bne IntelliNews – Albania, the TikTok trend, is headed for a record summer tourist season

On the beach of the city of Saranda it is difficult to find a place to put a towel among all the others on the stony beach, the owners of which are lying sunbathing or moving in the clear water of the sea. Alongside the locals heading to the beach for a quick swim after work, there are many tourists from nearby Greece, former Yugoslav neighbors Albania and, now, elsewhere of Europe

Long a popular destination among Eastern Europeans looking for a cheap beach holiday, Albania is increasingly on the radar of travelers from further afield. With holidaymakers squeezed like everyone else by inflation and the rising cost of living across Europe, its reputation as a budget destination has become a major selling point.

Social media video site TikTok has recently been inundated with videos extolling the benefits of Albania as a holiday destination, focusing on its beaches, cheap but stylish bars and Unesco heritage sites , a trend first picked up by The Times. The video of a tour guide from Ksamil, a popular coastal town near Saranda, has received more than 60 million views on TikTok.

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions on international travel finally lifted this summer, Albania was already expecting a revival of tourism to lift its economy this summer. However, the extent of the rebound has surprised people.

Albania now expects to receive more than 4 million tourists this year, compared to the 2.9 million arrivals previously expected, Prime Minister Edi Rama said recently.

“This year is surprising, because we have an unexpected number of tourists… Our forecast was 2.9 million arrivals in Albania, and in fact by the end of the year we will have exceeded 4 million,” said Rama in a Q&A posted on the government website. on August 15.

“I think there are still some things missing, but we are on the right track. The place is small, beautiful and cozy. The food is good and you can eat well everywhere, both in big restaurants and on the street. Many Albanians have returned to the country after working in Italy in the food industry, and this has had a very positive effect,” he added.

Data already published by the statistics office Instat for June showed that the arrivals of foreign citizens in Albania increased by 45% year-on-year, reaching 876,056. Between January and June, foreign arrivals reached almost 2.6 million, 51.3% more year-on-year.

The top country of origin for visitors was neighboring Kosovo, which accounted for 394,327 of the total in June, followed by North Macedonia (76,373). Visitors from both countries increased compared to the same month in 2021.

However, much stronger growth was seen in tourist arrivals from other countries, with the number of visitors from Greece, Spain and the UK more than doubling compared to June 2021.

Many of those on the beach and seaside cafes in Saranda are members of the large Albanian diaspora, returning to their home country for the summer holidays. One family said they had flown in from London after two years of being away due to the pandemic.

Efforts to develop tourism infrastructure and bring even more visitors to Albania are ongoing.

Until recently there was only one international airport in operation, Mother Teresa International Airport in the capital Tirana. Last summer, however, the renovated Kukës International Airport opened, and plans to build new airports in the tourist spots of Saranda and Vlora are underway, despite strong opposition to the planned Vlora airport from environmental groups who want the location moved from a protected wetland.

The Albanian government aims to create the country’s first ski resort in Korça, Prime Minister Edi Rama said during a visit to the city in 2021. The city has already experienced continuous development of its tourism offer in the recent years, with the opening of many new hotels. .

Another project is the new Durres Tourist Port, one of the most important investments in the tourism sector in Albania, which will replace the old industrial port in front of the city, which will move away.

On a smaller scale, there have been many local investments to make tourist destinations more attractive. Saranda, for example, now has a new smart boulevard along the coast, with shady trees, benches and children’s playground equipment, a project financed by the World Bank. This is where local families and tourists hang out when the temperature drops in the evening.

However, much remains to be done as the influx of hundreds of thousands of tourists strains the infrastructure of Albanian coastal cities and towns. Overall, Albania has an urgent need to invest in infrastructure, from transport to energy and municipal infrastructure.

Waste management is another matter. As in other Western Balkan countries, waste generation has increased considerably in recent decades, but the overall waste management infrastructure has not been able to keep up. Littering is a major problem, so bad that the army is usually brought in to clean up the country’s beaches before the summer tourist season. Recent efforts to address the problem include banning single-use plastic bags.

Security is another concern. This summer, three bathers died after being run over by boats or jet skis, which come dangerously close to bathers on many of Albania’s beaches. The death of a seven-year-old girl, who was fatally struck by a speedboat in August, sparked protests, with people blaming state authorities for failing to ensure such accidents did not occur.

However, even with these challenges, those in the industry have long believed that there is great potential to expand the types of tourism offered outside of traditional package holidays. Apart from Albania’s Unesco World Heritage sites in Berat, Butrint and Gjirokastra, there is also potential for adventure tourism, nature destination, rafting, hiking, horse riding and other types of holidays, according to tourism professionals explained. bne IntelliNews.

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