Nearly 26.892 tourists visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in March this year, which is 62.5 percent less than in February, a month preceding economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and compared to March last year the number of tourists decreased by 71.9 percent, according to Fena news agency.
Tourists realized 67.868 overnight stays, which is 60.1 percent less than in February and 65.7 percent less than in March last year. The share of domestic tourists in the total number of overnight stays is 46.4 percent, and foreign tourists 53.6 percent.
The number of overnight stays of domestic tourists is lower by 45.7 percent compared to February this year and lower by 52.4 percent compared to March last year. The number of overnight stays of foreign tourists decreased by 67.5 percent compared to February and by 72.4 percent lower compared to March last year.
After the first cases of coronavirus infection appeared in Sarajevo, eighty percent of tourist arrangements in hotels in Sarajevo were cancelled almost overnight. In an interview with Sarajevo Times, Amar Popara, owner of the house in Sarajevo Old Town which he rents, says that the main problem is that they experienced cancellations in the mid-January, since a lot of tourists at that time were coming from China.
“This is where the problem lies, tourism has been suffering now for more than 3 months and no one has offered any concrete help, except Tourism Association of Canton Sarajevo. In middle March, they have offered one million BAM to help sanitize the damage, but even that money is stuck in the Government of Canton Sarajevo and we are still waiting for them to place a public call for application,” Mr. Popara explains.
“Well as we speak, the new law has been already adopted. The thing is that law is only treating those businesses that had been prohibited from working or had a 20% drop in profits for the same period last year, and then you are eligible to get a coverage of social security contributions in amount of 245 BAM,” Mr. Popara adds.
In his opinion, this will have a major impact on tourism, for example there are people who are renting out private property, they are registered as a natural person (that means they don’t have company, ID number, TAX number etc.) and they pay tax, but they will not be eligible to get any from the government.
Another example of bad law is that we have startup companies which have been registered, let’s say in October 2019, they can’t match their profit from February 2019 to 2020 since they haven’t been working at that time.
All of the things mentioned above will definitely lead to closure of many companies, jobs will be lost and the major issue will be after the pandemics is over who is going to welcome tourists if the companies are shut down?
Another setback is that according to the World Tourism Association tourism in global will have a yearly drop of 3% instead of predicted growth of 3-4% and tourism will not get back on the same stage as it was in 2019 until 2023.
Answering on the question of what are the consequences for the season and will it “be saved” in the summer months, Mr. Popara explains that it is hard to predict anything since the daily epidemic situation is changing, but until June 1st, the airports are closed, and we still don’t have any clear instructions on how it is going to be once tourists start entering country, will they need any testing?
“Will all tourists be allowed to enter our country or just some particular countries? Are accommodations going to need special hygienic conditions and what are they? Are rent-a-car agencies going to need to fully disinfect cars and how much is it going to cost? This will definitely affect prices, which will rise due to new expenses. Those are some of the questions we still don’t have answer to, and that is another problem for us because we don’t know how to prepare for alleged season to come if there will be any. When speaking about if there will be any season or not we have to consider great job losses, people were forced to use their annual leaves, wages have gone down due to drop in profits all of this raises a question who will travel? Who will have resources to travel? But hopefully we will get some season in July or August,” Mr. Popara concludes.
Mr. Popara enlisted measures that they sent to the government, including that the measures should be implemented urgently and should last 3-6 months at least, mainly liberation of social security contributions of all employed in tourism.
Also, complete touristic sector should be enlisted as prohibited businesses during epidemics which would lead to government paying out minimal wages.
In addition, deliberating touristic sector from profit taxes, deliberating touristic sector from VAT, for those who are in VAT system. And Federal ministry of environment and tourism urgently to rebalance budget funds planned for co-financing and stimulus of tourism projects and allocate them to help the tourism companies in 2020.
Mirza Omerhodzic, president of the association of tour guides “Vucko”states that as soon as Corona arrived in Italy they were all surprised and equally afraid that it may spraid further to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Once the panic started at the beginning of March all of my reservations started to be cancelled. Since this is a seasonal job, I was lucky enough to have two groups arrive at the beginning of March. Unfortunately, for the rest of March to August my reservations canceled. We are talking about minimum 500 guests,” Mr. Omerhodzic explained.
Mr. Omehodzic continues by saying that the enacted Corona law by the Government of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina will have a negative impact on Bosnian economy. This law will especially have a negative effect on tourism sector in Bosnia and Hercegovina. By the Corona law, tourism sector is being ignored and not receiving any supplement income by the government.
“Currently there are no Tourists visiting Bosnia, not only because of the fear of coronavirus but also because of the travel restrictions. We are hoping to see better days for business in August but fear that this will not resolve this year. It will take 2-3 years for the tourism sector to recover from the pandemic,” Mr. Omerhodzic states.
He continues by saying that the Federal Government and FUCZ has taken necessary steps to stop the spread of pandemic. However, it is a big mistake that they have not listed tourism sector on the list of prohibited business. Complete tourism sector is left without any monthly income. Federal Government made it clear that tourism sector has to look for help else where.
Tourism sector is disappointed that the Federal Ministry of tourism and environment gave away 2,5 milion BAM to save economy of Federation of BiH rather to inject it directly to its own sector, tourism,” Mr. Omerhodzic concludes.