This November, Serbian Private Tours (SPT), run by husband and wife Miljan and Tamara, turns three years old. I decided to arrange a short interview with them to learn more about their company and what they’ve been up to these past three years. As I waited for him to pick up my call, I wondered about the weather in Serbia that Friday afternoon. I hoped it was sunny.
When he answered, I was greeted by a friendly but fairly deep voice. Not the kind you’d hear in a 60s advertisement, but the sort you’d imagine Santa Claus would have on a day off. After a brief introduction, I kicked off the interview by asking Miljan to tell me his story.
It started with a passion for travelling
The company started with Miljan and Tamara’s passion for travelling around Europe and their interest in other cultures. While away, they realised that despite Serbia’s natural, historical and cultural appeals, there were no tour companies in Serbia to show it off. Of course one could buy guide books and maps, but the couple were convinced that the lack of intimacy with the destination did it no justice. Serbia was an attractive tourist destination, and they believed it had what it took to compete internationally.
They wanted to introduce Serbia through the eyes of locals, to give guests an intimate relationship with the country and its culture. Their guides are called hosts because they don’t want someone to spew out memorised facts and figures, they wanted to create insightful and genuine conversation.
Hence, their proposition was this: that they aim to deliver an experience, not a vehicle with a smart driver.
Building Serbian Private Tours from the ground up
Once they decided to take the plunge, Miljan’s 10 years of experience in IT and entrepreneurship came in very handy. He first focused on creating a logo and a brand identity for SPT before building a website for the company. From very early on, his strategy for marketing his tours has always been web-focused and web-based. He understood that the best way for him to attract customers was through the internet, so he spent much time and energy building a beautiful site and providing as much information about his tours as possible.
One of his initial struggles with the website involved finding a solution to the problem of processing payments online. Miljan explained that payment processors such as PayPal and Skrill did not allow online credit card payments, because they deemed transactions in the tour and activity industry risky. Furthermore, the only local bank in Serbia that offered an online payment gateway entailed a very complicated process and expensive transaction fees, driving up fixed costs.
Miljan spent some time researching for alternatives before stumbling across TrekkSoft’s payment gateway, which offered the simplest process and the most competitive pricing. He also used our WordPress plugin to build his unique website and integrate our simple booking and payment system.
Their first tour with Scottish men in kilts
When asked if he remembered his first tour, he replied without hesitation, “Of course I do”. With that, he began to tell me about a group of Scottish football fans who decided to explore Serbia in their kilts in the middle of March. A day before the match between Serbia and Scotland, Miljan brought them to the Iron Gate gorge along the Danube river, the biggest gorge in Europe.
On the big day, they drove to a nearby town where the game was held. At the time, the local government had stepped up efforts to ensure peace and safety at football matches, given that violence was prevalent in the past. Miljan, along with a police car, escorted the Scottish fans in their kilts to the stadium. Miljan retold the story like it was yesterday, as he laughed at the absurdity of how their vehicle escorted by policemen who also cleared traffic off the roads.
It also snowed on the day of the match, and the football fans who attended the game seemed different compared to the typically rowdy crowd. There was a real sense of unity in the atmosphere, as fans from Scotland, most of whom were in their kilts, took it upon themselves to clear the snow from the field. “It was a really special day,” Miljan told me. I asked if he still kept in contact with his Scottish mates, “Yes, of course! We talk and we regularly meet up for football matches around Europe”.
Golden rules for success
When we talked about the different tours SPT provides, I asked Miljan if he had a favourite tour. Miljan replied, “I can’t pick, all of our tours are our babies”. Each tour is different, and each is carefully planned to deliver a great experience. The most popular tour is to the one to the Iron Gate gorge, and he highly recommends the wine tour if guests want a more relaxed day.
I wondered out loud how it was possible to deliver the same intimate tour each time, and Miljan told me his two golden rules:
- They only host small groups of eight people or less
- They never mixed one tour group with another
Another thing that made SPT different was the flexibility of their tours. They are always willing to adjust a tour to meet the needs and interests of their guests. For instance, picking guests up from a better starting point, moving start times, and changing the itinerary as necessary. Prices vary for each tour, according to what was decided between SPT and their guests.
What lies ahead?
The company has seen a lot of changes lately, including the hiring of new staff to accommodate their growth. When I asked about Miljan's long terms goals and vision for the company, he emphasised that they’d love to specialise more on delivering a local experience and giving guests a hands-on experience. He also wants to focus on other aspects of the business, some details of which he was hesitant to share. However, he did mention that they’d like to expand the range of tours they have, so as to allow guests to explore Serbia on their own while delivering the same intimate experience. From what I can gather, Miljan definitely has a few tricks up his sleeves that he’s very excited to start working on.
Our conversation really inspired me to save up for a trip to Serbia, perhaps in the summer. It’s also been great to know that TrekkSoft’s products are helping people around the world turn their dreams into reality. As for now, all I can do is wish him, his family (they have a two month old daughter!) and Serbian Private Tours well as they embark on a new phase of their journey.
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