Кnjaževac, 11 November 2019

Development of sports tourism to retain youths in Knjaževac

Interview with Mayor of Knjaževac Milan Đokić

The twon stadium in Knjaževac, which has been reconstructed with the support of the Kingdom of Norway, through the Norway for You – Serbia project, today provides better conditions to nearly 15,000 children, youths and athletes. But this infrastructural upgrade also serves for the development of sports tourism in Knjaževac, because, as the Mayor Milan Đokić noted, this is one of the strategic priorities of this local self-government.

Why is the reconstruction of the city stadium important for Knjaževac?

We were keen to reconstruct the city stadium to enable youths in Knjaževac to engage in sports and make their first athletic steps there and to provide all our other citizens with good, high-quality fields for recreation and healthy life-styles. We will also use this soccer complex as a resource for developing sports tourism, to strategically position Knjaževac on the national map of towns offering good sports preparation facilities. In addition to the soccer complex, Knjaževac also boasts a ski resort on Stara Planina, a hot mineral spring facility with an Olympic pool and two sports halls with basketball, handball and volleyball courts. This, together with the climate, clean air and good food, is why our municipality is the right place for sports tourism. We’re doing all this to retain young people in Knjaževac.

What are the potentials for developing this type of tourism?

Knjaževac reaps a significant income from tourist fees on Stara Planina, the home of the centre rallying Alpine skiers. On the other hand, the hot mineral spring pool is attractive to numerous Belgrade water polo clubs, which come here to train in the summers. The income from tourist fees and complementary tourist services accounts for a significant share of our municipal budget but this is just the beginning. By promoting all types of tourist services, we want to attract everyone to Knjaževac, both athletes and those who enjoy the traditional cuisine and good wine. By offering all of that, we will be able to vie maybe even with European cities with long tourist traditions.

What municipal developmental priorities will help you succeed in developing sports tourism?

In addition to the sports infrastructure – fields, stadium, pools and ski slopes – we need road and utility infrastructure. Knjaževac is now connected to other cities, Corridor 10 and the airport in Niš by good roads. We’ve begun reconstructing the water system and replacing the asbestos pipes by modern pipelines.  Development of Knjaževac and tourism calls for further investments in broadening the tourism palette and high-quality utility infrastructure, as well as in providing the citizens with adequate training in how to make the most of their potentials and engage in tourism.

What are Knjaževac’s other strategic priorities, in addition to sports tourism?

Tourism, agriculture and the SME sector have been the priorities of our development plans for a long time now. We have made major headway in tourism, but the progress we made in agriculture is probably the greatest in Serbia. Most of the land is covered by sour cherry and other orchards, we have planted new fruit trees on over 2,500 hectares and we have been granting subsidies to beekeepers. The citizens of Knjaževac can work in small or medium-sized enterprises and, in their free time, engage in agriculture -- in fruit-growing and beekeeping, which do not demand their full-time attention. Knjaževac can thus become a town people will be coming back to, rather than leaving it.

To what extent does the state and to what extent do foreign donors support you in pursuing your goals?

If it weren’t for the state’s help, we would be a small municipality in the east of the country, cut off from the rest of the world. If the roads hadn’t been built, we would be unable to reach even the neighbouring towns, let alone the corridors or the airport. The Timok District has ensured that the investments continue in the coming years and we have received support for building a hotel in the hot mineral spring complex “Banjica”, which will become the generator of development of modern spa tourism, like in Slovenia. This is precisely where the state has helped us a lot. We are also trying to be innovative and have actively been submitting development projects to international donors. Consequently, the Kingdom of Norway supported one of our strategic priorities - the reconstruction of the stadium – for which we are very grateful.