Tourism in Serbia
Tourism in Serbia
Map of Serbia
|Time zone||UTC+1 (Central European Time)|
|Area code(s)||+ 381|
|Website||Official Tourist webpage|
|Economy of Serbia|
Tourism in Serbia is officially recognised as a primary area for economic and social growth. The hotel and catering sector accounted for approximately 2.2% of GDP in 2015. Tourism in Serbia employs some 75,000 people, about 3% of the country's workforce. In recent years the number of tourists is increasing, especially foreign ones for about hundred thousand arrivals more each year. Major destinations for foreign tourists are Belgrade and Novi Sad, while domestic tourists prefer spas and mountain resorts.
The origin of tourism in Serbia is connected to the abundance of thermal and mineral springs, so much, that history of Serbian tourism is sometimes equaled to the history of Serbian spas (Serbian word for spa, banja, became part of numerous toponyms). Some of them had wider historical and evolutionary impact as remains of the prehistoric habitats have been discovered around them. Wider, practical use came with the Roman conquest in the 1st century AD. The Romans also developed other public activities as predecessors of modern tourism, especially around Singidunum, precursor of modern Belgrade. Hilly areas east of the city, along the Danube river functioned as an excursion area, with numerous villas and summer houses for more affluent citizens. In the area of Belgrade's modern neighborhoods Ada Huja and Karaburma, which were outside of the city in the Roman period, numerous thermal springs were used for public bathhouses.
Roman successors, the Byzantines, continued to use the spas. In the medieval Serbian state, some spas prospered. There are records of springs around Čačak, modern Ovčar Banja, where "magnificent" high domes were built, with large pool, numerous smaller cooling pools (as the thermal water was too hot), and large living and dressing rooms. They were opened for both the gentry and the commoners. Serbia also inherited important Roman roads, like the Via Militaris, which in the Middle Ages developed into the Tsarigrad Road, with some additional trading routes developing in time. With numerous merchants and caravans traversing the country, hospitality services began to develop along the roads. They included large inns and caravan stations with spacious inner yards for keeping animals and storing goods. The inns had upper floors and sleeping rooms, and some were designated for merchants only. Emperor Dušan established an obligation called priselica by which the denizens were obliged to host domestic dignitaries and foreign representatives. It was compulsory only for the residents of the rural areas, since the towns had inns to provide the service. The innkeepers and were bound to pay for any damage or shortage during caravan's stay in their facilities.
Use of spas continued after the Ottoman conquest in the 15th century. The Ottomans added the specific architecture, which included Turkish baths, or hamams and specific oriental ornamentation of the spa objects. After visiting Ovčar Banja in 1664, Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote that 40,000 to 50,000 people visit during the summer ("watermelon") season, but also described the spa as the location of numerous fairs and as a major trading place. Some of the hamams survived until today, like in Sokobanja, while several are still in use (Brestovačka Banja, Novopazarska Banja). Hills east of Belgrade remained popular excursion sites during the Ottoman period. Upper classes built numerous summer houses, especially on the Ekmekluk Hill, today known as Zvezdara.
By the 2020s, the second most visited tourist attraction in Belgrade, providing one third of foreign currency income for the city, was the bohemian quarter Skadarlija, a vintage street dotted with kafanas. The very first kafana in Belgrade, an oriental-style bistro, was opened in 1522 and was arguable the oldest venue of that type in Europe. It served only Turkish coffee, but later some offered nargile also. Despite frequent Ottoman–Habsburg wars in the 17th and 18th century, and change of occupational rulers in Belgrade and northern Serbia, the number of kafanas was always high.
As Serbia remained on the main trading route connecting Middle East and western Europe, the hospitality venues along the roads continued to develop. During the Ottoman period, the caravans grew bigger, involving new animals, so the caravans of 500-650 camels were recorded. When Çelebi visited Belgrade in 1661, he counted 21 khans and 6 caravanserais. The largest was the Caravanserai of Sokollu Mehmed Pasha which had "160 chimneys", while some of the larger ones even had harem sections.
Early modern developments
Early roots of modern tourism in Serbia can be traced to the 19th century. Serbian government, and the rulers personally, actively participated in development of the spas, by hiring foreign geologists to survey the spa waters and sending medics to the newly formed spa centers. In time, they attracted foreign visitors, mostly from Austria-Hungary and Greece. Until World War I, Banja Koviljača, Niška Banja and Vranjska Banja emerged as the most visited spas, though Vrnjačka Banja, Sokobanja and Ribarska Banja are considered to be among the oldest. Also popular was one of the latest discovered, Mataruška Banja, which was founded in the late 19th century.
Hospitality services in towns in time diversified in numerous types: bistro, mehana, gostionica, han, saraj, lokal, krčma, bircuz, birtija, and later restoran and hotel, but until the mid-19th century they remained oriental-type venues. In 1847, the ruling prince Alexander Karađorđević codified work of the hospitality objects. The first hotel in Belgrade, "Kod Jelena", was built in 1843. Later known as "Staro Zdanje", it had the first ballroom in Belgrade and introduced European style of entertainment. Construction of various modern hotels began in Belgrade, including "Evropa" (1867), "Nacional" (1868), "Srpska Kruna" (1869), "Pariz" (1870), "London" (1873), "Slavija" (1883), "Moskva" (1908) and "Bristol" (1912).
Though development of tourism was boosted by the burgeoning middle class, many still weren't able to travel around the state so the further excursion areas around the cities developed. Main area now became the southern hills of Belgrade. The first was Topčider Park. Planting of the park began in the 1830s. After the Topčider railway station station was built in 1884, and later introduction of the tram line No. 3, it became accessible to everyone from downtown. The neighboring forest in Košutnjak followed when the former royal hunting ground from the 1840s was adapted into the public park in 1903. Due to the beneficial climate conditions, the summer sanatorium for children was built in the forest. Former artificial Lake Kijevo was formed in 1901. As Kijevo also had its own railway station, special touristic trains were organized for transporting the Belgraders.
Vital boost to the development of international tourism was a construction of the first railway in 1884. In general, development of transportation always pushed tourism growth, as in 1892 when public transportation was organized in Belgrade, and after 1903 when grid of the modern streets was built following the arrival of first cars.
In 1918 Serbia became part of the new state, later named Yugoslavia. In Serbian proper, spas remained basically the only proper tourist centers until after World War II. Villas of the royal family and wealthy industrialists and merchants boosted the construction of mansions and hotels. They became urban centers and small towns. Visiting spas became a matter of prestige and they remained immensely popular. In 1937, Vrnjačka Banja had five times more visitors than Dubrovnik, on the Adriatic coast (in modern Croatia), arguably the most popular resort in former Yugoslavia. In 1922, there were over 2 million overnight stays only in the spas of the Morava Banovina, which covered smaller portion of the present Serbia territory.
In 1920, Belgrade became a stop on the permanent route of the famed Orient Express. Also in the 1920s, the tourist traffic developed on major rivers, like Danube, Sava and Tisza. Further growth of tourism was greatly influenced by development of air traffic. State airline flag carrier Aeroput was founded in 1927, the same year when Belgrade's international Bežanija airport became operational. Yugoslavia soon developed a grid of airports.
Belgrade was declared a tourist place in 1936. Construction of the Belgrade Fair in 1937, helped turn the city into the international tourist hot spot and pushed for fast construction of numerous hotels, other hospitality venues and establishment of the hospitality high school. The first international fair in 1937 hosted exhibitors from 17 European, American and Asian countries. Over 310,000 people visited the exhibition, more than Belgrade had inhabitants at the time. This was followed by numerous other exhibitions, including the first motor show, 1938 Belgrade Car Show, in 1938. In 1939, the Belgrade Grand Prix, precursor of modern Formula One, was organized in the city.
Just as in 1914, this fast tourist development was cut short by the war.
Tourism regained major economic importance only in the 1970s. But by the 1980s Yugoslavia was an important tourist destination in the Balkans. Overnight stays were almost 12 million per year, of which about 1.5 million were by foreign tourists. The events surrounding the break-up of Yugoslavia led to a substantial decline in both leisure and business tourism.
New Communist authorities after the war made spas much more accessible. Stripped of the bourgeois elitism, the spas became centers of healthcare tourism and sites of family vacations, with numerous workers' and trade unions' retreats being built.
In the twenty-first century tourism began to recover: the number of overseas visitors was 90% higher in 2004 than it had been in 2000, and revenue from foreign tourism more than tripled between 2002 and 2004, to about 220 million US dollars. By 2010 revenue from international tourism had grown to 798 million US dollars.
By 2020, there were 35 officially proclaimed and operational spas. However, many additional ones went out of work during the international sanctions in the 1990s and the transitional period in the 2000's. For example, Jošanička Banja was closed, Niška Banja was basically out of use, while Vrnjačka Banja and Sokobanja boomed. In spas, new hotels were built, so as many wellness centers.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism industry in Serbia is facing huge financial multimillion losses. The number of overall tourist arrivals in 2020 is the smallest in the past two decades, but it's expected to recover and stabilise within the near future. 
Internationally known annual events
|Name||Location||Month||Type of Festival|
|Küstendorf Film and Music Festival||Drvengrad||January||Film and Music Festival|
|Gitarijada||Zaječar||June||Rock and Roll Music Festival|
|Palić European Film Festival||Palić||July||European Film festival|
|EXIT Festival||Novi Sad||July||Electronic Music Festival|
|Guča Trumpet Festival||Guča||August||Brass Band Festival|
|Nišville||Niš||August||Jazz Music Festival|
|Lovefest||Vrnjačka Banja||August||Electronic Music Festival|
|Beer Days||Zrenjanin||August||Beer Festival|
|Leskovac Grill Festival||Leskovac||September||Grilled Meat Festival|
Arrivals per year
Arrivals by country
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