tourism model needs to be questioned. The method to improve responsible access to our planet and ensure safe recreation for its population is sustainable tourism. It is environmentally friendly through the sustainable use of natural and cultural resources. In addition, it is able to support declining regions, thereby ensuring their economic sustainability.
The Danube Region is one of the regions in Slovakia that has seen a decline in industrial production since 1989. While the decline has been partially replaced with new business activities based on a market mechanism currently reflected in the outflow of population from the region, the Danube Region has natural and cultural heritage, and the abilities of its population, which should be adequately assessed. The Faculty of Architecture and Design STU in Bratislava mapped the unused cultural heritage and resources in small and medium-sized towns on the Danube River. Research in individual regions, including the Danube Region, evaluated the special character of the environment, cultural and natural heritage and pointed out the possibilities of its valorisation in the form of a developed strategy. Based on the principle of sustainability, its goal is to transform regions and cities through sustainable tourism, which can bring economic benefits to declining regions.
Based on common research results of the DANUrB, the following subject areas typical of the regions around the Danube with potential for sustainable tourism have been identified:
- Fortifications – fortresses, castles, and bunkers from different periods – Limes Romanus, from the period of Byzantium, the medieval period, the period of Turkish invasions, the 20th century);
- Building culture – church buildings, monasteries, archaeological sites, historic buildings, historic city centres, art galleries, museums …;
- Technical buildings and monuments – bridges, ports, mills, industrial buildings and areas, water towers …;
- “Water” tourism – spas, swimming pools – thermal baths, natural swimming pools – beaches, waterways, but also the waterfront and waterfront promenades;
- Green tourism – tied to the natural landscape (nature reserves, floodplain forest …) and the cultural landscape (vineyards, gardens, orchards, fields …);
- Traditions – intangible culture, such as theatre, folklore, music and art culture, festivals, gastronomy, viticulture – viticulture.
In the territory of small and medium-sized towns of the Danube Region in Slovakia, historical monuments (historical town centres, fortification system, churches …), technical and industrial monuments, or interesting architecture of the socialist period are a valuable potential for cognitive tourism. The region is rich in natural conditions connected mainly to the Danube, its tributaries and other water areas, but also to thermal springs and cultural landscape cultivated for many centuries, which creates ideal conditions for relaxing tourism, sports, but also the so-called slow and experiential tourism.
The strategy for the development of sustainable tourism in the Danube Region is based on several pillars:
- The specific conditions of the region support relaxation-sports-residential tourism, such as medical-recreational tourism linked to thermal springs, water areas, agro-tourism, or golf stays …;
- The thematic or cognitive circles along the Limes Romanus and fortress systems, or wine routes, including their connection to adjacent regions;
- The comprehensive experience within one region linking different subject areas.
In the proposed strategies based on the support of urban and regional identity, it is necessary to monitor both the spatial characteristics of the area (peculiarities of urban and natural structure) and their human activities. Only a balanced relationship between these factors provides the preconditions for the formation of a harmonious and sustainable environment, both for residents and visitors.
The presented paper is an output of the DANUrB + project (DANube Urban Brand + Building Regional and Local Resilience through the Valorization of Danube’s Cultural Heritage).