Durres becomes Albania’s magnet for Nordic tourists

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 15, 2018 18:05

Durres becomes Albania’s magnet for Nordic tourists

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  • "We are from Finland and this is our first time in Albania where we are staying for two weeks. People are nice and the service is good. We are having a nice time," says a Finnish tourist

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TIRANA, May 15 – The coastal city of Durres may not be a favorite destination to most Albanians who have become tired of it, but is becoming a magnet for Nordic tourists who have booked some of the best local hotels and resorts for the next four months.

Elidon Delilaj, the manager of a hotel at Durres beach, says the 140 rooms that his hotel offers have almost been fully booked until next August by Nordic tourists from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland as well as central European holidaymakers such as Poles and even Italians.

The manager says the arrival of Nordic tourists is a test for Albania’s emerging tourism industry and tourism in Durres, the country’s largest destination.

“Despite tough competition with Greece, Spain and Portugal, we believe we will soon catch up with their standards,” Delilaj tells a local TV.

Closed to tourists for about five decades under a Stalinist dictatorship, Albania has a rather later tradition in tourism compared to its regional competitors, but quality investment and service in the past decade and a mix of natural and cultural heritage dating back to ancient times have rated it as “Europe’s last secret” and a destination worth being visited.

Danish carrier Jet Time recently brought the first 130 Scandinavian tourists for this season.

“This is the first group of tourists from Scandinavia and we are expecting others from Sweden and Norway. People from Scandinavian countries are very interested to see Albania and we wish them a wonderful experience,” said Rolf Castro-Vasquez, the director of Tirana International Airport, the country’s sole airport.

Charter flights will regularly link Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki to Tirana from May to early October 2018. In addition, direct charter flights from Poland, Hungary and Russia as well as new regular flights with Israel and a new low-cost carrier linking Tirana to London are much promising for this season in Durres.

“We are from Finland and this is our first time in Albania where we are staying for two weeks. People are nice and the service is good. We are having a nice time,” says a Finnish tourist.

Among holidaymakers, there are also ethnic Albanians from Kosovo or Macedonia, accounting for almost half of tourists to the country and the segment being often referred to as ‘patriotic tourism.’

“This is my first time here. I am here with my fiancé and it’s exactly what I expected it to be,” says a young lady, originally from majority ethnic Albanian-inhabited Tetovo, Macedonia, but who grew up and lives in the U.S.

With a coastline stretching 62 km along the Adriatic, Durres is Albania’s largest beach destination and also boasts much history dating back to ancient Roman and Greek times as well ancient Illyria, the predecessor of present-day Albania.

The port city of Durres is one of the country’s busiest cities during summer when it is flocked by dozens of thousands of tourists enjoying its beaches and cultural heritage sites.

The central Albanian region is known for its massive tourism in its Durres and Gjiri i Lalzit beaches as well as a wetland near a naval base. More and more quality hotels and resorts as well as residential areas have been developing in the past few years as Durres seeks to attract European tourists.

However, the major part of the coastline is overcrowded with apartment blocks and hotels build in the early 1990s and 2000s without a clear strategy for the country’s largest destination.

Tax incentives reducing VAT on accommodation units to 6 percent, down from a standard 20 percent, as well as tax exemptions on elite tourism facilities are expected to increase quality tourism in Durres, the country’s second largest city, only a 30-km drive from Tirana and its airport.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income, up about 12 percent compared to a year ago as the country was visited by more than 5 million foreign tourists, according to central bank and INSTAT data.

The Durres port is also Albania’s main cruise ship tourism destination bringing about 10,000 tourists a year.

The new bigger municipality of Durres following the 2015 administrative reform has a resident population of 175,000 people and includes five former coastal municipalities and communes.

The city’s population more than doubles in summer with dozens of thousands of local and foreign holidaymakers.

However, handing the waste issue which is often burned in the open air just outside the city due to lack of a proper landfill remains a key issue to settle.

Civil society activists and local residents have also been critical of a €6 million government-funded project who they say risks burying ancient ruins in concrete next to the landmark Durres castle and Venetian tower.

The project was suspended for one year by a local court and only resumed this year after it was changed to preserve Roman and Ottoman era discoveries during the digging.

The Veliera luxury veil-like square is situated in front of the country’s biggest port of Durres next to the landmark Durres castle and Venetian tower.

Founded in the 7th century BC under the name Epidamnos, Durres has been continuously inhabited for 27 centuries and is one of the oldest cities in Albania. The city boasts a Roman amphitheater of the 2nd century A.D, one of the largest in the Balkan and a restored archeological museum showcasing thousands of items dating back from prehistory to antiquity, the post-Byzantine and Middle Ages.

The port city of Durres also offers tourists attractions such as the Roman thermal baths, the Byzantine wall with its towers, the Byzantine forum, the Venetian tower, the Arapaj Basilica and the ethnographic museum.

Archaeologists have discovered some of the country’s most beautiful mosaics in the ancient city of Durres and its suburbs including the famous “Durres Beauty” mosaic which is on display at the National Historical Museum in Tirana.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 15, 2018 18:05