Chinese tourists say 'I do' to Serbia

  • Thursday 14, November 2019 12:33 PM
Sharjah24 – AFP: A "bride" in a pretty white dress and trainers runs through a field, her long white veil fluttering behind and her "groom" in hot pursuit.
It's not a scene from the Hollywood hit "Runaway Bride" but a traditional Serbian wedding ceremony -- only with most of the roles played by Chinese tourists.

Enticed by visa-free travel and low costs compared to Western Europe, the Chinese have been coming to Serbia in their droves.

The landlocked Balkan state is now one of the fastest-growing destinations in Europe for Chinese travellers, topping the charts last year, and has been rolling out the red carpet.

From Chinese restaurants, to street signs in Mandarin, infrastructure has quickly sprung up.

Chinese police were even dispatched to the streets of Belgrade in the summer to help communicate with their compatriots, a programme also piloted in other European cities.

And in rural western Serbia, locals in the small, picturesque holiday village of Gostoljublje have also found a way to claim a slice of the pie.

Of the 1.2 million people who visited Serbia in the first eight months of this year, the Chinese dominated with 92,000 arrivals, or more than five times the number for all of 2016.

The surge started in 2017, when Serbia became the first country in Europe to scrap visas for its far eastern ally, a sign of the two nations' flourishing political ties.

China has "no partner that is more reliable than Serbia, nor a friend that is more sincere," Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic proudly proclaimed in September.

Belgrade and Beijing have been especially close allies since the 1990s, with economic links growing in recent years.

For China, Serbia is a key foothold on the European continent for its global infrastructure ambitions to funnel goods to Western markets.