Promotions Boost Albanian Tourism as Visitors Increase

State-financed promotions, combined with those of private operators and apartment owners using online booking platforms, is believed to be a reason for the increasing number of foreign tourists in Albania.  Albanian tourism experts believe that the growing numbers of holidaymakers choosing to spend their summer vacations in the country is mainly a result of promotions. Matilda Naco, director of the Albanian Tourism Association, told BIRN that this summer was one of the best in terms of numbers of foreign tourists. "I believe the number one reason why Albania has been favoured is mainly because of promotion. State institutions and also private operators have raised their budgets when it comes to country presentations at world tourism exhibitions. Also, the level of presentation has become more professional and efficient," Naco said. "It is a fact that Albania is still one of the least discovered countries in Europe, so curiosity also plays a role," she added. The minister of Economy and Tourism, Milva Ekonomi published figures on suggesting that 24 per cent more foreign tourists chose Albania as a destination this year compared to 2015. "The numbers speak for themselves," the minister wrote on Twitter. The data showed the numbers of tourists crossing the country's land and sea borders from June 1 to August 15 Naco said that local entrepreneurs have done a good job this year promoting their apartments via increasingly popular online booking platforms like Airbnb. "In 2013 the number of apartments listed for rent at Airbnb was only 35, now it has soared to thousands while the majority of properties in the coastal towns and cities are registered on the platform," she said. Brunilda Licaj, an expert in tourism and lecturer at the Aleksander Moisiu University in Durres, also told BIRN that the added promotion in Albania has brought positive growth in the number of foreign tourists this year. Licaj also believes that the difficult situation in Turkey has contributed to growing numbers of tourists visiting the Balkans. Tourism in Croatia also grew during 2016. In the first seven months of 2016, there were 45 million overnight stays - five million more than 2015. Of this number, 26 million overnight stays were registered in July alone. Bulgaria attracted 3.1 million tourists in the first half of 2016, reporting a 15 per cent increase as compared to the same period in the previous year. In June, the country witnessed a 28 per cent year-on-years growth in the numbers of foreign tourists compared to June 2015. The lower price of accommodation compared with other countries in the region is also considered by experts to be a factor in the growing number of tourists in Albania this year. According to the booking.com platform, the price for a night in a four-star hotels in Vlora or Saranda during August starts from 50 euros and rarely exceeds 150, while in Budva in Montenegro, the price for this category start from 75 euros and goes up to 200. Prices go even higher in Croatian coastal towns of Dubrovnik and Split, starting from 130 euros and going up to 220.  
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Once, he was sentenced to death; now, he'll be a Catholic cardinal

More than 50 years ago, the Rev. Ernest Simoni was thrown in jail and sentenced to death by firing squad, by a communist government bent on cracking down on the Catholic Church in Albania. On Sunday, Pope Francis announced that he had picked Simoni, a survivor of the political violence, for the most elite circle of leaders in the church. Simoni is on the list of 17 priests tapped to join the College of Cardinals, the highest position in the church, save the pope. Cardinals are the pope's closest advisers and the ones who pick a new pope when it comes time. Simoni was the only one of the 17 chosen who does not currently serve as an archbishop; Francis is elevating him from his role as a Franciscan priest in the Archdiocese of Shkodrë-Pult, Scutari, in Albania. Before tapping Simoni and the 16 archbishops, including three Americans, to become cardinals, Francis met Simoni in 2014 - and the Albanian survivor moved him to tears. "To hear a martyr talk about his own martyrdom is intense," Francis said to reporters when he got back on his papal plane to Rome that night, according to Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service said that Simoni became a priest in 1956, during the communist rule in Albania that was hostile to religion of any kind. Two of his superiors were fatally shot, and he was arrested in 1963 while he was celebrating the Christmas Eve Mass. In prison, CNS said, Simoni was tortured for refusing to denounce the church, and sentenced to death by firing squad. He instead served 28 years of hard labor in mines and sewage canals. He also says he covertly continued to act as a priest, offering Masses and hearing confessions from his fellow prisoners. Simoni, now in his 80s, returned to the public priesthood after the communist government fell in 1991.   Source: The Journal http://www.cortezjournal.com/article/20161009/AP/310099910/Once-he-was-sentenced-to-death;-now-he'll-be-a-Catholic-cardinal
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Spar enters Albanian market with two stores in Tirana

Spar has open its first stores in Albania and in planning rapid expansion in the country. It has partnered with the Balfin Group and has already opened two stores on the same day. A 72.000 sq ft store in Tirana East Gate and 38.000 sq ft store in the QTU shopping center, also in Tirana. The shops are currently the largest food stores in Albania. Balfin Group said it planned to open more than 100 supermarkets and 10 further hypermarkets by the end of 2017. Its store program represents investment of more than 50m euro and will create the largest retail network in Albania. Source: The Grocer http://www.thegrocer.co.uk/stores/property-and-planning/spar-enters-albanian-market-with-two-stores-in-tirana/543189.article
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First promotion of Belgrade held in Tirana

TIRANA – The Tourist Organization of Belgrade has brought together tourism companies from the Serbian capital and organized the first promotion of Belgrade for the Albanian market, a TOB statement said. The promotion was held at Hotel Tirana International and attended by many high-ranking guests, senior officials of Tirana and Albania and representatives of the tourism sector and media. Albania’s Deputy FM Selim Belortaja expressed satisfaction with the promotion of Belgrade in Tirana and announced the next step will be a promotion of Tirana in Belgrade. The possibility of traveling to Belgrade and Air Serbia’s direct flights network, with emphasis on the flights from Belgrade to New York, were presented. The promotion was supported by the Serbian Embassy in Tirana, the Tourist Organization of Serbia and Air Serbia, Serbia’s national carrier.   Source: InNews https://inserbia.info/today/2016/10/first-promotion-of-belgrade-held-in-tirana/
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Albania-Serbia Trade Grows From Modest Base

Trade between Albania and Serbia is growing steadily, albeit from a low base - and the disparity between what Serbia sells to Albania, and what Albania sells to Serbia, remains huge. Trade between Albania and Serbia continues to grow, although the total size and value of the exchange remains modest - and economists believe much of the potential has yet to be explored. Ines Mucostepa, chair of the union of chambers of commerce and industry in Albania, told BIRN that exchange visits between the Prime Ministers of Albania and Serbia and their joint presence at the Nis economic forum in Serbia would boost trade. "Participating companies at the Nis forum will talk business-to-business about their activities and I'm sure this will have positive economic effects. Serbia and Albania have big development potential," she said. Currently, most trade between Albania and Serbia is in minerals, fuels, and electric energy. Albania imported around 55 million euros worth of products from Serbia in 2015 from these categories. In the same year, Serbia imported about 10 million euros worth of minerals, fuels, and electric energy from Albania. The second biggest category for exchange is food, drinks and cigarettes. Albania imported 48 million euros worth of goods from Serbia in 2015 in this category while Serbia imported 8.6 million euros worth of goods over the same period from Albania. The thirds biggest category of products for exchange for Albania are textiles and shoes. In 2015, Albania exported 1.6 million euros in this category to Serbia. For Serbia, the third category of goods for export to Albania is building materials and metals, worth 19.5 million euros in 2015. The Albanian Institute of Statistics, INSTAT, said the two countries had a total trade exchange worth around 170 million euros in 2015, up from around 162 million euros in 2014. While the growth rate remains healthy, the disparity in trade between the two countries is marked. The value of Albanian exports to Serbia in 2014 was only 11 million euros, less than a tenth of the value of the trade going in the opposite direction. During the same year, Serbia sold products worth 151 million euros to Albania. Albanian exports to Serbia have risen recently, however. In 2015, the value of its exports to Serbia doubled to 21.2 million euros compared to 2014. On the other hand, Serbian exports to Albania fell slightly over the year by 2 million euros, to a total of 149 million euros. Source: BalkanInsight http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/albania-serbia-trade-volume-in-growth-10-14-2016
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Joint Chamber Aims to Boost Serbia-Albania Trade

The launch on Friday of a joint Serbia-Albania Chamber of Commerce in Nis is intended to enliven currently weak economic ties between the two countries - but not everyone expects it to succeed. Albania and Serbia are to have a joint commerce chamber, based on an agreement to be signed on Friday in the southern Serbian town of Nis, where a business forum between the two countries is to be held. The initiative of BiznesAlbania, an organization of employers and business associations and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia is to be launched in the presence of the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, and his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic. The Nis economic forum will bring together representatives of 160 Serbian and 40 Albanian businesses. The director of BiznesAlbania, Luan Bregasi, told BIRN that the creation of the joint chamber reflects improved political relationships between the two long-estranged countries. "We have to reap the advantage of this momentum and create a functioning body that will further connect and improve the relationships of the two countries," he said. Bregasi believes the new joint chamber will help to improve economic ties between the two countries and take them to another level. Taking the example of the European Union, which started as an economic union, Bregasi emphasized that collaboration between businesses has the potential to positively influence other aspects of relationships. "This new institution aims to facilitate business exchanges while the pushing governments of the two countries to pass legislation that improves the business climate. Promotion of businesses is another important duty of this initiative, while the ongoing structured discussion between businessmen from both countries is expected to be very beneficial," he said. The economies of both countries are improving according to the last report of World Bank on economic trends in the Western Balkan released in September. This said economic growth in the region was resilient, coupled with falling unemployment levels. In Serbia, growth has risen from 0.7 per cent last year to a projected 2.5 per cent this year. In Albania, the report said, private investment was flowing into infrastructure projects. Serbia and Albania also are praised for having worked hard to cut their fiscal deficits, which exceeded 6 per cent of GDP in 2014 but are now down to 2.5 per cent. However, Gjergj Buxhuku, general administrator of Confederation of Albania Industries, told BIRN that he considers the creation of the joint chamber a doomed political manouvre, partly because the issue of Kosovo still dogs relations between Serbs and Albanians. Economic and trading relationship between the countries are problematic, and the problems will not be resolved through such bureaucratic initiatives, he said. "Albanian and Serbs need to talk and fairly resolve the major problems that they have over coexistence and long-term collaboration. They need to do this more than try such traditional Byzantine solutions," he said. "There is no need to create new a organization ... at a time when citizens in both countries pay for state institutions that don't work," Buxhuku continued. He believes there will be no economically sustainable developments between the two countries if the issue of Kosovo - which declared independence in 2008 but which Serbia still claims as its territory - is bypassed. "Albanian and Serbs are two neighboring nations but Serbia and Albania are not neighboring countries. In the middle is Kosovo. They cannot bypass Kosovo since every infrastructural, energetic, telecommunication and transport project must pass through it," Buxhuku said. Arben Shkodra, vice president of the Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Albania, warned Deutsche Welle‎ in Albania in August that trade between Serbia and Albania was still very modest. The total annual trade volume between Serbia and Albania is not more than 100 million euros, at a time when trade between Kosovo and Serbia is worth around 1 billion euros. "This relationship also is also unequal, as Serbia has dominated it with 80 per cent of this volume," he said. Source: BalkanInsight http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/albania-business-representatives-split-over-a-commerce-chamber-with-serbia-10-13-2016
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Albania Packs in Adventure

Tucked away on the Balkan Peninsula, the tiny country of Albania — it’s not much larger than Massachusetts — has an adventurous and diverse landscape.  “This little nation packs an unexpectedly large punch. Between the Albanian Alps of the north, the vast coastlines in the west and the more rugged countryside of the interior, it’s easy to get your fill of sceneries without traveling all that far,” Auron Tare, founder of Our Own Expeditions, an Albanian-based tour agency, tells Paste Magazine’s Dillon Thompson.  Tare has a long history with tourism in Albania. According to Paste, he helped establish the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and his company has been guiding expeditions for 22 years, showcasing the diversity of the small country every step of the way.  One of his adventures includes the Lord Byron Horseback Tour.  Tare tells Paste that “the Lord Byron was the company’s first guided expedition, as it was mainly adventure tourists who made the first large-scale journeys to Albania during the post-Communist era of the mid-1990s.” The Via Egnatia shows off the country’s natural wonders.  “The Via Egnatia expedition follows the path of the ancient Roman road of the same name. In its imperial prime, the trail was the most popular route between Rome and Constantinople, meaning tour participants are actually walking in the footsteps of figures such as Brutus, Mark Antony and Cicero as they work their way from Durres, Albania, to Thessaloniki, Greece,” writes Thompson.  Tare also takes visitors to the northern part of the country.  “Bringing guests to the country’s northern tip, where the Albanian Alps rise harshly out of green landscapes, the Northern Albanian excursion is all about curating a friendly atmosphere. Vacationers spend four nights at a quaint, mountainside bed & breakfast, eating traditional dishes and exploring the depths of Valbona Valley National Park,” writes Thompson.    Source: Travel Pulse http://www.travelpulse.com/news/destinations/albania-packs-in-adventure.html
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Serbian, Albanian businessmen meet to boost economic ties

NIS, Serbia –  Business representatives from Balkan rivals Serbia and Albania have met in an effort to boost economic ties and stabilize the troubled region where tensions still simmer following the 1990s' war. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama inaugurated the gathering Friday in Serbia's southern city of Nis, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Belgrade. Serbia and Albania remain at odds over Kosovo, the predominantly ethnic Albanian and former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognize the split, which Albania supports. Both countries want to join the European Union. Albania's Rama told the business gathering that "Our aim is to turn our borders that separate us into bridges that connect us." Serbia's Vucic says his government would welcome Albanian businesses. Source: foxnews http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/10/14/serbian-albanian-businessmen-meet-to-boost-economic-ties.html
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Hong Kong's China Everbright takes over Albania's airport

TIRANA, Albania – Albania's Tirana International Airport Mother Teresa says it has been taken over by Hong Kong-based investment firm China Everbright Ltd., or CEL. A statement Friday said that CEL "has acquired 100 percent of the shares in TIA," but provided no details of the deal. Since 2005, Tirana International Airport has been managed and operated by a private consortium called Tirana International Airport, or TIA, with a 20-year concession that was extended this year by two years until 2027. The TIA has increased passenger numbers from 600,000 in 2005 to 1.9 million in 2015, operating with 13 airlines in 26 destinations. CEL, established in 1997, is the international investment arm of the China Everbright Group. Source: FoxBusiness http://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/2016/10/07/hong-kong-china-everbright-takes-over-albania-airport.html
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Albania proud Pope Francis named a new cardinal

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — When Pope Francis visited Albania in 2014, he was brought to tears by a priest's description of the two decades of imprisonment, torture and forced labor he suffered under Albania's brutal communist rulers for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith.  On Sunday, Francis honored the Rev. Ernest Troshani Simoni's witness by naming him to the College of Cardinals. Troshani, who turns 88 later this month and uses his Troshani birthplace as one of his names, was one of 17 new cardinals named by Francis who will be formally elevated at a Vatican ceremony Nov. 19. He is among four cardinals over age 80 who can't vote in a conclave to elect a new pope but were named to the club because of their service to the church. For Albania's tiny Catholic Church, the nomination was a deeply symbolic gesture acknowledging the suffering of Catholic clergy during the reign of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha, who banned religion in 1967. "That is an homage to a cleric symbolizing all Albania's suffering clergy," said the Rev. Gjergj Meta, a church spokesman. Troshani recounted his life story to Francis during the pope's Sept. 21, 2014 one-day visit to Tirana, a visit meant to highlight the interfaith harmony that exists among the majority Muslim nation of 3.2 million. It was the end of the day and Francis was meeting with priests and seminarians at the Tirana cathedral. Troshani recalled his arrest, after celebrating Christmas Mass on Dec. 24, 1963 and being placed in isolation. He told of being condemned to death, but the sanction was commuted to 25 years of forced labor. During his incarceration, he became the spiritual guide to many other prisoners, who then came to his defense when he was again sentenced to death in 1973 after a revolt. He was spared because of their testimony. Troshani was freed in 1981 but had to continue preaching clandestinely until the communist regime fell in 1990. As Troshani recounted his ordeal, Francis — who was reading along an Italian translation of his remarks — became visibly moved, at one point tearing up. When he finished, Troshani knelt before the pope. They embraced for nearly a minute to the applause of the priests and nuns in the audience. "Today I touched martyrs," Francis said of the experience. Troshani will be elevated to cardinal two weeks after the Vatican honors 38 of his confreres who were persecuted or executed under Hoxha's regime. The beatification ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 5 in Shkoder, Albania, where the first public Mass was held after the fall of communism. The Albanian church said Troshani's elevation was a sign of Francis' "honor and gratitude" on the eve of the beatification. "Elevating the Albanian clergy persecuted during communism is a sign of how much this clergy has given to the universal Catholic Church with their martyrs," a church statement said. Source: ctpost http://www.ctpost.com/news/world/article/Albania-proud-Pope-Francis-named-a-new-cardinal-9958219.php
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