English Corner

The Ura e Mesit, the Bridge of Mes, is an Ottoman arch bridge in northern Albania, around eight kilometers east of Shkodra. Image: Adobe Stock

Albania from insider tip to mass tourism

Gregor Waser

The beautiful travel destination of Albania is experiencing enormous demand - which brings with it a number of challenges.

For a long time, Albania was a blank spot on the tourist map of Europe: isolated and barely accessible. This gradually changed in the noughties, with the first travelers fascinated by the country. From 2010, Albania appeared more and more frequently on the insider tip lists of Lonely Planet and the like.

In 2014 and 2015, around three million tourists visited the south-eastern European country which borders Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Greece, and is a stone's throw from Apulia and Corfu. This figure continues to rise rapidly. In 2023, ten million tourists visited Albania - and the run continues.

Mountains, culture and beaches

The Swiss-Albanian, Saimir Shala, is probably one of the best experts on Albania in this country and founded the company "Albanien Reisen" in 2017. "The demand last year was very high", he said when asked by Travelnews, "and that will continue this year".

We asked him what the reasons are for a trip to Albania and listened with fascination to Shala's five-minute description. This does indeed arouse a great desire to travel: "Albania is a little smaller than Switzerland, and within this area you have everything; in the north, mountains up to 2700 meters in altitude, very good for hiking and enjoying the landscape. Then there is 400 kilometers of coastline with beaches that are both sandy and pebbly - excellent for swimming. Hiking along the coast is also possible. Albania also offers a rich culture, for example with the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Berat and Gjirokastra - plus very friendly people and good food. And until recently, Albania has also been a very inexpensive country to visit.

Swiss now offers four direct flights a week from Zurich to Tirana, while Wizz Air serves Basel-Tirana. From Tirana, Saimir Shala first recommends a rental car round trip to the north and the interior of the country and finally to the coast to reflect on the trip. This combination is the most popular and is very well received by Swiss tourists.

Gjirokastra, in southern Albania, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. Image: Adobe Stock

A call to the next specialist, Meersicht Travel & Lifestyle, also encourages people to book Albania. Managing Director Marco Wipfli says: "After traveling to 100 countries, I have to say that Albania is one of the most exciting travel destinations - the culture, people and nature fascinate me. Here, a river is still a river, unstraightened as it was 1000 years ago."

Martin Fehrlin, Managing Director of hiking specialist Imbach Reisen, also sees Albania as a destination with great potential: "Albania is still struggling with certain prejudices and is only on the radar of a few customers as a travel destination, but those who have been there have returned enthusiastically. They particularly appreciate the diverse landscape, the hospitality and the authentic experiences away from the tourist crowds."

And Esther Portmann, Deputy Managing Director of Imbach Reisen, describes her fascination for Albania in an article in Wandermagazin Schweiz: "I would never have expected such a varied landscape: High mountains, beautiful beaches with turquoise blue water along the Adriatic Sea, with picturesque river valleys and lakes in between." She is equally impressed by the capital Tirana: "It's unbelievable how much we get to see in such a short time. The cityscape is characterized by a mixture of communist architecture, modern buildings and colourful facades. There are many galleries, museums and lively districts with bars and restaurants, with green spaces in between."

This year, Imbach Reisen is increasing the number of departures from two to three, and the first trip in May is already almost fully booked. The sister company Vögele Reisen has also added a round trip to Albania to its offer this year.

The challenges are great

In spite ot the obvious advantages, Albania's beauty and the sharp rise in visitor numbers also pose a major challenge for the destination. Marco Wipfli says: "We are open and honest with our customers, Albania is not easy. The hardware is great, the number of hotels is growing and the infrastructure is good, service is lacking; Albania has a major problem with manpower as many good people have emigrated."

"Albania has no hotel and tourism schools, people have traveled little and don't know exactly what tourists want." At the same time, prices are rising. Wipfli and his Meersicht team will now spend three days at the end of March inspecting the coasts and the hotels again in order to be up to date with the latest developments in the sale of beach vacation hotels. The quality of service at the family-run boutique hotels in the interior of the country is usually good.

Gjipe Beach is located between the towns of Himara and Dhermi on the Albanian Riviera. Image: Adobe Stock

Saimir Shala also addresses the downsides directly: "The rapid, almost unhealthy growth brings with it a lot of construction noise, especially in the low season, with hotels, new roads and tunnels being built and entire villages being renovated. In addition, some beaches are overcrowded in the high season due to the Instagram effect." In the south of Albania, it can take two hours to drive the last five kilometers to the beach due to traffic jams.

Since tourism accounts for a quarter of the country's income, the government is increasingly betting on tourism and is now consistently demanding overnight taxes and prices have recently risen significantly, sometimes to a level similar to that in Croatia, "but the service is not yet where it should be", he added

New Vlora Airport and ITB Guest of Honors 2025

A tripling of visitor numbers in ten years, as Albania has experienced, is enormous. Consolidation, particularly in terms of remedying the shortage of skilled workers, is likely to continue for a few more years. However, it is unlikely to remain at ten million tourists over the next few years. In a year's time, in March 2025, the new Vlora airport is due to open in the south of the country, a 30-minute drive from the top beaches - despite protests from nature conservation circles because a bird breeding area is at risk. The new Vlora airport will further increase the number of visitors.

In March 2025, Albania also intends to cause a sensation: to further tourism promotion as a guest country at the world's largest tourism trade fair and present itself to the ITB Berlin audience in a variety of ways. As beautiful as the country is, there are some challenges ahead.