Geological Heritage, Geotourism and Local Development in Aggtelek National Park (NE Hungary)
We examine how geoconservation and geotourism can help the local development of an economically underdeveloped karst area. First, we briefly present the geoheritage of Aggtelek National Park, which largely overlaps the area of the Aggtelek Karst. The area is built up predominantly of Triassic limestones and dolomites. It is a typical temperate zone, medium mountain karst area with doline-dotted karst plateaus and tectonic-fluvial valleys. Besides caves, the past history of iron mining also enriches its geoheritage. Aggtelek National Park was set aside in 1985. The caves of Aggtelek Karst and Slovak Karst became part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 1995 due to the high diversity of cave types and morphology. Socially, the area of the national park is a disadvantaged border region in NE Hungary. Baradla Cave has always been a popular tourist destination, but visitor numbers fell significantly after 1985. Tourism is largely focused on Baradla Cave, and thus it can be considered “sensu lato” geotourism. Reasons for the changes in visitor numbers are discussed in this paper. Tourist motivations, the significance of geotourism and other tourism-related issues were explored in our study by questionnaire surveys and semi-structured interviews. Furthermore, the balance of geoconservation versus bioconservation is also examined. Finally, the relationship of geotourism, nature protection and local development is discussed. We conclude that the socio-economic situation of the Aggtelek Karst microregion is relatively better than that of the neighbouring regions, and this relative welfare is due to the existence of the national park and Baradla Cave.