segunda-feira, março 20, 2017

The Albanian Approach to Touristic Development

   Tourism has grown to be an activity of worldwide importance and significance, and a major social and economic force in the world. It is often referred to as the world’s largest industry and the reason behind it is its vital importance to the global economy: the 2016 Economic Impact Annual Update Summary assumed that Travel & Tourism generated US $7.2 trillion, that is, 9.8% of global GDP. According to UNWTO, tourism comprises the activities of persons traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes. Meanwhile, as every other socio-cultural activity, tourism has its own impacts, expressing in possible changes in the resident’s everyday experiences, their values, way of life and intellectual and artistic products.
   Albania is a small country situated in Southeastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula along the Adriatic and Ionian coastline, and has an interior crossed by the Albanian Alps. The strategic location, richness in history and biodiversity that characterize Albania make it a great touristic potential for different types of tourisms, such as: blue sea tourism (Adriatic & Ionian sea); lake tourism (in lakes, such as Ohrid, Shkodra, Prespa, Jezerca etc.); mountain tourism (the Albanian Alps with an average height of 708 m); fluvial tourism (in rivers, such as Vjosa, Osumi etc.); curative tourism (in cities with lands rich in thermal waters, such as Elbasan, Bënjë, Peshkopi, Leskovik); and cultural tourism (in cities recognized for the cultural and architectural values, such as Berat, Gjirokastër, Krujë, Durrës).
   Yet, switching from monarchy (1828-1943) to dictatorship and finally to democracy, has been a great drawback for the country’s touristic development.
During the monarchy, the government took several actions, such as: allowing foreign tourist ships to anchor in two of the most important harbors; creating documentaries & brochures to promote Albania’s values; specifying official guidance for staff behavior toward tourists; etc. During the monarchic period, Albania counted around 13 vacation centers and 27 hotels. Also, there were urban projects that planned the building of vacation villas through the Adriatic coast, in the city of Durrës.
   However, everything changed during dictatorship governance (1944-1991). At first, only a few tourists from Germany, Hungary, Russia or Poland could visit the country and touristic infrastructure, such as hotels, continued to be built following the Soviet architecture. The only touristic agency in Albania was “Albturist”, which owned a chain of hotels named “Turizmi”, and several buses. Its scope was to promote tourism as an ideology. The agency had a double mission: firstly to propagate Albania’s achievements to the foreign tourists; and, secondly, ‘protect’ local citizens from tourists. This meant that tourists had to have a pre-defined dress code and haircut, their pictures were strictly controlled and their destinations were chosen by the Albanian government. Based on evidences given by tourists of that time, the number of cases which the official touristic guide changed was not small. Part of the guide would become factories or stalls, just to demonstrate the “success” of the regime. Furthermore, there was no social interaction between the tourists and the residents.
  At this time, just a few Albanians could visit Soviet countries. After the diplomatic breakdown in 1961, between Albania and Eastern countries, Albanian tourists were banned from visiting other countries and the number of foreign tourists became smaller and smaller, even though at the time all the needed investments regarding infrastructure had already been finished.
Regarding the cultural approach, all religions were prohibited and, as a result, churches and mosques were closed down or destroyed. The only attempt to protect cultural heritage was the creation of IMK (en. Institute of Cultural Monuments), in 1965, by Gani Strazimir, the first director with an architectural background who convinced the head of state about the cultural and architectural value of some religious buildings. As a result, Enver Hoxha (communist leader) closed down some of them or changed their function, but agreed to keep the buildings untouched.
   Only from 1992 onwards Albania had the chance to welcome tourists and since then everything has changed. Currently, in Albania, tourism covers 21% of the overall GDP and it is continuously growing every year. The country’s full potential is now opened to foreigners to explore and enjoy. From one side, hotels, resorts and restaurants are being built continuously, as well as other touristic facilities that welcome approximately 170 000 tourists every year. They learn about Albania’s culture through the architecture, that dates back from the 2nd century a.d., the typical foods served in traditional restaurants, artisanal works sold in the streets of well-known historical cities, like Durrës, Krujë and Berat. In addition, our current lifestyle is displayed by the investments in tourist infrastructure not only by local companies but also by foreign investors.
   On the other side, Albania owns the potential of untouched nature from North to South. It offers a variety of landscapes that lately have attracted even more tourists.  According to researches and statistics, they are usually of a younger age, mostly dedicated to exploration. There are also agencies and individuals that promote this kind of tourism by offering guiding tours and by spreading videos which show the best of Albania’s unexplored nature. The services provided in these sites are mainly offered by local residents whose life activity is highly dependent on seasonal tourism.
   Another form of Albanian tourism that attracts the opposite social group above mentioned, is cultural tourism. Statistics show that, normally, these tourists are >45 and the last year 63% of them were foreigners, mostly from European countries. Cultural Tourism is developed in cities like Berat and Gjirkastër, both part of UNESCO since 2008. The architecture of these cities dates back from the Ottoman era (XV century), but they also have castles of the IV century a.d. Their cultural development is reflected in the architecture of several churches, many museums and their typical houses with local building techniques. The main business activities of the local residents are tourism oriented. They include tour guide agencies, hotels and restaurants, food shops that sell locally made traditional food, etc. The municipalities of these cities often organize festivals to display the typical dances and music, as an inseparable part of the Albanian culture.
   All in all, Albania is a country that has changed a lot over time in political and social terms, which have had an inevitable impact on the way that tourism is perceived. The concept is introduced during the monarchic era. Then, during the dictatorship years, it is strictly controlled and managed by the government and also highly dependent on the way its politics were developed. Nevertheless, today tourism in Albania is displayed in many forms and the country’s many potentials attract people that belong to different social groups, with variable ages and educational background.
   However, there is still a lot to be done to affirm that the country is using its full natural and human resources dedicated to the development of tourism. Despite the major investments in appropriate infrastructures, the country is still new at providing the right services and this comes as a lack of educational possibilities within the country until the recent years. In any case, year after year, the role of tourism is increasing and this is not only measured by the number of tourists, but also by the tourism oriented policies, such as improvement of infrastructures, marketing of the country’s potentials and also the higher investments of maintenance.
   I strongly believe that in the years to come Albania’s full potential will be displayed and people worldwide will recognize the country for an amazing nature, a fascinating history materialized in irreplaceable architecture and a great culture, reflected in the hospitality and pride of its people .

Erazmia Gjikopulli


Ajet Nallbani Lecture – 30th Regional Camps Berat, September 2016. 

[artigo de opinião produzido no âmbito da unidade curricular “Património Cultural e Políticas de Desenvolvimento Regional” do curso de Mestrado em Mestrado em Património Cultural, da ICS/UMinho]

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