Keywords: national park, ecotourism, natural environment, visitor management,
Abstract: The Balaton Uplands (Balaton-felvidéki) National Park celebrates the 20th anniversary of its foundation in 2017. The national park, located on a 57,019 hectares large area north of Lake Balaton and in the Kis-Balaton region, was established by uniting six separate Landscape Protection Areas, thus creating a mainly contiguous ecological system in Balaton Uplands (Balaton-felvidék) and its surroundings. In 1979, Kis-Balaton, an extensive marshland with an outstanding biodiversity to the west of Lake Balaton, was declared a protected area according to the international Ramsar Convention. Another geographical unit of the national park, the Tihany Peninsula received from the Council of Europe the European Diploma for Protected Areas in 2003, recognising its exceptional geological heritage of European importance and the high efficiency of nature conservation management on the peninsula. Inside the national park area and also beyond its borders there are various Natura 2000 sites, contributing to the conservation of habitats, plant and animal species of European importance. The more than 3200 km2 large Bakony–Balaton UNESCO Global Geopark – including most of the national park area – sets the aim of preserving abiotic natural assets, interpreting the rich geological, natural and cultural heritage of the geopark and raising awareness of their social significance. Interpreting the rich protected natural heritage of these areas and the cultural assets linked to nature is an important aim of the directorate. Visitor centres and visitor sites serve this goal during the holiday season and also throughout the year. Guided nature tours, geotours and adventure caving tours, activity days for families and school groups, handcrafts workshops and the national park’s presence at numerous events also contribute to raising awareness of the importance of the highly diverse natural and cultural heritage of the region and the importance of their protection. Several promotional tools serve the visibility of the directorate’s goals, activities and ecotourism offer, including multi-language websites, a Smartphone application, several Facebook and Instagram sites, a You Tube channel, newsletters, publications, oral presentations and other events. With the growing number of ecotourism events and visitor sites (presently 3 visitor centres and 11 visitor sites) and with the rising number of visitors – almost half a million registered visitors in 2016 – the successful management of the ecotourism-related facilities and services of the national park directorate has become a great challenge during the last years.