Southeast Europe seeing ‘massive’ tourism surge

The organisers of a B2B event focused on tourism in southeast Europe say the region is booming, with investment in hotels, increased awareness and rising visitor numbers.

The growth in the region means that New Deal Europe (NDE) is expecting record numbers at its annual trade marketplace, which takes place on March 28 at a new, larger venue in central London.

Robert Dee, co-founder and director of NDE, said: “The area is seeing a massive boom and consumer interest is at an all-time high.

“Many operators recognise this and have developed new programmes as they know this is where the growth is – the trade can come to the event and find out why the region is so sexy.”

MoreNew Deal Europe plans its biggest ever live event

The event connects tourism suppliers from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Greece with operators and agents from the UK, Ireland and beyond in a series of one-to-one meetings.

About 70 buyers and 70 suppliers, including some well-known operators, are expected to attend.

Fellow co-founder Tine Murn said: “The Balkans are booming. It is one of the last exotic regions of Europe but more and more people are looking at it because it has such diversity – from the Alps to the Aegean, it offers culture, natural attractions, beaches, mountains, foodie attractions, wine and skiing.

“There are lots of flights from the UK…especially as there are many people from the region who live in the UK.”

He said destinations are investing in their tourism products and marketing – such as Croatia, which joined the eurozone and Schengen in January, and more “undiscovered” places such as Thessaloniki in northern Greece.

“Huge numbers of Brits went to Montenegro, especially in the first half of 2022, as it eased Covid restrictions earlier than other places,” he added.

“People loved it and reported back to family and friends. It used to have a lot of Russian and Ukrainian tourists but now it is investing more in attracting the British market.”

As well as the one-to-one meetings at the event in London, there will be further networking opportunities and the chance to hear about destinations during tourist board presentations.

Dee added: “We want travel agents to register to attend – whether they specialise in the region and tailor make tours for customers, or they want to learn more about it from the tourist boards.

“It will be a very educational experience. There will be lots of new ideas and new programmes at the event.”

He highlighted recent new product announcements such as those by James Villas in Croatia and Regent Holidays in Albania and Romania, as examples of how the region’s offering is expanding.

New Deal Europe Marketplace and Forum 2022
New Deal Europe Marketplace and Forum 2022

“If people are concerned about the cost of living, they should know the region offers great value for money, especially the destinations outside the EU,” he added.

“Some long-haul operators switched to the Balkans because they couldn’t offer their usual destinations [because of the pandemic] so that opened up new audiences and generated lots of interest.

“Albania had a record year in 2022 and more hotel groups are looking at the Albanian riviera – and there are eight flights a day there from the UK.

“And Croatia had record numbers in July and August.”

Murn highlighted how Slovenia has been at the forefront of sustainable tourism for many years, adding: “Other countries would like to follow suit and become new hotspots for green tourism.”

He also pointed to NDE’s trade partnerships with Etoa, the European tourism association, and Travel Weekly parent Jacobs Media Group – which is organising the London event.

“The partnerships are a recognition of how we have grown, become established in our region and speak to important players,” he said.

NDE also partners with Online Travel Training (OTT) and a course about Moldova has just been added to the platform.

“Moldova is a fantastic destination, it’s great for wine lovers as it produces high quality wines,” he commented.

Attendance at NDE Marketplace and Forum 2023 is free for buyers. Registration for buyers and suppliers is open until March 1 via the NDE website.

Main picture: Tine Murn (left) and Robert Dee in Albania.

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