Almost every year, there are virtually no reservations at the iconic Adriatik Hotel in the Albanian port city of Durrés. But 2020, the years of the coronavirus pandemic, is not like “almost every year.”
The hotel reopened on May 18, when the country emerged from a confinement during which its beaches and borders with neighboring countries closed until the beginning of June.
Despite the easing, reserves decreased 85%, according to CEO Nevila Dudaj.
“We had a lot of reservations for summer 2020 from fall 2019 and they stopped the first week of March,” he said.
“Some guests with valid reservations postponed their stay until next year, but most asked to have their payment returned, causing us financial difficulties,” said Dudaj, who also manages the Adriatik Tours agency based in the United States.
“It will take at least a year or two for the tourism sector to recover,” Dudaj predicted gloomily.
Not everyone has so much to complain about.
Dhërmi, in southern Albania, is a small coastal town located between Himarë and Vlorë. It is famous among Albanians and foreigners for its incredibly beautiful beaches and carefree atmosphere.
2 Lips, a bar, restaurant and hotel located on Dhërmi beach, regularly receives tourists from the United Kingdom, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, France and Italy. Chinese tourists first arrived in 2019.
Ernis Osmanaj, owner of 2 Lips, said this year's reserves are almost the same as last year's.
“The only difference is that this season, our clients are from Tirana, and not from the UK, like last year,” said Osmanaj.
For Osmanaj, the most difficult thing is to convince clients to follow the protocols by COVID-19. Customers must undergo temperature and disinfection checks when entering and leaving the site, he said.
The protocols imposed by the Albanian Government require that hotels and tourist centers have a “coordinator” against COVID-19 to supervise these measures. Staff must wear a mask and gloves at all times.
To the south, the coastal city of Saranda has also been preparing for a difficult summer.
There tourists can see the ruins of the Butrint National Park and enjoy a stroll in a charming spot and the attractive beaches.
In February, Saranda entered Tripadvisor's annual rating for travel destinations, ranking second after Kaliningrad in Russia.
At Seaside Artist, a family-friendly restaurant and hotel in Saranda, bookings were down 60% compared to 2019. August bookings include tourists from Italy, while September promises to bring tourists from Bulgaria, Germany, and Greece.
“This season we have had many cancellations due to the uncertainty of the pandemic situation. We will work until the last minute this season. In Saranda there has not been a single case of coronavirus and it is preparing to receive tourists, ”said Rudina Toska, from the Seaside Artist hotel and restaurant.
Adapt for the locals
Ejiris Shoshi helps hotels in Ksamil, near Saranda, handle online travel agency reservations. It is in direct contact with tourists who spend their holidays on the Ionian coast of Albania. This year, 72% of reservations were canceled.
In Ksamil there has been a significant reduction in the number of Scandinavian tourists in the past two years. Instead, the place is becoming popular with visitors from Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and Russia.
“The few reservations we had are for August and September. It is an unpredictable season because local tourists book at the last minute and foreigners – limited to whom will have the financial means to travel this year – do not know how they can go, ”Shoshi said.
“The main concern of foreign tourists has been travel, the closure of borders not only of Albania, but also of all transit countries.”
The Shoshi agency, in cooperation with hotels in the area, have invested in advertising campaigns on social media, with a firm eye on the national market.
Nevila Dudaj of Adriatik Hotel and Adriatik Tours agency said that the contribution of Albanians abroad is very important for the recovery of the tourism sector.
“Even at the New York Times travel presentation in January 2020, in which I participated, I asked Albanians, wherever they are, to visit and spend their holidays in Albania, as they must support Albanian tourism. And now, more than ever, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need your support, says Dudaj.
Until the end of June, tourists from Kosovo and the western Balkan region have joined domestic tourists on their Albanian beach vacations.
At the end of June, there were 2,047 registered coronavirus infections in Albania, which have resulted in 45 deaths.