On the Montenegrin coast, there are still a few guests on the beach, they come for a day or two, so, as the hoteliers told Pobjeda, it is less and less profitable to do business in this period. By the end of October, 80 percent of coastal hotels will close. Last year, according to official data, out of 142 hotels in Budva, approximately 25 percent of them worked throughout the year, this year there are even fewer. It is more profitable, as they said, to close until spring than to work during the winter. Their only problem is the workers they have to save. For the last three years, they say, the season has been getting shorter, partly because of the lack of airlines, partly because of the war in Ukraine. For the first time this year, some large hotels are considering closing down in the winter, they say they cannot withstand inflation. And state institutions do not have a defined offer, promotion, nor have they decided whether they want mass or exclusive tourism.
The problem with workers
The owner of the “Mažestik” hotel in Budva, Ivan Ivanović, says that he works in the winter, but only because he has to save workers in order to have a quality offer for the season. However, this year, due to inflation, for the first time since opening, they are thinking about closing the hotel in winter because, they say, the cost is unsustainable.
– Montenegrin tourism is in crisis and we need to react urgently because we will get to the point where our workers will reorient themselves to another economic branch – says Ivanovic, adding that without good workers in the season, they will not have a quality tourism product.
– The problem is that tourism is a low-accumulative economic branch. For the first time, we are considering closing in the winter due to inflation. In tourism and catering, you cannot raise the prices of services daily, as shops do, but it is done in a certain period of the year. We can raise prices in the peak season and that’s it. With this daily increase in costs, it is very difficult to survive in the winter, considering that salaries have also “gone up” – says Ivanovic, adding that he thinks it will be increasingly difficult and that he is afraid that fewer and fewer hotels will operate in the winter.
– Work throughout the year is maintained through savings and a certain part of the capital earned in the summer. Whether it is sustainable to work all year round is a question as old as Montenegrin tourism. The point of working in winter is not for the sake of an image, since there are no tourists. It is simply a fight for some quality that will be achieved during the season, which is brought to us by quality workers, which we must protect – says Ivanovic.
According to him, we cannot just rely on the sun as a destination, but organize MICE and sports tourism, and for that we need infrastructure.
– MICE tourism is a good idea, but in order to realize it, not only travel agencies and the Association of Hoteliers should be involved. The line ministry and municipality as well as the NTO should be involved. Also, this type of tourism should be continuous, and not two or three congresses in individual hotels. We can’t be competitive like that – believes Ivanovic, adding that Budva also needs a serious conference hall so that all hotels can profit from it.
– Not only Budva benefits from a large number of conferences, but also the state. Then, for the winter months, we need to develop sports tourism, but for that we need serious infrastructure – fields, sports halls, swimming pools, and our existing infrastructure is falling apart, and we should not invest in the construction of a new one – says Ivanovic.
In November, he adds, there are almost no guests. Each guest comes individually, so the hotel has no profitability.
– We can say that it is profitable only from the middle of April and then it lasts until the beginning of October, everything else is a loss. Last years we worked in winter with minimal costs, this year the labor market will be in trouble – says Ivanovic.
His message to the authorities is that it is necessary to see in which direction tourism will develop, that is, how to find profitability in hotels during the winter, not for the sake of profit, but to preserve the workforce.
Organize an offer
The owner of the hotel “Grbalj” Nikola Pejović, who is also the president of the Association of Hotels of Montenegro, estimates that this winter will be worse than last and that less than 20 percent of the hotels on the Montenegrin coast will work, and that then all will be activated for the New a year or when a group comes for two or three days…
– In winter, guests should come to us for something, some offer should be organized. They keep telling us we are full, we are full, we will exceed one billion. I would like it to be two billion, but there is nothing from that – says Pejović, adding that the biggest problem and the largest outflow of money is in private accommodation and apartments on the day that they have not been put in order.
– They mostly “hit” hotels and people who work legally throughout the year. According to my estimation, more than half of the budget is in the gray economy, in tourism, and in other activities – says Pejović.
This year’s peak season, as he pointed out, lasted the shortest so far, from July 25 to September 1.
– After September 1, it was as if someone cut it off. We are a small, family-run hotel and thanks to the fact that we are all involved, we now have about 20 percent occupancy. We fight for the offer ourselves, we contact the agencies ourselves. We now had a group from Croatia, then from Bulgaria, Romania… that are guests who stay for a short period of two to three days – says Pejović, considering that this is not a solution because they are forced to reduce prices.
– We have come to a situation where accommodation is more expensive in Podgorica than in Budva, which is unimaginable. We have to finally see what Budva wants – mass or elite tourism. It is not only the corona virus and the war in Ukraine that are a problem for us, but also the reduced air availability and the unstable political situation. We sent a bad image to the world and then they won’t send us groups – says Pejović, adding that we finally have to organize a campaign, but already in February and to follow the holidays not only in our country but also in other countries.
– Large hotels can be maintained with MICE tourism, but they also have a large number of people and expensive maintenance of a large facility – says Pejović, who points out that they have started discussions with the local tourist organization to promote the city, to hold events in the winter, that something is happening.
– In the summer, we all fill the accommodations, but we have to think about the winter – says Pejović.
As the president of the Hotel Association, he says that we must work on infrastructure, improve air connectivity… to look at the problems.
– We have to sit down, talk and see where the problems are, and not sweep them under the carpet. It would be humane to finally decide which markets to “target”, expensive or cheaper. We are a destination for cheaper, middle-class and wealthy clientele… We can accommodate everyone – believes Pejović.
As he points out, there is currently no agreement with the competent institutions.
– We would all be profitable if we had something to offer. The content should be made by the state with tourism organizations. To bring travel agencies and journalists from other countries to see what we have. They bring them as if in transit, we need to thoroughly show them what we can offer them – says Pejović.
Assistant general manager of the Budva hotel and director of sales, Mića Ivanovic, told Pobjeda that they are not planning to close because they have no competition in congress tourism.
– Hotel “Budva” was conceived as a city hotel-business facility and as such has the possibility of working for 12 months. Unfortunately, not all months are profitable, but due to the sustainability of the business and the working habits of the employees, the hotel operates all year round. Our business hotel maintenance is based on pre-made plans and market analysis. The hotel is highly positioned in MICE tourism, and that is our main asset to remain profitable in the off-season – Ivanović points out.
The congress center of the hotel “Budva”, he adds, is one of the best, most modern and compact congress centers in Montenegro, with a high standard and professional service, they have built their position on the MICE market.
– The caring attitude towards partners and clients (guests) that we offer is recognized among all partners working in the congress industry. This is proven by our permanent partners – embassies, companies, both domestic and foreign companies, non-governmental organizations and others. In addition to the perfect location, the content of the congress center and top-notch service are our main assets that we currently have no competition in Budva when it comes to small and medium-sized events – says Ivanović.
In addition, they have a lot of groups and series that are booked a year in advance, and this is a good basis for them to be able to plan for the post-season and the period of winter and low demand from individual guests.
Promotions and gift packages
– We also have monthly promotions for individual guests, gift packages and packages for families that we present on our individual sales channels, so that even with that segment of direct individual sales, we have an evident growth in the number of reservations in the autumn and winter period – said Ivanovic, adding that it is very difficult to achieve a positive balance during the winter, but they try to be at zero or in the minimal minus.
His formula for success for working throughout the year is planned sales.
– We need good marketing and cooperation with agencies that do series of groups, cooperation with pension funds of countries in Europe and an offer that would be based on accommodation in hotels in the Budva Riviera with a longer period of stay along with organized tours and visits to other cities in our country. We should also advertise more as a MICE destination because our location is outstanding for this type of tourism – says Ivanovic.
According to him, the winter period can even be used for advertising visits by tour operators in order to promote the destination.
– We have witnessed that our plans depend a lot on the flight line, so the biggest requirement is to have as many regular lines as possible from European countries during the post and pre-season – Ivanović concludes.
The general manager of the hotel “Avala” Nemanja Kuljić also claims for Pobjeda that working all year round is working on the edge of financial sustainability.
– However, we achieve something else, which is a permanent presence on the market, maintaining a uniform quality of the work process and keeping a quality and trained workforce – he said, adding that it is more of an investment in the future than an immediate benefit.
However, since they also have a lot of contracted jobs in the field of congresses tourism and the permanent presence of regular guests from the region, their balance is positive during the winter.
According to him, the solution lies in the creation of a strong market of permanent guests as well as in the further improvement of congress tourism.
– Sustainability of hotels in winter is possible if they are successfully positioned on the regional congress tourism map. Of course, a serious effort is needed both in the direction of equipping with top technical equipment, competent staff, as well as thorough and long-term work aimed at establishing close cooperation with MICE agents from the region, as well as independent performance of the hotel company on the MICE market – said Kuljić.
The Felber couple has been visiting Avala twice a year for 40 years.
The married couple Ursula and Dieter Felber, pensioners from Germany, have been resting twice a year, in June and October, for 15 days each at the Avala hotel for 40 years. They just skipped the “year of corona”.
– We only enjoy when we are in Budva – say Ursula and Dieter, who have already entered their ninth decade. They were successful businessmen and now they like to enjoy their retirement days.
How much they like their vacation with us is also shown by the fact that they made an album of pictures of “Avala” like magazines from all periods, which they presented to the management of this hotel.
They passed on their love for Montenegro and Budva to their two daughters, doctors, and now they also come with their families.
One savior from the Old Town to St. Stephen
Jakša Šćepanović is the only rescuer we found from the Old Town of Budva to St. Stefan. He told Pobjeda that there are still a few sunny days, so he will also finish this job.
– I have been doing this for 12 years. Now I’m going to look for a permanent job, because I graduated from the Faculty of Economics – says Šćepanović, adding that for another ten days there will be some guests on the beach and then the beach bars will also close, local media writes.