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Tourism in the Balkans Takes a Giant Leap Forward

  • whl.travel
  • 9 December 2009

Following the successful completion of a Balkan Hotel Market Access Program, independent travellers planning tourism in the Balkans can now research, plan and book their trips online through locally owned and operated travel websites.

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Situated in the southeastern Europe, the Balkans is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for intrepid travellers. It’s a region of incredible untouched nature, delectable cuisines, rich historical lands begging for exploration and understanding, cool ocean breezes across golden sandy beaches, awe-inspiring mountain peaks dotted with centuries-old villages and genuinely friendly and smiling locals. The Balkans is also now quite a safe place to travel, so there’s no excuse not to visit this wonderful part of the world.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, spans the Neretva River. Originally built during the Ottoman era, it was destroyed during the Bosnian-Herzegovian War and then rebuilt according to the old design and using as much of the recovered original stone as possible. The bridge and surrounding historic neighbourhoods are now a World Heritage Site.

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, spans the Neretva River. Originally built during the Ottoman era, it was destroyed during the Bosnian-Herzegovian War and then rebuilt according to the old design and using as much of the recovered original stone as possible. The bridge and surrounding historic neighbourhoods are now a World Heritage Site.

Bringing new Balkan travel experiences to visitors in the region has been one driving mission of the International Finance Corporation Advisory Services in Europe and Central Asia (IFC is a member of the World Bank Group), along with the WHL Group and local stakeholders. Working together since 2008 to develop tourism market readiness and infrastructure, these partners have, through a Balkan Hotel Market Access Program, succeeded in improving access to the region for independent travellers who prefer to book and pay for services online.

The project targeted eight destinations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania for which Web-based travel portals were developed. In each destination, a local operator was carefully selected to own and operate the website, with follow-up support in technical development and web marketing provided by whl.travel (part of the WHL Group). It was not all about building websites though; the hard work fell to the local stakeholders, who worked directly with small accommodation owners unfamiliar with new technologies and therefore more reliant on traditional marketing. Despite the obstacles, Sarajevo and Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Bay of Kotor, Budva and Podgorica in Montenegro; and Tirana and Shkoder and the Albanian Alps in Albania are now directly connected to the global e-marketplace.

A screen shot of the Tirana, Albania, website

A screen shot of the Tirana, Albania, website

After just one year of operation, the Web portals made possible by the Balkan Hotel Market Access Program had already generated over €105,000 for small accommodation and tour operators in the region. With over 150,000 unique visitors and some 620,000 page visits, the project had far exceeded expectations. The ongoing impact of the project is now also expected to be significant, having spurred commercial development in new destinations across Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and further destinations in Albania.

“We managed to achieve all program objectives and the project has been recognized by the IFC management as successful and efficient with significant impact on regional tourism development,” praised Denis Mesihovic, IFC Program Coordinator. “The fact that the program revenue for the first year of the operations was three times higher that the program budget and expenses speaks for itself.”

This is no time to rest on one’s laurels though. “While giant strides have been made with the development of the region’s first online e-commerce enabled booking portals, there is still quite a bit of work that can be done at the product level,” said Zachary Rozga, CEO of WHL Consulting (once a WHL Group company), the entity that managed the project for IFC. “As with many new and emerging tourism destinations, targeted assistance needs to be delivered to the individual hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses on issues like pricing and commissions, digital content development and e-commerce distribution.”

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Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Europe, Macedonia, media, Montenegro, responsible travel, Serbia, Slovenia, Southern Europe, WHL Group news,

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