FROM A PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW: Branislav Knežević, director of the Tourism Organization of the City of Novi Sad
The first association with this period is the enormous privilege and honor of running the Tourism Organization of the City of Novi Sad. It’s a really big thing and I believe I managed to use that time to a great extent, to do the right things with my team.
You have been the director of Tourism Organization of the City of Novi Sad (TONS) for 10 years and during your leadership you have improved the work of the organization in such a way that TONS has become synonymous with one of the best local tourism organizations in the region. During that period of time, you had excellent communication with representatives of both state authorities and the economy, and you managed to introduce your team to a work system that hardly any organization has. How challenging was it for you personally to achieve all these results?
– The past 11 years have been very challenging and dynamic, because at the very beginning there were many problems, organizational, but above all, financial, caused by large debts. As a young director, guided by youthful energy, positive ambition and a great desire to raise this organization, which is very important for Novi Sad, to a much higher level, I tackled all the problems. It was a big challenge, as the sixth director for a period of three and a half years since the establishment of the organization, to convince my team and the representatives of the tourism industry that things will get better. I was guided by the idea that our job is to work hard, not to run away from problems and to show a sincere desire to improve our work. We set realistic goals and priorities, after which the results followed. I must emphasize that I received the support of my colleagues, which was crucial in such a situation. Also, the support of the city was very important, because Tourism Organization of the City of Novi Sad needed continuity, which it did not have until then, in order to achieve results. It took four years of work to consolidate financially and get the business off the ground, while at the same time working on the development of tourism in our city and rebuilding the lost trust. The main goal was to become an open organization for cooperation, to build partnership relations with the economy as well as to raise each tourism product individually, because if many projects are started at the same time, in the end they may remain unfinished.
During your management of the organization, TONS received a large number of awards and recognitions for its work (Lonely Planet, Golden Apple, Tourism Flower…), and it played a significant role in obtaining the city’s European titles. You are recognizable for your innovation and perfectionism, which have led you and the organization to the best results. What are the key skills that a manager puts in the foreground when making business decisions?
– I think that the basis on which good results can be built is a systematic approach to work and work organization. Conversations with the economy and listening to their needs through active field work, then conversations with tourists and their needs, as well as project ideas, carried by the TONS team with a good analysis of the movement of tourists and relevant markets, actually trace the path of development of the destination in one good direction. Indeed, during all these years, we have received a lot of nice and prestigious recognitions and awards, however, we never chased them. The focus has always been on teamwork and the successful implementation of assigned tasks, and this ultimately resulted in these awards. I would not say that I am a perfectionist, but I completely agree that I pay a lot of attention to detail. I think that details make an organization, and therefore a destination, different and more successful. From the conception and appearance of stands at promotional appearances, the organization of events and whether every detail is covered, to the design and content of promotional material, visuals on social networks, and, if you wish, to the tone and shade of blue or green. Whether they are well selected and printed are details and little things individually, but when you put everything together and achieve a standard, it primarily reflects on the image of the destination and the organization you represent. Innovation is important, and this is perhaps where we made the main difference. Creativity is a feature that marked the previous period of work of the TONS, and I like to encourage it in my colleagues, because it has been a part of me all my life. Also, it is important to me that, when I make a decision about projects or campaigns, I talk with my colleagues, and while doing that we try to see, not only the positive effects, but above all the negative ones that may arise. Only when we eliminate all the negative effects, can we agree and adopt the plan. It is important to deal in some way with predictions in relation to existing, geopolitical and even health situations, which may happen, in order to prepare as well as possible and minimize surprises. The period of the corona virus is perhaps also a textbook example of the actions of a local tourism organization, which took two weeks to reorganize, adapt and not only continue, but also strengthen its promotional activities, taking into account the gravity of the situation.
Considering that your colleagues and associates from the profession recognize you as a valuable and dedicated person, have you been guided by those qualities in selecting associates and delegating tasks within the organization? How do you encourage diversity to be an asset rather than a threat to the organization?
– When you work in a creative, dynamic and modern organization, which is also a city institution, it would be completely pointless and destructive to sit, to be bored and to wait for your working hours to run out. Working in tourism, you have such a wide range of activities that there is simply no activity that is not covered in some way. In this sense, dedication, self-initiative and hard work are the qualities that I value the most and with which you won me over. Then everything is possible and then everything is a matter of agreement. Strict monitoring of working hours has never been the goal, because it does not exist here. The work is done in the morning, but also in the afternoon and evening, as well as on weekends, and sometimes during holidays, because these are the periods when tourists come and when the media call you, or when we perform at fairs and promotional events. By working at TONS, you have accepted this way of working. I believe that a team is successful if it communicates well and solves tasks together, and employees help and readily provide assistance to each other, calmly and professionally, regardless of the degree of urgency. It is important to be honest, because every situation is solvable, and to be and remain human. Diversity is also a very important trait, because each of us has different affinities. If you recognize it well and design the team in such a way that everyone does the work that suits them best, you will surely get a new and additional value. That’s why connecting tourism products and jobs carried out by our organization with suitable people and their affinities and characters is the only solution, on the one hand, for a job well done, and on the other hand, personal satisfaction. Indeed, anyone cannot do a part of the job without having an affinity, interest, feeling or sense for it, because in a small team, if one link does not work, it reflects on the whole team. I insisted that everyone should be professional and recognizable in their part of the job, especially with the economy they work with, as well as that they should always put the house they represent in the foreground. In this way, we show seriousness, that we have a built value system, and at the same time we strengthen the image of the entire organization.
During the decade of work at TONS, you made many acquaintances and had many experiences, which marked that part of your life. What is your first association with this period and what are you personally most proud of?
– The first association with this period is the enormous privilege and honor of leading the Tourism Organization of the City of Novi Sad. It’s a really big thing and I believe I managed to make the most of this period, to do the right things with my team. I am proud of the achieved results and the fact that behind us are concrete products that will continue to develop, because we brought them to that stage, which is the main measure of the success of a collective. Regardless of the volume of work and the fact that it used to be difficult to achieve everything, when the results appear they give you new and additional energy to continue. There are many memories related to both difficult and beautiful moments, but somehow only the beautiful ones remain in the memory. I am happy with the many friendships I have made and the realization that others see us as a professional organization that does its job. One of the anecdotes relates to my middle son, who is six years old, and his answer to the question what dad does for a living. He said that dad is the director of Novi Sad and wine. I talked so much about our city, but also about the tourism products we made, one of which is the wine routes and the Novi Sad wine route, that he connected it all in his own way. I can understand when they tell you that you should separate your work from your private life, but only if you are doing a job that for you represents just earning money for existential needs. However, if you are doing a job that you love and that is creative, and at the same time it also relates to your city, then it is impossible. Wherever I am with my family, at home or abroad, I pay attention to my surroundings and compare them to my city and think about what else we could do.
Interviewed by: Tihana Putin