The organisers of a London travel trade event focused on Balkan destinations say the region has “a lot of potential” and “ticks lots of boxes” for travellers.
New Deal Europe – a trade body representing destinations in the Balkans – will hold its first live event in east London on April 4, followed by a virtual global marketplace on April 11.
The New Deal Europe Marketplace and Forum will connect tourism buyers from around the world with suppliers from 12 countries.
Co-founders Robert Dee and Tine Murn have recently returned from fact-finding mission to the region and generated support from government and tourism ministers, development agencies and major hotel chains.
Dee said bookings to the region had “gone through the roof” since late January when the UK government announced the lifting of travel restrictions.
He also anticipates more countries will follow suit and drop Covid restrictions by the summer.
“Staff numbers in the region had fallen due to Covid restrictions but now firms are swamped with bookings,” said Dee.
“Having time to come to an event like ours is a big issue, but it is important that they do come.
“The show will show solidarity with the region and the restart after Covid; we are all in this together.”
The co-founders have already issued a plea for the UK trade to support countries bordering Ukraine and “show solidarity during the current crisis” following the Russian invasion.
Dee added: “We have buyers covering the entire spectrum of tourism to the Balkans, from youth travel to luxury, seaside to city breaks, gastronomy and cultural tours, and everything in between, and it is not just from the UK and Ireland.
“Registrations are open to March 18 and so far we have buyers coming over from Benelux, Sweden and the US, because they see the potential in the region and can make a lot of quality contacts, and get up to date information, all in just one day.”
Co-founder Tine Murn added: “The region has much diversity, from ski and winter trips in the Alpine regions to beach holidays – and sustainability, tradition, nature and culture.
“Also people are looking to holiday closer to home now because of Covid.
“Consumers who could not travel last year were looking for alternatives – if they normally would go to the Bahamas, they could opt for Croatia or Greece; or if they wanted something like Madagascar they could go for Serbia or Slovenia.
“The tourism product has changed so much, there is lots to learn even for a Balkan specialist.
“The Albanian capital of Tirana is becoming an excellent city break destination.
“You have well developed areas such as Greece and Croatia, developing destinations such as Serbia, and emerging countries such as Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo, where there is a big youth festival with the likes of Rita Ora and Dua Lipa.
The pair said their event is generating interest from around the globe and they are building on the “phenomenal feedback” of their virtual marketplace in 2021.
That event had 200 buyers from 38 countries, and 148 suppliers from 12 countries.
Tourism consultants Dee and Murn created New Deal Europe in 2018 to represent Balkan countries and tourism businesses.
They had planned to host their first trade fair in March 2020 in partnership with Travel Weekly’s parent, Jacobs Media Group.
However, the pandemic meant it was postponed to October 2020 and relaunched as a global and virtual event.
Fortunately, the virtual nature of the rescheduled event helped them to generate more interest from around the world and boost numbers.
Murn added: “There is a lot of potential in years to come, the region is offering something different…rather than something that is already established with a lot of competitors.”
They said the venue in east London – Plexal at Here East in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – reflects the sustainable ethos of Balkan destinations and is easily accessed by train, plane or car.
New Deal Europe has partners from 12 Balkan countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.