More variety, cross-regional packages and alternative tourism mark this year's fair.
By Marina Stojanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 12/05/12
Regional countries are expanding and improving their tourist offerings for the upcoming summer season, but many are co-operating to jointly attract a higher number of tourists and bring in more revenue.
"Integrated tourist offers are a great chance for us all. Overseas tourists would not come to visit only one country; it is a very different situation when they are offered [the chance] to visit the most important places in several countries," Vlado Srbinovski, of the Macedonian Agency for Support and Promotion of Tourism, told SETimes.
Last month, more than 200 state and private tourist agencies from Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Slovenia participated in the Skopje Travel Market tourist fair to showcase their offerings and to offer early bird packages, including those for joint travel.
"We want to bring our tourist destinations closer to the people, and that’s why we participate in this fair," Tina Grdzinik, of the Slovenia Tourism Organisation, told SETimes.
Other tourism officials said the packages they offer accentuate the region's natural beauty as well as lesser known tourist treasures the Balkans has in abundance.
The trend is to embrace the variety of alternatives as opposed to mass tourism, and it can be captured in one phrase -- "Back to Nature," according to Srbinovski.
"Macedonia, for example, is not only Ohrid. There is also the ancient observatory Kokino, [the volcanic rocks site] Kuklica, the many truly gorgeous mountains, national parks and monasteries," Srbinovski said.
Olgica Miljkovic, of the Serbia Tourism Organisation, explained the country's strategy is to enrich the offer by promoting a particular theme every year.
"This year ... we are offering health spa tourism. There is rural tourism, of course, which is very attractive for tourists. They can stay in places throughout Serbia in a home ambience and consume local foods," Miljkovic told SETimes.
"But co-operation in the region is important, because it offers tourists a chance to connect, travel, learn about different cultures, meet each other, exchange experiences. We participate in exhibitions of this kind organised in the region," she said.
Officials said tourists -- including from the region -- are seeking change and novelty, but price plays a big part in the overall attractiveness of the offer.
Destinations in Northern Cyprus are increasingly popular, according to Stefan Jovanovski from the Let's Travel Group.
"The packages are favourable [price-wise] and charter flights begin in June and last until September," Jovanovski told SETimes.
But, in line with the integrated approach, Jovanovski emphasised his travel agency offers packages to all the places it has offices, including Dubrovnik, Budva, Sarajevo and Ohrid.
Croatia is aggressively targeting potential EU tourists and, like the other countries, expects significant dividends.
"The results in Dubrovnik during the first three months of this year show traffic increased by a third compared to last year," Minister of Tourism Veljko Ostojic said.
"That is also encouraging on a national level and that is why I would be satisfied if we have a repeat of last year's results," he said. Similarly, Montenegro tourism officials expect a 3% increase in revenue this year.
BiH officials estimate 250m euros in revenue from tourism this year, but argue the gain can be three times greater given the potential of medical and sports tourism. "Only through new ideas, products and programmes can we achieve our goals -- to lengthen the season and achieve better results to bring in more income," Branka Djuric, FBiH minister of tourism, told SETimes.
Many Skopje fair visitors said they were impressed by the variety and quality of the countries' tourism presentations as well as by the early bird packages, but confirmed they seek packages other than traditional beach vacations.
"I will decide between the spa resorts in Bulgaria and the tranquillity in a Serbian village," Olivera Stefanovska, 43, told SETimes.