Ksamil beach in Albania

Life’s a beach: How COVID-19 is changing tourism on the Albanian coast

I wrote this article for Global Voices.

Tourism is one of the industries that took an immediate hit from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, while the sector’s medium to long-term future remains filled with uncertainty.

As summer approaches and most of the world’s population is subject to various forms of lockdown, well-known beach destinations are unclear on what the traditional holiday season will look like.

In spite of lockdown measures, many Albanians flocked to beaches on the first Sunday of May. Dozens of citizens in Golem, Kavaja were seen relaxing in the seashore and enjoying the warm weather.

Albanian authorities have drafted a protocol to be implemented during the summer season in light of the pandemic.

According to the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health’s new draft policy, which has been sent to the business community for consultation, firms 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.

Things will change for beach-goers, too. They will have to undergo temperature checks and sign a form declaring whether or not they have coronavirus 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 four meters apart and 10 meters from the seashore. Coastguards will be tasked with monitoring the distance between tourists.

In the swimming pool area, sun beds and parasols should be two meters apart, while a distance of three metres should be respected during swimming.

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.

Self-service will not be allowed and customers will be attended to by waiting staff, wearing masks and gloves.

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

Despite the arduous new procedures in the works, tourism and environment minister Blendi Klosi expressed optimism regarding the local industry’s prospects for recovery.

There are several reasons why Albanian tourism can be saved in the summer of 2020. About 80% of tourists come to Albania by land. Another advantage over other peripheral countries is the high number of small hotels. Greece is considering banning large hotels this summer, as they are very difficult to manage. The small hotels are manageable. Albania is a positive example of rapid response to the COVID-19 situation.

With its Adriatic and Ionian coastlines and picturesque highlands, Albania has a lot to offer during the summer season.

Businesses on the coast have already started advertising their offers, as have tour operators.

‘Immunity passports’ and deckchair distancing

Other beach destinations across Europe are also debating measures to manage beach-going.

Greek authorities and the European Union (EU) are evaluating the usage of an “immunity passport”/ “health passport” or “risk-free certificate”

This document would enable individuals to travel within the EU or to return to work on the condition that they can prove that they have immunity from COVID-19.

But current World Health Organization (WHO) advice cautions that there is no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19, and therefore have antibodies, can avoid re-infection.

“People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission”, the WHO warns.

Another option is being considered in Italy.

According to AFP:

In Porto Cesareo, a small seaside town nicknamed “the Caribbean” of Apulia, a private beach is trying out a set-up respecting social distancing rules with chairs and umbrellas placed 1.5 meters apart and ropes to mark out the spaces for future holiday makers.

On the private beach “Bacino Grande” owner Fabrizio Marzano says they will focus on tailoring services to customers rather than trying to maximize visitor numbers as they would have in previous years. Rather than queuing at the beach bar, which is prohibited, customers will have their pizzas, sandwiches and drinks delivered to their umbrellas.

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