The Serbian government is working towards the establishment of several long haul flights from Belgrade Airport, the country's Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, said at a Business Forum on Wednesday. Mr Vučić noted the move is in an attempt to boost the number of visitors to both the capital and the country as a whole. According to the PM, the first of these new long haul services will be between Beijing and Belgrade. Flight details, including the operating airline, are expected to be revealed upon the return of the Serbian President from China. His visit is slated for March 30 and 31, with the announcement tipped to be made prior to the country's presidential elections on April 2. So far, both Hainan Airlines and Air China have expressed interest in the service.
Serbia has seen a rise in tourists from countries such as Turkey, Israel and Greece, but has struggled to lure visitors from far-away markets, and has now put a greater focus on Asia. Late last year, Japan's national carrier, All Nippon Airways (ANA), expressed interest in operating charters to Belgrade. The airline is no stranger to the region and has been running leisure services to both Slovenia and Croatia for several years. The government has also said it is working towards establishing flights between Shanghai and Belgrade, in addition to the planned Beijing service. Mr Vučić noted that 2.5 million tourists visited Serbia in 2016 and plans have been made for the figure to double by 2019.
Air Serbia recently said it had no plans to order additional wide-body aircraft to join its sole Airbus A330-200 jet as part of its strategic five-year plan. However, the carrier has reaffirmed its commitment to maintain long haul flights. It is currently the only airline operating long haul services from the country. Late last year, Air Serbia looked into the possibility of introducing charter flights to far-off destinations over the winter season with its A330 jet. The carrier explored the idea in partnership with the National Association of Travel Agencies of Serbia. According to the Association, tour operators were interested in long haul charter flights to Thailand and Cuba during the winter months, as there is sufficient demand for those markets. However, the talks came too late into the season for any such service to be operated. The Serbian government has inked a number of Air Service Agreements and Memorandums over the past year with countries which could be of interest for potential long haul charter operations including the Dominican Republic and Sri Lanka. These agreements set the legal framework for air operations between the two sides.