British tour operators discover Bosnia
by Helen Walasek
As Paddy Ashdown’s kick-start to international tourism to Bosnia-Herzegovina as a destination begins to bear fruit, British tour operators are including the country in their 2006 holiday brochures. The restoration of infrastructure, the modernization of large hotels and the opening of many smaller hotels and pensions means that Bosnia is ready to receive larger numbers of tourists.
Eastern Europe specialists Regent Holidays led the way in 2005, introducing Sarajevo as a city-break destination. This year the company is running two more holidays to Bosnia: a long week-end in Sarajevo and Mostar and a seven-day tour visiting in addition such places as Travnik, Kraljevska Sutjeska, Blagaj and Počitelj. Adventure travel operator Exodus is introducing a walking holiday through Sutjeska National Park, trekking through the Durmitor Mountains, with visits to Sarajevo, Bjelašnica, Mostar and Dubrovnik, while Bosnia is included in the Balkans Adventure tour offered by train-holiday specialists Festtravel. Eastern Trekker operate a Bosnian Trek aimed at independent travellers. Even mass-market operator Cosmos Tourama is including Bosnia in a three-country tour of the region along with Slovenia and Croatia. For those looking for self-catering accommodation, both Croatian Villas and Owners Direct are featuring holiday homes in Herzegovina on their web sites.
Bosnia is keen to develop its winter-sports profile, and the Olympic ski resorts at Bjelašnica, Jahorina and Igman have seen a substantial increase in visitors from countries across the region over the past season, helped by record snowfalls in March and increased marketing. World-class alpine trails combined with reasonable costs have attracted skiers from Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. The resorts are helped by their proximity to the cafes and cultural attractions of Sarajevo with its fascinating East-West ambiance, mixing Turkish bazaars and Austro-Hungarian grandeur, and just thirty minutes’ drive from the ski slopes.
At a conference for the travel industry held in late March at the B-H Embassy in London, Bosnian government ministers, speaking alongside representatives from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and foreign investors, encouraged investment in tourism and tourist infrastructure. They emphasized that perceptions of Bosnia-Herzegovina needed to change: the country is a safe destination for visitors with a stable currency, beautiful untouched landscapes and unique culture.