With the onset of Covid-19, Bosnia closed its borders to foreign visitors well into the summer months. “It was a strange situation around the country: even when lockdown restrictions had eased, without tourists there was no business,” says St. Oegger.
His most recent images show the devastating effects of the pandemic on the town’s tourism. “When I trekked up to the Apparition and Cross Hills, I only saw a handful of people compared to the hundreds or thousands I saw the previous year,” he recalls. The hotel where he stayed in 2019 was also closed. “I tried to get in touch with the owners but they might have been out of the country themselves. The previous summer they were completely booked up, as were most of the hotels in town — and there really are a lot of them.” But beyond the obvious lack of people, St. Oegger describes a noticeable “loss of energy”.
“What is unique about Medjugorje is that the tourism of the pilgrimage industry is pretty much the only thing keeping the local economy afloat. In Sarajevo, for instance, while tourism has dropped off, there are other industries keeping the city going, and other possibilities for people to find employment. This leaves things in a very precarious state if this summer isn’t going to be any different from the last and travel restrictions are still in place around the world,” says St. Oegger. Just as in the 90s, Medjugorje recovered from war, the town will be forced to rebuild itself once more.
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