Bosnia and Herzegovina offers tourists an enchanting landscape and rich history. It has long been a haven for European tourists thanks to its abundant natural beauties, optimal location, perfect hospitality of local people, cultural plurality, long track of history, as well as the richness of its gastronomy. The BiH has offerings for every type of traveler.

From a historical and socio-cultural perspective, Bosnia and Herzegovina was at various times a part of the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Austria-Hungarian empires over the centuries.

These civilizations have left a number of historic monuments within the BiH. Sarajevo is an increasingly popular travel destination. It was chosen as the second best Eastern European city by Lonely Planet. Besides the Bascarsija, the oriental shopping center built by Ottomans in Sarajevo, the country’s most well known historical site is the famous angular bridge in the city of Mostar, inscribed as a World Heritage by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2005.

A traveler with more time can explore interesting corners of the country such as medieval monastery in Kraljeva Sutjeska, the fortress of Bobovac and the medieval citadel in Jajce. The city of Visoko is home to an interesting geographical feature which maybe the first man-made pyramids built in Europe. The beautiful castle of Ostrazac in Cazin is also worth visiting. One of the more important Ottoman monuments in the country is the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge in Visegard. This site has been under the protection of UNESCO since 2007. The tragic moments in the nation’s history can be reflected upon by a visit to Srebrenica and its impressive Memorial Center in Potocari.

The country’s Muslim and Christian legacy has endowed the country with a variety of important religious structures. Ajvatovica, for instance, is the largest Muslim holy site in Europe. For almost around 500 years it has been a destination for thousands of Muslim pilgrims. Blagaj hosts Tekija, a Dervish Monastery, awakening spiritual feelings of visitors. For Catholic Christians, Medugorje is an important pilgrimage destination as well. By some estimates this is the second largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. This small village attracts approximately 700,000–1,000,000 pilgrims annually. To provide visitors with the opportunity to dive into the local culture, eco-ethnic villages have been developed in Kotromani?evo, Suzina and Hatelji.

The Dinaric Alps provide the BiH with a mountainous landscape perfect for skiing and winter sports. The major winter sport tourism areas of the BiH include Jahorina, Bjelasnica and Igman. Within Sarajevo region, Vlasic, Kupres, and Blidinje are important tourism destinations for those living in the capital. Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics which was the largest Winter Olympics to that time terms of participant athletes and media representatives. BiH has both the experience and infrastructure for attracting and hosting winter sport fans. There are 18 ski resorts in total, placing the BiH in the middle of the ranking among neighboring countries (Slovenia 44, Serbia 31, Macedonia 8, and Montenegro 4).

In terms of adventure tourism, the BiH has a lot to offer ranging from kayak to rafting, hiking or rock climbing. National Geographic magazine recognized the BiH among the top 10 adventure locations of 2012. Such possibilities are available due to the large amount of untouched wilderness in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sutjeska National Park is home to one of the last primeval forests in Europe. Additionally, Hutovo Blato Bird Reserve is the largest one of its kind in Southern Europe. In order to uncover the potentials of nature and adventure tourism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Association of Adventure Tourism (ATA) is present to foster the development of tourism sector through building networks and promote connections.

When it comes to health tourism, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a broad spectrum of offerings. International Journal of Water Research highlighted that tradition of using thermal and mineral waters in the BiH that dates to Roman times. The government’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency mentions 15 institutions which serve as registered spa centers. In this sense, Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of an important project called “Development and promotion of health spa tourism in the cross-border region Bosnia and Herzegovina – Serbia – Cross Spa”. It was a project which was co-financed by the European Union by 85%, with a total value of 452 million Euros. The main target of the project was to enhance regional cooperation and contribute to economic development of the cross-border region of the BiH and Serbia. Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina assessed the implementation of project as successful. Besides, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a part of another project funded by the European Union called "Adriatic Health and Vitality Network", which aims to foster attracting high-value tourists who are seeking medical treatment. In this sense, International Medical Travel Journal underlined that Bosnia and Herzegovina is witnessing an increasing number of visitors for dental tourism thanks to its equivalent quality of service provision at much more reasonable costs. Accordingly, Bosnian dental sector is so competitive that it even business opportunities from neighboring countries are seized.

From a macroeconomic perspective, tourism sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina is showing positive performance and very optimistic estimations are made for the coming decade. The BiH’s tourism market is projected by World Tourism Organization to be growing at a rate of 10% annually, making the Bosnian tourism sector among the fastest growing in the world within the period from 1995 to 2014.

According to USAID, Bosnian tourism sector represents only 0.2% of total tourism volume in Europe. However, taking the volume of revenue into account, it is forecasted that by the end of 2024 a considerable growth rate with almost 90% increase will be achieved. This projection from World Travel & Tourism Council suggests the potential of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian tourism sector. Furthermore, from the figures it can be drawn that tourism sector will be increasingly more relevant for GDP contribution. In this sense, there is still further room for progress because both direct and total GDP contribution of Bosnian tourism sector is below the average of Southeastern European (SEE) region (15%). The tourism sector already supplies a considerable amount of jobs within labor market. Still, however, the BiH tourism sector's total contribution to employment is around 10%, which is below the regional average of 15%. During the next decade it will continue to progress on a large scale and supporting the Bosnian economy with abundant employment possibilities.

Citizens of more than 70 countries can travel visa-free to Bosnia and Herzegovina and stay in the country up to 90 days. More than 70% of foreign arrivals are from 15 European countries and the USA. Amongst others, visitors from Italy, Germany, France, and Austria are prominent. Being a predominantly Muslim country, Bosnia and Herzegovina attracts a considerable number of tourists from Muslim majority countries like Turkey and Kuwait. Middle Eastern countries contributed more than 10% of total visitors in 2013. The proximity of Bosnia and Herzegovina to wealthy European markets is a huge advantage. There is an urgent need for optimization of statistical efforts in tourism to be better able to analyze the sector.

Did you know?

World Tourism Organization counted BIH among the three tourism destinations with overall tourism market growth potential above 10% per year until 2020.

Taking a closer look to the average length of stay of the guests in Bosnia and Herzegovina it can be seen that average is around two days. In order to better understand the reasons behind this relatively low average duration. Research shows that European travelers are taking shorter holidays with more frequency, instead of having longer holidays at once. Moreover, it is found that cities are transforming into attractive single travel destinations, going beyond being sole hubs of travel. Besides, European Travel Commission stressed the decrease in the length of average stays due to financial concerns of travelers. The BiH is benefiting from the growth of “city break” tourism: tourists from an EU member state traveling by budget air or other methods for a vacation consisting of a weekend of a few days.

Based on figures from the World Economic Forum’s “Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report”, Bosnia and Herzegovina has improved 17 steps within a 4-year period with regard to its overall rating. Bosnia and Herzegovina now ranks 90th. Going into more detail, a general problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the hurdle of bureaucracy and regulations when it comes to doing business. The report illustrates that efforts to improve the regulatory conditions concerning tourism have been successful. Under the category "regulatory framework" Bosnia went up by +21 in total. In particular, the BiH’s ranking in terms of “safety & security” is higher than neighboring countries. A further remarkable performance is observed when it comes to topics related with “human, culture, and natural resources”. In all sub-categories Bosnia achieved positive developments within four years. It is worth highlighting that Bosnia and Herzegovina demonstrates a noteworthy performance by getting 8th place in the overall ranking "attitude towards foreign visitors". Moreover, quality of country's natural assets is confirmed by the report, placing Bosnia among the top 20, which is the best ranking in the Balkan region.

IIG Comment

Tourism is recognized by Bosnian authorities as one of the seven top investment sectors to attract foreign investment. Therefore, foreign investors looking for untapped opportunities in the heart of Europe are in the right place in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Amongst others, areas of culture, city-break, health, winter, and adventure tourism stand out as having a development potential. Country has been home to several civilizations since ancient Roman times. Throughout the history, Byzantine, Ottomans and Austria-Hungarian empires ruled in the territory of today's Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a result, Bosnia is a historical as well as cultural melting pot. In addition, there are two monuments in the country (Mostar Bridge and Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge in Visegard) recognized by UNESCO as world cultural heritage sites.