Macedonia's and Romania's investment in the tourist sector helps accelerate a positive trend.
By Marina Stojanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 21/08/12
Group visits to Ohrid, pictured above, and other Macedonian tourist sites have increased dramatically. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
The number of foreign tourists visiting Macedonia has risen two consecutive years since the government began providing subsidies to tourist operators and implementing other measures, making the tourist sector an area of growth and opportunity.
The government started small, providing 1 million euros last year, but the results are big; tourism increased 25 percent in 2011 and is up 11 percent this year.
"Because of the positive results, the government is securing 2.5 million euros to the agency for tourism in subsidies in 2013," Aleksandar Gjorgjiev, government spokesperson, told SETimes.
Gjorgjiev explained the increase is a result of the events the government organised abroad, particularly in the Benelux countries, enabling Macedonian tour operators to sign contracts with foreign tourist agencies to book tourists for the next three seasons.
"The set up provides a secure flow of tourists as well as funds," Gjorgjiev said.
The subsidy is up to 65 euros per tourist in order to encourage tourist operators to attract greater number of tourist groups. To do so, however, the operators must synergise with the tourist service providers to ensure quality at competitive prices.
At present, the Ohrid airport in Macedonia handles nine charter flights a week as a result of the tourist agency arrangements, netting more than 16,000 tourists this summer.
"The positive trend is expected to continue and mark a 12 percent increase in the number of tourists next year," Donco Tenevski, president of the Macedonian Hotel Association, told SETimes.
Tenevski said the positive results are due to the government's diverse approach, including reducing taxes on tourist services from 18 percent to 5 percent, which directly causes a decrease in prices and greater competitiveness.
Macedonia has also undertaken measures to develop rural and wine tourism.
"The government will fund specialised wine shops at the attractive tourist spots and will also co- finance the expenses for decorating and employment. It will support opening mini-wineries as well, some of which are already open but need to be tied to the tourism's [system] so as bring in extra profit," Georgiev said.
The upscale Elenov winery near picturesque Demir Kapija in southern Macedonia exemplifies the synergy.
Elenov has teamed up with Skopje-based tourist operator Fibula to cater to Dutch tourists. Under the existing arrangements, tourists arrive three times a week to sample wine and traditional Macedonian cuisine.
Both rural and wine tourism are supported by Macedonia's self-employment project, where the government provides financial and other assistance to encourage the opening of tourist-related businesses.
While the financial crisis has caused tourism to suffer in the region in countries such as Greece, tourism in Romania is also growing thanks to government investment in the sector.
Promotion and investments in infrastructure are part of the Romania's tourism plan to double income from tourism and to generate jobs, according to Carmen Moraru, general manager at Romania's regional development and tourism ministry.
Romania attracted nearly 1.6 million tourists in 2011, a 13 percent increase from the previous year. Most came from Germany, Italy and France.
"I forecast a 5 to 7 percent increase in business tourism in Romania, based on infrastructure development," Moraru told SETimes.
SETimes correspondent Gabriel Petrescu in Bucharest contributed to this article.