New Deal Europe 2020: Virtual event for Balkans facilitates 1,250 meetings. By Robin Searle Vis, Croatia

Balkans suppliers tip region to meet post-virus demand


he Balkans region is well-placed to capitalise on demand for socially-distanced and

off-the-beaten-track destinations, according to speakers at the New Deal Europe virtual conference. Panellists representing tour

operators, agents, hotels and airlines agreed that a consistent and reliable testing regime was essential to reinvigorate global travel. And they said the product on

offer in the Balkans and the flexibility of partners in the region meant it could be in high demand when travel begins to restart in earnest in 2021. Andrea Godfrey, brand manager

for Regent Holidays, said the operator was assessing its programme

With the demand

for open spaces and small-group experiences, the Balkans has so much to offer

and managing costs and risks to ensure customers were confident to book. She said Regent was increasingly

working with airlines that offered flexible rates and payment terms, adding that partners in the Balkans had been “absolutely brilliant” in offering flexibility and guarantees around pricing. Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck, said 2020 had been on track

to be the US operator’s best year on record, and bookings for its 2021 Balkans programme were already ahead of the same time last year. She said: “With [demand

for] outdoors, open spaces and smaller-group experiences, the Balkans has so much to offer. “Our Balkans programme has an

average of 24 guests in a group and we’ve seen a huge surge in demand in America to want to travel in that ‘bubble’, whether on a private departure or within a small group.”

Consumer research suggests perceptions are a barrier

Agents and operators specialising in the Balkans have an opportunity to increase sales to the region but must overcome some negative consumer perceptions. Research was presented to the New Deal Europe

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

conference by publisher News UK based on surveys of readers of The Times, The Sunday Times andThe Sun prior to the Covid-19 lockdown. Among respondents who had not travelled to

the region in the previous five years, the primary barrier cited was concern around safety and political instability, followed by uncertainty about the quality of the holiday product. However, many respondents also admitted that

they did not know much about the countries in the southeast of Europe and were inclined to opt instead for more familiar destinations. Tom Scott, head of travel sales at News UK,

said there could be an opportunity to develop sales to the region if perceptions could be overcome as

holidaymakers sought less-crowded destinations. i Destinations, page 34

Dominic Burke, managing

director of Irish travel agency consortium Travel Centres, said the Balkans could appeal to customers in higher-risk groups who were looking to explore off-the-beaten-track destinations to avoid crowds. He also said there could be a

group of customers whose finances had not been adversely affected by the pandemic and would consider pooling two years of holiday budgets on a 2021 trip including branching out to explore new destinations.

About New Deal Europe

O The New Deal Europe virtual marketplace was created by co-founders Tine Murn and Robert Dee, and supported by T

ravel Weekly parent company Jacobs Media Group.

O Held in place of a face-to-face event postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it included 1,250 business meetings between delegates from 36 countries and suppliers from 11 Balkan nations.

O The 2021 summit will take place on April 12 as a hybrid virtual and live event.



PICTURES: Shutterstock

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