In the last days Skopje has been filling the pages of newspapers due to 22 meter statue of Alexander of Macedonia they are planning to erect in their main square. The number of building sites in Skopje simply cannot be overlooked. Within the framework of the project Skopje 2014 they plan to build an arch of triumph, a wax museum and new governmental buildings.
Project Skopje 2014 has upset the local population and reopened the ever present unsolved issue of the name Macedonia with neighbour Greece. The Greek opposition has slowed down Macedonian membership in NATO and the European Union. The dispute has been going on for two decades and represents a huge hurdle for the integration of Macedonia into the international meetings industry community.
The Macedonians don’t claim to be the successors of the antique civilisation, but they did take over the name of the region conquered by Slavic tribes in the 6th century A.D. The area of the today’s Republic of Macedonia was part of the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empire and later under the authority of Serbian princes and tsars, followed by nearly half a century of Turkish rule. During the national awakening in the 19th century the Slavic people of the area started developing a national awareness. By accepting the name of antique Macedonia they distanced themselves from neighbouring Serbia and Bulgaria, their already developed national awareness and historical claims to rule over the region.
Only after the Second World War the Macedonians became known as an independent nation with a recognized national identity.  This is also evident in the religious area with the secession of the Macedonian Orthodox Church from Serbian church. The Republic of Macedonia proclaimed its independence on the 8th of September 1991 and started an arduous journey to join the international community.
The architecture of Skopje is as colourful as its culture and national structure. The Christian and Muslim style keep alternating.  Above the city on the hilltop of Vodno an 80 meter millennium Orthodox cross dominates and reminds us it is more important than the minarets in the city.  The old bazaar is thrilling. In 1963 Skopje vas struck by a catastrophic earthquake during which almost 70 % of the city was demolished.  The earthquake set off a modernistic renovation which was set to become a model of development of the entire socialist world.   The author of the urban plan was the renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. The general impression is an airy, modern and slightly outdated architectural image of the city. Despite that Skopje offers a few pearls of modern architecture which still seem futuristic. Unfortunately the project of Kenzo Tange was never finished; he would probably detest what his plans turned into today.
The congress offer of the city is dominated by the Skopje Saem with the Metropolis Arena situated by the main road to the city. The majority owner is the Slovenian company Era, which developed an excellent portfolio of international fairs and successfully develops the meetings industry.  From 1995 they are members of UFI (Union of International Fairs) and CEFA (Central European Fair Alliance). Annually Skopje Saem hosts over 8,000 exhibitors from all parts of Europe and over a million visitors. The main deficit of the fair is the bad shape of the closes hotel Continental, which is in need of a thorough renovation and doesn’t match the level of the fair.
In the hotel scene Hotel Aleksander Palace is a much more important player with a multifunction hall and a maximum capacity of 1,400 participants, which can divide into a series of smaller halls. This is currently the best congress hotel in the city.
The Holiday Inn also has congress capacities of 6 conference halls and has seen its best times during the eighties. The hotel Best Western Tourist also offers conference capacities. 

A number of smaller hotels offer meeting halls (Hotel Karpoš and Hotel Arka). Over 40 mostly smaller hotels in Skopje meet the needs of the current congress and exhibition image of Skopje.
The city has a few interesting event locations which are used randomly. There is no overview of locations for meeting planners. Among others a few museums could be used for events as could the fort Kale as an outdoor location.
The biggest disadvantage is the development of the congress infrastructure. Poor air accessibility is number one, Skopje doesn’t have a convention bureau and city transportation isn’t in order. The airport is in renovation. They lack in professionals fluent in the international language of the meetings industry. Other than Skopje fair there are no real PCO and DMC agencies. Skopje and Macedonia are a heaven for incentive programmes which currently don’t exist and nobody is offering.
In Skopje everything happens with a bit of a delay, yet is accompanied by a feeling of relaxation and freedom.  The culinary and night life are among the best in the region. The food is simply divine. In this area Skopje breaths in the rhythm of larger metropolises and can be compared to Belgrade in many aspects. The hospitality and kindness of the Macedonians is unbeatable. 
The dispute over the name definitely effects the positioning of Skopje’s meetings industry, which is virtually non-existing in the international meetings market. Despite that the atmosphere is lively and the congress position of Skopje can improve immensely with the development of basic infrastructure and a convention bureau.

Destination grade: 2
5 excellent convention destination
4 quality convention destination
3 recommendable convention destination
2 average convention destination
1 passable
Comparison with the Region:
As capital of Macedonia Skopje is a crossroads of internationals paths and has all the predispositions to develop the meetings industry. It still has a long way of investing into infrastructure. A near neighbour is the Greek city Thessaloniki, which is far more developed and hosts up to 15 international congress annually, in comparison to Skopje which only hosts 1 according to ICCA. In Skopje a convention can be organized with some effort, yet for a serious breakthrough it needs to look to its neighbours for a model of successful development – the Thessaloniki Convention and Visitors Bureau, which combines over 100 members.

For more information visit:
Gorazd Čad

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