Albania Aims To Build on Boom in Tourism

Albania earned a record 1.5 billion euros from tourism in 2016, well up from the figures recorded the previous year - but officials say the country must do much more if it is to keep those figures growing.

Few people automatically think of Albania when it comes to arranging their holidays, but data showing that Albanian tourism is growing fast has speeded up a drive to formalize the touristic market, codify hotel ratings and promote growth by hunting for foreign investments.

Albania\'s Ministry of Economy and Tourism told BIRN that the main focus now is to continue the upwards trend.

\"The increase in income from tourism makes us believe that Albania is becoming a competitive country for tourism in the region,\" a ministry source said.

A report by Albania\'s Central Bank says Albania benefited to the tune of 1.5 billion euros from tourism during 2016, its all-time best.

In 2015, the Bank calculated that Albania earned around 1.35 billion euros from tourism. The rise of about 13 per cent during one year alone is considered important, netting the country around 150 million euros extra.

However, when it comes to improving the market, one of the biggest challenges is the unverified rating of hotels and other accommodation-related issues.

A group from the ministry has been tasked with verifying how accurate the standards that hotels declare online actually are.

In April, Albania will also organise its first Mediterranean Fair, where the tourism display on offer is going to be more extensive than ever.

Another priority is attracting more foreign investment. There is still no big plan underway for this however, despite it being declared a priority by the government.

Poor infrastructure is another hindrance to growth. \"We are working on making many areas accessible many areas that are not now. We also have a shortage of [good] accommodation structures,\" the same ministry source admitted.

Representatives of touristic associations make the same remarks, seeing the lack of reliable accommodation as a real problem.

The chairman of the Albanian Tourism Association\'s hotel sector, Zak Topuzi, told Monitor magazine on Sunday that current accommodation capacities are not in line with the increased number of tourists.

\"We still have [only] 67,000 beds, which is low compared with the growing influx [of visitors]. There is a total lack of investment in tourist resorts and few accommodation structures offer top standards,\" he said.

Tourism experts emphasize that the key to lasting success is spreading the influx of tourists all over the year and not just concentrated only in the three months of the summer.

However, the government is starting to invest in off-season mountain holidays. On Monday, the vice-Prime minister, Niko Peleshi unveiled a plan to transform the southeastern village of Voskopoje into an important destination for mountain, historical and cultural tourism.

\"With this project worth 4 million euros, we want to turn Voskopoja into a model destination when it comes to the development of rural areas,\" Peleshi said.

Voskopoja, which is not far from Korce, is only a village today - but back in the 18th century it was a small city, home mainly to Aromanians, or Vlachs, who built a number of fine churches.

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