Q: What is the first thing you will do after the take-over?
There are numerous contracts and paperwork that needs to be finished with the City of Belgrade, so expectations are that Delta Holding will be taking over the congress centre in January. There is the need to completely strip down and renovate Sava Center.
Q: We’ve heard that the purchase was only the first part of the take-over. How much will the cost of the renovation be, and what are your renovation plans?
We know that the cost of renovation will be at least 60 million euros. This includes changing the facade completely, but also changing the interior with high and low electricity, adding new inventory, new heating and air-conditioning. The congress rooms will also be entirely renovated, while the state of the art multi-media systems will be implemented throughout the Sava Center, and much more.
Q: Will you also be urbanistically renovating the surroundings of the Sava Center?
The first step will be for Delta Real Estate to find world-renowned architects that actually have experience in creating and drawing the congress centres, and to create a new modern congress centre that will be the point of interest not only of the City of Belgrade but for the entire region. The goal is that the congress centre will hold everything that travellers need. Special attention will be given to the meeting rooms, but the congress centre will offer everything from the entertainment centres, restaurants, stores, rent a car to a tourist guide. When you walk in, and your meeting starts, you can spend the whole day, and during breaks, you can do all your necessary work as a world traveller.
Q: When do you think Sava Center will shine in its new light and start impressing international congress guests?
The idea is to start the renovation of Sava Center in Q4 of 2021. The renovation usually lasts for about 18 months, so I expect that somewhere in between quarter 2 and quarter 3 of 2023 Sava Center will open its doors.
Q: Will congress capacities of Sava Center change after the renovation?
The congress capacities of Sava Center will not change in terms of the size and space, but obviously, there will be space for more attendees at congresses now. This is due to a flexible approach when it comes to room set-up.
Q: It seems that the future of events will be hybrid/digital for quite some time. When Sava Center first opened, it became known as the most modern congress centre in Europe. Can we expect any innovations in the future?
Of course, it will also be very modern and digital, and there will be a lot of technological innovations in the future. I strongly believe that this is good not only for hotel Crowne Plaza Belgrade but for other hotels in Belgrade as well.
Q: Sava Center plays a crucial role in the regional congress scene. What has been the response from other hoteliers to the purchase?
We have been receiving very positive responses from other hoteliers. The centre will be an added value to Belgrade, and we will be able to bring up to eight thousand people for an event or congress.
Q: What steps will Serbia have to take in order to become the leading congress destination in South-East Europe?
You can be certain that this new modern congress centre will bring more business to the City of Belgrade, more VAT to the budget of the Republic of Serbia. It will provide new jobs for the airline industry, cab drivers, restaurants, hotels and provide more overnight stays. I am certain that in general, this is going to create a very positive impact on the entire economy.
In order for this congress centre and Belgrade to become a leading congress destination in South-East Europe, several steps will need to be taken by the Serbia Convention Bureau, the Tourist Organization of Serbia, the Tourist Organization of Belgrade, as well as by hotels. Sava Center will work diligently to bring all European and world-known congresses to Belgrade. However, the bidding process takes time. It is much easier to bid and to win a bid when you have a diverse market like the City of Belgrade has. Here you have great hotels, a lot of international chains, wonderful nightlife, lots of great museums, and most importantly, much friendlier prices than in Western Europe. World travellers can explore an undiscovered destination such as Belgrade at a very reasonable price. There have been many articles about Belgrade and its role as a hidden gem. The last piece of the puzzle is the modern congress centre.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected your business?
Of course, Covid 19 has been affecting the business. All the hotel business has been tremendously affected in the past nine months, and we are hoping that with the vaccine, the business will slowly start to recuperate. With the beginning of Q2 of the next year, more frequent and normal travelling, more MICE business, corporate business and everything else that was in the past, will restart again. I think that the ramp-up will go a bit slower, but by the end of the year, hotels will be alive again.
Q: What is your key focus MICE market for the future?
With this new modern congress centre, the city of Belgrade can do anything, and Delta Holding will be able to offer to the travellers everything we weren’t able to as a city for the past 20 years or so since Sava Center started losing its shine. We look forward to welcoming many new guests and hosting them in our new modern Sava Center.
Živorad Vasić graduated from Boston University with two degrees, Hospitality Administration and Finance, both finishing with Magna Cum Laude. He got his MSc with the master thesis in the field of economic and financial indicators in the hotel business. He is also a visiting lecturer in study groups of the Faculty of Economics in Belgrade and Singidunum University. After 17 years in the United States, Živorad Vasić returned to Serbia in 2008. Today, he holds two positions. He is Senior Vice President for Delta Holding and Area General Manager for InterContinental Hotels Group, managing Crowne Plaza Belgrade, InterContinental Ljubljana and Indigo Belgrade project, all three owned by Delta Holding, but also InterContinental Bucharest, InterContinental Sofia and Regent Porto Montenegro managed by other owning groups.
He is a member of the Serbian Association of Managers, American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia, Serbian Business Club “Privrednik” and on the Board of Directors for Junior Achievement Serbia. In his career, Zivorad Vasic received many prestigious business awards.