Nathalie Gunasekera & Zenebe Uraguchi
Imagine this: you just had an amazing weekend-escape. Now you’re back in the office, feeling the post-vacation blues. As a little pick-me-up, you start scouting for your next holiday gem. Now, hands-down, would Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) even feature in your search? Most likely not.
MarketMakers tries to change that. The project’s objective is to create employment opportunities for young women and men in BiH by addressing key bottlenecks that are holding sectors such as tourism back.
Why the tourism sector
Tourism is a particularly attractive sector, as there is a lot of untapped potential. Its reach spans across rural and urban areas and can create employment opportunities for young Bosnians across the country. Tourism further offers job opportunities for young people with a range of skill sets: from service-oriented jobs to lower skilled occupations.
So how does MarketMakers go about strengthening the tourism sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina? The project presently focuses on three main areas: tourism package development, sales and promotion, and advocacy.
Tourism package development
Tourists stay for an average of just two days in BiH. This means that beyond short city visits to Sarajevo or Mostar, much of the country is left unexplored. This is a real shame as the country has a lot to offer – from adventurous outdoor activities for intrepid explorers, exquisite wine regions to an abundance of historical and cultural sites for some serenity. The issue is that these various activities are not put together in one coherent offer: tourists are not offered holiday tours that clearly outline all the activities they can pursue if they come to BiH for a couple of days.
These bundled activities are called tourism packages. MarketMakers partnered with 6 tourism businesses and 3 travel agencies to foster the development of such packages. Since the launch of the intervention in spring 2015, more than 30 tourism packages have been developed, resulting in some 1,480 tourists arriving in BIH and spending over 5,000 nights in the country. This indicates that the development of tourism packages can attract more tourists and make them stay longer. Most crucially, it creates jobs – at least 90 jobs in the past year alone.
Sales and Promotion
Creating holiday content, however, is only one side of the story: tourism packages also need to be sold! It is for that reason that MarketMakers launched another initiative that aims to introduce greater use of online sales and promotion channels among tourism businesses – still a fairly novel idea in BiH. MarketMakers, for instance, organised an awareness raising event about viator, the largest online tourist and activities booking agency. Prior to the event, the platform advertised only 6 Bosnian packages: now there are more than 30. The use of online sales channels is catching on!
Additionally, the project tries to encourage regional tourism agencies to take advantage of digital marketing to better promote their regions. The project matched the tourism association of Herzegovina, in the southern part of BiH, with a digital marketing company that managed the association’s google ads and Facebook promotion bursts.
The results were impressive. In just a couple of days, the association’s website registered over 7,000 visitors – a substantial increase from a few hundred in the months before. Similarly, the project supported the online promotion of bloggers (#myherzegovina) through Facebook bursts. The campaign went viral: one blog alone reached over 25,000 readers. How this will translate into actual bookings and visits to BiH will have to be monitored closely in the next couple of months – though early signs are encouraging.
Now, if you are still reading this blog, perhaps you got a bit curious about BiH? Did you, by any chance, look up flights to BiH? If so, the results are pretty disappointing: the country is not easily accessible. The lack of flights to BiH is in fact one of the issues that severely curbs the growth potential of the sector.
To address this, MarketMakers is cooperating with the Tourism Cluster Herzegovina and its member, Mostar Airport, to advocate for the introduction of more flights to Mostar. The project financed an airport feasibility study, which outlines the economic growth and employment opportunities (some 2,600 jobs) more flights to Mostar can generate in the region.
Using the study for its advocacy, the cluster has already achieved some notable milestones. The federal government pledged CHF 3 million over the next three years for airport infrastructure investments critical to accommodating more flights. Similarly, Herzegovina-Neretva Canton and the City of Mostar allocated CHF 70 000 for attracting new airlines to the airport. Crucially, these achievements create momentum for a more thriving advocacy landscape – a precondition for good economic policy to strengthen the tourism sector in BiH.
None of the initiatives described above are easy, quick solutions to the numerous challenges the tourism sector in BiH is facing. But they are a step in the right direction: more tourism packages, smarter promotion and sales strategies, as well as a boost in airline connections are paramount to a healthy tourism sector. While they are slowly taking roots in Bosnia’s Herzegovina region, MarketMakers wants to make sure that the tourism potential of other regions is also developed: scaling up its activities is therefore its next priority, both within the country and the region more widely.
So, has the Bosnia travel bug already caught on to you? Hopefully so – we definitely look forward to catching up over a delicious cup of Bosnian coffee!
- MarketMakers project
- Systemic approach
- Market Systems and Stakeholder Analysis in BiH
- Tourism Sector Strategy
Pictures: courtesy of iHouse Travel d.o.o.
Nathalie Gunasekera is the Regional Advisor in Eastern Europe.
Zenebe Uraguchi is the Programme Coordinator for Eastern Europe and Senior Advisor in market systems development based in Switzerland.