Albania Registers Sharp Increase in Visitors from Serbia

The Albania Institute of Statistics, INSTAT told BIRN that the number of Serbian citizens who entered Albania in 2021 doubled in comparison to 2020.

According to INSTAT's figures, in 2017, 63,785 Serbian citizens entered the country. This rose to 70,878 in 2018 and remained steady at 68,436 in 2019.

In 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number fell to 48,146, but in 2021, 100,435 Serbian citizens entered Albania. There is no data yet for this year.

Albania's Minister of Tourism and Environment, Mirela Kumbaro, claimed that the increase was the result of the Open Balkan cross-border political initiative between Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, which started in 2019 as the so-called 'mini Schengen' scheme.

"In 2021, compared to 2019, we had a 110 per cent increase in tourists from Serbia," Kumbaro told Radio Free Europe during a visit to Serbia last week.

She claimed that the increase in Serbian visitors to Albania is an important step towards "emancipation" from previous ways of thinking. Serbia and Albania have had a longstanding enmity.

"What I am saying so far is the result of the new philosophy, of the new Open Balkan political initiative. Open Balkan started as the new initiative of three political leaders of our three countries and now it is becoming an economic strategy, it is becoming a new trend in tourism and I think most importantly, it is becoming - I repeat - a new instrument of emancipation," Kumbaro said.

Tourism expert Zak Topuzi said Serbian tourists started to come to Albania in increasing numbers during the pandemic, when Albania did not impose strict measures and attracted tourists seeking fewer restrictions.

"Serbia was blocked from moving to its traditional market,...

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