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Montenegro

Capital Podgorica
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 382
Mobile Codes 67,68,69
ccTLD .me
Currency Euro
Land Area 13,812 sq km
Population 672,000
Language Montenegrin
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

Summer 2011 Tourism Offerings in Budva, Montenegro: Interview with Tanja Drašković

In this new interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso speaks with Tanja Drašković, Public Relations Manager for the Budva Tourism Organization, to get the latest on what’s happening at Montenegro’s premier coastal resort.

Along with learning more about what comprises the offerings of this famed destination, readers are also treated to some interesting details on local attractions, and the steps Budva tourism (and that of Montenegro in general) have taken to remain relatively unaffected by the global economic downturn- plus some news on what visitors can expect for the upcoming 2011 summer season.

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Chris Deliso: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. First, I would just like to get a general idea of what you do at the Budva Tourism Organization, particularly to promote the destination?

Tanja Drašković: We at the local tourism board promote Budva as a destination, by ourselves as well as in cooperation with the proper government ministry and the national tourism board. We have some joint campaigns throughout the year. Basically, our main goal is to present Budva as a tourist destination, and to make it a better product and develop the town as a brand. We are constantly working to see what needs to be done in order for the product to be better.

CD: Beyond promotion aimed at the tourists from abroad, how does this work involve reaching out to the local tourism providers? Do you provide some kind of advice or training to the local restaurants, bars, hotels and so on?

Budva's walled old town, set alongside beaches, is one of Montenegro's most recognizable sights (photo: Chris Deliso)

TD: We are in constant contact with the local restaurants, cafés and bars to offer our help. And we as an organization release touristic flyers that include the places that we recommend. We list what’s good to see and do locally, and in these flyers we only list the restaurants and bars that we think are the best.

CD: So, it is not an issue of advertising? That is, that these entities cannot pay to be listed in the tourist information?

TD: No, that’s free- we are non-profit-

CD: But are there any specific criteria, or else how do you decide which such places to promote?

TD: We don’t have specific criteria listed for bars or restaurants to follow for inclusion. But generally, they should have a high standard of service for customers and operate in a professional manner.

CD: How extensively does the tourism board operate in Budva? Where can visitors find your material?

TD: We provide service and information about the area’s tourism offerings at different points throughout the municipality. In high season, everything is free, and tourists can get information about hotels, private accommodation, and generally all that is available. Also, we provide a service whereby local inhabitants who offer private rooms can register their guests with us, and then we can give this necessary information to the police for them.

CD: That seems like a useful idea. I imagine it must make it easier for accommodation providers, possibly older folks, or else who perhaps live far from police stations…

TD: Yes, it makes it easier for them, as they do not have to travel all the way to the police to hand in the guest registration information every day.

Steep walls and narrow laneways characterize Budva's old town, which is thronged by tourists durng high season (photo: Chris Deliso)

CD: And, I would imagine this system may also result in more tax collection for the municipality? I mean, throughout the region, not just in Montenegro, it is a common practice for persons to rent rooms without any license or reporting of profit.

TD: Yes indeed, local tax revenues have risen since we started providing this service. But by offering it, we also want to show them that there are actually pluses to being legal.

CD: How that? How do the rooms providers benefit?

TD: We have local campaigns, as well as with the state authorities, to help persuade them why they should be officially registered. Besides that it’s always safer for them to work legally, once we have registered a private accommodation provider, we can then include them in all of our Budva tourism promotion campaigns, nationally, regionally and internationally. Each year we have several campaigns promoting not only the hotels but also private accommodation. We have published a catalogue of private accommodation on offer in Budva, and we hand them out at every tourism fair we go to, and at every press conference we hold.

CD: This does sound like an advantage, especially for those providers who can’t market themselves or who don’t have much internet visibility. When did you start trying to get the local private accommodation people to declare themselves?

TD: The campaign started in 2005 and now we have maybe 20,000 registered rooms, offered by about 5,000 providers- four times more than we had at the beginning! This has had a financial impact too, since the tourist tax per visitor is one euro per day- this sum is divided between the national and local tourism organizations and Budva municipality.

CD: To return to the previous subject, when you mention tourism fairs, which are the ones you attend generally?

TD: We go to many. Through them, accommodation and other local services that are officially listed have the chance to be put into contact with tourism groups and providers who attend more than 20 of the biggest fairs in Europe. These include the tourism fair in Paris, the World Travel Market in London, the Berlin and Frankfurt tourism fairs, as well as in Moscow, Prague, and Italy, and of course, all of the regional ones.

Our organization often goes to these events together with the national tourism organization of Montenegro, but we also go alone sometimes to some of them.

CD: As we all know, there have always been many jokes in the region about the stereotype of how lazy those Montenegrins are. And I do recall, some years ago now, how slow and uninspired the service seemed to be in Budva. However, nowadays it seems to be much better. Do you feel this is the case? If so, have you done anything as an organization specifically to address the issue of professionalism in tourism?

TD: Yes, I feel we have improved. There are lots of things we do as an organization to help train tourism providers, though of course we can’t order people what to do. We do have roundtables to talk to the local hotel industry and representatives of local tourism organizations, travel agencies, etc.

This is being done not only for Budva, but also for other locations in Montenegro and nationally. The majority of our discussions are aimed at persuading people that they need to really try and be better, for their own good. As a result we can say that we have better hotels. And this is helping to drive change, as it became a necessity for owners to give better service to keep up with their competitors.

CD: For individuals working in the tourism industry here, what is the situation with education and certificates in tourism- things that might help their further career this industry?

The stunning Boka Kotorska Bay (Bay of Kotor), north of Budva, is famous for its fjords and historic structures (photo: Chris Deliso)

TD: There are several faculties, including a Montenegrin-Canadian educational center. They issue hospitality and tourism certificates for waiters and others who will work in the future in hotels. There are also two faculties, in Bar and Kotor, for tourism. The students who are studying hospitality there also need to undertake practical training during the summer.

CD: Montenegro has a population of only 625,000, and tourism is considered its major industry. Do you have any information on what percentage of the population is involved with it?

TD: It is substantial, especially on the coast, where the figure is probably more than 60-70 percent.

CD: One of Budva’s most famed attractions is the secluded, semi-island of Sveti Stefan, where numerous world leaders and celebrities have enjoyed vacations over the years. However, the situation has been unclear since privatization talks- is it now closed or open?

TD: Sveti Stefan is going to be re-opened to the public on the first of June- that is the information we have. It was closed due to restoration and repairs by a private company operating on a 30-year lease. It is going to be exclusive, with the Villa Montenegro Sveti Stefan, open since 2008, and Hotel Sveti Stefan.  These are sophisticated and exclusive properties. They finished renovations on the hotel last summer, and throughout the whole year they invited prominent persons from the world to see it-

CD: I hear Ronaldinho was among them…

The sweeping view from high above on the Mausoleum of Lovcen attest to Montenegro's largely wild, mountainous terrain (photo: Chris Deliso)

TD: Yes, it was widely known tat he was one of the guests invited, though they tend to keep the guest list private. The guests can also arrive by boat for maximum privacy.

CD: With all this exclusivity, what is the public able to see on Sveti Stefan?

TD: They can walk the area, and admire the architecture and atmosphere, and also they can use the beach on the left- it is a public one. The other one on the right is a private hotel beach.

CD: Some regional tourism providers are expecting to benefit from the current unrest in North Africa, believing that travelers who had plans to visit Tunisia or Egypt will be changing their minds. Does Montenegro share this view? And, in any case, what are your expectations for the upcoming season for the country?

TD: Any relation between tourists choosing Montenegro instead of Egypt or Tunisia has not yet been seen. The problems in North Africa began early this year, but by that point we had already talked to hoteliers and gone to several tourism fairs, meaning that we had the majority of contracts for this summer signed before the unrest started in that region. So, the foreign tour operators we have worked with were clearly very satisfied even before those events.

But probably it will have some effect, and if people cancel they can certainly come to us- we are a very popular and attractive destination. Croatia and Turkey are also very popular and could probably gain this year from a change in the tourist behavior as well.

CD: Finally, if you could say a few words about why foreign tourists should choose Montenegro- how do you prefer to ‘sell’ the destination? Budva is considered the party capital of the Montenegrin coast, but is there anything else to it?

TD: Well, first of all, Montenegro is a very stable and safe place to come for holidays. Here, tourists never need to worry about anything that could disturb their stay. And here in Budva specifically, yes, we are famous for night-life, but we have a lot of variety as well. In addition to the beaches, concerts and partying at bars and nightclubs, we have cultural events in the summer, and there are a number of quieter places nearby, like Miločer and Pržno, small villages and towns attractive to families and seniors.

CD: If tourists choose to use Budva as the base of their stay in Montenegro, and wish to take boat trips to the Boka Kotorska Bay or Dubrovnik in nearby Croatia, or trips into the mountains, are these things that can be arranged locally?

TD: Yes! Lots of tourist agencies have such excursions. It is advisable to reserve a few days in advance, during July and August. And aside from the boat trips to the bay and its fjords, or even to Dubrovnik, there are trips offered for rafting on the Tara River, and some have options for sleeping there for a night or two before coming back.

CD: I have heard the opinion of some tourism professionals here that Budva’s location on the central part of the Montenegrin coast is an advantage. Do you agree? Does this location make it a good base for those wishing to enjoy regional activities while staying in Budva?

The exotic and the austere: a palm-fronted historic church in Budva's old town (photo: Chris Deliso)

TD: Well, Montenegro is a small country, and therefore easy to travel around it, but yes, this is an advantage of staying in Budva. The best sandy beach in the country, at Ulcinj, is only 1.5 hours away, and it is a similar-length trip to both Dubrovnik and the northern town of Kolašin near Biogradska Gora- a national park with forests and a lake. Jeep safaris, hiking or horse riding are all popular in the north of Montenegro. And near Skadarska Lake, we have lots of wineries. Visitors can follow a ‘wine route’ through the villages producing our best wines.

CD: Over the past few years, when Montenegro started getting a lot of foreign interest and investment in tourism, some people have feared that it might become completely unaffordable. Has this turned out to be the case? Have Montenegro’s traditional regional visitors been frozen out at all?

TD: No. There is now just a greater variety of hotels and restaurants. So, you can have a five-star lunch accompanied by the best service, but also local bars and smaller eateries for an inexpensive meal and snack. The fresh fish is particularly excellent. People can expect to pay around 20 euros for private rooms- so it is still affordable.

CD: This is good news for many people, considering the effect seen elsewhere in the region with development- Croatia, for example became more expensive, and even Ohrid-

TD: We had the possibility to have the same problem before the global financial crisis, but then the minister of tourism, national tourism board, and we in the local board told the hoteliers and restauranteurs to not raise the prices, to keep things steady-

CD: Amazing! They actually listened?

TD: Yes, and the people who followed this said that it paid off, keeping prices on the same level.

CD: So, do you think that this strategy explains why Montenegro basically was saved from the crisis that affected other regional destinations, such as Greece, in the past couple years?

TD: I don’t know whether we can say if it was only due to one thing in particular. We also did special packages for reasonable prices, and it was a very good policy, as it turned out later.

CD: I would like to finish by asking you to identify for us what makes Budva unique for you? Do you have any good local stories about the place?

TD: Budva is one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic, at 2,000-plus years old. It has a very rich culture, and this can be seen in the beautiful old town, as well as in the museum of ethnography. You can see the marks of all the civilizations that lived here and contributed to our present traditions.

The Budva area also has very beautiful nature- more than 25 sandy beaches in the municipality, all accessible by car, and some you can also approach by boat.

CD: Very nice. But how about some history? After all, everyone loves unique stories about special places. Do you have any good local legends to share?

TD: Yes, there are many interesting stories from our history. For example, Budva was for a time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but near its very border; on a hill east of here, there is a memorial plate on a very big rock made by Emperor Franz Joseph II, in 1873 or 1875. We are now making a very nice walking tour in the area. Also, there is a beautiful Roman mosaic in Petrovac worth seeing. Budva, and indeed the whole Riviera, has always been a settlement with a rich past, Greek, then Roman and all the cultures that came after.

CD: What about underwater treasure, pirate wrecks and so on? Any exciting stuff like that?

TD: There are several sites near Petrovac to explore, and a shipwreck has been found between there and Bar- an Austro-Hungarian warship that was sunk in WWI. It has stayed there for several years while the government continues to investigate to see how is its condition, and what to do with it-

CD: Maybe this will be a mission for someone like Robert Ballard… but what about older vessels? Any ‘pirates of the Adriatic’ shipwrecks to be found?

TD: The warship is sunk in an area that is not so deep, so I think it will be very easy to work with. There are old stories of pirates off the Montenegrin coast, but I don’t know if they are true. In the old, there were people from some of our villages who were part of pirate fleets traveling through the Mediterranean; but no one wrote about the details.

CD: So, if we can conclude with some of your thoughts about the upcoming Budva tourist season. Are you optimistic? And are there any special events going to be held here?

TD: We think it’s going to be a very good summer, and our local tourism organization has prepared lots of small festivals, music, folklore etc., for summer. There will be all in all more than 10 from June through September. On the 13th of July, the date of the independence of Montenegro, we will celebrate the founding of the tourism organization too with a big party. And at the end of August, we have in nearby Petrovec the traditional fishermen’s festival- Petrovacka Noc, or “Night of Petrovac.” There we will have free fish, beer and wine for all the visitors.

CD: Sounds great! What about big music events, though? I know you have been starting to get world-known music stars in the last few years. Who is on for this year?

TD: It is true, Budva has had everyone from the Rolling Stones and Madonna to Julio Inglesias, Italian singer Anna Oxa, Lenny Kravitz and many jazz groups and DJ parties. We have a program called “Budva Summer” and in that we always try to make at least one big concert. For example, last year at the opening of Sveti Stefan, we had Andrea Boceli. We always try to have notable musicians like that each summer.

CD: And, I imagine there are lots of concerts from regional “ex-YU” artists?

TD: Yes, of course, regional musicians are very popular, we have them regularly, singers like Severina from Croatia, Zdravko Čolić –

CD: Hey, I love Zdravko Čolić! But what about this year? What are going to be big shows in Budva in 2011?

TD: I can’t say yet, but we will announce them in June- visitors can keep an eye on our official Budva.travel website, This will have updated schedules soon.

CD: Sounds good! Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with me. We wish you good luck and a good season in Budva this year!

TD: Thank you!