BELGRADE, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- On the occasion of the 44th edition of the Belgrade International Tourism Fair, representatives of Serbia's tourism industry said they "eagerly anticipate" the return of visitors from China following the country's post-COVID-19 reopening.
China, the country that has sent the largest number of foreign visitors to Serbia in recent years, is the guest of honor at the fair, which takes place between Feb. 23 and Feb. 26.
In 2017, the mutual visa exemption agreement took effect and non-stop direct flights were launched between the two countries last year. In 2019, 145,000 Chinese tourists visited Serbia.
Opening the fair on Wednesday, Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic said that "I want to invite Chinese citizens to come to our country. We have a lot of beautiful and valuable things that they can see."
"I can guarantee them that nowhere in any other country in Europe will they be welcomed as cordially, with open arms and an open heart, as they will be welcomed in Serbia," he said, welcoming Chinese tourists as "closest and dearest friends."
"This year, Chinese tourists should be returning to Serbia and the Balkans," said Aleksandar Valok, a Chinese-speaking tour guide and representative of the Sai Hua Travel Agency. "The programs need to be adjusted to the needs of Chinese tourists."
Marija Labovic, director of the National Tourism Organization of Serbia, told Xinhua that "last year we broke new records in tourism as foreign tourists returned, but we wish to see the return of the Chinese tourists, because we remember how satisfied they were, and we await the day when they will come again."
"The direct air link between Serbia and China -- Hainan Airlines connects Belgrade and Beijing, while Air Serbia connects Belgrade and Tianjin-- is really important for us. Moreover, no visas are necessary for Chinese citizens who come to Serbia," Labovic said
Aleksandra Krstic from the Tourism Organization of Sokobanja, a popular spa town in the east of Serbia, recalled that this tourist resort was highly popular among Chinese tourists during the pre-pandemic years.
"Most groups come through travel agencies and stay in hotels. They are drawn here by Sokobanja's natural resources and its mineral healing waters," she said.
Zhang Kexiong, assistant general manager of CTG Travel Services Corporation, said that at the tourism fair, the Chinese delegation focuses on Serbia's tourism resorts and also promotes destinations in China.
He recalled that in early February the Chinese authorities approved the resumption of group tour travel to 20 countries and said he hoped Serbia will also be included in that list in a future update.
"After the pandemic prevention and control policy is relaxed, more Chinese people will travel to Serbia than in 2019," Zhang said.
"More and more Chinese people want to get in touch with nature and experience some tourism products, such as sports, health and wellness. So, there are many tourism resources in Serbia that are suitable for the needs of Chinese people, especially young people," he said.
Aleksandar Puaca, assistant to the president of Belgrade's Stari Grad city municipality, told Xinhua he was impressed with the fair, and that certain Chinese destinations rose higher on his bucket list.
"I would like to visit Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I would also like to visit Great Wall," he told Xinhua.
China's booth at the fair features the traditional and modern tourist attractions of Beijing and Ningbo, a major port city in eastern China, and displays items of cultural heritage, such as Beijing's traditionally made silk dolls, "moon rabbit" and porcelain sculptures, and woodcarvings.
This year's Belgrade International Tourism Fair presents over 350 exhibitors and highlights 100 travel destinations in Serbia. ■