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Magoda: Tourists are coming back to Sarajevo

This winter season, which is still ongoing, we had the richest calendar of events on the Olympic mountains Bjelašnica and Igman, as a result of public calls issued by the Tourist Board of Sarajevo Canton (TB CS) and through which we implemented more than 100 individual activities through 40 supported projects, says Kenan Magoda, chairman of the CS Tourist Board, in an interview for Visit BiH Magazine.

-It attracted thousands of visitors, who enjoyed events from different fields – entertainment, music, culture, sports, gastronomy, tradition … It is important to emphasize that the CS Tourist Board is extremely supportive of development of new tourism products, so for the first time winter sports lovers could have celebrated New Year’s Eve skiing, lovers of adrenaline sports had the opportunity to tour Bjelasnica on snowshoes accompanied by a professional mountain guide, which we highlight as one of the most successful projects we have implemented in cooperation with the Olympic Center Bjelašnica and Igman – says Magoda.

Do you have data on the number of visits to the ski resorts on Bjelašnica and Igman, but also to the Sarajevo Canton as a whole?

– In January this year, we hosted more tourists in the Sarajevo Canton than in the period before the Coronavirus pandemic. In January, Sarajevo Canton was visited by almost 30,000 tourists who spent about 72,000 nights. Compared to the previous year, we record an increase of 110 percent in the number of overnight stays, and compared to the record year 2019, the increase in the number of overnight stays is 22 percent.

And what were the results last year?

-2021 was a successful year as well. In 2021, Sarajevo Canton was visited by tourists from 167 countries and we recorded about 764,000 overnight stays. Analyzing 2021, the most significant share in the total tourist traffic in Sarajevo Canton had been tourists from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Germany, USA, and of course our neighboring countries Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia. Last year, we recorded an increase in the number of tourist arrivals of 121.1 percent compared to the previous year, and most importantly, we approached the figures we had before the pandemic.

The CS Tourist Board took part in the world exhibition EXPO 2020 Dubai, where the tourist potentials of CS, as well as the whole of BiH, were presented. Can we talk about any concrete results?

-It was a unique opportunity for quality promotion of the tourist offer of Sarajevo Canton and presentation of investment opportunities, and for exchange of experiences and positive practices through B2B meetings, networking, and business forums. We emphasize the presence at the central forum of the week of tourism “Travel and Connectivity”, thematic business forums in the pavilions of Slovakia, Serbia and Slovenia, presentations in the pavilions of Italy, Colombia, Hungary, Lebanon, and Malaysia to establish closer cooperation with these markets, with special emphasis on innovative solutions, digitalization, and application of new technologies in development and promotion of the tourist offer. As part of the presentation of BiH tourism industry, it was a special honor to be a guest on the EXPO TV program watched by millions of viewers, where I spoke about the tourist offer of Sarajevo Canton and the competitive advantages of BiH as a desirable tourist destination, especially for tourists coming from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries. Our participation in EXPO brought concrete cooperation in projects which serve to promote the tourist offer because the CS Tourist Board, thanks to participation in this exhibition, reached an agreement with an international IT company to establish cooperation which includes free all-day live streaming from the most attractive locations in Sarajevo Canton . The expected benefits are related to the increase in the number of tourist arrivals, which directly increases the income from tourism.

In mid-February, you presented the tourist potentials of CS at the Tourism and Travel Fair in Istanbul. Can you tell us a bit more about that performance?

– Emitt International Tourism Fair is considered the fourth largest and most important tourism fair in the world, and the CS Tourist Board has very successfully presented the tourist offer of Sarajevo Canton and provided a representative stand for exhibitors from the private tourism sector. We also attended presentations, conferences, and discussions for professional public, held B2B meetings with potential partners, and expanded and strengthened contacts with exhibitors from around the world. We also answered several media inquiries from local and international media that expressed interest in information about Sarajevo, and in our exhibition space we hosted tour operators who organize trips around BiH and the Balkans, and whose offer make Sarajevo an unavoidable destination.

Many visitors to the Fair have already had the opportunity to stay in Sarajevo and expressed their enthusiasm for the city, the environment and the tourist offer, especially gastronomy. We were especially pleased to host the famous Turkish actress İlay Erkök, who revealed that she plans to visit Sarajevo at the first opportunity, which delights her with its beauty, and our efforts and commitment were recognized by the organizers of Emitta, who presented us with special recognition and honorary award.

TB CS has launched development of the Sarajevo City Card platform, which will have a wide range of opportunities for tourists. What kind of project is this and when can we expect the implementation of this project?

-Sarajevo City Card is a unique platform whose implementation is underway, and which will unite in one place everything that tourists need for a quality and fulfilling stay in the Sarajevo Canton, such as public transport tickets and Trebević cable car, museum tickets, protected natural areas and cultural institutions, telecom operator services (tourist number and internet), tickets for sports, music and other events and similar, as well as discounts for catering and accommodation services. The goal is to connect all stakeholders and offer a package of services in a way that tourists would realize various benefits and savings, and tourism workers would be included in the offer and get the opportunity to increase turnover and revenue.

Let’s go back to the mountains for a while. During the winter season the mountains are full of visitors. However, when summer comes, a smaller number of visitors is noticeable. Can the mountains around Sarajevo be turned into a desirable destination 365 days a year and do you have plans to enrich the content?

-In recent years, all the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the World Tourism Organization are focused on outdoor tourism, which is a combination of adventure, recreation, relaxation and fun with the exploration of natural beauty. Sarajevo Canton with its mountains is rich in natural resources and has ideal conditions for development of outdoor and adventure tourism in the summer months. Through its work program and public calls for co-financing quality tourism projects, the CS Tourist Board continuously supports development and improvement of content in the mountains, which can and should certainly be a desirable destination 365 days a year.

Have you started preparations for the summer tourist season?

-In addition to promotional activities on the international market that we realize through appearances at international tourism fairs, outdoor and road show campaigns, we are actively working on development of specific forms of tourism, and the plan is to announce a public call for co-financing projects of importance for development and improvement of specific forms of tourism, such as cultural-historical, religious, outdoor, festival, dark tourism, etc. Support for celebration of important dates and events is also planned. This winter we had the richest calendar of events in the city and in the Olympic mountains, and for the spring/summer period we intend to continue to support cultural, music and sports events that enrich the tourist offer in the Sarajevo Canton.

TB CS in cooperation with USAID Developing Sustainable Tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina project, launched an innovative program Sarajevo Hub and Spokes, which aims to increase demand for visitors, their consumption and stay in selected municipalities near Sarajevo Canton. When does the implementation start, and which municipalities participate in the project?

Sarajevo Hub and Spokes is a program that will connect Canton of Sarajevo (Hub) with destinations, attractions and tourist experiences in the immediate vicinity (Spokes). The goal is to improve the tourist offer and enrich it with new contents, increase the number of tourist arrivals and overnight stays, and increase tourist consumption and income from tourism. The program will be implemented in cooperation with cities and municipalities located near the Sarajevo Canton – Visoko, Kreševo, Kiseljak, Fojnica, Konjic, Zenica, Travnik, Vareš, Ilijaš, Kakanj, Jahorina and Pale, and will be implemented in cooperation with local and international travel agents and tour operators who will offer packages of full-day or half-day excursions and organized visits, which will contribute to development of the local economy, attracting new investments.