Albanian tourism on the rise

A large number of tourists arrived on Albania's shores this year. Unexplored beaches and good food are the main attractions.

In recent years, an increasing number of foreign tourists are visiting Albania. The country has become a regional tourist destination after shaking off its prolonged communist-era isolation, during which it fell into obscurity.

Among the populated beaches of Durres and Vlora, Albania offers unexplored stretches on the north and south coasts of the Adriatic and Ionian seas, which are attracting more interest among foreign tourists.

Statistics from June record a 20% increase of tourist visits to Albania from the same period last year. Expectations ran high for June and July, which marked the peak of the summer season.

"More tourists are arriving in Albania this year, and their number has been steadily increasing in the past few years," Minister for Tourism Ylli Pango said at a press conference.

Visitors from Kosovo comprise the bulk of the tourists. Their number has increased by 43% this year, according to official sources. There are also 42% more tourists from Macedonia than there were at the same time last year.

Up to 90% of Albanian tourists are Europeans, of whom 70% enter the country by road, presenting a major challenge. The quality of roads and of services remains the core developmental problem.

"Increasing the accommodation capacity and raising the quality of service remain the main challenges for Albanian tourism," said Pango.

Albanian entrepreneurs are aware that their infrastructure remains one of their biggest problems. "The secondary roads to the beaches remain very problematic, even though the cost to build or rehabilitate them is irrelevant," said Sadik Malaj, the head of the Albanian Union of Tour Operators.

Nonetheless, the government is promoting the industry and announced plans for upcoming resorts. Entrepreneurs from Dubai and Qatar expressed interest in financing a substantial development on the Bay of Lalzi, said Pango.

In addition, the French chain Club Med plans to build about 350 luxury villas overlooking the Bay of Kakome, thus investing 75m euros.

One of the strongest points of the Albanian tourist industry is the local cuisine, a tempting blend of Greek and Turkish influences.

According to the Bank of Albania, the tourism industry attracted in 170m euros in revenue in 2007, making it a major engine of national economic growth.

Albanian real estate is also now a new chapter for Albania as more and more foreigners do realise the Albanian property market and its oportunities for growth and rental return or purely as a holiday use.