Guide to SKOPJE



Ask any mayor in the region what are her/his strategies for local development and they will  definitely underscore tourism. Almost every municipality in the region, be it urban or rural,  has tourism development listed as an important strategic goal. Their local strategic
documents and action plans regularly map local natural and cultural resources and outline  ideas on how to use them to promote this attractive industry.1znaci dobraUnfortunately not everyone has equal potential for developing tourism. Natural and cultural endowment is of strong importance, and it is not shared equally by communities and regions.  Often however, even the available natural and cultural capital is not properly employed.

The desire to get involved with tourism has to be balanced against the awareness who and what you compete with. In this sense, it is important to assess how much of your resources to allocate to this strategic goal. Otherwise it might turn out to be a waste of time and money.

It is true that even if you do not have the potential for mass tourism, you can compete with a niche. The story is sometimes more important than the surface-level aesthetic quality. There are examples of tourists flocking to visit poor communities without much cultural capital, only because they were portrayed as exotic in a popular movie or documentary. Some of this tourist attention can indeed by cynical. Still, pragmatists would say there is no such thing as bad publicity.2prizren at home we feel

Some of the reasons why many people feel they could make a living in tourism are:

1.That is seems easy,

2.Patriotism – people love their land and feel others would do too.

It is common thinking that having a nice lake, or nice rustic streets suffices it may be enough in terms of endowment, but it has to be effectuated through the delivery of often sophisticated services. They are indeed simpler than, for example, software programming, but nowadays they are also dependent on at least being able to operate such software. Something that is still a problem for many tourist service providers across the region. Some hotels for example still cannot take credit cards to confirm a booking. They ask guests to show up early in the day if they want to keep the reservation in peak season.

In thinking how to promote tourism, local public authorities often get carried away with ideas that are too ambitious. Sometimes such costly and even eccentric projects misplace simpler, yet basic things which are needed, such as basic infrastructure and services, or basic quality control. What is the use of visiting a town which organizes an annual festival reviving a historic uprising, and has its citizens dress like they did a century ago, if you are not sure if you will get a soap or a towel in your room? As mundane as they may sound, these issues are critically important in promoting tourism.

8DSC_0138 dobra1

Hence, before considering large, complicated, or classy projects, local decision makers should first focus on the basics. They will often not require a lot of resources, yet they make a difference. Here are some of them:

One. Do the road and street signs. Mayors keep repeating the importance of tourism but the truth is that non-locals cannot find their way around small towns in the Balkans. How can you have tourists if they cannot find their way? Perhaps visitors have managed to enter and find the center of the city, but now they do not know how to exit, because there are no signs. What often happens is that there are some signs but they lack at critical junctures. This is the same as having no road signs at all. Tourists often wander around and run in circles. True, they can ask, but only if they speak the language. They might also have a GPS nowadays. But this is no excuse. And even for the smallest municipalities this is an affordable project. So do the road and street signs. Don’t do only one or two. Do as many as you can. Tourists feel good when they feel oriented.

3Funny-Tourist-Sign.gif 4touristsign

Two. Make an effort to keep the garbage under control. Yes, it is easier said than done. But on the other hand, a quick glance is enough to see that such effort is lacking. Overstaffing public communal enterprises (PCEs) is a popular sport around the region. But how is it possible that a town’s PCE staff has almost doubled in 7-8 years and the trash problem in the community has worsened at the same time? Focused and consistent (as opposed to one-off or occasional) effort is needed. It is no use in having a fancy summer festival if it is to be held amidst trash.

Three. Fix the pavements. A lot of new pavement can be expensive. This is not the point. The point is to maintain the existing pavement. Tourists dislike bumps, pot holes, broken and dug out sidewalk tiles. It does not cost a lot to have them fixed, and it makes a big difference. Nobody likes tripping and having to watch their step all the time. The point is not to call a tender and redo everything. The point is to run a tidy maintenance of what is already in place.

Four. Have a simple handout. Don’t do fancy, costly catalogs. Do a simple map and include major points of interest. Tell your best stories in simple, understandable language. Have the handout widely available. There is no point in having it if the only place to get it is a municipal office or a dusty tourist info center and the clerk is not there.6gostivar dobra3

Five. Help with content, but keep in mind that this is primarily up to the private sector. Tourists need to have something to do. There are plenty of examples of services developed practically from scratch (mountain biking, donkey rides, driving through mud, walking tours, etc.). But they need to be properly established, organized, and well-promoted. You can help but you shouldn’t overtake it nor waste resources on this.

Six. Finally, stick to basics. Especially if you are not blessed with unlimited budgets. There are too many basic things which are needed. Do not get carried away with costly projects, such as golf courts. Do first things first.

Risto Karajkov

Risto Karajkov, PhD is the founder and director of DeSo. He has written widely on Balkan political and economic affairs, development, and civil society for both general and expert audiences. His articles have appeared, among other, in the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times, European Voice, World Politics Review, Osservatorio Balcani and Caucaso, Devex, New Business Europe, and Transitions Online. He can be reached at