By Cameron Brannagan

Description: Recently, a number of tourists from Gulf states have begun to visit Bosnia, with some even purchasing property. Are we looking at a housing market boom?

Of all the places one might expect to see tourists from Gulf countries, Bosnia may seem as an unlikely choice, at first glance. However, in recent years a number of citizens from Gulf states have chosen this country as their favorite summer destination, some even deciding to purchase property in the country. Of course, such an influx of foreign capital into the housing market of a country the size of Bosnia would surely spark interest from all sorts of analysts and brokers, including WMoption.

A New Hope?

2016-08-23_0006It is no secret that the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina has never truly recovered since the disastrous civil war in the early 1990s, and those more involved in this subject would add that their economy was lagging behind even by old Yugoslav standards. Even during the Cold War era, Bosnia and Herzegovina was considered one of the least developed republics within Yugoslavia. However, after the aftermath of the civil war complete with the political nightmare that is their government, investors would do everything in their power to avoid this part of the world.

And yet, their economy may be getting some help from a somewhat unlikely source, and for reasons we will get to in a little while. In short, after the Arab Spring pretty much destabilized the countries that Arab-speaking Gulf residents would normally go to in order to escape the scorching heat in the summer months, they started looking for a more stable, if not friendly and safer location. And it seems as though they have found it in Bosnia.

It turns out that the mountainous country where roughly half of the population are Muslim has the perfect blend of mild climate, affordable costs of living and the Arab-friendly environment that is in very short supply in these times. Normally, they would go to Libya and Tunisia, or maybe one of the tourist hotspots in Egypt, but it seems they have found a far more viable alternative. And it seems at least one part of the country is waiting for them with open arms, direct flights, new facilities and no visa requirements.

The Other Side of the Coin

It is certain that the faltering businesses and economy in general are benefiting from this influx of affluent “residents”, but a large part of the secular Muslim community is suspicious of a sudden influx of traditional Arab culture into the mix. People dressed in traditional Arab robes tend to stick out among people who are used to drinking alcohol and wearing Western clothing, and with more and more businesses specializing in order to cater to this new clientele, a huge part of the lives of ordinary citizens is disappearing forever. This has ruffled quite a few feathers even in Muslim parts of Bosnia.

While praying was once customary in people’s homes and places of worship, it is not uncommon to see groups of Arab-speaking tourists praying in public spots all around Sarajevo. Also, a great number of restaurants and coffee shops have decided to eliminate pork, alcohol and other “haram” products in a bid to attract some new customers.

However, the appeal of the local climate and affordable prices is still far too great for some Gulf residents, some of which have even bought houses and other real estate. These people feel welcome nevertheless. In fact, their numbers seem to be increasing every year, with 13,000 visitors from the UAE in 2016 alone, which has almost doubled from 7,000 who came last year. By comparison, in 2010, the number of visitors from UAE was 65 – in total.

Conclusion: Numbers Don’t Lie

Unfortunately, due to its political system, Bosnia lacks any kind of central tourist authority and local estimates are the only source of raw numbers. According to those, roughly 50-60,000 Arab tourists visit the country on an annual basis, and roughly one in four has decided to purchase some property in the country as well. So far most of this property is located in the areas where Serbs used to live until the war, and many analysts fear that this practice may bring further instability by giving the Serbian part of the country yet another reason to secede.

As for investments themselves, most analysts as well as ordinary citizens agree that they are welcome and beneficial, as Arab-speaking tourists have shown no intention of actually moving there. However, the lack of legislation and central authority is seen as a major stumbling block that will continue to hinder the country's progress for years to come.

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