Bojana Božanić, Director Of Public Enterprise Gold Gondola Zlatibor, Čajetina

Zlatibor Closer To The Clouds

The gondola lift is considered the tourist project of the century on Zlatibor, but disagreements between the competent institutions and the Municipality of Čajetina are hindering construction

Bojana Bozanic

Due to its natural characteristics and constantly improving offer, Zlatibor has become an outstanding sports and recreational tourism centre, both for elite athletes and recreational visitors. The season lasts year-round, and construction of the ‘Gold Gondola’ should ultimately serve to attract a million tourists a year.

The idea to construct a gondola lift on Zlatibor is not new and you have launched serious preparations. What will such an investment mean for tourists and bring to tourism?

– The Zlatibor gondola project has been under preparation for a full decade already. It was necessary to develop the appropriate planning documents and feasibility study, determine the route, prepare the tender etc. The tourist project of the century will impact on the development of tourism, primarily by increasing numbers of visitors to Zlatibor and Western Serbia. Our goal following the implementation of the gondola is for Zlatibor to be visited by a million tourists annually after 10 years, and for us to realise 10 million overnight stays.

Numerous studies of the Tourist Organisation of Zlatibor show that the motives for holidaying in Serbia are natural attractions, clean air and climate, medical and health reasons and hospitality, while Zlatibor was singled out as an example of a good tourist offer.

Just with the announcement of the gondola’s construction we noticed increased interest among investors, mostly related to additional contents and capacities on Zlatibor. That says a lot about the good setting of objectives by the Municipality of Čajetina.

You still haven’t received a construction permit from the competent ministry for the entire project. Why has permit issuance stalled?

– It should be noted that the Municipal Administration of Čajetina, in accordance with planning documents and relevant legal regulations, launched the procedure for issuing permits for the gondola. However, the ministry was made competent for the issuing of permits a year ago, so the procedure had to be conducted again. We have overcome major obstacles in document and preparation and reached the problem of resolving property rights relations – with the State! In order to overcome this obstacle, it has been determined that the permit should be issued in phases. Five phases have been defined, including three stations and two parts of the route with pylons.

The disputed state property, on an area of 2,213 hectares, was illegally awarded two years ago to a private individual by the Minister of Construction. After the municipal leadership protested, the minister herself acknowledged the error and annulled the decision, only for it now to turn out that this was again contrary to the letter of the law. The case is now facing the Administrative Court, while state institutions like the State Attorney’s Office and the Republic Geodetic Authority will not act and give consent to the transfer of property along the gondola’s route until the dispute has been resolved. The Government confirmed a year ago that the construction of the gondola on Zlatibor is in the public interest. This decision should provide the basis to settle property relations easily and smoothly. And that was indeed the case, albeit with private individuals. On four out of the five phases the land is owned by the State, in which the holder is registered as a privatised agricultural combine, with unclear rights to the same.

The Municipality of Čajetina, along with several other municipalities in the district, has recognised the importance of Ponikve Airport and is ready to invest in the completion of works and maintenance, in order to maximise the export of goods and the “import” of guests

The panoramic gondola will undoubtedly be an attraction. Where will it set off from, how far will it reach and where will it go?

– Gold gondola Zlatibor departs from the centre of Zlatibor. The nine kilometres of the most modern elevated route of the gondola will connect tourist settlements with the Tornik ski centre, via Lake Ribnik, next to which will be located an interstation. The gondola has a current capacity of 600 passengers per hour in 55 private cabins, each with 10 seats. Its maximum possible capacity is 90 cabins and 1,000 passengers per hour. A ride in this gondola will offer an impressive 25 minutes of stunning views over the picturesque landscape of Zlatibor.

The heart of the gondola will be located at the Lake Ribnik interstation, where it is planned to develop the New Zlatibor project, to cater for high categories of tourism, on more than 200 hectares of land and with a centre for health, sports and recreational tourism, while the gondola’s final station will be at Tornik peak. Compliance with global environmental standards in the construction of the gondola is in line with the Municipality of Čajetina’s drive to become Serbia’s first ecological municipality.

Today a real mountain experience is almost unthinkable for all even remotely demanding tourists without a panoramic gondola that journeys under the clouds.

When it comes to mountain tourism, similar projects elsewhere in the world include other contents. Are you planning to include some entertaining contents?

– In addition to the aforementioned attractions, there is a plan to expand the adventure park on Tornik, with a zip line, the charting of new hiking trails, cycling routes, the expansion of ski slopes in cooperation with public enterprise Ski Resorts of Serbia, encouraging the construction of wellness centres and interesting hospitality facilities that will satisfy even the most demanding foreign guests.

The gondola’s construction should also lead to the developing of the area around Lake Ribnik, with the creation of bathing areas, beaches, parks, golf, basketball and tennis courts, as well as parts for sport fishing. A precondition for developing Western Serbia to its full capacity is construction of the highway to Požega, then to Zlatibor, as well as making the Ponikve Airport fully operational.

Will the Municipality of Čajetina build the gondola itself, or do you intend for that to be a public-private partnership, or just a private investment?

– This investment is worth about 13 million euros. Equipment worth a total of 9.95 million euros has been paid for in full. The largest part of the equipment, except cables and parts of the cabins, have already arrived. All resources have been allocated from the municipal budget, along with a loan that is regularly serviced from the same source. With the aim of managing the gondola, the Municipality of Čajetina established public enterprise Gold Gondola Zlatibor, to which the installation will be entrusted following its commissioning. Apart from gains from the transport of passengers, significant resources are expected to be generated by ancillary services.

Staff at the competent ministry say that they are willing to grant you permission for phased construction. Why are you seek permission to build the entire route?

– The Municipality of Čajetina has utilised the possibility of phased construction, so it submits requests for permits accordingly. However, as stated, the biggest obstacles are still in unresolved property relations with, absurdly, the State. We initially considered that working with state institutions would be the easiest, because the gondola is a project of public interest. Currently, the key institutions for us to start construction are the State Attorney’s Office and the Land Registry, the bottleneck for any serious investment, particularly for opposition municipalities. It is unfortunate that the personal interests of political opponents are blocking this investment of importance to the whole of Serbia. That kind of thing doesn’t exist in Europe. The interest of citizens must be primary. We are also led by this at the Municipality of Čajetina. We know that the people are backing us and this obliges us to persevere in our struggle for justice, for the country and for better living conditions.

Tornik is becoming increasingly popular as a ski resort. Are new lifts and slopes being prepared, and how does this centre’s development fit into the construction of the panoramic gondola?

– The process of preparing documentation for the construction of the gondola is underway, while the Municipality is also collaborating with Ski Resorts of Serbia. Our joint aim is to improve the ski resort, expand routes and improve the attractiveness of facilities for guests. Just 4km extension of ski trails would double the number of skiers on Tornik, while the construction of the gondola to the peak makes this extension essential. The offer will also be complemented with a cross-country skiing trail, for which Zlatibor was once known throughout Europe.