Douwe Osinga's Blog: More Albania impressions

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I've been back from Albania for about a week and still haven't gotten around blogging about it in some more detail. I think I'm not going to either, but here are some things that were remarkable:

  • They are building hotels like crazy. Quite some people said stuff like 'Albania, isn't that a war country/the poorest/most criminal of Europe.' Some people in Albania seem to think they can overcome these image problems and become the next Turkey/Tunesia

  • There are not a lot of tourist yet. It is kinda strange walking around a beach full of beach chairs and shiny new hotels, but nobody else around. One time we went to a restaurant and the cook/waiter received us like he had been stranded on an island for years and we were rescueing him.

  • Not all of these shiny new hotels stay up. A disturbing site, a row of new hotels, some of them not even quite finished and in the middle one that broke down. It becomes even more disturbing if people are still living in the half of the hotel that stays up.

  • Under communism cars there were no cars in Albania. Now there are. Roads of course are not really up there with the rest of Europe, but the cars are. I counted and 50% of all cars on the road were Mercedes Benzes. Not bad for the poorest country of Europe.

So this is my theory. There are people in Albania with money. These people think that Tourism is the next big thing after whatever it is they did to get there money in the first place. These people like German cars. Albania might have building regulations, but these people have ways around them if they exist. So they build fast and cheaply, brazing themselves for the hordes of Western European tourist that might start pouring in any time now. I think these people are going to be dissapointed.

Not so much because of the tourist that won't come. Most people have short term memories when it comes to political turmoil and with a little help of some of the big European operators the public will accept Albania as the next tourist destination, just like they accepted Gambia, the Dominican Republic and Kenya.

No, the problem is that nowadays you need something extra to make it in this world as a tourist destination. Cities like Prague, Paris or San Francisco attract people automatically. Indeed in smaller cities like Venice or Florence are running the risk to be completely overrun by tourists.

But if you're not on anybodies radar and just going for the sun&see masses, you're basically just competing on price. I'm sure at some point somebody from L'Tur or so will come and talk to the Albanians saying, I can bring you 5000 Swedes. However, I'm paying only 1.50 a night. And if you don't like that, well, I'll send them Tunesia. Don't get me wrong, Albania does have some special stuff, like some ancient ruines and a couple of intereting castles, but it'd be a long time before people will actively decide in masses to come to Albania for that.

Until then, it is basically a race to the bottom for the 'other destinations'