Tourism in Albania, between informality and efforts to achieve standards

Tourism in Albania, between informality and efforts to achieve standards

IBNA Analysis-By Edison Kurani

August 22, 2014/Independent Balkan News Agency

If there’s an informal sector in Albania, then this is tourism. But, it’s also the most lucrative one. Does the state earn from this business, which in many countries of the world, is a pillar of the budget, including neighboring countries?

A little or perhaps at all.

For as long as tourism suffers the chaos that started in the ‘90s and never stopped, then the enrichment of a few people at the detriment of holiday makers will continue with the same rate.

Meanwhile, the state pretends to collect some money not yet being at an empiric stage of the legalization of the business of tourism.

The majority of at least 1 thousand tourist objects in the country are illegal. Many of them do not even have a license. Their services are not expensive, but they’re far from the acceptable quality and international standard. The state doesn’t collect most of the tax on rent.

The majority of employees, who are mainly seasonal employees, are not registered, by not benefiting social and health insurance and by receiving low salaries without paying any tax on them.

The majority of tourist subjects are not even classified with stars. Officially, only 26 of them received stars several years ago and the rest uses stars as a personal choice of the owners having nothing to do with the standards needed for each star.

If we want to talk about the problems of tourism, then there’s still a lot to say.

The question that arises is: Will tourism in Albania become a sector that gives to the state, contributes in the welfare of the nation and responds to European standards?

Efforts have started.

Prime minister Edi Rama says that there are many problems, but the first steps of success are being felt. Referring to the number of foreign non resident visitors to Albania, Rama says that there’s an increase of the number of tourists by 14% compared to a year ago and a total number of non resident visitors of 1 million and 213 thousand.

“This is a significant figure, bearing in mind that not only Albania, but Mediterranean too was affected by the bad weather of the month of July and bearing in mind a specific of our country which relates to the month of Ramadan”, said  Rama.

On the other hand, efforts are being made to stop the urban chaos. Rama says that the coast line and lakes have started to become protected areas from numerous attempts for illegal constructions.

Minister Gjermeni: A national plan for tourism

Minister of Urban Development and Tourism, Eglantina Gjermeni says that the control of territory will be an open challenge and time is needed to see drastic changes. She also warns important changes: “In 2015, the Ministry of Urban Development and Tourism will have the general national plan, which will decide on the areas where constructions will be allowed and where they won’t be allowed”.

Currently, a large part of tourist areas, but even the green crown of Tirana are unable to see constructions, because the national plan is not yet ready.

Talking about the causes of informality, minister Gjermeni says that the high rate of VAT on services and tourist products, would not have an impact on the level of prices. Nevertheless, she predicts changes and reduction to 10% of VAT on the hospitality sector. “In fact, we have the highest VAT compared to other countries of the Balkan. It’s one of the measures that we will include in the package of fiscal and administrative facilities for which we’re working with private enterprise. Nevertheless, reduction of VAT is not necessary linked to the reduction of hotel prices. I believe that if we want to have tourism all year around in Albania, hotels will not increase prices in July and August, but will spread them throughout the year and with more tourists during the whole year, prices will be normal. This will also be made through the rigorous inspection of the Directorate of Taxation or Ministry of Finance to monitor prices during the season”, says Gjermeni.

The request to reduce the level of VAT in Albania continues to be the essence of debate between lawmakers, the government and associations that represent hotels and agencies. The level of VAT for tourism is currently 20% or the highest in the region, thus facing informality which is also the highest in the region.

Queues on the border but not as long as in the past

In the period from June to July 2014, border crossing points have processed more than 3 million passengers and more than 720 thousand cars. Number of procedures carried out in July are 20% higher than those carried out in June, while the month of August is expected to have a high rise. In spite of the high number of entries and exists of Albanian and foreign nationals, the first two months of the summer didn’t result in long queues, like it often happens in the summer. This is also due to the increase of the number of windows, especially by the Albanian side.

Information offices, authorities are still proud of opening them

Since the overthrow of the communist regime in Albania, all governments have promised and then launched projects for tourist information throughout the country. Has this been realized? Very little and in most cases, with individual campaigns. If a foreign tourists arrives in the capital or tourist cities (it’s absurd to talk about villages), they can still find an information point if they’re able to speak Albanian. The truth is that even when tourist information points are opened, their whereabouts are not known and they often end up by vanishing.  It’s pointless to talk about the quality of the service and the poor information which is offered.

To change this situation, National Agency of Tourism has opened in the recent months 11 Info-Points with materials and basic information, maps and brochures, free of charge, in order for each foreign tourist to use them during their stay in Albania. Starting from the international “Mother Teresa” airport in Rinas, the project has continued in each border crossing point. There was also the publication of a leaflet with all the timetables of inter urban lines and ferries which will be included in the future in these Info Points. The materials published by the Agency are in Albanian and English and they provide information on the country, where these Info-Points are situated on a national level and everything that Albanian tourism offers.

We also have adventure tourism

National Agency of Tourism has recently launched an incentive to promote adventure tourism in Albania. The incentive consists on the collaboration with 30 foreign tour operators and representatives of international media, among which Lonely Planet, which will visit out country as part of a tour in Kosovo, Albania and FYR Macedonia from August 28 to August 31. This is the first time that one of the most professional groups of adventure tourism in the world visits the country. Once those locations suitable for adventure tourism are identified, then they will be promoted in order to have more foreign and national tourists who prefer adventure in Albania.

Once upon a time there was tourism…

When Albania was led by the communist director, Enver Hoxha, many tourists came from the so called third world countries, many others from the communist bloc, but there were also Europeans.

The author of these lines recalls the period from 1985 until 1990 when Albania used to have many tourists from France. They were mainly elderly people who wanted to know a virgin country as far as information is concerned and a country with an interesting history. Museums, antique locations and natural tourist resorts were their focus. Of course, the French also wanted to see the way how communism was making the life of Albanian people beautiful, as the regime used to claim at that time.

Propaganda and appearance had infected many tourists. One of them, who at the time was 58 years old, Huguette, said: “I envy your country. It has many landscapes and a state that cares of its citizens and their welfare. This can be seen everywhere”. Of course, the French lady didn’t know information such as 300 grams of meat and 0,5 kg of cheese a month per family and that everything else was bought through vouchers, while poverty was everywhere. /ibna/