Marija Labovic, CEO/managing director of the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia speaks about the many attractions of Serbia as a tourism destination and expectations from the India market
What are the unique highlights of Serbia as a tourism destination which would be of much interest to Indian travellers ?
Serbia has a big number of tourist assets ranging from quality city-break offer, stunning landscapes, beautiful, very preserved nature, a number of historical and cultural heritage sites (listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites), rich tradition and a variety of events and internationally renowned festivals. We have very delicious food and good wines as well and hospitality of Serbian people has been witnessed by many visitors.
When you come to Serbia, it is to have multiple experiences not just one. Serbian tourist offer matches perfectly global trend of needs for shorter vacations and discovering new destinations.
What are your growth expectations from the Indian market following your visa free policy ?
The Indian market is a booming market and Serbia would like to be part of it. Along with traditionally very good relations between the two countries and historical connections, the abolition of visas for Indian citizens for entering Serbia can only foster further exchanges and increase the number of Indian tourists to Serbia.
Provided that for the time being there is not a direct flight between the two countries, arrivals will may not increase as fast as they would have otherwise but we still expect the growth rate of at least 20 per cent a year.
A significant segment of India outbound comprises the MICE segment. Please give some information about Belgrade as a MICE destination, in particular conferencing facilities.
We can proudly say that after 11 years since the Serbia Convention Bureau was established as part of the NTO Serbia, Belgrade and Serbia are now in the world’s top 50 meeting destinations (source: ICCA) for the sixth consecutive year.
During this period we have witnessed huge improvements in the hospitality sector, so today we have major international chain hotels, with considerable conference capacities, together with superb local boutique properties offering world-class four and five-star accommodation.
Belgrade is the regional hub in terms of air connectivity with 32 airlines operating to/from 69 airports in 38 countries in Europe, Middle-East, North Africa, USA and China. All of this is supported with experienced service providers on the destination that guarantee smooth and professional execution of any type of events. New ambitious investment plans and ongoing projects related to the conference and accommodation facilities make us confident that Serbia’s position as a MICE destination will only grow stronger over the coming years.
Are you also looking at attracting the destination weddings segment from India ? Any unique properties/destinations for hosting high-end Indian weddings ?
Serbia has already become a popular weddings destination for certain markets, and we are aware how important and demanding this segment is in India. Depending on the requirements and number of guests, we could offer an exclusivity of the Royal Palace in Belgrade, since a part of it can be rented for special events. This is also where one of Serbia’s Royal Princes got married in 2017. It represents a true tastefully decorated museum of art, full of rich historical significance and a place definitely worth visiting, if not having a wedding ceremony.
In addition to that, a lot of interesting tours and excursions could be organised as a part of a couple’s wedding day, making that special event even more dazzling for the bride and the groom and for their dear guests.
What is your strategy for engagement with the Indian travel trade ?
We have started with some familiarisation trips for Indian tour operators last year and also launched a joint campaign with a few big Indian tour operators like Thomas Cook and SOTC. We will continue our B2C activities in order to raise awareness of a destination and its tourist products and in the next year we may also consider a roadshow to several Indian cities.
Any other factor you would like to highlight about Serbia for the India market ?
Serbia is a country in which civilisations, cultures, faiths, climates and landscapes meet and mingle. The cultural and historical heritage of this country is rich with prehistoric archaeological sites and its legacy from classical antiquity and of course with famous mediaeval churches and monasteries, some of which are included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Serbia has a nice climate and has a lot of beautiful mountains, national parks, rivers and lakes, which are the perfect location for an active outdoor holiday – from hunting and fishing to extreme sports. And the last but not least tourist attraction is Serbian gastronomy – a unique mix of oriental, central European and local Balkan cuisines, it offers a great variety of unusual meals and interesting food traditions.