Serbia. Europe’s Hottest New Convention Destination.

“Working closely with the entire GainingEdge team, no matter if they are in our office or in another time zone, we are constantly increasing our professional capacity and knowledge. Great experience, significant know- how, contacts in the international MICE industry with great patience and answers to all our questions makes GainingEdge certainly the best to work with. We look forward to our future cooperation.” Milos Milovanovic, CEO, Serbia Convention Bureau.

Case study: Serbia Convention Bureau

Two decades ago, Serbia’s capital city Belgrade, was considered a major European convention destination that enjoyed a robust business. However, the Balkan conflict that occurred during the 1990s had taken a significant toll on the industry. Serbia was left with little international convention business, with its potential far surpassing its reality. Realising the necessity and importance of a convention bureau to the country’s future, the Serbian Enterprise Development Project (SEDP) – a programme funded by USAID – commissioned GainingEdge (then known as Gary Grimmer & Company) to prepare a feasibility report that would identify Serbia’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. The result was a comprehensive strategic plan to turn Serbia from an underachieving destination into a major meetings hub in the heart of Europe.

Since the establishment of the Serbia Convention Bureau (SCB) in May 2007, set up with continuing training and support from GainingEdge, Serbia has been attracting and winning many major events in south east Europe despite it being a relatively new player in the world conference market.

Some of its major events in Serbia include the 16th International Meeting of the European Society of Gynaecological Oncology – ESGO, 47th World Congress of the International Hotels and Restaurants Association – IHRA, 21st European Maintenance Congress 2010,16th European Conference on Analytical Chemistry – EUROANALYSIS, 13th European AIDS Conference – EACS, Apimondia European ApiTech Symposium, Heart Failure Congress of the European Society of Cardiology 2012, 9th European Congress of Menopause 2014, the Congress of the European Society of Pathology 2015.

The SCB has since succeeded in gathering important stakeholders and making constant progress in International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) rankings. It ranked 69th in the world at the time of SCB’s inception and has reached 46th position in 2012.

So impressive was its progress that in 2010, following SCB’s successful marketing campaign to launch Serbia on the global meetings and events map, Conventa, South East Europe’s meetings and incentive trade show, honoured the bureau with an Academy Award recognising Serbia’s outstanding achievements in the meeting and incentive market in the region. This accolade, presented under the Meeting Industry Innovation for 2010 category, recognised the bureau’s business-to-business marketing excellence which helped generate interest from meeting planners throughout the region.

The SCB is also a recipient of the Destination Pro certification, a joint initiative between Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) and European Cities Marketing (ECM), a professional development programme for senior destination sales and marketing professionals. Serbia, as one of the new, exciting and emerging Eastern European convention destinations, is now in the global limelight.

Serbia has progressed consistently in a short space of time since the establishment of the SCB, and is on course to closing the gap with Slovenia and Croatia, as it progresses towards its goal to be the Balkan leader in international meetings.

With support from GainingEdge, the SCB has succeeded in achieving its goals in making Serbia the most exhilarating new meeting spot in south eastern Europe. In fact, the Lonely Planet guide named Serbia one of the “Top Ten Hot Spots in Europe” and the London Times called it “Europe’s new capital of cool.”

Today, Belgrade is viewed as one of Europe’s most preferred medical conference destinations. Despite only recently returning to the world conference market, Belgrade has already attracted several medical events, thanks in part to South East Europe’s biggest congress venue, the Sava Centar.

Meanwhile, the Bureau has established an ambassador programme to increase awareness of Serbia in the international association market. SCB has continued to show progress and is succeeding in its goal to put Serbia at the forefront of Europe’s meetings industry.

GainingEdge began consulting on development of the new Serbia National Convention Bureau in 2005, but the bureau did not actually begin operating until 2007. From 2007 – 2011, GainingEdge supported the bureau through in-house staff training, systems support, bid research and bid development support. During that time Serbia became one of the two fastest growing countries in terms of ICCA confirmed international conventions occurring.