News & Interviews

Interview: Rudi Grula, Director of the Tourist Board of Međimurje County on Sustainability

Interview: Rudi Grula, Director of the Tourist Board of Međimurje County on Sustainability

Međimurje County won the Green Hero Award for the year 2023. On this occasion, Mr. Rudi Grula, the Director of the Tourist Board of Međimurje County, spoke with us:


How does Međimurje County take care of nature and environmental protection in its area?

Međimurje County is the second regional self-government in Croatia by the ratio of protected areas to the total county area. The Mura-Drava Regional Park was the first regional park declared in Croatia, covering almost a quarter of the county. UNESCO designated this area as the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve. The Međimurje Nature Public Institution is a professional and agile organization dedicated to the protection, maintenance, and promotion of protected areas with the aim of preserving the originality of nature, ensuring the unhindered flow of natural processes, and promoting the sustainable use of natural resources. Within the Public Institution, the "Between Two Waters" Visitor Center operates. In 2022, the project of the same name was declared the second-best EU project in the category of "Contribution to the Local and Regional Community." The institution educates the local community and numerous visitors from Croatia and neighboring countries about the natural heritage of Međimurje and the role of each individual in its preservation.

Mađerkin breg; author Denis Perčić


The Institute for Spatial Planning of Međimurje County has been consistently recognized as one of the highest-quality organizations in terms of spatial planning for many years. Thanks to the effective operation of municipal companies and local self-government units in Međimurje County, over 50% of municipal waste is sorted, making it a leader in the country and compliant with all European regulations. Međimurje County and local self-government units actively work on separate waste collection to reduce waste and the number and size of landfills. In the field of waste and wastewater management, Međimurje is also a leader in Croatia, both in terms of the developed sewerage network and the number of households and industries connected to wastewater treatment plants.

Med dvemi vodami; author Denis Perčić


How does Međimurje County promote sustainability to its own population?

Međimurje County, in collaboration with numerous partners from the public and private sectors, has been conducting public awareness campaigns, educational initiatives, and establishing partnerships on sustainability issues for several decades. Continuous education on the separation of municipal waste collection is carried out through radio broadcasts, leaflets, posters, and websites. Education has also been integrated into kindergartens and schools. This long-standing effort culminated in the certification of Međimurje with the Green Destinations certificate awarded at the largest tourism fair in Berlin. This sets Međimurje apart in Croatia and worldwide, as only three other regions globally hold this certification at the regional level.

Mađerkin breg; author Denis Perčić


The Tourist Board of Međimurje County monitors the impact of tourism on the quality of life in the local community through the implementation of the European Tourism Indicator System (ETIS) research. The research indicates that in 2021, 83% of residents were satisfied with the impact of tourism on the destination's identity. The study conducted by the Institute for Tourism as part of the Quality Management of Tourism in Međimurje County showed that residents strongly support tourism development, with a very high percentage (86%) "completely" or "mostly" agreeing that the current direction of tourism development in the County should be supported.


Mlin na Muri; author Denis Perčić

How does Međimurje County promote local economy and sustainability?

Effective progress is achieved not only through the general recognition of the need for sustainability but also through the consistent implementation of sustainable tourism development principles in county development plans and financial incentives. The county co-finances projects from both the commercial and non-commercial sectors that contribute to networking and stakeholder communication, collaboration between the public and private sectors on sustainability issues, the preservation of natural resources, energy efficiency, as well as innovation and the quality of Međimurje's tourism offerings. The county development agency REDEA and the energy agency MENEA significantly assist both the public and private sectors in obtaining and managing projects co-financed by EU funds, which necessarily incorporate principles and activities contributing to a sustainable and socially responsible economy.


What are the most significant initiatives of Međimurje County for sustainable tourism? How is Međimurje County working to reduce the negative impact of tourism on the environment?

Through smart planning, tourism constitutes approximately 3% of the total income structure of Međimurje County, and the negative impacts of tourism on nature and the environment are not significant. However, to continue avoiding such impacts, the Tourist Board of Međimurje County has been consistently monitoring environmental impacts through the ETIS system since 2017, being the only regional self-government in Croatia to do so.

Međimurje stands out with numerous projects initiated by Međimurje County, the Tourist Board of Međimurje County, local tourist boards, local action groups, municipalities and cities, associations, with funding often supported by efficiently utilized EU funds. These projects respect the socio-cultural authenticity of the destination, preserving its heritage, traditional, and natural values. An example is the establishment of the Međimurje Eco-Museum. The entire project, including the organization and operation of the "Eco-Museum Međimurje," involves the construction and equipping of 15 interpretation centers throughout Međimurje County, and a new museum exhibition "Treasury of Međimurje," with a total value exceeding 10 million euros.

Treasury of Međimurje; author Denis Perčić

This model of participatory museology is focused on the well-being of local communities and the contemporary visitor who wishes to experience an authentic destination, its past and present, taste its gastronomic treasures, enjoy natural beauty, listen to indigenous music, and get to know the habits of the local population. In the recent certification process for the Green Destinations award, Međimurje received the highest ratings in destination management, cultural and traditional preservation, social well-being, as well as nature and environmental conservation. Of course, significant investments have been made in the previously mentioned waste and wastewater management projects, as well as energy efficiency.

Treasury of Međimurje; author Denis Perčić


What are the major advantages of Međimurje County for sustainable tourism?

The greatest advantage is the establishment of trust and partnerships with stakeholders in tourism from the private, public, and non-governmental sectors, which was a prerequisite for the successful destination development management in the literal sense. At the very beginning of our tourism development, we understood that preserving natural resources is a fundamental value of contemporary society and that environmental sensitivity is an important factor in the overall attractiveness of our tourist destination. The green orientation of Međimurje County is a crucial factor in its competitiveness in the tourism market, both in terms of spatial use and management and energy efficiency. Therefore, ecological responsibility is one of the fundamental principles of Međimurje's development as a tourist destination. As an organization managing the destination, we have embraced and strongly encourage others to embrace innovation and a culture of quality. The entire EU has oriented itself towards "smart" economic development based on innovations, promoting learning and creativity in various forms of tourism offerings, and these are precisely the starting points for creating a competitive advantage. Therefore, innovation is one of the fundamental principles of Međimurje's tourism development. We follow global market trends and believe that we have a "sense for guests," which are prerequisites for successful business, promoting and ensuring the quality of overall tourist content and services, and thus competitiveness. A culture of quality is the guiding principle of business in Međimurje as a whole, including tourism.


What are the most popular sustainable tourism activities offered in Međimurje County?

Međimurje offers its guests a quality mix of experiences and activities, among which the most significant are:

  • Cycling on the Cyclist Welcome network, which boasts over 750 kilometers of cycling paths and more than 50 accommodation and catering facilities with special offerings for cycling enthusiasts. Along with around twenty thematic bike routes, there are also pan-European routes such as the Iron Curtain Trail (EV 13) and the Amazon of Europe Bike Trail, connecting five countries in the region along the Mura and Drava rivers: Međimurje Bike. Numerous sports fields and halls, as well as fun and adrenaline parks, adhere to high standards of environmental protection, innovation, and service quality, notably the Accredo Center in Zasadbreg.
  • Eco-Museum Međimurje, encompassing fifteen heritage sites throughout Međimurje and the Visitor Center in Čakovec with multimedia interpretations of authentic stories about history and tradition, preserved natural landscapes, old crafts, sacred heritage, and the life and work of Rudolf Steiner and St. Jerome.
  • Sveti Martin Thermal Spa, known for its high-quality and distinctive health and wellness programs, water park, sports facilities, and the Lumbalis Polyclinic.
Sveti Martin Thermal Spa


  • Stays in rural vacation homes, with the rural house Lina Pleškovec standing out, are the first establishments of this category in Croatia with the EU Ecolabel certification, a prestigious European environmental certification awarded to sustainable products and services that promote innovation.
  • The Međimurje Wine Road features a preserved picturesque wine landscape and highly conserved biodiversity with over 20 commercially grown wine varieties, numerous global awards for wine quality, and wine tourism. 
  • The culinary offerings include distinctive local specialties and top-notch restaurants such as Mala hiža Mačkovec and Terbotz Železna Gora, along with functional short supply chains providing domestic and organically grown ingredients.
Gibanica; author Denis Perčić


How does Međimurje County promote sustainable forms of transportation in tourism?

Međimurje is the first county in Croatia to have its own "hop-on-hop-off" bus transportation system. Thanks to the moving bus, tourists find it easier to explore and visit the most attractive tourist destinations. The "hop-on-hop-off" bus system in Međimurje is part of a broader project by the Međimurje County Tourist Board known as the Eco Museum "Međimurje malo," which encompasses the cultural, historical, and natural heritage of Međimurje, as well as the richness offered by our gastronomic scene. The "Hop on - Hop off" bus reduces the number of personal vehicles on destination roads, contributing to a reduction in the CO2 footprint. Additionally, the county has organized and marked the aforementioned 750 km of cycling paths, bike rest areas, and charging stations for e-bikes. This is the densest network of local and international cycling routes in Croatia.


What are the prospects for further development of sustainable tourism in Međimurje County?

The uniqueness of the smallest Croatian region stems from the entire community actively participating in tourist flows – citizen integration, economic efficiency, and environmental protection form the framework for the sustainability of tourism in Međimurje. Today, we are already a boutique destination for active and healthy relaxation, and in the future, we will be a kind of regional "laboratory" for sustainable tourism, attracting not only visitors seeking relaxation but also those who want to enhance their knowledge of sustainable tourism and overall community development through concrete examples of good practices.

We highly recommend visiting Međimurje County, and for more information about offerings, visit Visit Međimurje!


Viewpoint; author Denis Perčić

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