16.07.2021 – 12:31
Despite the statements of politicians in Serbia, official data show that the interest of Serbian citizens for summer holidays in Albania is growing.
The National Association of Tourist Agencies of Serbia (JUTA) tells Radio Free Europe that, until the end of the season, the number of Serbian guests in Albania is about 100 percent higher compared to last year.
There was also a negative campaign for Albania in Serbia.
Dragan Markovic Palma, leader of the United Serbia Party and a member of the Serbian Parliament, has instructed citizens not to go “for a cheaper Coca-Cola in Albania”.
On his party’s website, which is part of Serbia’s ruling coalition, Markovic was quoted as saying that Albania was “guilty and inciting everything that Kosovo Albanians have done to Serbs in Kosovo.”
But some who have spent the summer off the Albanian coast this year believe Markovic is not someone who can give advice.
“Dragan Markovic Palma is not an address where you can listen to advice, whatever, especially on regional topics,” Jana Vujic, a Belgrade resident, told RFE / RL’s Balkan Service.
Markovic is also known to the Serbian public for leading economic and political delegations to resorts in Greece and Egypt, organized by the town of Jagodina in central Serbia.
He began his political career in 1993, when he formed the United Serbia Party, along with Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, leader of the Serbian Volunteer Guard – a paramilitary formation that took part in the 1990s wars in then-Yugoslavia.
Albania – an increasingly popular destination
The interest of Serbian citizens for destinations on the Albanian coast has increased significantly in 2020.
“Before this time, in 2018 and 2019, there were between 3 thousand and 5-6 thousand tourists from Serbia to Albania – mainly from the south of Serbia and the surroundings of Novi Pazar”, says for Radio Free Europe the director of JUTA, Aleksandar Senicic.
He says that last year, Albania, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was one of the few countries open to the citizens of Serbia.
According to him, the experiences of those who decided to spend the summer in Albania at that time, are good, and the fact that no additional documents are required for the citizens of Serbia this year, are reasons for increasing interest.
“So far this season, we have about 100 percent more guests than last year, which has been significantly better compared to 2018 and 2019. Last year, we registered about 20,000 tourists from Serbia in “Albania”, says Senicic.
If the trend continues, according to him, Albania can expect about 60-70 thousand tourists from Serbia by the end of the season.
Asked how Markovic’s statements could affect the tourism sector, Senicic says they generally do not lead to anything good.
“Of course, they can have a negative impact, especially if the media places them in the way it is done in Serbia. This should not be done, not because Albania is in question, but any other destination. “People should have the freedom to choose where they will travel,” said Senicic.
“Patriotism” vs. mini-Schengen
From January this year, Serbian citizens can travel to Albania only with a biometric identity card. This also applies to the entry of Albanian citizens in Serbia.
This has been made possible by the interstate agreement reached by the governments of the two countries in the framework of the “mini-Schengen” initiative.
The Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vuiqiiq, and the Prime Minister of Northern Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, have signed a statement with the aim of creating a “mini-Schengen” between the three countries, in October 2019, in Novi Sad.
This declaration provides for the free movement of capital, goods, services and people.
As of July 1, roaming charges on calls and telephone messages between the Western Balkan countries have been lifted.
Asked by Radio Free Europe if Serbian politicians’ calls not to travel to Albania could affect economic co-operation between Serbia and Albania, and if they contradicted the “mini-Schengen” initiative, the Serbian Chamber of Commerce did not has responded until the publication of this text.
Dragan Markovic Palma is a politician who supports Serbia’s European integration, but only with Kosovo as part of Serbia.
He is also known for his homophobic attitudes and has been convicted by a court of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Recently, Markovic has also faced accusations from the opposition in Serbia that he organized private parties in Jagodina, in which several girls were deceived. Markovic has denied this, while the prosecution is investigating the allegations.
Connection through tourism
Boris Firicki, administrator of the Albanija.rs website, which promotes Albania’s tourist offer, is convinced that the positive side of the story will be heard more and more, which brings better relations in the region, and not the statements of a politician.
“Mr. Markovic’s tens of hundreds of statements can absolutely not be louder and more powerful than the tens of thousands of tourists who have already been this year. [në Shqipëri] “and almost half a million people in the last five years,” Firicki told Radio Free Europe.
The website Albanija.rs was established in 2019 and actively encourages the citizens of Serbia to visit Albania.
Firicki, 25, says his motive has been to get to know and approach through a neutral sphere like tourism.
“I am sure that such things and the direct contacts of people who have prejudices in some way, from either side, will contribute to a much better region in the future,” says Firicki.
In order to promote tourism cooperation, the Minister of Tourism of Albania, Blendi Klosi, stayed this month in Belgrade, where he met with the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic./REL