Belgrade as a center of convention industry in the region

Interview: Jasna Dimitrijević, Tourist Organization of Belgrade

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1. Today we keep hearing more about the potentials of Belgrade when it comes to convention or business tourism. According to You, what is the best asset for development of this type of tourism and the most important benefit for the city if it becomes a world-known convention industry destination?

The advantage of Belgrade as business meetings’ venue is that we are a new destination.

Besides, we already have good references and facilities, there are investments in new, mainly hotel facilities, and in geographical aspect, we are interesting for many people from other continents which avoided our region in the previous decade. The accessibility i.e. distance of the airport from the city center of only 15km, as well as a convention center with still the largest meeting hall in the region also count.

Multiple economic effects from this tourist industry branch and its importance for the city are well-known, and when we talk about it, we refer mostly to the measurable effects such as spending on sojourn, accomodation and whole event organization services. In that respect, the so-called ROI analysis is very important for us in order to also determine the additional effects which have great importance and compose a ROI pyramid, which we will be intensively occupied with in the future, with a view to stimulation of convention industry in Belgrade and better understanding of its importance for the development of both city economy and, above all, science and education.

2. The Belgrade Convention Bureau was founded in 2007, and You have been Head of Tourist Organization of Belgrade since 2008. Considering that it is a short period of time for the serious task of positioning of Belgrade on the world tourist map, what was Your primary focus when You started to work on promoting of Belgrade and how much has been achieved during this period?

The proces of founding of Belgrade Convention Center, or the service for performing of convention activities (MICE) at TOB, has started at mid 2005, within the project of the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Services, and with the help of SEDP (USAID). All our activities in this area depart from the basic objective – development and promoting of Belgrade as convention destination for ensuring the largest possible number of international conventions, conferences, seminars, exhibitions, major events (sports, culture) and incentive trips for the city of Belgrade.

The Belgrade Convention Bureau has been positioning Belgrade as international convention destination since its founding, providing the professional assistance to the organizations which make offers, or organize conventions, corporative meetings, incentive trips or exhibitions in Belgrade. The events and conventions that you mentioned, as well as many others, are very much a result of that, whether the BCB was directly involved in candidating Belgrade or when it comes to the so-called state meetings or major events realized by it.

The candidateship of the destination for getting of conventions understands a wide range of skills in order to be successful. These include strategic planning, leadership, creativity, lobbying and presentation skills. A capability for realization of successful partnership with the client is also vital. The Belgrade Convention Bureau employees possess the knowledge and skills, as well as experience, for that. Therefore we believe that, side by side with adequate and strong promotion of Belgrade as convention destination, accelerated development of the city infrastructure and convention facilities, as well as education of everybody in the convention industry, Belgrade will become a regional leader in this field in the nearest future.

To be more concrete, our job is to constantly analyze the convention industry market. To have enough information regarding the activites of our scientific and professional associations which take the biggest credits for the majority of the meetings in Belgrade. To give them support in lobbying and getting the conventions, to provide sufficient information and arguments for the partners to come to Belgrade by recognizing adequate partners, and then to forward to the professional convention organizers and agencies the jobs within their competence.

The associations, board representatives and experts in different fields guarantee for the quality and professional and scientific credibility of the conventions.

The task of the Belgrade Convention Bureau is also to serve as a platform for the convention industry of Belgrade, to represent the interest of this industry in Serbia and abroad. In these terms, we have regularly updated databases regarding all convention potentials in Belgrade (hotels, conference facilities, technical support, traffic and other accompanying infrastructure), as well as regarding the trends in the convention industry market in the region and in Europe, above all. Much has been done in the international promotion and placement of the convention potentials of Belgrade, and in cooperation with the Serbian Convention Bureau.

3. Belgrade is one of rare European and world cities in which the number of foreign tourists grew during 2009. In Your opinion, what contributed to it the most and what development of situation You expect in 2010?

First of all, the fact that we are a new destination to many. World tourist trends are going in the direction of the need for discovering new destinations. Belgrade is a new spot on the world tourist map. This especially relates to the young generation. On the other hand, those who were coming to our city and country a decade and so ago, have a need to recall it and to come again after so much time of our country’s isolation. Also, a successful promotion of Belgrade – as city of culture, sports, city break place, convention destination for the future, and of Serbia internationally, have contributed to better familiarizing of European and world citizens with our tourist offer.

4. Belgrade was proclaimed ’’cool’’ city and the number 1 party city in the short period of time. You engage a lot in promoting of Belgrade as City Break destination. What is the feedback from the suppliers (hotels, agencies, airlines) regarding the creation of competitive price in the international market?

I think that the current business circumstances, open sky, ever larger competition in every field – hotels, agencies, airlines – have brought to the fact that we can speak of favourable conditions for creation of competitive price in the international market. All the mentioned partners are interested in cooperation and I do not see any lack of understanding there.

We in Tourist Organization of Belgrade did a lot in establishing of mutual partner cooperation in this area during the previous period.

We can measure and present that through concrete results in the future, and above all visible in the number of arrivals and spending the nights in the following period and in total realized tourist turnover.

5. There are big potentials and planned projects for development of nautical tourism. How much the convention tourism is interconnected with the nautical one, and can we expect the arrival of some incentive group even by river to Belgrade (knowing that we expect around 60 thousand of foreign tourists coming by ship in 2010)?

Although we do not have any firm announcements of arrivals of these ’’special’’ incentive cruise groups to Belgrade for now, considering the growing demand for such trips in the world, as well as Belgrade as convention and incentive destination, we can expect their arrivals.

Namely, there were significantly less requests for incentive trips in the past year than before, which corresponds to the existing world trend, due to reducing of corporate costs in order to overcome the economic crisis.

The most famous world destinations for such trips are the Caribbeans, Mexico and Alasca. New and modern ships can provide the conditions for meetings of the corporate boards of 8 and more members as well as for holding of large conferences in duration of 3 to 5 days. When it comes to the incentive trips and the so-called ”Team Building” programs, usually the packages on ’’all-in-one’’ basis are offered, which also influences smaller corporate budget for such trips because the seasonality of the hotel and destination prices is avoided.

People like to go cruising, and this is an opportunity to see more destinations and to experience something new and totally different at better prices. We hope that our DMCs will find interest and offer more programs for these trips from Belgrade, just like Austria or our neighbour, Hungary.

6. So far, Belgrade has attracted large international conferences, major events (EBRD, Eurosong, Univerzijada, ESGO, IHRA…) and has good references which can confirm the quality of organization of many events in the future as well. Do you see Belgrade as center of convention industry in the region?

Yes, I do. I repeat, the convention facilities, available infrastructure and professional experience in this area give us the right to talk of ever better competitive position. Our cooperation in the past SouthEast Europe Convention Industry Market – Conventa, in Ljubljana, also speaks of the need of emphasizing the advantages of our region in the convention industry, and by that the potentials of Belgrade within the region.

The fact that the majority of all the inquiries on meetings at the common stand in the presentations of the BCB at the biggest convention industry fairs in the world such as IMEX, EIBTM and CONVENTA refer to Belgrade as a destination for organizing the association meetings and conventions, tells that we became again recognizable in this area and it is our intention to use this, in cooperation with local partners and SCB, in the best way possible, above all through common candidateship of Belgrade, promotion, lobbying, exchange of experiences with the convention bureaus of the neighbouring countries and more active stimulation of domestic associations to engage themselves in the process of Belgrade candidating.

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Miona Milic
More than 10 years in events industry, as a project manager, content developer, offline and internet marketing campaigns, event manager for SEEbtm party, Editor-in-Chief of SEEbtm magazine… Professionalism, constant learning and personal, such as business upgrading, finds essential for success. Creativity in all fields is very important to her. Love to be physically active, travel, meet people and have a good time. But, beside everything, the greatest accomplishment and most important thing for her is being a MOM.

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