Successfully combining academic and business careers, Igor Kovačević has been part of the Serbia journey from being a “non-destination” to the leader in the region and among the TOP 50 in the world. Over the last 10 years, he has been focusing mainly on working closely with international associations. Igor holds an MA degree and is currently working on his Ph.D. thesis. During his lectures as the teaching assistant at the Faculty of Economics in Belgrade, he is doing his utmost to introduce the latest applicable knowledge to his students. He has successfully managed over 80 bids for international congresses.

Q: In the 10 years of Serbia Convention Bureau’s existence what has been the most difficult challenge, the most successful event, and the most beautiful experience?

Ten years ago, the Serbia Convention Bureau has been established as a department within the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia and since then all of our activities and plans have been well coordinated with colleagues dealing with the leisure segment, securing the best and most synergistic results. Strategic support from the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia is something that we always rely on.

Over the past decade the Bureau has managed to increase the quality of service to the level of the most developed destinations, such as Germany, the USA and others. The meeting infrastructure grew and the Bureau matured in parallel with this, leading a strong platform of proactive sale and bidding.

At the beginning, the biggest challenge was to earn the trust of the meeting industry, but now I am proud that the meeting industry in Serbia is united and willing to support all of the activities that are focused on raising Serbia’s profile on the international market. Together with the academic sector, the Bureau has initiated the ‘Congress Ambassador’ programme that gathers together all the major experts and professionals from the various fields that have stepped out from the comfort zone and “fought” for events to happen in Serbia. The Bureau has led more than 120 bids, and in the last 2 years alone more than 30 events have been secured. At the same time, the Bureau actively works in the fields of corporate and incentive market.

The greatest experience I have had is that we manage to make people understand events not just as an important financial instrument for the economy, but more as a knowledge based society platform. The long term effects of meetings bring marketing and branding exposure of domestic expertise and know-how to the world.

Q: Are you happy with the past 10 years of achievements, and what are your plans and wishes for the future?

In just the past 18 months the Bureau has initiated 68 bids, out of which 24 have been won and 44 are still in process. Confirmed events will generate over 20,000 delegates, 66,000 overnight stays and 24 million euros of income. Those in the pipeline will potentially generate 65,000 delegates, 210,000 overnight stays and 65 million euros. Our success rate is 85-90%. On top of this, the branding effects are much larger. The biggest association event we are bidding is for 10,000 delegates, and for corporate it is 5,000 delegates. We could not do this without our industry and our academic partners. In the period ahead we expect to increase the total number of bids, and with further infrastructure development, there is the potential to increase by approximately 40%. This can launch us into the top 40 destinations in the world.

Besides these figures, I am honored to say that Bureau is recognized by local associations, professors, doctors and professionals as an organisation that is there to support all of their initiatives.

Q: In your opinion, what are Serbia’s most important USPs to attract people from the MICE industry?

In the highly competitive market, being a “new and fresh” destination is not something extraordinary anymore. This was our emerging selling proposal. Now, we are focusing on experience-based storytelling and reference list. Of course, for every bid, we do our best to fully customize the brand of the destination and to match the needs and wants of the client. There is no room for error, as we still need to earn the trust of clients, and that is the reason why we make a play on professionalism and the service level of our industry.

Q: In your opinion what kind of marketing is the most effective?

General marketing activities are too expensive and usually too broad. With budget and human resource limits, we have learned to proceed and progress step by step. Maybe this is a slow process, but it has given us results. The most effective thing is to know the client – first I need to walk in the client’s shoes before we submit the bid. Then we need to show that the destination is capable of fulfilling requirements, and only then can we go further. Finally, we need to be aware of our weaknesses. From the concrete tools at our disposal I think that FAM trips are the most effective, if client selection is done correctly. Just last year we hosted over 240 clients, and we can already see results.

Q: You have come a long way to this 10-year celebration. Is there anyone or any organisation you would like to mention and thank them for their great support along the way?

Ten years ago we started with our first industry training and networking in one very small, windowless room. On 22nd May 2017, we had our Gala Celebration of the first 10 years. Over 250 guests – and I want to thank each and every one of them – over 100 hotels, agencies, providers and more than 100 professors, doctors and professionals, as well as more than 25 special guests from around the world. Without industry support and the constant push to do new things, the results will not come. Without our congress ambassadors, the legacy of events can not exist. On that evening I realised that the Bureau is more than 3 employees; I realised that we have made changes and added value to our economy. Now we need to make it more sustainable and visible. The big conclusion is that we have just started and anyone who is willing to support is more than welcome to join.

Q: Which country is your greatest competitor and how do you address this?

Experience has taught me that every destination is a competitor. We have been bidding against some of the world’s best congress destinations, but also have been in competition with some small destinations as well. And you always need to respect competitors and always to say the best things about them. Competing destinations make us work harder and better. We are always on the move, trying to identify new unique selling points.

Describe your favorite meeting spot in Serbia:
I cannot select just one spot. However, the common ingredient for every event in Serbia is our food. Local, traditional recipes in combination with homegrown products are something that puts a smile on clients’ faces!


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