On January 22th, 2014, the then-Minister of Tourism Eglantina Gjermeni declared in a press conference that the parliament had approved the Ministry of Tourism’s request to establish the National Agency of Tourism. The newest agency was established with the aim to protect the coastline and the responsible institution for coastline’s integrated development.
Some of the objectives of the National Agency of Coastline are to implement policies and strategies for the integrated management of the coastline, to compile policies and national strategies for the integrated management of the coastline, to propose legal changes, to protect the sustainable development of the coastline and to attract investments in Albanian the coastline, among others.
“Seeing that many countries all over Europe have since established agencies for the management of the coastline, we though to establish an agency which would focus in solving the problems of the Albanian coastline and set new managing regulations,” says Auron Tare, Executive Director of the National Agency of Coastline.
“During the first year of agency’s activity we have undertaken several projects and along the work on the ground we have also presented to the government the planning of beaches and administration model of the coastline – two projects that provide a different and new approach of the management of coastline. While during this summer season, the National Agency of Coastline employed 300 seasonal workers for the cleaning action of beaches and the administration of the coastline. Statistics show that beaches have been several time more clean this year, compared to the past years,” according to Tare.
How do you plan managing the coastline?
The situation we have in Albania is not functioning both from the point of view of quality and economy. Currently we have an uncontrolled coastline. The National Agency of Coastline has compiled the project for the planning of beaches and the administration model for the entire coastline of Albania. These have been our two main proposals to the government. The planning and the administration of beaches consist in the continuous maintenance and the protection of the coastline by private subjects which operate in the coastline area in collaboration with the local authorities.
To what extent were these projects realized during this summer season? We were limited in realizing and implementing our administration model since the new law on tourism had not yet approved by the parliament and the territorial and administrative reform changed the territorial local plans.
Two of the most interesting stories of this summer season in Albania were the exploration of Via Egnantia and the opening of Sazan former Military Island for the first time for tourists, two projects undertaken and coordinated by the National Agency of Tourism.
The Agency has participated recently in the annual meeting of National Agencies of Coastline in France, at which, according to Tare, the managing scheme of Sazan Island became an important discussion theme at the meeting. The scheme consists of opening, protecting and the concept of Sazan as an open museum.
The opening of Sazan former Military Island for tourists
One of the most highlighted tourism developments in Albania during the summer season of 2015 was the opening of Sazan former Military Island to tourists. Auron says, “We opened Sazan Island for the first time on July 25, 2015. Sazan is the only island Albania owns and it has been used before as a military basis. We thought it would be of great interest to open its doors for tourists, in order to showcase a “live museum of the past” – an untouched collection of military equipments and artillery from the communism period. Everything there is untouched.” According to him, Sazan was visited by circa 7000 tourists in a period of less than 1 month and a half (July 25-August 31).
Which are the main elements that attracted so many tourists in such a short time?
Sazan has been a closed basis from the public eye and the fact that it was used as a military basis makes tourists curious. Also the nature of Sazan is wonderful and untouched. Sazan Island is a museum.
Is there any possibility to invest in the Sazan island and how?
Sazan Island is an open protected museum. There is no room for investments except from tourist centers which are part of National Agency of Coastline responsibility to establish and maintain. These centers would serve to showcase documentaries on the history of Sazan Island during the communism period for which foreign tourists would be very interested to see. In the upcoming months we will establish the Museum of Marine, in order to add another attractive element for tourists who want to visit the island. The National Agency of Coastline in cooperation with the Conservatoire du littoral (“Coastal protection agency”), one of the most known agencies for the protection of the coastline, proposed this managing scheme for Sazan island to the government and it was approved as a very important scheme for the sustainable tourism. In Sazan Island, tourists can visit the place and see the military equipments and enjoy the pristine nature by hiking, trekking and very soon tourists will have the opportunity to exercise the sport of diving.
Via Egnantia, says Tare, is a very interesting project, which has the potential to transform into a tourism product with all its typical archaeological, natural and cultural characteristics. If we manage to transform Via Egnantia into a tourism product and make it profitable for the locals, we would follow the example of Spain. In northern remote areas of Spain, the locals created the “Compostela”, as a way to attract tourists which would contribute in the local economy. The Camino de Santiago is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.
Via Egnantia is one of the most famous roads in the world, maybe the most famous one in the European continent since in ancient times it used to connect Rome with Constantinople. Via Egnantia was the only road pilgrims used to go to the Holy Land in Jerusalem. The route continued in the area near Bari city today (Italy) and then pilgrims used to cross the Adriatic Sea by boat to reach the Albanian shore. From Durres coastal city (Albania), the pilgrims would walk along the Via Egnantia to reach Constantinople and then Jerusalem. The entire world pilgrimage had as a starting point the Via Egnantia.
Today, Via Egnantia can be passed only by walking or by bicycle, not by car. The road is still kept untouched by the human hand and this is one of the most important features of Via Egnantia, and the reason why it should be visited.
Is there a possibility for different types of investment along this road?
It depends. If I was a German investor I would bring tourists from Germany or other countries to visit the Via Egnantia as pilgrims and this is an important manner of investing in the tourism sector, or I would open a khan, a guide vocational school. There are many alternatives to invest in such historic product.
From a personal point of view…
At which development stage will country’s coastline will be in 5 of 10 years, in terms of planning and administration?
These are very important issues and if these two change in a near period of time, I think there will be an increasing interest for investment by serious investors. If not, we will inherit a situation like the one we are experiencing nowadays, were many investors come and see the country but they deter after noticing that we have maladministration issues. Another barrier that hampers serious investors to invest in the Albanian Riviera is the property issue. The government has prepared a law that will be presented at the parliament which will initiate the debate on the property rights and issues related to it.
What is your opinion on the new law on tourism?
The law has now been approved by the parliament. I believe there is always room for improvement and the law will continue to improve by bylaws. After its approval, what can be added to the law are the issues not yet expressed in it.
What part of the law you like or support the most?
I am going to mention something really simple: private tour guides. In Albania, we didn’t yet have a law that would legally recognize, certify and protect private tour guides, or even license schools and courses for guides’ professional training / teaching. Today, tour guides are the key of the tourism sector and will soon become a real profession. This will affect in the increase of tourism products.
The new law foresees that large investments in the tourism sector will be considered as strategic investments and they will be provided with cut of bureaucracies and other facilities. This has been criticized by the opposition party as an attempt of the government to favor certain foreign investors, unfairly. What is your opinion on this issue?
Let’s take as an example Montenegro. 10 years ago the country was experiencing a normal tourism development but the then government decided to approve the law which favored strategic investors in the tourism sector. Their purpose was to provide facilities in bureaucracies and procedures for large investors in benefit of their country. Montenegro has now a developed tourism sector since only three strategic investments have generated $3 bln investments in the country, and if they succeeded in this Albania should do it too.
Do foreign investments in the tourism sector have resulted successful in Albania?
The fact that currently we do not have marines or huge tourism resorts shows that important investments in this field do not exist yet, we only have four star hotels and that’s it. Regional countries as Montenegro or Croatia have succeeded in implementing the strategic investors’ scheme.
Can the new law change this situation?
I think the law on tourism is a great tool for encouraging investors but I would prefer to see if it will be efficient after its implementation.