By Linda Karadaku and Biljana Lajmanovska
Kosovo and Macedonia officials believe a recent agreement to create a joint tourist package will make both countries more competitive in the regional tourism market. Kosovo officials say the agreement encourages development of cross-border relations in the tourism industry by supporting tourist agencies, structures and organisations.
Arta Istrefi, political adviser for media to Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Industry Mimoza Kusari-Lila, told SETimes the collaboration makes sense for both nations.
“Kosovo and Macedonia are small countries, therefore a joint offer in tourism would be much more attractive for the tourists than one state alone,” Istrefi said. “We have also discussed the possibility of organising the presentation of a product named ‘7 Days, 7 Wonders,’ which would include a tour in Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania.”
Macedonia is negotiating similar agreements with other countries in the region with a goal of making both the country and the region more attractive for tourists from around the world. Recent polls of tourists visiting the Balkans have shown that they would welcome the opportunity for a regional tour.
“In our tourist exchange with Kosovo, individual and business visits by citizens dominate, as well as some organised tours to lakes and winter centres. This agreement will give us solid ground for investment in tourism and exchange of information and statistical data. It will also help to promote the region among third parties and allow joint representation at tourist exhibits,” said Valjon Saracini, Macedonia’s economy minister.
Kosovo officials are thankful for Macedonia’s support.
“Kosovo is still in the early phase regarding tourism, therefore we need much to support the promotion of tourism,” Istrefi said. “The statistics are still poor, therefore it would be necessary to share experiences with Macedonia. In addition, it would be important to present Kosovo in different exhibitions that would be realised through co-operation with the Macedonian authorities.”
Istrefi said the impact of this agreement will be even bigger after the Brezovica Resort project is completed. The government is still accepting bids for the project, which would include a ski centre in the Sharr Mountains in southern Kosovo near the Macedonian border.
Istrefi said quality relations between the countries could spark future infrastructure projects, such as a road that would connect Brezovica with the Sunny Hill resort in the Sharr Mountains in Macedonia.
Tourism is an important component of Macedonia’s economy. The country’s target is to increase the share of tourism to 5 percent of GDP by 2020, but investments are needed, especially in infrastructure. Tourism accounted for about 2.5 percent of GDP in 2012.
“The government should repair the roads. If the road Skopje-Ohrid is improved, for instance, the travel [from Skopje] to Ohrid Lake will last an hour and a half. Now we need 3-4 hours to take the tourists there. If the infrastructure is improved we can see a huge increase in tourism,” Arkan Kerim, owner of the Skopje-based Generaltourist agency, told SETimes.
Ibrahim Rexhepi, executive director of the Kosovo Centre for Strategic and Social Research in Pristina, said the intention of the agreement is good and that it could be valuable to both countries. But he added that investments are necessary to make it work.
“I don’t see actually that there is any project that has that intention, or that they have infrastructure, roads, buildings … to implement the agreement. The mountains and the fresh air alone are not enough for the tourists,” Rexhepi told SETimes.
Rexhepi added that when cross-border tourism agreements are properly implemented, they can have a positive economic impact.
“[Economic benefits] would be very big as they can initiate the development of production, food and services. But actually, neither Kosovo nor Macedonia offers something more than a one-day tour, for weekends or conferences and seminars,” Rexhepi said.
The number of Kosovo citizens visiting Macedonia increased by 49 percent in April, compared to the same month last year, and the number of overnight stays increased by 53 percent.
According to Kosovo’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, tourism accounted for only 1 percent of GDP in 2010 and only 6 percent of employment in 2011. Kosovo still is a largely unknown tourist destination for Macedonians.
“I have been to Kosovo just passing through on my way to Montenegro. I honestly don’t know any tourist attractions there and would not know what to visit,” Skopje resident Ana Jonovska told SETimes.
Macedonia and Kosovo have made travel easier, allowing citizens from both sides to cross the border only with ID cards and no passports. Still, few agencies in Skopje offer tours to Kosovo and usually organise only individual and business trips without other arrangements.
Nonetheless, the two countries remain an attraction for foreigners. Steen Ramsgaard from Denmark, who visited Kosovo last month, said Macedonia and Kosovo have something special to offer.
“Macedonia has the advantage of having a very good reputation as a wine-producing country. It is a big plus to be able to offer visits at vineyards, wine tasting and good offers in buying wine. Kosovo does not have that kind of attraction. Kosovo has more to offer in the field of historic monuments and architecture,” Ramsgaard told SETimes.
Ramsgaard said that co-operation between Kosovo and Macedonia can be difficult if both countries offer the same types of nature and landscape attractions, which makes them more competitors than partners.
“But then again, if the two countries can put together a package trip with nice offers in both countries, co-operation would be positive for both,” he said.
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