9th SBF: Tourist Potential of the Region Lies in Offering Diversity

Sarajevo, 25/4/2018 –"The City of Sarajevo is ready to become a partner to all of those who decide to invest here," Sarajevo Mayor Abdulah Skaka said during the introductory presentation before the opening of the program of the second day of the 9th Sarajevo Business Forum which was opened by the panel session on "Tourism as a Rapid Growth Opportunity for SEE ". Skaka promised investors that the City will provide free legal aid to make investing easier and stressed that Sarajevo is experiencing a tourist boom, with a steady increase in the number of tourists and the hotel occupancy rate in the city going above 80%.

According to the data of the World Tourism Organization, Bosnia and Herzegovina tops the charts when it comes to t recorded increase in the number of tourists, with the South-East Europe becoming one of top 10 tourist destinations in the world based on its tourist growth.

"We are happy to see a large number of businessmen here at SBF, with more than 30 of us being here. As business people, we had the opportunity to travel around the world, and I have to point out that, after we've seen everything, we have concluded that this is the most beautiful place in the world and that it's worth investing here. I encourage Bahrain and other Gulf countries to come here," said are Jawad Alhawaj, President of the Alhawaj Group who also serves as the President of the Bosnian -Bahrain Society. He said that this is his sixth visit to our country, and that BiH offers all the conditions for the development of tourism, especially family and health tourism with spa centers. He added that in order to attract more foreign tourists, it is advisable for big hotel chains like Hilton and Sheraton to come to BiH because foreign tourists would see it as a guarantee of safety. Among the country’s competitive advantages, he highlighted beautiful nature, water potential, kindness of its people and its historical heritage.

In addition to promoting the region as an attractive tourist destination, the panel session included the discussion on the significance of joint participation of the regional countries in the creation of tourism projects.

Snježana Derviškadić, Head of the Tourism Project at the Regional Cooperation Council - RCC, said that all countries in the region have recognized tourism as a strategic sector, with Albania currently leading in that process, followed by Montenegro. In addition to the coastal areas with their sun and sea, tourism in the region also offers additional opportunities for the development of the continental areas. "The potential lies in offering diversity, and the countries can establish mutual links alongside the routes that represent a logical choice for travelers and coordinate their efforts there," said Derviškadić.

Vedrana Likan, Partner and Executive Director of Colliers International for Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, pointed out that the expectations of tourists in the digital era are significantly different, which is why Dubrovnik became a destination as a city and not just as a summer tourist destination. Speaking about the development of tourist infrastructure, she said that tourists of today can become investors, and that this trend is particularly evident in Sarajevo with the purchase of real estate here. She added that infrastructure is very important for the development of tourism and that this goes beyond transport infrastructure, stressing that the countries of the region now have a great opportunity. "Money is waiting to become a part of the global investments. The money has nowhere to go but to come to less developed countries, " Likan said.

"When they come to Sarajevo, tourists from distant Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia are interested in the region as a whole and I think that the real power lies in connecting the Balkan countries. Regional branding, joint appearances at tourism fairs should be the next step, " said Aida Terzić, the owner of the Nature Hotel on Trebević. Terzić, who has many years of experience in working at a travel agency, pointed out that the high time for investing in tourism is right now, because it is bound to make money.

"In tourism, machines cannot replace people, and if several countries in the region are linked, they’ll have a better prospect for development. I do not want to outline the economic benefits only, but rather the links between countries at a friendly level, in which the cultural exchange is significant," said Takahiko Makino, Regional Tourism Advisor at the Japan International Cooperation Agency - JICA. He shared positive experiences from the Japanese market in which five countries linked together and promoted their tourism potential not at the level of individual country, but at the regional level. He added that the countries of the Southeastern Europe should recognize their market opportunities in relation to the rest of the world.