“Since backpackers started coming to elusive Albania in the 1990s, tales have been told in ‘keep-it-to-yourself’ whispers of azure beaches, good cuisine, heritage sites, nightlife, affordable adventures, and the possibility of old-style unplanned journeys complete with open-armed locals for whom travelers are still a novelty,” notes the Lonely Planet Guidebook: Best in Travel 2011.
The book lists Albania as the year’s top destination. Other recent publicity for the tourism sector includes a cover story on Albania’s underwater treasures in Archeology Magazine’s March-April 2011 issue. Albania’s tourism potential is no longer a secret, but work remains to improve products and services, upgrade infrastructure, and establish the country as a true niche destination.
In 2010 and 2011, the AAQM program solicited applications from Albanian hotels and guesthouses for onsite evaluations of their facilities, services, marketing, and management. Inspectors applied international hospitality standards and Global Sustainable Tourism Council criteria. Twenty hotel operators were recognized at the first AAQM award ceremony on April 28, 2011, which received national media coverage.
“It is important that accommodations are recognized today with these awards, but it is even more important that we step up to provide high-quality services to keep these awards,’ said Gjon Dukgjilaj, owner of the Tradita Geg & Tosk hotel in Shkoder.
The growth of the tourism sector and continued development of service providers’ capacity has implications that reach far beyond a pleasant stay for visitors. Micro-, small, and medium enterprises — the driving force for economic growth and job creation in Albania — account for 99 percent of private businesses and about 75 percent of employment in the non-agricultural sector. Tourism has an integral role in the Albanian small and medium enterprise sector, evidenced by its contribution of $841 million to the Albanian economy and indirect provision of employment for more than 225,000 people.