February 26, 2019 – Croatia’s strange tourism relationship with the Belgrade Tourism Fair, the region’s largest, continues. Wine but not tourism?
I first came across the Belgrade Tourism Fair last year.
Having launched Total Slovenia News a couple of months before and with Total Montenegro News about to go live, the prospect of finding every significant tourism business and organisation in one room for four days was too hard to resist, and I headed to the Serbian capital with great anticipation.
I could not have found a better scenario. Montenegro had the largest stand of all, all the main Slovenian tourism regions and spas were represented, and there were even the options of preliminary meetings with other countries in the region, in case we ever managed to expand further.
There was just one thing missing.
The Belgrade Tourism Fair is the largest in the region, now in its 41st year, but last year there was not a single tourist board there. Well, officially at least…
My initial conclusion is that Croatia had decided not to exhibit in Serbia due to the regional conflict back in the 1990s, but then I was surprised to learn that Croatia had been the partner country of the Belgrade Tourism Fair as recently as 2011. The Secretary of State for Tourism at the time stated:
At the 33rd Belgrade Tourism Fair, Croatia will be especially presented as a tourist destination. The State Secretary of the Croatian Ministry of Tourism, Ivo Mujo, stated that Croatia’s arrival [presentation] in Belgrade, after accepting the invitation to become a partner country of the Belgrade Fair this year, was a new dimension of cooperation.
“Serbian guests are important to us in Croatia, but this isn’t a one-way process, because more and more Croatian tourists are going to Serbia. He stressed that he believes that this year’s presentation of Croatia in Belgrade will bring Croatia and Serbia closer in the tourist(ic) sense.”
And just seven years later, no official Croatian tourism presence whatsoever. I asked the organisers why, and they checked the list of exhibitors and said they were surprised that there were no Croatian tourism boards there. Rumours of a Croatian boycott of the fair after President Vucic’s visit to Zagreb were on everyone’s lips, but officially the Croatian National Tourist Board said that their interests were elsewhere:
From 2010 to 2017 the Croatian National Tourist Board (CNTB) organized a continued promotional presence of the Croatian tourism offering at the Belgrade tourism fair. While in 2011, we were also the partner country of the fair for that year. However, despite multiple successful years of intensive promotion at the fair, the interest of partners interested in utilizing the CNTB fair facilities/booth, namely tourist boards, agencies, tourism-related companies, etc. wishing to present their offering at the fair has waned over the past few years, decreasing year-in, year-out. Even though there was not enough interest to have a formal presence at the fair this past year, we would like to point out that aside from a presence at fairs, the CNTB also promotes the destination through various marketing activities in Serbia. For example, in May 2017 an online brand campaign was executed on the Serbian market, which included promotional advertising of our key product categories: sun and sea, food and wine and nautical. The campaign was promoted through a range of online portals and over 6 million ad views were achieved.
Serbia represents a neighbouring market that has a strong knowledge of Croatia as a destination as well as Croatia’s tourism offering. It is also a market where most visitors arrive through individually organized trips and when looking at the number of overnights in 2017, ranks as the 18th market (with 973 thousand overnights). We still plan a continued presence on the market through other promotional campaigns and activities.
I asked the current Secretary of State for Tourism about the lack of official Croatian tourist board presence, and I received this reply:
Croatia is a very popular tourist destination in Serbia, and tourists from Serbia are our traditional guests. Last year in Croatia, guests from Serbia had 153 thousand arrivals and 973 thousand overnight stays, representing an increase of 11 per cent compared to 2016. Similarly, Serbia is a very popular destination for our people, especially when it comes to shorter or city break visits. In this respect, we believe that positive trends in the growth of tourist traffic and accompanying promotional activities on both sides will continue in the coming years.
Reason enough to make a little effort to attract some more tourists, especially in a traditional market so close to home, where the potential was to get a tourist not for a one time visit from China, but for life.
Walking around the fair, I was struck by the conversations of young people walking around, looking for their next holiday. Greece shone. So did Turkey, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Egypt. There was also plenty of more exotic destinations which attracted plenty of interest. I noted that the boys from Palestine were back after a successful Belgrade Tourism Fair in 2018.
And somewhere, almost as an afterthought, the entire official Croatian representation – the Tourist Board of Zagreb (at least this fair actually existed and they didn’t pay 29,000 euro for nothing) and the Tourist Board of Losinj.
That was it.
A little more research showed that there were a small number of other tourist boards there in a different capacity, including this presentation of Eastern Croatia.
But at an influential fair on Croatia’s doorstep, where Croatia was notable by its absence.
Even our old friends, the Kings of Accidental Tourism from Hvar were not to be seen. Last year was 150 years of organised tourism in Europe, which was celebrated with great style paying tribute to the special Hvar-Belgrade bond at a party that was never supposed to make the Croatian media. But in year 151, that love seems to have waned.
Unofficially, I can confirm that the Hvar love of Belgrade is real. I bump into more people from Hvar each time I visit the Serb capital than I do walking the streets of Jelsa.
So why the lack of Croatian interest in the Belgrade fair? The simple explanation from one section of our enlightened readership is that Croatia doesn’t want any Serbs to visit.
It is an argument that one can understand from recent history, perhaps, not a great economic argument, but understandable. But then you go to the wine section of the Belgrade Tourism Fair, and seemingly the biggest stand belongs to… Croatia.
Ably supported by the Croatian Chamber of Economy.
The Croatian Chamber of Economy at the Belgrade Tourism Fair where Croatia had all but totally boycotted the main tourism section once again, but was out in force promoting wine. None of the numerous Croatian exhibitors could understand the lack of official Croatian tourism presence at such an important fair on Croatia’s doorstep. One which had the potential to woo the next generation and get them hooked on holidays in Croatia for the next 30 years.
But the Kings of Accidental Tourism obviously have a plan.
Palestine 2019, anyone?