In Europe, the world’s most visited region, international tourist arrivals grew by 6%, led by above-average results in Central and Southern Europe and this growth exceeds the initial forecast for 2013, doubling the average growth rate of international tourism in Europe. As one particularly fast growing industry, with further increase of the number of tourists expected in 2014 by the World Tourism Association, tourism is an important economic development tool for Bosnia and Herzegovina as well.
Today, from Stolac to Bihac, from Livno to Bijeljina, passing through Sarajevo, Mostar or Banja Luka, there is almost no region in B&H where tourists cannot be seen during all or some parts of the year. This trend is followed by an increase in the number of hotels, hostels and other related businesses as a direct answer to this growing demand. The benefits are multiple and easily visible at all levels. At the individual and micro level the consumption of visitors is directly contributing to boosting the revenues of individuals and of SMEs. At a wider level, keeping in mind the longer term, positive impressions and comments about BiH are at least as important as direct revenues growth because they are improving the image of the country abroad. As an example, the qualification of the B&H national football team in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will certainly bring more benefits to the country than the work of all BiH embassies combined in 2014.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is well known for the famous Sarajevo Film Festival, for religious tourism in Medjugorje or for winter sports and with the former Olympic Mountains, but besides that list there are smaller events that also deserve attention because of their added value for the country. So, the main purpose of this article is to draw attention to some fast growing important tourism related events that took place in 2013 that brought several hundred tourists to B&H, and have the potential to do even more in the coming years.
So here is a quick reminder of these positive initiatives that rely on entrepreneurial skills and the hard work of their visionary founders:
This year in August, BiH hosted the 7th annual FAI World Paragliding Accuracy Championship and one of the goals was clearly to advertise Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bjelasnica Olympic Mountain to participating pilots. Bjelasnica is ideal for paragliding and technically speaking, Bjelasnica has backup options for almost all wind directions. The best paragliding accuracy pilots from all around the world took part in this competition and during several days, for one activity, Bosnia and Herzegovina was mentioned in a very positive light all over the world. Concretely, and besides that image-building benefit, several hundred guests had to eat and sleep during the entire week and this meant several thousand overnight stays for local hotels, hostels and others were registered. Many of them will come back again.
Just two months before that event, Banja Luka hosted wild water canoeing World Cup organized by BiH Canoe Federation on the Vrbas river and competition arrived from Slovenia before going to Italy. It means that competitors and delegations from 18 nations came to compete and discover the local touristic beauty that is the Vrbas River. The competition in itself had also some specificity since it was the first time that a world cup race was organized at night. It was spectacular to see how the competitors fought against the waves and eddies under the glaring lights.
Brave enough is the type of activity with the same nature and goals as these described above, but it is an all year long service and adventure tourism promotion for B&H. In fact, Brave enough is the Adventure Tourism Association in Bosnia and Herzegovina whose members aim to provide high quality outdoor activities in a safe and fun manner. It is a group of outdoor adventure organizations based in Bosnia and Herzegovina offering adrenaline and excitement to travelers while seeing incredible landscapes, mastering fresh challenges and going where few have gone before. It is a perfect solution offered to the growing number of tourists that are looking for more active and original activities and a way of using their holidays. Because they are particularly respectful and careful with nature, members of this group deserve special congratulations, besides the fact that thanks to their guests rural development is getting stronger.
Finally, with more than 500 nights sold to tourists in Sarajevo hotels and hostels in 2013, the Sarajevo half marathon is definitely one of the important fast growing events. The event combined a half marathon race and a short Fun run race that brought together, for the first time in B&H, 1000 participants from all over the world. Runners came from more than 25 countries, many of them with friends and family for a several days long stay in Sarajevo. Running is the most popular hobby on the planet and traveling to run has become a reason to travel for millions of people every year. Slowly but surely the Sarajevo half marathon is becoming what this type of project is in other modern European countries: a very affirmative social responsibility tool that has a positive impact on tourism, ecology, charity and youth involvement. As a consequence of such dedication, several dozen runners from Spain, Germany and the UK already confirmed their participation in the half marathon 2014 that will take place in September.
Obviously this list could be further extended because there are other great projects bringing hundreds of tourists to the B&H, but the idea is also to highlight other benefits of such initiatives and activities. Not only do they also help the local population, especially youth by involving them in their activities, but they are also being or trying to be replicated by other cities in the country, which is great, so other mountains can develop the know-how and organize the next paragliding competition, and a few other cities in 2014 will organize their first or second half marathon etc.
B&H has still so much to offer in terms of touristic potential, but the local level seems to be the right place to get things done and to make improvements.