The “Voice” of North Macedonia’s Tourism Echoes Internationally
“One of the main challenges that (adventure ) tour operators from North Macedonia are facing is the lack of destination promotion. We are a small country with modest promotion, and as a result we go unnoticed on the world tourism map”, shares Vlatko Sulev, President of the National Association for Incoming Tourism of Macedonia – NAITM. “This is where NAITM steps in – it serves as a bonding tissue and as a voice of our tourism sector. And we know that without promotion, there is no tourism”- adds Vlatko.
NAITM is an umbrella association currently counting about 130 members – from incoming tour operators and guides, accommodation and transport providers, to restaurants, wineries, and museums from the Republic of North Macedonia. NAITM serves as a vessel of the market’s ecosystem by connecting these various players for better-rounded incoming tourism packages; providing a networking platform and representing the interests of the tourism sector in the country.
Since 2016, NAITM started hosting the Marketplace – an annual event that brings together domestic tourism players for networking and commercial purposes – making it the sole such event in the country. The Increasing Market Employability Programme – IME provided financial and logistical support for Marketplace since its first edition. SIPPO, another Swiss project in North Macedonia focusing on export promotion has also joined forces in this support. Over the next few years, the number of domestic participants attending the event grew attracted by the engaging workshop topics and keynote speakers. This, in turn, helped NAITM to position itself as a business opportunity provider among its members and attract new members every year.
In 2019, it was time for Marketplace to gain an international character. But, to achieve this and to bring foreign tour operators NAITM needed the logistical, expert and financial backing. They managed to acquire this support through IME’s mechanism for BSOs – aimed at business service organizations, such as NAITM, that nurture the sectors’ ecosystem to open doors to new markets and support businesses to develop and diversify their products. As a result, 12 tour operators from Slovenia and Italy joined Marketplace 2019 and a total of 350 business-to-business meetings between domestic and international tour operators were held. This two-day conference took place in Skopje in the period December 12-13.
Hotel Manastir, a resort with traditional rustic-style accommodation and activities like hiking and mountain biking in the highland town of Berovo, is one of NAITM members that presented its offer for the foreign tour operators. Dina Mucunska, the hotel’s general manager participated in a few editions of the Marketplace before and was able to confirm the event’s growth over time. “Thanks to the matured organization of NAITM and its supporters, this year for the first time we met with tour operators from abroad. Business connections were established, and we are currently awaiting for their confirmation on the package tours we offered for the foreign tourists”. – Dina shared.
While some businesses like hotel Manastir are expecting to close the deals soon, for others the outcomes of Marketplace 2019 were visible as early as a month later. One of the Italian tour operators that visited the Marketplace and connected with a few TO from North Macedonia, has already signed contract to bring Italian tourists in Ohrid for the summer of 2020. “I am very happy to be receiving news from our members for contracts coming as a result of our international B2B meetings. Jonas, an adventure tour operator from Italy is the first confirmed contract, and we are expecting more in the months to come.” – Vlatko adds.
Following Marketplace 2019 success, six new members have joined the association. President Vlatko Sulev expressed NAITM’s future intention to intensify and focus more specifically on networking between adventure tourism providers and incoming tour operators. “The tour operators in North Macedonia are in real need of extending the official tourist season, and the adventure tourism offers the chance for that. – concludes Vlatko.