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Albania beats established destinations to rate safe 2018 destination for Britons

Albania beats established destinations to rate safe 2018 destination for Britons

TIRANA, March 15 – Albania has been placed on the list of safe countries for Britons to visit for 2018 at a time when major destinations face severe to likely terror threats, according to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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Robert D. Kaplan: Europe, the US and early-stage globalization

Robert D. Kaplan: Europe, the US and early-stage globalization

By Sidonja Manushi The first time Robert D. Kaplan was in Albania, the country was still isolated, deprived and unknown. Although communism was in its final throes, it had not officially fallen, and so nobody from the West had been

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Turkey turns into top destination as record 100,000 Albanians travelled in 2017

Turkey turns into top destination as record 100,000 Albanians travelled in 2017

TIRANA, March 8 – A record of more than 100,000 Albanians visited Turkey last year, making it one of the top travel destinations, especially for the summer vacations. Data published by Turkey’s tourism ministry shows 103,600 Albanians visited Turkey during

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Stefano Boeri Architetti’s new public schools will be open every day of the year in Tirana

Stefano Boeri Architetti’s new public schools will be open every day of the year in Tirana

Italian architect Stefano Boeri’s firm Stefano Boeri Architetti has unveiled plans for new three public schools which aim to increase a social value and every-day use in educational institutions in Tirana, Albania – it will possibly be a new educational

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Environmental experts warn forest degradation is worsening with lack of legal framework

Environmental experts warn forest degradation is worsening with lack of legal framework

TIRANA, Feb. 24 – Forestry experts have expressed concerns regarding environmental reforms, while forest degradation in Albania continues in alarming rates, according to them. In many of the municipalities in charge of forest surfaces, forestry and environmental experts have been

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Medical tourism gains momentum in Albania as foreigners opt for affordable prices

Medical tourism gains momentum in Albania as foreigners opt for affordable prices

TIRANA, Feb. 18 – Albanian medical and dental tourism is gaining popularity abroad due to the country’s numerous clinics and relatively low-cost healthcare procedures, sending a number of Albanian tour providers to represent the country in Milan’s International Medical Tourism

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German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area

German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area

TIRANA, Feb. 5 – Germany-based EuroNatur Foundation has slammed the Albanian government’s hurry in proceeding with an international airport project in a protected southern Albania area as incompatible with preserving the local ecosystem. The reaction came on February 2, the

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Europe’s former cannabis capital selected as one of Albania’s future agribusiness villages

Europe’s former cannabis capital selected as one of Albania’s future agribusiness villages

TIRANA, Jan. 23 – Europe’s once cannabis capital, the Lazarat village in southern Albania, has been selected by the government as one of the 100 villages that will have their infrastructure upgraded in a bid to make them agribusiness oriented

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Balkans’ Via Dinarica rated among hot new hiking and biking trails

Balkans’ Via Dinarica rated among hot new hiking and biking trails

TIRANA, Jan. 18 – The Via Dinarica Western Balkans regional hiking trail starting in northern Albania has been rated as one of the world’s top five hot new hiking and biking trails. The rating comes by National Geographic Traveller UK

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Albania gears up to open new military bases to tourists

Albania gears up to open new military bases to tourists

TIRANA, Jan. 15 – Albania is planning to open up more military units, some of which secretive military bases under communism, in a bid to attract more tourists and diversify the sites that can be visited in the country. The

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 15 – Albania has been placed on the list of safe countries for Britons to visit for 2018 at a time when major destinations face severe to likely terror threats, according to the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.

Albania is rated as a country where terror can't be ruled out compared to established destinations such as France and Turkey where the terror threat is ‘very likely’ and Spain and Italy with a ‘likely’ terror threat and where tourists are advised to be vigilant.

The countries on the ‘Terror can't be ruled out’ list such as Albania can be considered safe choices, so pack your bags and have a safe 2018 summer holiday, writes the UK's Daily Express on its online version.

Over 80,000 British nationals visit Albania every year with most visits being trouble-free, says the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which assesses the risks of terrorism, civil unrest and natural disasters to advise against travel to countries or regions.

“Public security is generally good, particularly in Tirana. Crime and violence does occur in some areas, but is not typically targeted at foreigners,” says the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

"Terrorist attacks in Albania can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including places visited by foreigners," it adds.

Although the country has been immune to terrorist attacks until now and as of 2015 there have been no new reported cases of Albanians joining the so-called Islamic State, ISIS, attacks in Western countries and Turkey and the Middle East seem to have frightened Albanians.

About half of the Albanian respondents in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 survey rated terrorist attacks as one of their five global risks of highest concern for doing business in country.

In addition, the run-up to the Nov. 2016 Albania-Israel World Cup qualifier leading to several arrests in Albania and Kosovo over an alleged planned terrorist attack proved terrorism is not only a potential but also real threat to Albania, experts have said.

Currently, British Airways is the sole carrier currently offering direct Tirana-London flights.

Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air has announced the launch of direct Tirana-London flights starting spring 2018, the Tirana International Airport says.

Data published by the country’s state statistical institute, INSTAT, shows some 127,000 British citizens visited Albania in 2017, a 24 percent hike compared 2016. The number of Albanians citizens visiting the UK is considerably lower as Albanian citizens need visas to visit Britain.

Each year British people make around 50 million trips abroad.

Still undiscovered and little known by most European tourists, Albania has been placed as a 2018 under-the-radar destination by prestigious travel media and tour operators.

The National Geographic has rated Albania among the 2018 places one needs to visit, especially for adventurer and divers.

UK-based Wild Frontiers tour operator has also named Albania among the world’s top three adventure travel destinations for 2018 as part of an off-the-beaten path Western Balkans tour.

The Irish Times has also rated Albania as the top two budget destination for 2018, sandwiched between the Spanish Costas and Turkey.

Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s, Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past decade being nicknamed “A new Mediterranean love” and “Europe’s last secret.”

 
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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi

The first time Robert D. Kaplan was in Albania, the country was still isolated, deprived and unknown. Although communism was in its final throes, it had not officially fallen, and so nobody from the West had been in the capital, let alone rural areas, for decades.

Passing through the now modern Skanderbeg Square with a tour group from Greece, Kaplan, who was no stranger to the Balkans, then saw a very different image from what one sees strolling down Tirana’s center today: a number of gangs, made up of ten-year-old boys, harassing and pickpocketing around old stores, most of which poor, empty and surprisingly standing despite the cheap quality everything was made of.

“It was like going backwards in time,” says Kaplan now, 28 years later, “and I hadn’t been back since. It is different, like coming to a new country, but having the advantage of having known how far it’s come.”

For Kaplan, renowned American author whose books on foreign affairs and traveling are read from university students to former US President Bill Clinton, distinguishing the sometimes subtle causes and effects of the Hoxha regime in Albanian society makes up part of his life’s work.

“I can see the incredible change and although I have read about it, what strikes me, with people asking my impression of Albania now, etc., is that the worst, the more oppressive the communist system, the harder it is to recover from,” he says, drawing parallels with Romania, from where he was reporting until the 1980s.

Romania, Kaplan notes, was by far the worst communist system in Eastern Europe - apart from Albania. Throughout the 90s, the country was far behind Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic and, although you could still enter Romania and leave its borders, it took 20 years for it to reach normality.

“There are different degrees of hell, and if Romania was in the 8th and a half circle, Albania was in the 9th. So, I’m really sympathetic to the problems, because there was nothing to build on.”

Kaplan’s work over the course of three decades has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc., as well as has accredited him as one of the world’s “top 100 global thinkers” by the Foreign Policy magazine in 2011 and 2012. His areas of interest took him from the US to Israel and then a multitude of hot-spots for reporters, including Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Balkans. His firsthand experience as a reporter coupled with his research and publications portfolio make his positive outlook on the current situation in the country a trustworthy, and welcomed, point of view.

“I know there are still problems with the rule of law, crime, smuggling, but to me, it all comes from the regime,” he says, sipping his lemon tea at the Rogner Hotel main lobby. “First, the extreme underdevelopment of the Ottoman world in this region, then the 30s and 40s were really bad, because of foreign geopolitical factors, and then the Hoxha regime. It will take a generation or two more, for this to be a normal country.”

Now well in his 60s, Kaplan is once again traveling the Balkans to gather material for his new book - The Adriatic - which he says won’t be out for another two years, but will focus on the last 25 years while aiming to be of relevance even in ten years. His way to achieve that? Ignore the news; see where the region has gone in a quarter of a century.

His last book on the region, Balkan Ghosts, was published in 1993. Reporting what people on the ground told him in the late 80s as a young journalist, the book’s narrative that the historic, ethnic and cultural conflicts in the Balkans could not be solved by outside intervention were perceived as fatalistic by many at the time.

Kaplan, however, says it was misinterpreted.

“The book wasn’t published until 1993, but it was serialized in The Atlantic in the end of the 1980s…and what was going on at the time? The media was obsessed with El Salvador, Lebanon, Nicaragua, war in all those places...it was just beginning to get interested in Poland, the Baltic states. The wall didn’t fall until the end of ‘89, Yugoslavia didn’t start to collapse till the beginning of ‘91, and the first shot was not fired until June 1991. By that time I had posted excerpts of Ghosts at the Atlantic, so I was doing my job, I was saying this is a region where there are serious, unresolved, ethnic national disputes, and therefore pay attention to it, it has a great future in the news. And in fact what happened, more or less, was an ethnic war, a large number of people were killed and made refugees, and I did my job as a young reporter, so I think Balkan Ghosts was a perfectly valid book for the time when I wrote it.”

And looking back, no one can say it wasn’t. The reason it was perceived as fatalistic, according to Kaplan, is because, after the Cold War, the intellectual community believed liberal democracy was the solution to all problems, and that making any reference to national and ethnic issues was to be fatalistic.

In an article titled The Necessary Empire published in the New York Times last May however, Kaplan said that “only if Serbia, Albania and Kosovo all become members of the union can the ethnic dispute between Serbs and Albanians truly be solved.” In this respect, his view on the Balkans hasn’t changed.

“These states are weak states - some may be stronger than others, but they are not strong like Germany or France, and so their future has to be in what I call a post imperial order, which is the EU.”

As for the backward Balkan mentality, which seems to remain unchanged after years of conflict, lack of proper education and isolation respectively, Kaplan believes the process of EU membership itself “will help Balkan countries along the path of virtue”. Though Albania, Montenegro, Serbia may never reach the level Spain or Italy, the situation will be better than it is now.

In addition, Kaplan, as a geopolitical expert, could list a number of other reasons defending the region’s almost certain future in the EU.

“I think American influence is declining, Russian influence is growing - with little effort from Russia, because it doesn’t need to recreate the Warsaw pact, all it needs is a soft, traditional zone of imperial light influence in Central - Eastern Europe. And the weaker the rule of law, the weaker the institutions, the better it is for Russia. Now the EU has had a difficult ten years – it’s kind of lost its confidence, wrapped up in its own problems, which makes it harder to project power to the next geographical level of states whether it’s Serbia, Albania... Though the US has little direct influence on the daily actions of the EU, American power and values were always like a foundation for both NATO and the EU, it was all part of a system.”

In this context, Kaplan sees the EU in a position of difficulty it hasn’t been in a long time. Lacking visionary leaders, crowded with technocrats and failing to project power, he says even the developments in the other side of the ocean are influencing the course of events in the continent.

“People will disagree, will say oh no, Trump has been good for Europe, he’s letting EU do things on its own; I say this is nonsense. The sense of mission, of American liberal mission, which existed under the most different kind of presidents, whether it was George W. Bush, or his father, or Barack Obama, it was all different levels but it existed. For the first time now, I feel it does not exist.”

And for him, isolation is not where we should be heading, but globalization is yet to be achieved. Kaplan describes the present world order as early-stage globalization, as opposed to the cosmopolitanism most people believe we have achieved.

“We think of globalization as an end-state. The world is globalized, we’re all cosmopolitan people, I’m Singaporean, I’m married to a German, my children speak 3 languages, we travel around the world by plane, we go to fancy conferences, but this is a very early, superficial stage, because it only affects the highly educated and people who are successful at the top end of academia, of business, of politics…”

The rest – the majority – still has to grapple with cultural, national barriers and these things shape the way people perceive reality. Kaplan believes a later stage of globalization will wear these perceptions away and, consequently, shape and change the identities that might now hinder interstate relations. What speeds things up is the great technological developments which, as Kaplan describes, enable people to see what is happening in the rest of the world.

“The first stage of change is to know what the outside world is doing. Throughout the Cold War nobody knew what the outside world was doing; now everybody knows. And then comes the hard part, to make it more like the outside world, and that takes a generation or two, or more.”

But the final lesson from Kaplan is that while we are heading towards real globalization, every country should find – and keep – its own speed. 

For Albania, this could mean maintaining a certain pace in joining the EU – not flying too close to the sun.

“The best example I can give you is Greece. In the 1830s, after Greece got its independence from the Ottomans, there was this Greek leader, Kapodistrias, whom Albert Rakipi mentioned over dinner a couple of days ago; he said ‘Greece will be like France, we have to make Greece like France’. 200 years later, Greece is not like France. Don’t move too fast.  Forget for the moment about Schengen, forget about the euro, the economy has to develop much more, the rule of law institutions must develop much more before you can get to that stage…not everyone has to be on the same lane, in terms of speed.”

Quality, according to him, is more important than speed and although Albania will not be like Italy in ten years, it will still go a long way – because it has already come a long way. Europe will have its stronger states and its weaker states, its better governed states, and its worse governed states and, while the world is heading towards elimination of cultural and national barriers, chances are next time Kaplan visits Albania, the country will present itself even more altered to him.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, March 8 – A record of more than 100,000 Albanians visited Turkey last year, making it one of the top travel destinations, especially for the summer vacations.

Data published by Turkey’s tourism ministry shows 103,600 Albanians visited Turkey during the whole of 2017, a 25 percent increase compared to 2016, making Albanians among the few European tourists whose number of tourists has been on a constant upward trend in the past few years despite security concerns hitting Turkey's huge tourism industry over the past few years.

Differently from Italy and Greece, where about 1 million Albanians live and work and visits there from Albanian residents are often paid to meet relatives and friends, visits to Turkey are overwhelmingly destined for holidays.

Albanian tour operators say the rising trend of Albanians picking Turkey as their holiday destination is dedicated to the affordable all-inclusive packages in Turkey's tourist resorts that also include charter flights.

The Turkey package holidays are often cheaper compared to rapidly rising prices along the southern Albanian Riviera, but yet considerably higher compared to spending holidays along the Adriatic coastline’s hotels.

Turkey’s rising popularity is also related to cultural affinity due to Albania having been under Ottoman occupation for 500 years until the early 20th century and a series of popular Turkish soap operas aired on Albanian TV.

Detailed data shows some 55,000 Albanian visited Turkey during June-September 2017, with the highest number of about 19,500 recorded in August.

Turkey welcomed about 32.4 million tourists in 2017, with Russians and Germans topping the list as its tourism industry recovered following a sharp decline in 2016 related to a short-term conflict with Russia and Western tourist concerns over security there.

Landlocked Kosovo whose number of visitors to Albania dropped by about a fifth in 2017, had some 116,000 tourists to Turkey in 2017, a 16 percent increase compared to 2016.

Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Croatia, Spain and France are some other European destinations Albanians go to for the summer vacations.

In addition to emerging as a top travel destination, Turkey is one of Albania’s strategic partners and top investors.

A Turkish-consortium that is building Istanbul’s third airport, one of the world's largest, has recently offered to build Albania’s second international airport in a regional project that also paves the way for Albania to set up its national flag carrier and reduce current ticket prices, among the region’s highest.

Albania is also following Turkey's tourism development model on promoting quality hotels and tourism resorts by offering tax incentives for a ten-year period on luxury investment.

Albanians increased their spending on trips abroad to €974 million in the first three quarters of 2017, up 12 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, but the local tourism industry generated a record of €1.3 billion in income, according to Albania’s central bank.

The majority of Albanians however spend their holidays at home where the Adriatic and Ionian coastline offer a mix of sandy and rocky beaches amid cultural heritage and mountain tourism destinations.

Albanian authorities say the country welcomed five million foreign tourists in 2017.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_136068" align="alignright" width="300"]boeri 2 All images © Stefano Boeri Architetti[/caption]

Italian architect Stefano Boeri's firm Stefano Boeri Architetti has unveiled plans for new three public schools which aim to increase a social value and every-day use in educational institutions in Tirana, Albania - it will possibly be a new educational model that can be applied in other educational designs in other countries.

The firm has recently won a competition for the creation of three new public schools in Tirana. The new school complex, true epicenters of the life of the neighborhood, will be open every day of the year, 24 hours per day and for every age.

Developed within the scope of the Tirana Master Plan, in the north-west quarter of the Albanian capital, in the areas of Don Bosco, Kodër-Kamëz and Shqiponja Square, three innovative architecture dedicated to pre-university education, that conceive the cultural path as an open social venture.

“The school must be open to a new rhythm of life. It must be an active place in all the hours of the day, every day of the year, for everyone, at all ages: grandparents, young people, local associations, creative enterprises, institutions. The open school is the heart of our society, that beats together with the life, that flows in and around it," said Stefano Boeri.

"The new school hosts meetings, discussions, dialogs for associations without head offices. It opens the doors to those seeking a space to start a social and cultural venture. It welcomes book clubs and organizes courses to explore the most intriguing, bizarre and extreme depths of knowledge," he added.

boeri 3Inspired by an innovative vision of the social and cultural function of the education system, the architectural language of the complex takes cues from the tradition of Italian architecture in Tirana. The new schools' facades will be clad with red brick and made of white bases in cement - which is a combination of materials commonly seen in the tradition of Italian architecture in Tirana.

"The three new schools of Tirana will have façades in red brick and white bases in cement (a combination of materials that harkens back to the tradition of Italian architecture in Tirana) and will function as a local epicenter, as a new reference point of the public life of the area. Our schools will be the true urban squares of the neighborhoods, used by students during school hours, and by the community on weekends and holidays," said Francesca Cesa Bianchi, the Project Manager of Stefano Boeri Architetti.

The project of the Schools for Tirana extends over a total surface of 29,609 square meters. It is composed of the Don Bosco School Complex, with nursery, pre-school education, middle school and high school (9,812 square metes), the Kodër-Kamëz School Complex, with nursery, pre-school education, middle school and high school (11,898  square metes), and the Shqiponja School Complex, with nursery, pre-school education and middle school (7,898  square metes). (Courtesy of worldarchitecture.org)

 

boeri 4Project facts

Architect: Stefano Boeri Architetti

Partner: Stefano Boeri

Location: Tirana, Albania

Project Director: Francesca Cesa Bianchi

Project Leader: Carlotta Capobianco, Jacopo Colatarci, Julia Gocalek

Team: Jona Arkaxhiu, Orjana Balla, Daniele Barillari, Moataz Faisal Farid, Yulia Filatova, Paolo Russo,  Mario Shilong Tan, Elisa Versari

Client: PPP Agikons Construction Company – Municipality of Tirana

All images © Stefano Boeri Architetti
                    [post_title] => Stefano Boeri Architetti's new public schools will be open every day of the year in Tirana
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 24 - Forestry experts have expressed concerns regarding environmental reforms, while forest degradation in Albania continues in alarming rates, according to them. 

In many of the municipalities in charge of forest surfaces, forestry and environmental experts have been excluded from serving local bodies, the Voice of American reported.

Moreover, engineers say the moratorium aiming to limit cutting and use of trees has not found a solution for many citizens still using wood for heating and other purposes, thus worsening forest damage. 

The use of wood for heating purposes sees a drastic increase, especially in rural areas, during the winter. 

“Currently, cities and villages are supplied wood material for heating. The moratorium had a mistake, it did not provide a solution to the heating issue of families. Lacking this, supply is still done through cutting forests,” Kristaq Shore, forestry engineer for the last 40 years in the district of Korca, told local media.  

Meanwhile, Senior Adviser for Forestry at non-governmental environmental organization CNVP Stavri Pllaha said the country’s need for fire wood is much greater than the capacity to provide it.

“If we don’t come up with other heating alternatives, many villages, but also several smaller cities, will turn to illegally cutting forest wood,” Pllaha said.

He added the forest reform has many challenges ahead; forest surfaces are now owned by separate municipalities, which are for the most part understaffed and in need of better organization - a pattern noticed in higher institutional levels as well, such as ministries, according to Pllaha. 

“There are many possible solutions. One could be to pass forest surfaces in rural areas to the ownership of the families living there for a long time,” Pllaha said.

Gjirokastra-based forestry expert Kleanthi Mandi also referred to another danger - uncontrolled fires, which according to him are responsible for the reduction of about 200,000 hectares of forest surfaces. 

Mandi said this great reduction comes from intentional and unintentional fires, as well as illegal forest activities. 

While specialists have expressed increasing concerns for these issues, respective bodies are yet to include them and other prevention mechanisms in the forest reforms, while previously independent forest protection and observation bodies have been completely eliminated. 
                    [post_title] => Environmental experts warn forest degradation is worsening with lack of legal framework
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Feb. 18 - Albanian medical and dental tourism is gaining popularity abroad due to the country’s numerous clinics and relatively low-cost healthcare procedures, sending a number of Albanian tour providers to represent the country in Milan’s International Medical Tourism Exhibition.

Medical tourism is a form of elite travel, attracting middle and upper class citizens from Western countries that wish to receive medical, dental or surgical care with equal or greater attendance but more affordable prices than in their countries. 

With already established medical tourism destinations such as Croatia and Romania, Albania is now also receiving considerable amounts of mainly Western Europe citizens seeking affordable prices, thus effectively competing with european markets.

Members of dental tour providers representing Albania in the exhibition said the country’s image has changed in recent years, and that they expect the government to continue promoting the country’s image for dental and general tourism to grow. 

“This is the first participation in such an event. We embarked on this activity nine years ago and our aim was to bring foreign visitors by offering affordable prices for dental services and plastic surgeries,” Dritan Gremi, head of one of Albania’s leading dental tour companies, told local media during the exhibition, which saw the participation of companies from all over the world. 

The last couple of years have established tourism as a main driver for Albania’s economy, with the Bank of Albania reporting a positive balance of € 156 million for last year’s first half. 

Following this trend, popular tourism is also positively expected to keep growing. According to INSTAT data, 633 visitors entered the country during 2017 for medical tourism purposes. 

Additional studies show the majority of these visitors is Italian citizens that come to Albania for medical treatment, making it a matter of concern for Italian competitors.

Second in the list of cheap medical treatments provided in Albania is aesthetic intervention, but the sector lacks proper control and quality checks, allegedly using dermal fillers not approved by the European Union. 

Various online blogs testify to the popularity of this trend. A belgian blogger under the name Belgium or Bust reported about her Albanian dental tourism experience as early as 2013, saying that though Albania is still a developing country, its dental industry appears to be far more developed than other areas.

The blogger’s post concluded saying “twenty minutes and thirty dollars later I was back on the street with a now perfect tooth. The clinic was immaculate, the dentist and her assistant spoke English and I had survived my first Albanian dental experience,” 

Albanian government has been eyeing tourism in hopes of it turning the country’s economic fortunes and creating more jobs for some years now, and investment in the sector has considerably increased. 

 
                    [post_title] => Medical tourism gains momentum in Albania as foreigners opt for affordable prices
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                    [post_date] => 2018-02-05 11:52:16
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135678" align="alignright" width="300"]Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon © Taulant Bino Young Dalmatian Pelicans in the Narta-Lagoon
© Taulant Bino[/caption] TIRANA, Feb. 5 - Germany-based EuroNatur Foundation has slammed the Albanian government's hurry in proceeding with an international airport project in a protected southern Albania area as incompatible with preserving the local ecosystem. The reaction came on February 2, the World Wetlands Day, one day after the Socialist Party majority approved a bill in Parliament, paving the way for fast-track contract negotiations with a Turkish consortium to build a new international airport outside the southern Albanian coastal city of Vlora at a site which is part of a protected lagoon and ecosystem. The new airport, set to become the country’s second international airport, is projected to be built along the Narta Lagoon, where one of Europe's last wild rivers flows and the endangered Dalmatian pelican feeds, the German environmental foundation says. The projected airport lies within the Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, one of the largest near-natural wetland complexes along the Adriatic coast and is internationally recognized as a Key Biodiversity Area, with a central role for bird migration along the Adriatic Flyway, German environmentalists say. "It goes without saying that the construction of an international airport in this sensitive location will pose irreversible damage to the ecosystem of Narta-Vjosa and even the whole Adriatic coast," EuroNatur director Gabriel Schwaderer writes in an open letter to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, calling for an environmental impact assessment that meets international standards before concluding project negotiations. “We are convinced that a serious assessment can only conclude that the planned airport is incompatible with preserving the Narta-Vjosa ecosystem,” the EuroNatur director says. "We believe that Albania as part of the most important multilateral environmental agreements (Ramsar, Bern Convention, Bonn Convention), cannot afford to lose one of its natural crown jewels along the Adriatic coast," concludes the letter to the Albanian prime minister. [caption id="attachment_135679" align="alignright" width="300"]flamingo The Narta Lagoon is also a valuable habitat for flamingos. © Ferdinand Bego[/caption] The Narta-Vjosa Protected Landscape, also a valuable habitat for flamingos, has also been officially nominated a candidate Emerlad site as an area of special conservation interest. EuroNatur and several other European environmental watchdogs have also condemned the Albanian government's approval without proper environmental assessment of hydropower plant concessions along the Vjosa and Valbona rivers, two of Europe's last remaining wild rivers. The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, a local environmental NGO, had earlier warned the airport’s proposed location at Akerni village, some 20 km outside Vlora in an area where a small military air base used to operate, threatens the local ecosystem's integrity. The Vjosa-Narta Protected Landscape is a 194 km2 area rich in wetlands and aquatic birds encompassing the Narta Lagoon along with the delta of the Vjosa River and its surrounding areas with freshwater wetlands, marshlands, reed beds, woodlands, islands and sandy beaches. “The construction of this kind of infrastructure threatens the ecologic integrity of this area because of the habitat alienation during the investment phase and disturbance during the operational phase. In addition, this construction violates the regulatory and legal norms on protected areas," PPNEA warned in late January as the government approved fast track negotiation procedures with a Turkish consortium. The Albanian government has not yet responded to environmental concerns, but stressed the importance that a second international airport would have on breaking the monopoly the Tirana International Airport has enjoyed so far, leading to lower ticket prices and giving a boost to the emerging tourism industry. Infrastructure Minister Damian Gjiknuri says the Turkish consortium has offered to invest €100 million for the new airport in Vlora in details that will be determined during a 90-day negotiation period with government representatives. The Turkish consortium that has offered to build the Vlora airport is composed of Cengis, Kalyon and Kolin Construction, three companies also involved in the construction of Istanbul’s third airport, a multi-billion dollar investment that is set to become the world’s largest. While the airport investment will be private, the Albanian government is expected to guarantee the concessionaire a minimum annual income in traffic guarantees in return for the investment and operation over a period of time that will be determined during the negotiations. Meanwhile, local residents see the construction of the new airport as a new opportunity that gives added value to their lands, where the salt business is one of the few employment opportunities in the local marshlands. The airport, whose construction is expected to begin this year, is located 133 km, a 2-hour drive from Tirana, making it competitive only in case it attracts low-cost carriers. Due to expensive prices and low number of low-cost carriers, more and more Albanian passengers have been travelling through neighboring Kosovo, Macedonia or Montenegro airports in the past few years. The Tirana International Airport, which until mid-2016 enjoyed exclusive rights on international flights says it supports "any initiative that aims to stimulate the economic development of the country, including the establishing of airports that enable a freer movement of Albanian citizens, as well as foreigners wishing to visit Albania." Last year, the Chinese-run consortium managing TIA, the country’s sole international airport, handled a record 2.6 million passengers, an 18 percent increase compared to 2016. [post_title] => German environmentalists slam Albania’s new airport project in protected area [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => german-environmentalists-slam-albanias-new-airport-project-in-protected-area [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-05 11:52:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-05 10:52:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135676 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135495 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-01-23 16:25:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-23 15:25:01 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 23 - Europe's once cannabis capital, the Lazarat village in southern Albania, has been selected by the government as one of the 100 villages that will have their infrastructure upgraded in a bid to make them agribusiness oriented by promoting local agriculture products. Since a mid-2014 police crackdown, Lazarat, a village some 7 km off the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gjirokastra, has lost its shine and lavish lifestyle and much of its population of few thousands has left. Almost four years after the collapse of its internationally acclaimed pot industry, the village has lost most of its youngsters and luxury cars and agriculture and sheep farming is the only thing the elderly people remaining there can do to earn a living. Ironically enough, Albania’s most famous cannabis cultivation site was one of the few villages where pot was not grown in 2015 and 2016 when cannabis cultivation boomed almost nationwide, triggering international concern over Albania as Europe’s largest outdoor cannabis producer and trafficker. "Now the only thing that has remained of Lazarat is poverty that sits within the luxury villas, many of which built on illegal proceeds. The Lazarat young men who used to carry guns and drive luxury cars have now left their home village and moved abroad or to Tirana for a better life," local media wrote about Lazarat in the early days of 2018. Meanwhile, the elderly people who have remained there hardly manage to make ends meet and buy on credit from the local village store. Lazarat, 200 kilometers south of the capital, Tirana, was cracked down in mid-2014 in a police operation that destroyed 102 metric tons of marijuana and 530,000 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of some €6 billion, worth about half of the country’s annual gross domestic product. A veteran officer of the Albania’s elite commando army unit who had served in both Afghanistan and Iraq with NATO troops was shot dead during the crackdown. With agriculture and its sheep farming as its strongest points, the once cannabis capital is trying to return to normality after more than a decade as an outlaw village. The Theth and Valbona mountain tourism villages in northern Albania, Shengjergj and Pellumbas on Mount Dajti outside Tirana, the Dhermi and Vuno coastal villages along the southern Albanian Riviera and Lin and Tushemisht across the Albanian part of Lake Ohrid, southeast of the country, are among the 100 villages selected as part of the integrated rural development project Albania intends to apply from 2018 to 2020. Albania's Agriculture Minister Niko Peleshi says the ‘100 villages’ project will upgrade the selected villages' infrastructure and public services and promote agritourism by offering incentives and grants to support local characteristic agriculture products. Italian actor Gabriel Garko will star in “Lazarat Burning” a Hollywood movie based on the real story of world famous notorious Albanian marijuana growing village of Lazarat. Residents of this village had earlier voiced concern the movie scheduled for release in 2018 will further worsen stereotypes about them and Albania as a cannabis producing country. [post_title] => Europe’s former cannabis capital selected as one of Albania’s future agribusiness villages [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => europes-former-cannabis-capital-selected-as-one-of-albanias-future-agribusiness-villages [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-23 16:25:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-23 15:25:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135495 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135422 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-01-18 17:09:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-18 16:09:01 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_135423" align="alignright" width="300"]Road To Vermosh Photos: Elma Okić, Terra Dinarica  Road To Vermosh
Photos: Elma Okić, Terra Dinarica[/caption] TIRANA, Jan. 18 - The Via Dinarica Western Balkans regional hiking trail starting in northern Albania has been rated as one of the world's top five hot new hiking and biking trails. The rating comes by National Geographic Traveller UK only one year after the prestigious travel publication named the new Via Dinarica trail as one of the best 2017 trips. "A European odyssey, the Via Dinarica runs like a rocky backbone along the Western Balkans. It starts in the peaks of northern Albania, winding its way through five countries before ending in Slovenia. The challenging White Trail is already beckoning — at 782 miles, it takes in some of the highest summits, with a combined ascent of nearly 170,000ft. Take a tent, or check-in at highland huts and farm-stays," says UK's National Geographic about the Balkan Via Dinarica. In 2017, for the first time after years of expansion, the 1,200-mile Via Dinarica trail was completely mapped with stage information compiled from a growing community of hikers. Valbona and Theth are the main destinations on the Via Dinarica in Albania. "A wild, high, mountainous region inhabited by strong and fiercely independent people, the Malësi (Highlands) has for the history of Albania been the region which was never really conquered or subdued by the various waves of invaders during the last 2,000 years of Balkan history," the Via Dinarica says on its portal. “For anyone who’s ever dreamed of being a 19th century naturalist explorer the mountains of northern Albania is heaven. To date there is no field guide, and little formal research has been done.  What there is, is a uniquely pristine and complete ecosystem, accompanied by a rich fund of local lore and knowledge,” it adds. The trek—which stitches together ancient trading and military routes—traverses the Dinaric Alps, linking the peninsula from Postojna, Slovenia, south through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. The Vogue magazine has also earlier recommended Via Dinarica among the 9 destinations every adventurous women should visit. "Trekkers can experience the rich, cultural heritage of the region during homestays in local villages and mountaintop or seaside huts. The 128-mile route weaves through the unexplored region, where limestone peaks meet the Adriatic Sea and views of glacier-fed lakes prove frequent. If you prefer to cycle the Balkans, opt for a spot on The Odyssey with TDA Global Cycling, a seven-week tour from Athens to Amsterdam that stops in Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia," the Vogue says. [post_title] => Balkans' Via Dinarica rated among hot new hiking and biking trails [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => balkans-via-dinarica-rated-among-hot-new-hiking-and-biking-trails [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-18 17:09:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-18 16:09:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135422 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 135365 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-01-15 15:54:01 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-15 14:54:01 [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 15 – Albania is planning to open up more military units, some of which secretive military bases under communism, in a bid to attract more tourists and diversify the sites that can be visited in the country. The announcement comes after the Sazan Island, a military base in southern Albania turned into a popular tourist attraction after first opening up in 2017 following decades of secrecy and mystery. Managed by the defense ministry, the Sazan Island was first used by the Italians until World War II before becoming the country’s most secretive base under communism when it was fortified with bunkers and tunnels designed to withstand a possible nuclear attack that the Albanian communist authorities feared. The tiny now uninhabited 5.7-km2 island and the Karaburun peninsula form the first and only national marine park of Albania. Defense Minister Olta Xhacka, says the ministry is also considering turning two other naval military bases, the Cape of Pal base in Durres and the Shengjin base in Lezha into tourist attractions. "The modernization of armed forces is one of the main priorities for the next four years. Bases such as Shengjin or the Cape of Pal as well as naval bases bear special importance and value in the history of armed forces but also for the development and tourist potential of their surrounding areas," minister Xhacka has said. "We will soon examine all opportunities on new investment, new projects on the revitalization of such bases. There is an emergency need to invest, but also great potential to get developed and be more attractive and have a positive impact on the economy,” says Xhacka, Albania’s second-ever female defense minster. The museum of Albania's armed forces is also on the ministry's agenda to become accessible to everybody. Located at the defense ministry’s Tirana headquarters, the museum displays some 3,600 items dating back to the 15th century era of Albania's national hero, Skanderbeg, and the century-old history of Albania’s modern armed forces established in 1912 when Albania declared its independence. "We will soon make accessible to everybody this museum which houses 105 years of Albanian military history, by turning it into an attraction and including it in the Tirana city guide," the minister says. Under the 45-year communist regime, Albania had a considerable air fleet of Soviet Union and Chinese MiG 15, 17, 19 and 21. A number of them are displayed in the country’s state museums, including the museum of armed forces in Tirana. The Albanian government was planning to sell its stock of Soviet-era MiG fighter aircraft inherited from the Cold War under communism in early 2016 but later cancelled the tender citing ‘public interest reasons.’ The last MiG fighter took off from the Kuçova military air base in November 2004 just before Albania declared their retirement and its shift to pure helicopter force. Albania declared that it had cleared all known mined areas and all known unexploded ordinance in by 2009 when it joined NATO. However, Albania continues to face a threat from abandoned explosive ordnance around former army ammunition storage sites from the notorious looting of army depots triggered by the collapse of some pyramid investment schemes. The ministry says the few remaining ammunition hotspots are on track to be cleared by the end of 2018. Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s, Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past decade, being nicknamed a “A new Mediterranean love” and “Europe’s last secret.” The communist past is what fascinates most tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s. The House of Leaves museum of the notorious Sigurimi police surveillance in downtown Tirana, a Cold War bunker outside the capital city that the former communist regime had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack and the Sazan Island military base south of the country all house the mystery and phobia of the country’s communist leaders for about five decades until the early 1990s. The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 14 percent of the country’s GDP, in 2016 alone. [post_title] => Albania gears up to open new military bases to tourists [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-gears-up-to-open-new-military-bases-to-tourists [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-15 15:54:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-15 14:54:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=135365 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 136201 [post_author] => 29 [post_date] => 2018-03-15 17:33:05 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-03-15 16:33:05 [post_content] => TIRANA, March 15 – Albania has been placed on the list of safe countries for Britons to visit for 2018 at a time when major destinations face severe to likely terror threats, according to the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice. Albania is rated as a country where terror can't be ruled out compared to established destinations such as France and Turkey where the terror threat is ‘very likely’ and Spain and Italy with a ‘likely’ terror threat and where tourists are advised to be vigilant. The countries on the ‘Terror can't be ruled out’ list such as Albania can be considered safe choices, so pack your bags and have a safe 2018 summer holiday, writes the UK's Daily Express on its online version. Over 80,000 British nationals visit Albania every year with most visits being trouble-free, says the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which assesses the risks of terrorism, civil unrest and natural disasters to advise against travel to countries or regions. “Public security is generally good, particularly in Tirana. Crime and violence does occur in some areas, but is not typically targeted at foreigners,” says the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "Terrorist attacks in Albania can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including places visited by foreigners," it adds. Although the country has been immune to terrorist attacks until now and as of 2015 there have been no new reported cases of Albanians joining the so-called Islamic State, ISIS, attacks in Western countries and Turkey and the Middle East seem to have frightened Albanians. About half of the Albanian respondents in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 survey rated terrorist attacks as one of their five global risks of highest concern for doing business in country. In addition, the run-up to the Nov. 2016 Albania-Israel World Cup qualifier leading to several arrests in Albania and Kosovo over an alleged planned terrorist attack proved terrorism is not only a potential but also real threat to Albania, experts have said. Currently, British Airways is the sole carrier currently offering direct Tirana-London flights. Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air has announced the launch of direct Tirana-London flights starting spring 2018, the Tirana International Airport says. Data published by the country’s state statistical institute, INSTAT, shows some 127,000 British citizens visited Albania in 2017, a 24 percent hike compared 2016. The number of Albanians citizens visiting the UK is considerably lower as Albanian citizens need visas to visit Britain. Each year British people make around 50 million trips abroad. Still undiscovered and little known by most European tourists, Albania has been placed as a 2018 under-the-radar destination by prestigious travel media and tour operators. The National Geographic has rated Albania among the 2018 places one needs to visit, especially for adventurer and divers. UK-based Wild Frontiers tour operator has also named Albania among the world’s top three adventure travel destinations for 2018 as part of an off-the-beaten path Western Balkans tour. The Irish Times has also rated Albania as the top two budget destination for 2018, sandwiched between the Spanish Costas and Turkey. Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s, Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past decade being nicknamed “A new Mediterranean love” and “Europe’s last secret.”   [post_title] => Albania beats established destinations to rate safe 2018 destination for Britons [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => albania-beats-established-destinations-to-rate-safe-2018-destination-for-britons [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-15 17:33:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-15 16:33:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.tiranatimes.com/?p=136201 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [queried_object] => stdClass Object ( [term_id] => 41 [name] => Features [slug] => features [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 41 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 559 [filter] => raw [cat_ID] => 41 [category_count] => 559 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Features [category_nicename] => features [category_parent] => 0 ) [queried_object_id] => 41 [post__not_in] => Array ( ) )

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