SARAJEVO, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA – On July 1, 2008, whl.travel, the global network of travel web sites catering to independent and responsible travelers, reached a new milestone. It officially announced the unveiling of its 100th destination portal, www.sarajevo-travel.ba, and formally welcomed its newest local partner, Green Visions, to the whl.travel family.
whl.travel began in 2002 as a pilot model incubated by the International Finance Corporation (IFC is part of the World Bank Group) for bringing small- and medium-sized accommodation and tour providers into the e-marketplace. After a series of very successful trials in the Mekong region, in Southeast Asia and in the Pacific, whl.travel was spun off as a private company to facilitate the rollout of booking portals in other regions of the world. It now spans 100 destinations in 52 countries on five continents, including in BiH’s Balkan neighbors. In the next few months, further expansion will reach more than 65 new destinations involving 18 new countries.
Unique to whl.travel is its franchise model. whl.travel’s local partners, called marketplace operators (MPOs), serve as vital on-site lifelines to travelers looking for an often-missing personal touch in online services. The MPOs also espouse values fundamental to the whl.travel vision – care for their destinations’ cultural and environmental sustainability. This is made evident by attention to and promotion of the kinds of fun and ethical travel experiences that, until recently, have been largely incidental to travel planning. Now, however, they are increasingly at the core of decisions made by conscientious travelers.
Green Visions is a model MPO. Since its establishment, Green Visions has played a lead role in creating an action plan for ecotourism development in BiH that is coupled with sound environmental practices. Green Visions believes that alternative means of development are key to the sustainability of BiH’s traditional highland life and the ecosystems that sustain it. It holds ecological awareness as the priority in sustainable development, be it in ecotourism, organic farming, medicinal herbs, handicrafts, forestry, wood-production, livestock or other economic endeavors. It has, therefore, remained loyal to ecological principles while pursuing a sustainable means of growth.
“I believe that Green Visions and whl.travel share a common value that responsible business should involve and respect all stakeholders in the creation of its products,” said Thierry Joubert, managing partner of Green Visions. “We have been pioneers in developing responsible and ecotourism activities here in BiH. We are one of the only companies in BiH that provide active and cultural activities for the independent traveler. Offering them on whl.travel will allow us to access a totally new market previously not available to us. I am confident that the whl.travel e-marketplace will significantly increase our sales and presence on the web.”
“I am thrilled to have Green Visions as our partner in Sarajevo,” said Len Cordiner, CEO of whl.travel. “They have been real leaders in opening up tourism in the country again and in the promotion of sustainable tourism. They are the perfect partners to show you the city and the country as a whole.”
The development of www.sarajevo-travel.ba was made possible by support from IFC as part of its Balkan Hotel Market Access Program, the key objective of which is to contribute to the opening up of the Balkan region to the independent travelers market. The financial contribution from the IFC Balkan Hotel Market Access Program covered the whl.travel online booking system installation costs and monthly fees for a one-year period.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina has excellent conditions for the development of tourism thanks to its unique natural attractions, historic sites and proximity to the EU,” affirmed Denis Mesihovic, IFC program leader. “IFC’s Balkan Hotel Market Access Program complements the ongoing efforts to attract international travelers to Sarajevo by using the services of whl.travel and their local partner, Green Visions. This will greatly benefit smaller hotels and guesthouses that will extend their networks by accessing the e-marketplace, which will generate additional revenues and employment in the country.”
It has understandably taken time for Sarajevo and the rest of BiH to recover from the Bosnian War that raged from March 1992 to November 1995, formally ending with the signing of the Dayton Agreement on December 21, 1995. Today, however, Sarajevo’s inclusion in the whl.travel network is just one of many signs of returning prosperity.
“I had the opportunity to visit Sarajevo in 2007 at the invitation of the IFC and was immediately captivated by the city,” confirmed Cordiner. “Despite the very visible evidence of past conflict, the city retains its old-world, old-town charm as a crossroads between the East and the West. I have been recommending Sarajevo as a must-see destination, and I am delighted that it is now accessible on the whl.travel network as our 100th destination. I would like to thank the IFC for their support in Sarajevo and in the region generally.”