Official statistics show that over 180,000 tourists from 114 countries visited the Bosnian capital last year, or 7.7 per cent more than in 2008.
“The latest statistics are also highly encouraging and we have every reason to believe that this year will be even more successful,” Munevera Hodzic from the Sarajevo tourism board told Balkan Insight.
Hodzic said that over 21,000 tourists had visited Sarajevo in the first two months of 2010, or 12 per cent more than in the same period last year.
An increasing number of potential visitors were inquiring about tourism in Sarajevo since it was named among the top ten best cities to visit in the Lonely Planet guide’s “Best in Travel 2010”, she added.
The book’s editor described Sarajevo as a “neatly contained and walkable city…(which) moves to the rhythm of an Austrian waltz with a Slavic lilt and a Turkish flourish in its architecture.”
However, Hodzic said that despite the city’s wealth of historic and winter sport sites, its top attraction last year was the 20 metres remaining from the 800-metre-long tunnel dug under the Sarajevo airport during Bosnia’ 1992-95 war.
The tunnel provided a lifeline for the city during its three-and-a-half-year siege by Bosnian Serb forces.
According to Zijad Jusupovic, a Sarajevo tour guide, other “war attractions” are also proving highly popular with tourists.
A decade ago Jusupovic started offering his “mission impossible” tours, showing visitors from around the world the sights of Bosnia’s war, including frontlines around Sarajevo, the house in nearby Pale where Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic lived with his family and other similar “attractions”.
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in 2008 after nearly 13 years on the run and is currently standing trial before the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which has charged him with masterminding crimes committed by Bosnian Serbs, including genocide, during Bosnia’s recent war.
“Despite the global recession, last year was the busiest I have ever had,” Jusupovic told Balkan Insight.
But while his business is flourishing, Jusupovic said that he was already planning ahead for 2014 when the World will mark the 100th anniversary since the shoots fired on the streets of Sarajevo triggered World War I.
While Bosnia’s ethnic leaders are likely to continue arguing over whether the Bosnian Serb teenager who killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand, which triggered the start of WWI, was a freedom fighter or a terrorist, Jusupovic said he was certain not to miss the business potential of the historic assassination having taken place in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.