Beach destinations in Albania face an unusual summer tourist season

Beaches in Albania opened on June 1 for the hotels and resorts as the country eased lockdown measures enforced due to coronavirus pandemic.

The summer season in Albania usually starts each year in the beginning of May, but this season will be different, as the way we are going to the beach has changed.

Authorities approved a new protocol, which stipulates that hotels and resorts will have to employ an anti-COVID-19 coordinator to oversee hygiene measures for staff and ensure disinfection of premises. Staff will have to wear masks and gloves at all times.

Anti COVID-19 measures displayed in Adriatik Hotel in Durrës beach, Albania

Things will change for beach-goers, too. They will have to undergo temperature checks and sign a form declaring whether or not they have Covid-19 symptoms, while noting any contact they might have had coronavirus-infected people in the past 14 days. They will also have to list any recently visited places affected by the pandemic.

Masks, gloves and hand sanitizers should be made available for tourists at all times.

The draft also stipulates that umbrellas should be positioned at least 3.5 meters apart and at least 7 meters from the seashore. Coastguards will be tasked with monitoring the distance between tourists.

In the bars and restaurants, a table for four should have a 10 m/sq area all to itself, and customers will have to stay one meter apart.

Businesses will have to display these new rules somewhere visible to the public, in both Albanian and in English.

Hotels hope for a return to normal while coping with the COVID-19

One of the most iconic hotels in the port city of Durrës and a popular summer destination, “Adriatik Hotel” had its reservations down 85% so far this year, considering that the hotel reopened on May 18, but the borders with neighboring countries reopened on June 1. Last year, the occupation rate was 98%.

“We had many reservations for the summer season 2020 from the fall of 2019 and they stopped during the first week of March. Few guests with valid reservations postponed their stay for the next year, but most of our guests asked for refunds, bringing financial difficulties to us. We are currently advertising attractive packages and we expect the booking situation for July and August to change,” Nevila Dudaj, general manager of Adriatik Hotel and founder of the U.S. based Adriatic Tours agency says.

Opened in 1957, “Adriatik Hotel” is the first historic 5-star hotel on the Albanian coast. With recent investments for the complete renovated, it also offers a spa center, a bar and a restaurant with a spacious terrace, an outdoor and indoor swimming pool and various sports facilities.  Guests usually are from all over the world, but for this season the reservations are currently coming from the local market in Albania, Kosovo, Switzerland, Germany and Croatia.

“We are also expecting tourists from other countries as well,” Dudaj says.

She adds that the main challenge for the hotel has been to reopen the business as soon as possible, as the delay in removing the lock down measures in Albania, and more specifically Tirana and Durrës has damaged the image and deepened the financial crisis.

“The tourism industry all over the world has received support from the governments, municipalities and the media, which have started to support restaurants, bars and hotels in resuming their activity. The recovery of the tourism sector will take time one to two years at least. For the situation to return to normal, the country’s political developments must be considered, in addition to Covid-19 and the devastating earthquake last year.

Dhërmi, in southern Albania, is a very small coastal town located between Himarë and Vlorë. It’s famous among Albanians for incredibly beautiful beaches and laid-back atmosphere. It has become a favorite for summertime travelers on the Albanian Riviera and all over Europe.

“2 lips”, a bar, restaurant and hotel located in the Dhërmi beach, each year welcomes tourists from the UK, Poland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, France and Italy. Chinese tourists came for the first time last year.

This summer season marks the 10th anniversary of the business.

“In comparison with last year, fortunately, the reservations are in the same number. The only difference is that for this season our customers are from Tirana, and not from the UK as last year,” Ernis Osmanaj, the owner of “2 Lips” says.

“Our reservations are from January and February for July and August period. We opened our business on May 20th and now we are dealing with customers who booked after Albania decided to open the beaches of the hotels and resorts on June 1,” he says.

Regarding the anti Covid-19 measures, “2 lips” is implementing those determined by the relevant institutions; as disinfectants at the entrance of the restaurant, in each room, near the toilets, temperature checks for customers and staff, gloves and masks for the waiters and kitchen staff.

“The hardest part of implementation is convincing the customers for temperature checks and making sure they disinfect regularly, when entering and exiting the premises,” Osmanaj adds. He also says that the tourism sector in Albania will take at least two years to fully recover.

Moving further south, in the coastal city of Saranda, the tourism industry is preparing for one of the most difficult summer seasons ever.

Known for its beautiful beaches, Saranda, where tourists can see ancient ruins of Butrint National Park and stroll the seaside-promenade of the charming city, in February made it to the Tripadvisor’s annual ranking of up-and-coming travel destinations. It came second, after Kaliningrad in Russia.

Seaside Artist, a family-run restaurant and hotel in Saranda, remains shut. Reservations are down by 60% in comparison with last year, and the current reservations for June and July are from Scandinavian tourists; for August are from Italy and for September from Bulgaria, Germany and Greece.

“This season we have had many cancellations due to the uncertainty of the pandemic situation. We will work last minute this season. Saranda hasn’t had a single case of coronavirus and is ready to welcome tourists,” Rudina Toska from Seaside Artist hotel and restaurant says.

Bookings are down also in another destination, in the northwestern part of Albania, close to Montenegro.

Antag, a resort in the Shëngjin area, more precisely in Kune, has seen an 80% decrease in reservations in comparison with last year, manager Klara Jaku says.

Usually guests are from Kosovo, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, the USA and Australia.

“Tourists have definitely been very worried about the Covid-19 situation. We have taken all measures to deal with it. Our biggest challenges always remain the fulfillment of all conditions for a better and more comfortable vacation in our resort. This year the challenges are even greater in meeting all the criteria on hygiene and preventing all possible cases of Covid-19,” Jaku explains.

Asked when she expects the full recovery of the tourism sector in Albania, Jaku says: “It will take at least one year.”

As the foreign tourists lack, hotels adapt for the locals

Ejiris Shoshi helps hotels in Ksamil, off Saranda, deal with bookings coming from online travel agencies and is in direct contact with tourists who are spending their holidays in the Albanian Ionian sea coast. She says that this year the cancellation rate in comparison with 2019 is 72%.

In the Ksamil hotels, for the past two years, there has been a significant decrease in the number of Scandinavian tourists, while the destination is becoming popular for visitors from Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Russia.

The private beach of Abalone hotel in Ksamil

The hotels in the area have zero reservations for this period, since the government announced that the hotels and resorts can open their beaches on June 1.

“The very few reservations that we received are for August and September. It’s an unpredictable season, due to the fact that local tourists book last minute and that the foreign tourists — limited to those who will have the financial means to travel this year– are unclear how they can come. The main concern of foreign tourists has been the traveling, the border closures not only by Albania, but also by all the countries they transit,” Shoshi says.

The main challenge, she adds, is to try to find ways to adapt to a totally unknown situation and at the same time we are processing the refunds for the canceled bookings.

Shoshi’s agency, in cooperation with the hotels in the area, have increased the budget, up to 60%, for advertising campaigns on social media. Now they are eyeing the domestic market.

As the bookings are down Shoshi thinks that it will take two summer seasons for the hotels to reach the figures of 2019.

The Albanian diaspora to support tourism

Nevila Dudaj, from Adriatik Hotel and Adriatic Tours agency says that the contribution of the diaspora is very important for the recovery of the tourism industry.

“Even at the New York Times Travel Show in January 2020, where I participated I appealed to all Albanians wherever they are to visit and spend their holidays in Albania, as Albanian tourism should be supported by them. And now, more than ever, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we need their support”, Dudaj says.

She is an active member of the Albanian diaspora in the U.S. Dudaj explains that before Covid-19 started, her hotel and agency introduced packages for Albanian students living abroad, who want to learn Albanian and at the same time visit the country. Adriatic Tours partnered with the Ivanaj Foundation in the U.S.

Dudaj says that such initiatives will go on, but the main focus is the recovery of the tourism industry.

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