In this interview, we talk to Rodoljub Zivadinovic, President of the Serbian Federation of Beekeepers and Igor Kovacevic, CEO of the Serbia Convention Bureau about how they created an impact at the bidding stage for the Apimondia World Congress.
Can you please introduce your association?
Our Federation was established over 120 years ago. Since the beginning, we placed the interests of beekeepers and their families first. Over the last 13 years, we started the process of changing our management model to focus more on professional management, education, and international export of honey. Our biggest national event is the State fair with more than 15.000 delegates across two days. However, we also organise a series of smaller events like the Balkan Honey Fair and educational fairs.
Could you share with us a little bit about the history of beekeeping in Serbia?
The second half of the 19th century brought significant professional interest in beekeeping in Serbia, with the first tracked record of organised association going back to 1869. Due to the high interest in beekeeping, the first beekeeping council was organised in 1897, and the first official journal was initiated in 1898. Before the Second World War, SFBA had almost 4.000 members.
The Apimondia World Congress is one of the most popular congresses in the beekeeping industry. What was your organisation hoping to achieve from hosting the congress, should you have been successful?
There are several things that we wanted to achieve with the Apimondia congress. Besides hosting our fellow colleagues from around the world, we wanted to showcase our beekeeping tradition, and to also host global buyers of honey in order for them to know more about our country, our beekeeping tradition, and to fully understand the quality that we offer to the end-consumers. In short, to demonstrate our expertise and quality, but also to see how to be better in delivering it. We also wanted to increase the local understanding of beekeeping importance, and educate our local buyers on how to recognize and use original and natural honey and honey products. We would also want to highlight that most of our members did not have a chance to speak in-person with fellow colleagues from other continents, so this would have been a great chance to get in touch and continue networking on a global scale.
Could you share a little bit more about your bid promotion process? Why did you decide on such an online strategy?
Our promotion budget was very limited, with just over 1.000 euros. In order to get the reach and visibility of the message across, we could only work online. In the end, the results from the campaign (i.e. 53% more than the targeted number of page followers, 4x more than the targeted amount in social media likes, 4.3x more than the targeted amount in total reach, and a total of 250.000 total reach of page posts), we’re really commendable. In addition, we decided to geotarget the headquarters of the worldwide beekeeping association, and only during the congress, on the location of the congress centre itself.
Was the level of promotional success something that you expected? Why or why not?
Besides the aforementioned results, what was more important for us was that we managed to increase the demand for local end-users and to increase the numbers of local society members. On the other hand, the prices of honey remained the same, so we managed to successfully share the message. For us, it was not just bidding for the event and to make people vote for us, it was more directed at sending our message to a greater audience in order to position Serbia as a honey and beekeeping country in the world.
What are some noteworthy impacts that your bid had on Serbian beekeepers?
The bid for the Apimondia congress is just a part of our journey as an association. We have collaborated with the Serbia Convention Bureau for over 13 years now. Our joint interest, and what the Convention Bureau taught us, is to increase the capacity of the national association, to increase the level of knowledge among beekeepers, to help increase their network connections, and to constantly work on the quality of the products. After 13 years of constant work, we are ready to showcase Serbia in our full capacity. This is very important, because our Association represents over 10.000 beekeepers in Serbia, and we are part of the world. We lost the bid to our great friend in the Ufa region, Russia, but we will bid again. Even if we lose, we will use the bidding process to further work on Serbia’s position on the global market for the benefits of even the smaller beekeepers in Serbia.
Did you also expect the extent of the influence that your bid had on Serbian beekeepers?
The key asset of every association, no matter the field, are their members. We put our local beekeepers always in first place, and that is the reason why the results were planned to target their values and benefits.
Seeing the impact, what do you think the future of beekeeping in Serbia will be like?
Our future is bright. Our Federation just started the full operation with the project “Our honey” – the purchase and selling of honey to gross sellers is done by the Federation directly, without intermediaries, making sure that each beekeeper that decides on the export of honey gets the entire revenue. This is going to speed up the growth and quality of beekeeping in Serbia, and all those as a joint effort of over 10.000 members.
Why do you think associations or organisations hesitate when bidding for international conferences? Did you have that kind of doubts yourself? If so, how did you overcome these doubts?
There are several aspects. Local associations can be afraid, since this is not in their terrain of activities. That is the reason why help from the Convention Bureau is important. Local associations need to have a congress as a milestone in their business, and with an advance notice of four years, the associations can increase their capacities and be ready to showcase the best of the country. After the congress, we also need to implement long-term steps in order to reach the legacy of the congress. Thanks to the Serbia Convention Bureau, we focused on the core business of beekeeping, honey and honey products, and maintaining relations with global beekeepers, while all the meetings logistics were arranged by the Convention Bureau partners.
What advice would you like to give to local associations that are thinking of bidding for international conferences?
An international conference needs to be used to establish a strong local association, with regional impact, network and presence, and global visibility, but also to fight for the local business environment as the legacy of the events. This is a very important thing, and this is what we learned from the Convention Bureau – every destination is an international destination, and with an open heart and expertise, we can start our bidding process.
What is the most valuable lesson that you have learned throughout the entire bidding process?
Never give up. If you lose, that is fine, since you need to learn from the experience. Bidding itself is already stepping out of your comfort zone, especially for new and small destinations.
If you could go back in time, what is one thing during the bidding process that you would do differently?
We will keep the same strategy and will learn from winners, our dear colleagues in Turkey and Russia. We need to make our international network stronger, and to invite more international speakers and delegates to join our national beekeeping events, some of which are gathering up to 15.000 delegates.
Do you see yourself submitting another bid to Apimondia World Congress or another international conference any time in the near future?
Yes, we are planning to bid again, next year in Ufa, Russia.