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November 26, 2012

METROPOL Offers a la Serb Hospitality

Interview with Anastasia Zotova, CEO at Metropol Express Travel Company
Info: “Metropol Express” is a member of METROPOL GROUP - an international investment and industrial group with Russian capital.

1. Anastasia, please outline the moves around the Russian winter tour market over the recent years? What kind winter recreation is demanded the most by Russian tourists?

Generally speaking, touring in Russia now migrates from package offers to individual tourism, including athletic, event, exotic, inquisitive etc. The same is about the winter tourism. Some Russian tourists prefer to go to the tropical seaside to enjoy windsurfing, kitesurfing, scuba diving or simply bathing and tanning even in winter. These are Egypt, Thailand and various exotic islands. At the same time a share of Russian tourists take chance of alpine skiing and snowboarding. In Russia now the number of downhill skiers and snowboarders amounts to 6 mln, whilst 2 mln of them regularly go to ski abroad, and both figures are growing year in year out.

2. Where does Russian alpine tourists go in a big way?

Considering outbound tourism, the traditional destinations are France, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Andorra, which host absolute majority of our tourists. The East European direction remains well popular – Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Scandinavian countries and Turkey still attracting noobs and ordinary skiers. In recent years, the American resorts have promoted themselves at the Russian market much aggressively. Our market also has discovered new European alpine countries – Montenegro, Spain, Serbia.
Generally speaking, the areal of alpine tourism is vast enough covering all continents, including Australia, Africa, South America and even Oceania. Few people know that skiing resorts are available in Morocco, Iran, India, China, Japan, South Korea and even in Antarctica. However, for national market these countries remain exotic in terms of alpine tourism.

3. Are there any price-oriented offers for skiing tourism in Europe?

Among the affordable options I’d highlight Serbia with its Kopaonik alpine skiing resort. This destination is pretty new for us, and Metropol Express is promoting it now. Serbians excercise eastern orthodoxy, their language, culture and national spirit are much akin to ours. I think, it is the only country all over East Europe celebrating not only Orthodox Christmas, but also so-called old New Year in-parallel with us. Serbian cuisine tastes quite familiar to Russians, and Serbian hospitality is very much alike to that of Russia. It is also worth mentioning that Russians don’t need visas to come to Serbia.
Until recently, Serbian Kopaonik was almost absolutely unheard of on the Russian market, that’s why it is still not haunted by Russian tourists. Metropol Express together with the Putnik travel company, which is also a unit of METROPOL Group of Companies, has been promoting this resort on the Russian market for two last years. We organize promo tours for tour operators, participate in Moscow ski salons, perform extensive promotion campaign on the Internet and so forth.
Kopaonik is the biggest ski resort in Serbia. Historically, it has been oriented on domestic market. But now, as Serbia is on the threshold of the European Union, Kopaonik is gradually transforming into a comfortable international tourist hub. Lately, the resort has faced significant changes. Construction of new pistes is in full swing, new hotels and apartments are being built well intensively; the existing ski-lift fleet as also being renovated. Instead of obsolete platter pulls the Austrian-made modern-type 4- and 6-seat Doppelmayer ski-lifts are being deployed. The up-to-date artificial snow systems, both fixed-site and mobile, by the Italian TechnoAlpin brand are already enabled.

4. Would you highlight in brief some remarkable technical features of the resort?

The resort is generally oriented on ordinary skiers and beginners, and also on family vacation. Total piste length is somewhat 55 km, the highest point is a little above 2,000 m, max level difference is 512 m, the longest piste is 3,500 m, traffic capability of ski-lifts is 32,000 men per hour, average temperature in January is 8 Celsius below zero. The resort infrastructure is constantly improving. Last year the resort added to its attractions such things as snowpark, open-air skating-rink, and a piste for night time skiing. Artificial Snow Systems now cover nearly 75% of all the pistes that ensure skiing irrespective of vagaries of the weather. Recently acquired state-of-the-art piste caterpillars prepare pistes every night for the next day. The season at Kopaonik lasts from mid-December till the end of March.
Affordable prices make the resort preferable for youth and students, as well as for families with children. For instance, a 6-day adult ski pass costs about € 90, whilst the children’s is about € 60, renting full set of equipment costs about € 55, personal coach – about € 20 per hour. By the way, Russian-speaking are also available. A supper full of local flavour with excellent Serbian wine for four persons in the restaurant would cost about € 80. The slopes feature a lot of small cosy restaurants, most of which equipped with fireplace, to stay getting a warm and rest, let alone having a snack. Discotheques are open in the evening, the town boasts its bowling, and music in restaurants is mostly live. Be sure, you won’t be bored.

5. What should a noob skier keep in mind?

A rooky skier doesn’t care of the pistes total milage. For him it doesn’t make any difference whether 500 km or just 50 km are ahead. Whereas strong winds at high altitudes accompanied with temperatures far below zero would hardly make him happy. From this point of view Kopaonik is the ideal site.
I wouldn’t advise novices to buy skis and boots right away. Better do it later. Skiing proficiency of a beginner grows, say, exponentially up to some certain level. So it’s difficult to understand what particular skis and boots you really need, that’s why it’s better to refer to professional renters rather than “to ask pal for help”.
Also advisable that pistes be accessible on foot from your hotel (ski in/ski out), convenient infrastructure for getting to the top and boot drying compartament be available, which is very important.

6. Please suggest where is it better to put up in Kopaonik?

At present, Metropol Express represents on the Russian market two Kopaonik hotels owned by Metropol Group.
Hotel Club A**** is a very comfortable club hotel of 97 rooms, including 4 suites. The hotel is located in the very heart of the Kopaonik’s tourist zone in immediate proximity to ski-lifts. It has private parking, ski rental, SPA, swimming pool, gym, equipped infant nursery with skilled babysitters available.
Hotel Putnik *** features 90 rooms, including 4 suites, located in Sun Valley – the most picturesque site all over Kopaonik, 1,650 m high above sea level. The hotel also offers equipment rental, massage and beauty parlours, gym, billiards and table tennis room.
The hotels offer halfboard accomodation. Both hotels are outfitted with free Wi-Fi, satellite TV, phone, spacious banquet and conference facilities suitable for all kinds of corporate events.

7. Would you deliver some details on features of Putnik hotel? Unless I’m mistaken, it sits a bit aloof from the pistes?

The Putnik hotel fits better for family vacation. It is more spacious than Club A. Children are given place to skylark in the evening. True, it is somehow outlying from the resort’s core. However, this distance can be measured as 5 minutes by bus or 15 minutes on foot. On the other hand, the hotel is surrounded by fairly stunning fir wood, peace and quiet reigns. Every 30 minutes in the morning a free ski-bus routes from the hotel right to the center of the resort.
Two years ago, a new piste was set up close to the hotel, which 4-seat ski-lift brings tourists uphill to descend to the central valley afterwards. Thus, starting from the last season the Putnik tennants enjoy real ski in/ski out. It is also possible to descend right to the hotel using the new piste.
The hotel has a very cosy fireplace lounge to have a good time slugging in easychairs and listening to the live music while sipping Sumadija tea – the Serbian national drink traditionally served in the mountains. It may be regarded as local analog of mulled wine, which is so popular at Alpine ski resorts.

8. Anastasia, what’s special about the Club A hotel – the true pearl of Kopaonik? What are the advantages of the Club A?

Yes, you are right. The Hotel Club A is an ultimate gem of this resort. It’s very homelike and nice hotel in the heart of the resort, accessible on foot from the central ski-lifts. The hotel has private parking area. Apropos, parking service for your car is included. The hotel’s exquisite cuisine is sure to impress guests with its variety and flavour. The hotel is famous for its open-armed hospitality. It was this treatment of guests that makes the hotel actually club-like. Along with all that, the prices remain quite reasonable. An average price per guest staying at standard double room, halfboard is about € 40-45. Most of guests come back to this hotel every new winter year in year out. Some rooms are booked out throughout the season.

9. And what about you? Where do you prefer to have a rest in winter?

If my business affords, I prefer to spend my winter vacation in European Alps together with my family. We are all the skiers with proven track record. On the chance of leaving Moscow for awhile, for a few recent years already our destination has been Kopaonik in Serbia. Serbian hospitality, Serbian cuisine and comfortable skiing give outstanding delight.

10. Apart from pistes, what else would you recommend to see in Kopaonik?

Within an hour car ride there are very beautiful ancient monasteries reputed by Serbians as genuine sanctuaries. Putnik and Club A hotels organize special excursion programs for guests. A number of local thermal springs are also worth visiting. Tourists love the excursions to local wine cellars looking like, so to say, wine villages. The Kopaonik region enjoys very favorable climatic conditions for red viniculture.
In addition, I recommend staying for one or two days in Belgrade on the way back home. The city really deserves it.
The most famous tourist sight of Belgrade is the ancient fortress Kalemegdan, established by no other but ancient Romans, featuring fairly exciting exposition of World Wars I and II military hardware, including Soviet Т-34 and German Tiger tanks.
When in Belgrade, I advise you to put up at the Putnik Tulip Inn.***. This hotel is much comfortable; it offers traditional Serbian and international cuisines, abundant and delicious. In fact, the services worth 4-star hotel are delivered for the price of a 3-star one.
The hotel is located in New Belgrade very conveniently, next to graceful embankment of Sava River not far from major shopping malls. Semidetached restaurants on floating landing stages along the embankment offer (for € 3 only) Dunja – the Serbian traditional apple-quince vodka. The central part of the embankment is occupied by the Belgrade biggest casino. The transfer from the hotel to the airport  will take you just 20 minutes without any traffic jams.
Booking online and detailed info on the hotel is posted at the Putnik official site
www.putnik.com

11. What season is the best to stay in Kopaonik hotels?

80% of the resort hospitality facilities is occupied by Serbian residents so far. That is why, after all, I wouldn’t recommend going there on the New Year vacation. The New Year holidays urges there, so to say, the Serbia’s population at large. At present, the resort is capable of accomodating about 7,000 tourists. It’s better to come there after the New Year celebrations are over. Booking online is available at the Putnik’s site (www.putnik.com), or employing Metropol-Express (www.metropolgroup.ru, phone +7 495 933 33 10). We’re in position to provide all relevant information on the resort and its hotels, eager to organize a tour, including  transfers, and also we grant a discount on assistance of Russian-speaking ski instructor.

12. What’s on in Kopaonik in summer?

In summer time Kopaonik location is much beautiful; the resort offers versatile programs and routes – on foot, hacking, bike riding, watersports... In addition to all this, which is commonly offered by ski resorts throughout Europe, our hotel hosts various children’s summer campuses practicing basketball, volleyball and lawn tennis. Besides, we organize language courses for children tutored by English teachers from the UK. Also we keep in stock the programs combining lodgement in the mountains and on the seaside, where we have another nice hotel called Admiral in the town of Budva in Montenegro. But I’d rather go into details on the point, when we are closer to the summer season.

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"METROPOL" Investment Financial Company Ltd.
Phone: 8 (495) 933-3310
Address: 13 bld 1 Donskaya str, Moscow, Russia 119049