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.