Heading West

Heading West
This week Mehran and I went to Italy to further understand what Weaknesses, Strengths, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT-analysis) Albania faces as a tourism destination. We wanted to compare Albania to Italy which is a huge competitor for markets that are drawn to the Mediterranean Sea. Italy is also Albanias neighbor to the west and while we visited Saranda and Ksamil it became clear that a lot of Italian tourist come to Albanias beaches every summer. We thought to ourselves that it must be something Albania has that Italy doesn’t so we packed our bags and put on our tourist gaze and went west.

The boat

The easiest way to travel between Albania and Italy is by boat, there are a couple of routes from different cities. If you want to fly you must go to either Ioannina (Greece and then bus) or to Tirana (and then bus). We took the bus to a town called Vlore were we caught a 5.5 hours long boat ride to coastal town of Brindisi on Italy’s east coast. The ferry terminal was a bit tricky to found, luckily we paid a little bit extra (plus the bus driver asked everyone on the bus of it was OK that he drove us another route) and then we were finally on the boat. The boat ride itself was perfectly fine on the way there, on the way back however we were three hours late, the ride took eight hours because of a storm and everyone puked on the floor which was carpeted. We don’t need to tell you the smell, the screams and etc beautiful things that happened on that ride…

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                              The boat appeared to have served in Norway before ending up in the Adriatic Sea

Border controls

We put our sea legs back on the ground on a chilly night in Brindisi Italy. The terminal lay far away from the boat so we ran in the rain to get in. Here suspicious Italian border police checked my passport a hundred times. The queue of tired and cold passengers and the extremely slow border crossing made it a rather unpleasant visit – This must be improved if Albania wants to attract people from Italy coming this way. Easy improvements that we recommend are: a terminal with plenty of chairs, some tourism information, a cafe, transfer to the city and a map. This would give you a good start to your vacation on either side. As it is now it’s up to you to understand Italian or Albanian enough to know how to ask for bus, train terminal or hotel. “Mi scusi” …. Lucky me that Mehran is fluent in Spanish!

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                                                     A menu in Italian and coastal town of Brindisi

Italy Is amazing. ”sigh” I’ve always thought of it to have the best food culture in world alongside Indian. Growing up I had pasta everyday because my dad did business trips to Italy all the time bringing home cheddar cheese and pasta to last us until his next trip. Studying Latin and archaeology when I was younger Italy was of course a dream country with heritage as far as your eye could see. This trip however we noticed some changes to the perfect picture. For example the vegetables now taste like the Swedish ones: watery. Eating Albanian food for three weeks has actually made us spoiled on quality of vegetables.
That the raw material is not perfect has of course an unavoidable side affect: my beloved Italian food doesn’t taste so good anymore 🙁 The pizza and pasta is actually better in Albania!! Who would’ve thought? Maybe that is why Italians come to Albania? Mehran and I definitely saw an opportunity for Albania to attract some culinary tourism. Definitely!
And that is an important conclusions that we take with us.

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Don’t be fooled – The food might look nice but it’s not like Albanian ones that’s for sure!

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McDonald’s is still no hit in Italy. However I still love Italy – In Naples that’s amore!

Ruins Ruins Ruins
We went to Pompeji one day to find some inspiration for pour own project (next blog post) Pompeji is the city that was buried in ash, later discovered by archaeologist and is now a grand park that attracts about 6 million tourists every year. We were expecting something amazing. But upon arrival the confusion started: a train station with just some cheap banners “Pompeji and Mount Vesuvius” Nothing that caught the eye in terms of marketing, no fancy entrance, museum or visitor center, just a ticket office in grey concrete and then you we let inside.We were very surprised! A visitor centre is an important tool to prepare, build excitement, sell souvenirs and even educate visitors on allowed behavior on site.
– By the way did you want a map? Oh that cost you two euros. Information otherwise? None.
The map had numbers and the numbers had titles. ”Nr 43. Titos house” And nothing more than that. Basta.
The site had to speak for itself, which it did in sense of grandeur, but not in tourism design. A lot of signs covering the houses “do not enter” “no litter” etc etc and too many people allowed at once. We stood in line 10 min to see two mosaics, the place crowded with cruise ship passengers, guide screaming in different languages. A management plan, a site plan and a guide plan to lead groups different, alternative ways should have been in place. No carrying capacity limits at all which of course effects the experience and the authenticity.. Here again we see something that Albania can market itself with its uncrowded, still unspoilt cultural heritage and landscape. Interesting.

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Mount Vesuvius
We also visited Mount Vesuvius as it is a national park to see how they manage that site. It meant we took an expensive bus up wriggly road to a plateau. There was no information to be found whatsoever. The only signs were this one on ”Don’t litter” And look what was next to it:

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                                                                               Don’t litter = Litter

We walked on disappointed about not learning any facts on the mountain / Volcano. We had to hurry as the bus picked you up to hours later. It was a nice walk with good views over Naples but this is a national park! Information please! How hard is it to print and put up a nice poster? especially when the price to get in was so expensive. We really wondered where that money went..

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The Albanian Image
Everywhere we went we met nice people in Italy, very friendly indeed. And they asked us what we did in Albania and we explained and after that they all said “Albania is nice isn’t it?” It was not as if they’ve been there but the rumor has it Albania is beautiful. Beautiful beaches and nice people. That’s about it. Nobody knew what Gjirokastra was but they were curious and this is a good to know – Good to know when it comes to marketing; that no money needs to be spend on reversing a bad reputation for example.

Yes Albania has indeed something to offer and can take on the challenge of attracting Mediterranean visitors. Food, culture, beaches, atmosphere – we went back to our beloved Albania with pride and enthusiasm over developing tourism here.  And of course happy to be back with our precious vegetables!


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