After the Tourism Fair in Belgrade, Tijana Maljković, Secretary of the Tourism Association of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce discusses the development of tourist activities, Serbia as the hot spot for investments and tourist potentials that lie in cooperating with the countries of the region
Serbian Chamber of Commerce has made an appearance at the Tourist Fair after a long break. With your arrival to the SCC, tourism has been given a more prominent position. In that area, especially significant is the work of the Tourist Association, with its numerous activities and its cooperation with companies that had not taken an active role before. What are your impressions after the Tourism Fair?
SSC had not participated in the Tourism Fair for years. I hope this is just the beginning of a long-term promotion, not just of hotels, tourist agencies and spas, which are exhibiting at the fair themselves, but also of all the members of the industry that are involved with tourism, which had so far not participated at fairs. There are also local tourist organisations, which maybe have not had a chance to make an appearance in a national or regional exhibition. Now they have been given such a chance. We had 24 companies that presented themselves on our stand, and next year, we expect that the number will increase.
It is clear that the region has vast untapped tourist potential. How are things developing in terms of cooperation with the neighbouring countries?
SCC began creating a joint tourist product in the region last year. Tourist agencies that sell and promote Serbia have been offering packages that encompass at least two countries in the region for years now. These are packages for guests coming even from Europe, but they are especially relevant for those travelling across the ocean. These products already exist, but so far they had not been properly interconnected or properly supported by the line ministries, local chambers of commerce and local tourist organisations. Such a networking allows these countries to join forces in promoting and developing their joint tourist products.
Last year, we established such a cooperation between Serbia and Montenegro, at the initiative of the Montenegrin Embassy in Belgrade, with the support of our line Ministry and the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. This package included seven different types of products, for different types of tourists, encompassing 7- to 14-day trips; they were planned to be year-round programs, although there are seasonal ones, too. Depending on the tour, they cover different parts of Serbia.
The Chamber Investment Forum provides additional encouragement for this type of cooperation between the neighbouring countries. Do we know already how this forum will affect, shall we say, the tourist map of the region?
The Chamber Investment Forum is very important for joint tourist offers. It was founded last year, with a business seat in Trieste and significant funds have been planned, through projects, for the development of tourism and joint tourist products, which, according to plan, should include at least three countries. The Forum’s members are chambers of commerce of the member countries, and not the ministries. The funds allocated for the joint tourist product that the CIF will develop, on behalf of its members, will be announced in April.
We plan to make a joint platform by the end of the year; it will be a website featuring all joint tourist products. For Macedonia, for instance, we have created three tours. The first is the wine tour, because of the fact that both countries have a large number of wineries. The second is the lake tour, in particular, these are Ohrid and Palić lakes and nature as the background of this story. The third tour has culture as the common denominator and follows the story of 17 Roman emperors born in Serbia and Mother Theresa, born in Macedonia.
Belgrade has become a very important location for investments as well, both foreign and domestic. This is especially visible in terms of major hotel chains that are moving in. What is your assessment of the hospitality map of Belgrade at present, all things considered?
Belgrade has become significant, this is true, but so has entire Serbia. In March, with the Sheraton opening in Novi Sad, Hilton and Mama Shelter opening in Rajićeva Street, which is very important for our tourism, we will have, altogether,11 global hotel chains. At that, what will make Belgrade additionally attractive to high-budget guests are the hotels in the Belgrade Waterfront, St. Regis and W Hotel which will open between 2020 and 2021. Opening of these hotels will also bring major global fashion brands in apparel, footwear, jewellery and accessories to Belgrade. This will round off the product we can offer to the guests travelling across the ocean, who come to Europe not only to see the sights, but also to shop. Clearly, this will all make Belgrade even more attractive on the list of the most appealing cities. Belgrade has had the reputation of an exotic destination in Europe for years, but many visitors still don’t know what it has to offer. It is only when they come and start discovering it, that they are swept off their feet.
As for the domestic hotels, we have home-grown investors expanding, such as MK Resort, A Hotels, Mona and President Hotels. They have all already made their hotel chains and should be emphasized as good investment examples in their own country.
In your professional opinion, what are the largest untapped tourist potentials of Serbia?
Serbia lacks family-orientated entertainment parks. I think there is also room for development of spa and wellness centres, which do not necessarily have to be related to the existing medicinal spas, but can be separate, since we are talking about guests with different needs here. Medicinal spas do have a potential of their own, but spa&wellness are an additional potential that doesn’t have to be at the existing location. In addition, Belgrade can certainly be promoted more intensely as a weekend destination, together with Novi Sad.
How do you personally see the tourist offerings of Belgrade?
I think that Belgrade should be promoted as a destination with a high-qualitynight life, but that there are also numerous cultural offerings to be enjoyed during the day. This means that having a night out should not mean giving up on a tour of museums, galleries and historical or cultural monuments in the daytime. There is major potential in the home-grown designers and artists exhibiting in the urban “pockets” of the city, and the gastronomic offerings are very diverse. I would never compare Belgrade to, let’s say, Prague or Budapest. Belgrade is characterized by a cheerful, Southern spirit. It is a warm city. I compare it to Barcelona, Berlin, Madrid, Thessaloniki…
In conversation with Miljana Nešković