A visitor studies the brochure of China at the 39th International Tourism Fair in Belgrade, Serbia on Feb. 23, 2017. The fair took place with the slogan "Enjoy in time" from Feb. 23 to 26, with 1,100 exhibitors from 56 countries. (Xinhua/Nemanja Cabric)
BELGRADE, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- For the first time, China took part in the International Tourism Fair in Belgrade which opened here on Thursday.
Serbian officials and tour operators saw this as another signal, along with visa liberalization and possible direct flights, that the number of Chinese tourists to Serbia could soon increase notably.
Tourism fair takes place for the 39th time at the Belgrade fair under the slogan "Enjoy in time" with 1.100 exhibitors, local, regional and international tour operators, tourist associations and organizations, hotels, tourist centers and airliners from 56 countries from February 23 to 26.
It was officially opened by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Rasim Ljajic, minister of trade, tourism and telecommunications.
Speaking at the opening of the fair Vucic said that last year Serbia profited more than 1 billion euros (1.06 billion U.S. dollars) from tourism because it managed to realize that it had underestimated its potentials in the past and decided to change this.
One of the strategies, according to him, is to attract more visitors from China.
"In 2016 the number of Chinese tourists increased by 29 percent. We expect more of them because I expect that one Chinese airliner will soon establish a direct flight from Belgrade to Beijing.
"This will mean, along with the visa-free regime, a huge number of tourists," Vucic said.
Vucic said Serbia plans to make arrangements with neighboring countries such as Montenegro and Hungary to present a joint tourist offer to Chinese tour operators.
Ljajic noted that the Belgrade International Tourism Fair has grown into the biggest tourism fair in the region and stressed the importance of having China and Russia for the first time as participants.
"For the first time at this fair, we have China and Russia presenting their tourist offers which will significantly contribute to better cooperation and attracting tourists from these great markets to Serbia," Ljajic said.
In an interview for Xinhua, Liu Cheng, director of the Budapest branch of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), said that the branch was founded in March last year in Budapest to promote China as a tourist destination among central and eastern European countries, and to establish tourist connections between China and CEE countries, including Serbia.
"These years we have seen a rapid growth of Chinese outbound tourists to CEE countries, with an annual number of 800,000 tourists," Liu said.
"Among these countries, Czech Republic is the most popular one. Well, we don't see many Chinese tourists in Serbia, However, it grows by 20 percent to 30 percent every year," Liu said, reminding that Serbia and China implemented visa liberalization in January, which is really good news.
"A problem remains that Chinese people don't know much about Serbia. They may know Belgrade or former Yugoslavia, but they don't know what to see, what to do or what to buy here.
"I think it's important that Serbia promote itself in China so that Chinese people will get to know more about this country and, gradually Serbia will become a popular tourist destination," he concluded.
PREPARING FOR MORE TOURISTS
BIljana Radulovic, director of "Top Tours" tour operator, says that her company made the first attempt to cooperate with Chinese tour operators on bringing tourists to Serbia, by printing a brochure which was presented for the first time at the international tourism fair in Shanghai last November.
"In the brochure made for our potential business partners, we presented Serbia and its capital Belgrade, but also regional countries and established two guaranteed routes (that will operate even if a single passenger is present) -- 'Memory of the Balkans' and 'Balkans without Borders'. We proposed our Chinese partners to visit all of our neighboring countries," she said.
Radulovic explained that the company analyzed the market to study preferences of Chinese tourists before it decided to present its offer to Chinese tour operators, and that the key motivation for that was the liberalization of visa regime between two countries.
"We made the first attempt to attract Chinese tourists five years ago, but at that point procedures for Chinese tourists to get visas were too demanding so we put the project on hold until recently when visa liberalization between China and Serbia gave us a new motivation," she recalled.
"We expect results. Serbia is a new destination, and we have the support of the business environment as well as the ministry in charge of tourism," Radulovic said, adding that she expects to establish cooperation with partners from China.
MEETING CHINESE REQUIREMENTS
Milica Cubrilo, secretary for tourism in the Serbia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that Serbia has to offer a lot to tourists.
These include capital Belgrade with its surroundings, mountain resorts, spas, numerous festivals and a tradition worth getting to know.
Cubrilo said that hotels, restaurants and tour guides as well as others engaged in tourism have gradually started to adapt to the requirements of Chinese tourists.
"Having in mind that China is very far away from here, we made joint programs with our neighbors that have a complementary offer with Serbia, which is Montenegro, as the beginning.
"Our tour operators made a brochure with seven joint programs focusing on active vacation in nature together with Montenegrin tour operators and these will be offered to Chinese tour operators so they could include them in their offer at the upcoming tourism fair in Shanghai," she told Xinhua.
In 2016, some 43,000 Chinese tourists came to Serbia which is not a big number having in mind the size of China, but for Serbia this is encouraging because in 2011 only 12,000 tourists from China visited Serbia, she said.
"We hope that the visa free regime, possible establishment of a direct flight, joint presentation with our neighbors as well as strengthening of regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe will have an influence on Chinese tourists to perceive this region as more attractive than in the past," Cubrilo said.
Miodrag Popovic, Director of the Tourist Organization of the City of Belgrade, told Xinhua that Chinese tourists are just as any other international visitors when it comes to the presentation of tourist destination, but in order for them to be satisfied, some special attention is still required.
There are differences when it comes to Chinese tourists only when it comes to some cultural aspects, he said.
"A research has provided us with information about what interests Chinese guests most, how they need to be treated -- from the most banal such as to avoid everything connected to the number four, to more serious issues, such as that one needs to have Chinese food for guests who stay longer, together with domestic specialties that they may wish to taste.
"Chinese guests also like to take photos and we need to provide them with enough places to capture their memories on photos," he said.
"Preparations are ongoing in Belgrade hotels, restaurant and all those related to the sector of services and other sectors related to the tourist offer -- for the arrival of Chinese guests," Popovic said.