Local business operators hope Irish will return to Medjugorje

Founder of Bosnian-based Paddy Travel says there are no government supports for them

Donna Ostojic, from Donegal, and her colleagues at Paddy Travel outside the firm’s premises in Medjugorje.

Donna Ostojic, from Donegal, and her colleagues at Paddy Travel outside the firm’s premises in Medjugorje.

 

“We are very worried and hope that the pilgrims from Ireland will come back,” said Medjugorje-based Donna Ostojic. “Places here are not closed because of Covid, they are closed because there are no visitors.”

Ms Ostojic, previously Donna McGettigan from Co Donegal “of the footballing family”, was first a pilgrim herself and later a tour guide for several years before she married Marinko Ostojic, a Bosnian.

Together they run Paddy Travel, a transport company which provides services to groups of pilgrims including the 20,000 who come from Ireland each year.

But the pilgrimage season in Medjugorje runs from about Easter to October, meaning there has been no business for the souvenir shops, restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, transport services and guides since November 2019.

After almost two years “many of the young people have gone. They have gone to Germany and to Ireland, imagine that,” said Ms Ostojic.

Closed businesses

For retailers in Bosnia and Hertzogovenia, there are no pandemic unemployment payments as there are in Ireland. “Businesses have closed, young people have gone away,” she said.

Many of the accommodation providers had been in an expansionist mode with extensions offering more bedrooms. “All of this was financed on credit,” she said.

Some tourists are still visiting and a few places are open as they try to cover their expenses but in Medjugorje and surrounding villages, Ms Ostojic said the population had dropped by about 5,000 people.

She works with Marian Pilgrimages which, she said, had been supporting her as some of the other service providers in Medjugorje had been supported by the bigger pilgrimage operators with whom they deal.

“But we don’t like to hear of the trouble for JWT Pilgrimtours in Ireland. We are worried that the pilgrims from Ireland will not come back,” she said.

Research on the impact of Covid-19 on pilgrimages and religious tourism in Europe during the first six months of the pandemic, published in the US National Library of Medicine, showed a drop in activity of up to 95 per cent.