It took 11 years for the first tourists to return to Bosnia-Herzegovina after the region's vicious 1992-95 conflict, and many still perceive it as war-torn 20 years on.
By
Lisa Zilberpriver

5 Apr 2012 - 8:00 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

Food, wine and wild waterways are the best reasons to visit once war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, according to Adnan Vlajcic of the Tourism Board, but it will take more investment to convince the rest of the world.

"We are definitely not focussed on war tourism," Mr Vlajcic says.

"But this is one of the biggest questions when the tourists are coming to our country, they're asking to know or to learn a little bit more about this," he adds.

"And this is something that we cannot deny. We have to tell people what was really happening because this is something that is new to them."

A vicious civil conflict between Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats between 1992-95 left at least 100,000 people dead as Yugoslavia was disbanded. Around two million more were displaced.

Mr Vlajcic works for an agency that offers several tours.

The 'Tunnel Tour' - billed as "a minimum of what you should know about one of the longest siege(s) in history" (a reference to 1992-95).

There is also the 'Times of Misfortune' tour, which the website claims is one of its most popular.

"During this tour we will try to show you everything Sarajevans lived through from 1992-1995," the website advertises.

Mr Vlajcic says much more investment is needed to promote Bosnia-Herzegovina as a holiday destination that is interesting for reasons other than its tragic past to its 500,000 annual visitors.

It took more than a decade for tourism to slowly return to the region, and it began mostly with visitors from Turkey, Russia and Germany.

Mr Vlajcic has been working in tourism since 1999, but says it was not until 2005 or 2006 that visitors began arriving in noticeable numbers.

Even today, tourists still arrive largely via neighbouring countries - especially Croatia, a popular destination serviced by budget airlines from Western Europe.

Mr Vlajcic says that is "very lucky" for Bosnia, which doesn't have a big enough budget to boost advertising and attract tourists off its own bat.

Australians living in London are frequent visitors too, he says, and there is a significant amount of tourism from the United States. Another major group were Japanese tourists.

Between 12 and 15 per cent more tourists come to the country each year, Mr Vlajcic says.

"I'm very satisfied with the number of guests," he says.

"But I'm not satisfied with the money or budget that we have for promotion,"

"We need much more promotion ... this is changing the image for our country," he says.

"If you change the image (in the eyes of) West European countries they will also invest in this country."

Bosnian capital Sarajevo's long history of conflict and the still-visible damage it has left doesn't faze guests, says Hostel City Centre manager, Azra Celik.

Ms Celik, who's studying tourism, says the city doesn't have enough money to repair many of the bullet-marked buildings - including the City Hall.

During the summer season, Hostel City Centre houses around 40 guests per week, and these are mainly from Western countries, she says.

In the winter months, Balkan visitors arrive.

Jazz, theatre, film and folklore festivals attract visitors at different times of the year, and there is the possibility that the city will be named European Capital of Culture.