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Albania, the new travel destination, opens up to the world • KosovaPress

by Staff

“El Pais”: Albania, the new travel destination, opens up to the world

Nearly four decades after the death of Enver Hoxha, the leader who turned Albania into one of the most isolated countries in Europe, tourism has experienced a very rapid growth in recent months, writes journalist Francisco de Zarate in an article published in the Spanish daily “El Pais”.

The number of foreign visitors in May was 2,5 times more than in the same month of 2019, reports KosovaPress.

The small Balkan country has surpassed pre-pandemic figures since autumn 2021, while major tourist destinations such as France and Italy have yet to return to previous levels.

Albania offers affordable prices, crystal clear waters and exoticism.

These are the foundations of a digital marketing campaign that has drawn thousands of tourists this summer to a country of 2,8 million that has had to recruit more workers from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, among other countries. , to meet the increase in demand. “Of the five hotels we’ve stayed in, four opened last year and one this year,” said Marcos Fernández, from Madrid, Spain, who visited Albania in August.

“The whole place is under construction,” he added.

Albania recorded a 45% year-on-year increase in the number of building permits in 2021, reflecting an upward trend that, according to government data, was led in 2022 by the hotel sector, which recorded an increase of 55% in business.

“On top of the increase in tourism and construction works that followed the 2019 earthquake, the construction boom is also due to remittances sent by the significant diaspora of 1,2 million Albanians abroad, which constitutes more than 9% of of the country’s GDP”, according to the estimates of the World Bank. In Albania, agriculture has traditionally represented the main source of employment, but it has now also turned into a generator of foreign exchange.

Although family micro-farming still predominates in a country that was self-sufficient in the 1980s, productivity has grown at the same rate as exports, with 15,6% for foreign sales of melons, watermelons, tomatoes, cucumbers and citrus, among crops the other.

“Agricultural export data had started to rise before the pandemic, in 2017 and 2018. It then recovered in 2022 and has been doing mostly well in 2023,” said Meleq Hoxhaj, an independent researcher and co-author of a research paper on the connection between globalization and unemployment in Albania.

“Job losses that may have come from the rapid mechanization of the Albanian countryside have been compensated by the increase in exports,” he said.

Progress

“Albania was at the bottom of Europe and Central Asia in terms of poverty levels and in 30 years it has reached an upper middle income level with almost all indicators moving in the right direction,” said Emanuel Salinas, representative of the World Bank in Tirana.

“Poverty has been steadily declining and GDP has grown rapidly,” he added.

You don’t have to go back to the 1990s to see progress.

“Between 2010 and 2019, GDP per capita grew at an average annual rate of 2,9%,” according to the World Bank.

In just seven years, poverty has moved from 41,5% of the population (2016) to 23,9% (2023).

Eliminating this figure is not the country’s only outstanding challenge. Albania now faces a problem that countries like Argentina or Venezuela could only dream of, namely the upward pressure on the local currency created by the massive inflow of foreign currency through foreign investment, remittances, tourism and agricultural exports.

From 135 lek needed to buy one euro a decade ago, in recent years it had reached the limit of 120 lek per euro.

This barrier was broken again in July 2023, when the Albanian currency was overvalued to 101 lek per euro.

“To alleviate this pressure, the Bank of Albania withdrew the euro from the market, but this was not enough. Although the strong appreciation of the lek has reversed a little, it is still a big burden for exporting companies, which as an incentive received some tax refunds from the government”, said Hoxhaj. The Albanian government is aware that tax incentives and foreign exchange interventions only serve as a deterrent, and it has decided to develop digital export services and improve innovation and competitiveness in the agriculture and tourism sectors.

Although the strategy may not yield immediate results, one thing is clear, a revalued currency can be a challenge.

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