Creating new tourism attractions in the Western Balkans

How do we create the best travel experiences in Europe’s most diverse destination – The Western Balkans?

Albanian Mountains at Gjirokastra

Lake Orhid in Macedonia

Lake Orhid in Macedonia

This week marks the launch of a new project and an entirely new approach to tourism development in the Western Balkans region.  Already more than 130 companies and experts from across the region are collaborating to promote a new image for travelers. We want to tell the world about this region’s incredible diversity:

Cultural diversity – In a relatively small area we see Europe’s greatest range of  languages, religions, traditions, cuisine, customs and dress.

Serbian Dancers

Serbian Dancers

Biodiversity  – More than 75% of Europe’s bird species, the highest plant species to land area diversity in Europe, the last truly wild un-fenced populations of Europe’s ‘BIG 5’ Mammals, the Lynx, Brown bear, Wolf, Chamois and Wild Boar.

Hiking the Coastal Transversal Montenegro

Hiking the Coastal Transversal Montenegro

Diversity of Activities – The landscape ranges from lakes and deltas to high mountain peaks, the climate ranges from Mediterranean semi-topical to temperate continental and Alpine. The region can boast a full range of winter sports, outdoor recreation, water and sea based activities, (from paragliding to pot-holing, from mountaineering to scuba diving),  in some of Europe’s most dramatic locations, surrounded by amazing culture.

Jajce Bosnia

Jajce Bosnia

In association with the Western Balkans Geotourism Network, the USAID funded Regional Economic Growth project wants to identify, fine tune and then promote world class travel experiences.

logos final                                                                                                             REG Logo

During the next 5 months I will visit 6 countries, identify at least 5 companies in each and link them up with partners in the neighboring countries, to create regional routes, framework  tours of the best themes , attractions and activities available there.

I am looking forward to working with all interested businesses to help them create sustainable, life changing and unforgettable travel experiences. We have the people and we have the potential attractions in this incredible region.

As this is a new approach, based on empowerment, mentoring and marketing – I shall be using this blog to keep an online record of our ideas, of the people we meet and the places we visit.  After each set of meetings I will post details of ideas and opportunities so that I can easily share with our network and with other businesses who can help.

I am also hoping that if anyone should read these journals, you would be happy to share your ideas, feedback, comments and criticisms.

Please also feel free to contact me if you wish to take part in the project.

Jack  – 8th April 2014

A Destination Brand for the Western Balkans ?

mini mapguide logo  Creating a Destination Brand for the Western Balkans  Conclusions from the ‘Western Balkans Tourism Network’ meeting in Prishtina February 2012.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2.  Branding and identity concepts
  3.  Recognition of need                                                                                    Western Balkans Tourism Network MISSION Statement                Western Balkans Tourism Network VISION                                        Review of Identity – Current internal perceptions of the Western Balkans as a tourist destination. Current external perceptions of the Western Balkans as a tourist destination. Trends in tourism. Understanding our customers needs.Strengths weaknesses opportunities and threats
  4.  Competitive Analysis. How do competitors promote their destinations?
  5. Which key brand attributes/attractions should we communicate?How are the nations in the Western Balkans marketed already?Which attributes/attractions have the most appeal to our customers?
  6. Key Brand Messages – defining our Brand
  7. Branding Graphic Suggestions. Logo & slogan ideas
  8. Suggested Next steps

1. Introduction This document is intended to summarize the work conducted so far in establishing a brand image both for the Western Balkans and for the tourism business network, (working title : ‘Sunny Balkans Network’), which will collaborate to promote the region.It is intended as a discussion document to guide our next steps in formulating a brand image. The process of creating a ‘brand’ is ongoing, it is important that the conclusions and decisions listed here are reviewed and reaffirmed at our next meeting. It is necessary to draw attention to the following caveats: 1. Not everyone connected with the W.Balkans business network was able to attend the most recent meeting. It is important that we reach the widest possible agreement from stakeholders in this process. 2.  There is lack of relevant research upon which to base decisions. To my knowledge no data exists which looks at International and Internal perceptions of the region and its image. The conclusions made come from the collective experience of the tourist businesses involved in the recent brand seminar 3. We are attempting to create a brand image for two purposes; the region and the regional network of tourism businesses. Although one brand can be created it will need to serve these two roles. 4. The meeting was held with the support of the USAID Regional Competitive Initiative. On behalf of the tourism network members I would like to express our gratitude for invaluable assistance.   2. Branding and Identity Concepts Brand A brand is much more than just a graphic logo or a slogan. To create a Western Balkans brand, we need to create an expectation among a targeted audience that a visit to the Western Balkans will deliver a unique and meaningful benefit. Our brand will give potential visitors an expectation about the experience of visiting our region. Identity For destinations, brand is effectively the same as identity. Most potential visitors will already have an idea of the identity of the Western Balkans, this would include ideas about: what the people are like, the standards of accommodation/tourism infrastructure, climate and landscape. These ideas are based on history, cultural stereotypes and guesswork; they are often inaccurate and often negative.         Brand Promise To create a regional brand we need to create an inspirational promise which holds true to the experience (and the value) that our region can reliably deliver.  As tourism businesses we need to ensure that we only promise what we can deliver. Once we have decided on the image we wish to promote to the world we need to work hard to ensure standards and the quality of the customer experience. Brand Attributes The benefits or attractions which entice visitors to our region. The Western Balkans has many and diverse attractions, to promote them all would risk confusion in the minds of potential visitors.  We need to consider a brand image which captures this idea of diversity in one clear message, or we need to concentrate on just the most attractive attributes. We need to work together to promote the most appealing or key brand attributes, those which are the most to potential visitors at this time. Targeted Audience In deciding which of the many attractions we wish to promote (the key brand attributes), we need to consider which are the most important markets for tourism growth. The markets could be defined by type: beach and sun holidaymakers v adventure travellers, free and independent travellers (F.I.Ts) v packaged tourists. We could define our target audience by age, demographic or by geographical location (should we promote to Europe, or the new emerging markets in Eastern Europe, South America and the Far East (BRIC economies)?   3. Recognition of need Without a position, an identity (brand), it is almost impossible to achieve a meaningful and sustainable point of differentiation. “A unique, own-able position will give our destination gravitas. It has pull. It will make people want to get up off the couch, pack their bags, and travel”. As a tourism network we have set ourselves a mission and agreed a vision for our organisation and for our region. In both we have identified the need for a joint marketing effort to promote the Western Balkans.

 

MISSION Statement of the Western Balkans Tourism NetworkWe are tour operators; we cover all the destinations within the Western Balkans. Our aim is to substantially increase our competitive advantage by raising standards and joint marketing.

Our VISION To position the Western Balkans as a leading global destination for tourism.

The Western Balkans needs to create a new brand image. The region is not as well known as other less attractive tourist destinations. Many potential visitors are not aware of the attributes or attractions of the region. Many people, in Europe in particular, still have a negative view of the region. To understand the existing image of the region we looked at both international and local perceptions.   3.1 Review of identity Current internal perceptions of the W.Balkans as a tourist destination. It is the local businesses, communities and individuals upon which we ultimately depend to deliver a tourist experience. It is important to understand our own perceptions. There is a lack of data to help us answer some of the key questions: What are local people thinking and saying?  How do they act?  What do they really believe? What do they really think of the travellers that find their way here? From our discussion and from anecdotal evidence it would seem that some of the following attitudes can be found in the wider community:

  • The region lacks modern tourist infrastructure, (roads, hotels, airports, activities). It is felt that to attract tourists the region needs to be more developed.
  • Local customs, traditions are respected and valued but have only a local appeal.
  • The continued existence of traditional lifestyles and agriculture show the region as undeveloped and are not seen as an attraction to visitors.
  • The true value of the natural environment, the landscapes, bio-diversity and unpopulated areas as tourist attractions is not widely understood.

Current external perceptions of the W.Balkans as a tourist destination. In this session we discussed our place in the world, from an outsider’s perspective.  Where did it originate? What does it offer of value? How has it been represented in the past? What is our current positioning in the mind of the traveller? What is our current market position? Here we were able to look at some collected data as well as anecdotal evidence. Some of the following current and historical perceptions were considered:

  • The region is the original Europe, the term “Europe” was used by the ancient Greeks to describe the lands immediately to their north west.
  • From the Ottoman period the region was considered to be the beginning of Asia – the Near East.
  • The region is now often considered as South Eastern Europe
  • The Balkans has negative connotations.  “Balkanization” – National caricatures and cultural stereotyping since the 1870s. The perception remains that the region is war-torn and unsafe”
  • The region is actually little known, e.g.: 52% of English people think that Montenegro is in South America
  • Great beaches – Yugoslavia was a budget destination in the 1980s
  • It is a former communist region with heavy industry and lots of grey concrete architecture
  • Wild and mountainous

3.2 Tourism Trends In order to identify our targeted audience we looked at some of the important changes in tourism demand. Economic

  • North Americans and Europeans accounted for the largest groups of travellers in the last 30 years. Travel experts expect that to change in the next 30 years with more people from Russia, India, China, and Brazil travelling.
  • Polarisation of markets between low-cost and premium segments.

Societal

  • The more life speeds up, the more people will want to step off for a while. Hence the growth in spa experiences, personal indulgences and stress relief holidays – or stress relieving activities.
  • Increased interest in roots or cultural heritage, connections with the lifestyles of the past.

Demographic

  • Impact of ageing (growth in number of 55-65+).
  • Declining fertility – smaller families with less time and fewer kids.
  • Boomers/seniors take longer holidays but low overall spend.

Technological

  • IT enabling further transparency of markets, customers are now more knowledgeable and conduct more detailed research.
  • Impact of mobile web, GPS, RFID on the growth of independent travel.

Political

  • Appeal of newly democratised and peaceful destinations.
  • Increase in regulation and compliance.

Environment

  • Increasing eco-awareness and the increasing impact of social and ethical concerns on holiday choices. 62% of European consumers plan to take a more environmentally friendly holiday but they expect companies to address issues on their behalf: Concerned Consumer Index in January 2011
  • Expected swing back to local/domestic travel caused by cost/congestion = Going Local.

Tourism

  • Growth of cultural tours (edutainment)
  • “Voluntourism” is no longer just a gap year activity.
  • Growth of natural and eco-tourism
  • Impact of inbound CHIME and BRIC tourists
  • Tourists seeking balance between cultural familiarity (safety) and new experiences

  Adventure Travel – The fastest growing form of tourism. (Defined as a mix of Cultural Education, Nature Based Experience and/or Physical activity)

  • Worth 65 billion euros globally
  • 25% of European holidays
  • Higher spending
  • Expanding range of activities but with ‘soft’ adventure as by far the most significant sector.
  • Increased length of trip
  • New destinations

Source: Adventure Tourism Market Report 2010           3.3 Understanding customer needs – Tourism Market Data In order to better understand the behaviours of our customers we looked at some data taken from Target Group Indicator (TGI) charts. (Mintel Oxygen 2011).   Conclusions taken from TGI data tables.

  • Increasing demand for an annual second holiday
  • The growth of independent travel over packaged tours through tour operators
  • The growing importance of activity, historic, cultural and wildlife tourism
  • The dramatic decline in demand for Beach/resort holidays
  • How holidays are taken  – more group, with family, partners, friends
  • How holidays are booked – longer lead times, more destination research etc.

Profile of ‘Activity’ Holidaymakers

  • Most likely aged 20-44 and Male
  • In the last 12 months there has been fastest increase for women.
  • Group adventure market now shows a female bias with single females.
  • 20%  UK holiday makers took activity holiday in last 12 months
  • 37% among 65k+ income group
  • ABC1 Adult group – 58% took activity holiday last year
  • Short intense overseas breaks – dual activity and luxury model.
  • Forecasts: by 2012 – 2.1% growth in pre-families, 6.2% growth in ‘third age’ 11.2% growth in retired.

3.4 SWOT Analysis Using the information we gathered from market data we discussed the relative strengths and weaknesses of the region and also considered opportunities and threats to tourism here. STRENGTH   – Uniqueness – Local to European Markets – Variety – Diversity – big diversity in a small area, regionally and within each country – Friendliness of the People and Hospitality – Authenticity   WEAKNESS   – International Perceptions – Logistics / ease of access and travel – Organized information – managing international media – Negative publicity – Government obstacles to business – Ecological issue / nature management – Weak business cooperation and linkages – Conflicts – Lack of experience in “regionalism” – Lack of common standards – “Red tape” issue   OPPORTUNITY   – Sport success bringing a new spotlight to the region –  BRIC Market – so many cultural experiences in one region – US, North America Australia – the region is an exotic long haul destination – Western Europe – domestic destinations considered as tired and overdeveloped – Eastern Europe – familiarity – New type of Tourist products lend themselves to development here. – Regional Business Cooperation / Networking in the private sector – Linking products in the region – Introducing new destinations – Lack of competition for wilderness and cultural attractions – Perceived as a compact area – Undiscovered region – EU Accession process – New perceptions as a friendly place             THREAT   – International perceptions and stereotypes – Competition – Government / Political Instability – ‘Idiots’ + Drivers – New emerging global Tourism destinations – Overbuilding, congestion, bad management of cities, sites and nature – Waste management – Continuous bad publicity / media coverage – Entering the market unprepared – Failing to meet market expectations – Nationalism bias Patriotism   4. Competitive Analysis How are potential competitors promoting their destinations?       The Mediterranean as it once was for both adventurers and guests seeking comfort. A great natural and historical stage for many unique festivals, one of the ecologically best preserved parts of Europe.         Medieval towns, the romantic Danube Delta, fairy-tale castles and lots more…unique Romania.         Feel the presence of nature. Taste the harmony of European diversity.     Black Sea coastline for beach enthusiasts, great skiing in the mountains in the winter   5. Which are the key brand attributes/attractions which we wish to promote? 5.1 How do nations within the Western Balkans promote their destinations?   Outstanding natural beauty, the cutting edge of cool, simply irresistible…Serbia.   Unspoilt landscapes, rugged outdoor adventures and villages that have barely changed since the Middle Ages. Wild Beauty! The heart of the Mediterranean, unspoiled by globalization, an inspiring mix of civilizations and cultures. Discover New Beauty Timeless       5.2   Which attributes/attractions have the most appeal to our customers? A successful Western Balkans brand will build on existing positive images of the region. These images are already being promoted by tourism stakeholders.  WB Tourism Network members listed the destination attributes which we promote to successfully attract visitors. In order to determine the key messages from a long list, WB Tourism Network members then ranked each benefit in order of importance.

MOST

IMPORTANT

  37 – Cultural Diversity 41     – Wildness,     Nature, Natural Beauty   53 – (High Quality     of) Food, (Rakija), Wine 59 – People, Friendliness 59 – Hospitality 63 – Relaxed / Pace     of Life 63 – (High Quality     of) Outdoor Adventures/Activities 69 – Variety of     experiences, culture and landscape 74 – Fascinating History   116 – Architecture 115 – Beach
Western Balkans Destination Attributes/Benefits     Ranked in order of importance.

6. Key Messages  – Defining our Brand 6.1 Primary and secondary brand attributes. The above list defines the brand attributes or benefits of the Western Balkans Tourism Destination.  Following discussion it was decided that the key messages should be:

 PRIMARY BRAND MESSAGES

        1. The most Culturally Diverse Destination in Europe/World. 2. Home of Europe’s last unspoiled Natural Beauty.   SECONDARY BRAND MESSAGE   3. A warm welcome and a friendly relaxed way of life.

6.2 Some information to support our key messages. 1. The most Culturally Diverse Destination in Europe/World. One characteristic of the Western Balkans which already has widespread international acceptance is the idea of the region as a meeting point of cultures through history, also as a crossroads of cultural and trade routes linking east and west. We intend to build on this perception, to communicate that the Western Balkans is unique because of the extent of this cultural diversity.   Many Members of the WB tourism network have begun the process of substantiating the claim to Europe’s most diverse region.  We set out to list all of the distinct Cultural Groups, (groups with their own political representation, region, separated settlements, social clubs or surviving cultural traditions).  In a short time we listed 26. 26 distinct Cultural groups in the Western Balkans Kosovan, Serbian, Bosnian and Herzegovinian, Macedonian, Albanian, Montenegrin, Croatian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Greek, Roma, Hungarian, Slovakian, Turkish, Egyptians, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Vlachs, Jews, Ashkali, Torbeshi, Gorans, Epirotes, Armenians, Juruci.                                                                             Plus 16 Influences – other cultures which have left their mark.  Venetians, Austria(-Hungarian), Byzantine, Ottoman, Norman, Angevin, French, Russian, Roman, Gothic, Celts, Bogomils, Illyrians, Thracians, etc. We also considered… 14 Types of Music performed in the Western Balkans : Gypsy, folklore, “Old Town”, Modern, Orthodox music- instrumental & voice, Turkish music, Turbo FOLK, Sevda, Serenade, Gusla, Gange, Seventh/Eighth music style,                                                              Typical dances – Saz, Sharki, Zurla, Kaval Cuisine in the Western Balkans: Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greek, Hungarians, Italian, German, Middle East, Turkish, Indian, Austrian, Traditional home produce Cheeses, Yoghurt, Prsut. Rakija or Zolta, (Spirit), Vranac, Zhilavka, Blatina (Wine) Languages Spoken in the Western Balkans : Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greek, Hungarians, Italian, German, Middle East, Turkish, Roma, Armenia, Slovak, Italian, Important Cultural Festivals in the Western Balkans : ALBANIA: Theater Butrint, Folkfest Gjirokastre, , Beer fest in Korce, Film Durres, Tirana Film fest, Human rights film fest                                      BiH: Sarajevo Film Festival, Mess T. F., Bashcarshia nights Sarajevo winter, Jazz, Chimburiada (Omelet festival)                                                                                                                                 MACEDONIA: Film, Jazz, Galicnik wedding, Wine fest (Skopje), Ohrid Summer fest                                                                                   MONTENEGRO:  Bokeske Noch Carnival in Kotor, Mimoza Festival,  Festival of Wine and Bleak,                                                                 SERBIA: Exit, Guca, Rostiljada, Belgrade Beer fest, Jazz Belgrade         KOSOVO: Doku fest, PriFilm, Wine (Harvest day), Jazz, Beer, Miss Cow festival (Lara), Religions practised in the Western Balkans:                                           Christian – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Jehovah, Franciscans.                                                                                                                     Muslim –   sunni, sufi, rufai, helvecti, bektashi, dervishi, shia.                     Jewish.                                                                                                                                           Animist, Uniat, Pagan. Pilgrimage Sites – Ajvatovica, Medjogurije.

NB. These lists are not exhaustive and may be inaccurate. It would be useful to fill out the detail. It could be a good marketing tactic to run an online discussion or competition to involve the local public in the debate.

The other benefits or attributes should be used to support these primary messages. The fascinating History and Architecture are part of the story of cultural diversity. The high quality of outdoor adventure activities, the Variety of scenery/experiences and the Beach/Adriatic coast are part of the story of unspoiled natural beauty. 2. Home of Europe’s last unspoiled Natural Beauty. In a similar way that we have substantiated our claim to be the most culturally diverse region, we should also collect data related to the unspoiled natural beauty for example: Incredible biodiversity: This is the last place in central Europe where all the European large mammals can be found in a truly wild (unfenced) nature. These include Dinaric Pindus Brown Bear, Wolf, Chamois, Lynx and Wild Boar. Home to old growth forest: It would be good to list the areas which have never been cultivated or developed – such as BioGradska Gora national park in Montenegro. Home to endangered plant and animal species: Which rare species still survive in the region – such as the Dalmatian Pelikan, Pygmy Cormorant, types of Orchid, High pasture grassland species etc Variety of climates and landscapes: We have Alpine, Mediterranean, Temperate climate zones. How many Mountain peaks do we have over 2000m? Natural Wonders: For example, Europe’s deepest canyon (Tara), Europe’s largest cryptographic lake (Skadar), unexplored Cave systems, the last canyon to be explored in Europe (Nevideo) etc.                                             As a network we should become involved in Nature Conservation, we need to show potential visitors that we value and protect the natural environment in the region. 5. Branding Suggestions 5.1 Brand Promise of the Western Balkans A catchy slogan is needed based on the idea of: Incredible Cultural Diversity amidst Wild and Beautiful Nature. Visitor Expectation: There is an incredible variety of Culture and nature in the region, this diversity is  accessible, preserved and celebrated.   5.1 Logo ideas It would be ideal to include the key brand messages or attributes in a logo. There was not time to develop logo ideas but some useful suggestions were made. 1. JigSaw puzzle/Patch work image. Each piece would include images representing: Countries in the Western Balkans Destination, Cultures, Landscapes/Natural Attractions, festivals, events or activities. The Jigsaw pieces could be modified to resemble the national boundaries, but should all be equal in size.  The jigsaw idea represents variety and the interconnections within the region. 2. A traditional shawl or quilt made with traditional patterns from each culture combined to make one logo. 3. The word BALKANS written with a different style or font for each letter. Each letter would represent a different culture, nature, language etc.   5.2 Slogan Ideas Again time was limited but we did discuss ideas based on a number of themes: Variety- Diversity “In the mix” /  Unspoilt Land of Diversity / WB  defining diversity / Enjoy diversity. Historical mixing of Cultures EUROPEAN FRONTIER /  Whole-All of Europe here / More than just Europe (Together)/ Europe’s living heritage / Cultural crossroads / Cultural melting pot  / Where European history was made Preservation The ‘original’ Europe. /  Your-Europe’s  last chance to see / as history made it / Europe’s last wilderness. Generic –Must see land 6. Suggested Next steps 1. Everyone should review the conclusions and decisions reached in the last meeting which are outlined above.   2. Everyone should produce suggestions for a brand logo and short slogan.  This should convey the brand messages which we wish to promote.   3. Members of the tourism network need to consider how can ensure that the consumer expectations which are brand will produce can be reliably met. We need to consider how to share this brand within our wider communities and how to get the agreement and participation of other stakeholders. We should support cultural groups and festivals and also support nature conservation efforts.   4. We need to produce a simple marketing plan, (uncosted at this stage), to determine how the Western Balkans Brand will be used by us and by partners. This will help us to finally agree upon the brand itself.  This plan needs to consider how we plan to use the brand on web, printed material and which other organizations need to support our brand.     Jack Delf – March 2012

Postcards from Herceg Novi

Herceg Novi, (once known as Castelnuovo), has changed little in 100 years. The railway has gone, to be replaced by a pedestrian promenade. One castle fell into the sea during an earthquake, but the town would be still be familiar to a Austro-Hungarian soldier from the 1890’s

Main Square 2011                                                                                   Main Square 1900

Travel in parts of Montenegro often feels like travel back in time. Many destinations claim to be ‘the Mediterranean as it once was’. Few places can live up to that claim.  Herceg Novi,which is often bypassed by tourists hurrying to see Dubrovnik or Kotor, certainly does.


Marina 2011                                                                                                   Marina 1926

The old town is still partly walled and contains 3 castles. Hispaniola was built by Spanish Crusaders, Fort Mare and Kanli Kula (Bloody Tower) were built by Ottoman Turks.

Sea View 2011                                                                                        Sea View 1915

In the quiet cobbled streets of the old town it is easy to forget the passage of time and imagine that the spirits of the past still swap gossip over a rakija or bustle to the market, just as their successors still do today!

So don’t worry if your postcard takes 100 years to arrive, little will have changed.  🙂