In the past decade tourism has had a very positive trend in our ex-communist, ex-isolated country. Travelers from all over the world, hearing of this unexplored, cheap heaven with a wonderful coast, breathtaking highlands and rich cultural heritage, have flooded the main destinations and attractions mostly during the summer months.
Undeniably, it has been hugely liberating and profitable to realise that we are “on the map” for foreign visitors but for a trained eye towards environmental issues and local community development it has not been that “great” after all, using a Trumpism.
In our second year now of tour planning, we observe buses coming and going from cultural cities. How visitors discover heritage sites with their foreign tour guide, how they walk into a fancy restaurant (every place has one) and how they leave for the next stop in Albania. All of this, almost without any true connection with the locals. Don’t get me wrong, these travelers are of course a great help to the community but there are better and more interesting ways to do so.
It is a pity that these big groups, and they are the trend now in Albania, don’t experience truly local adventures, food and culture because they are just too big. There are the best hotels, the biggest restaurants and the “most touristic” spots that welcome them. Which is perfectly fine if you just want to have some pics and a broad knowledge of the country. In my traveling experience though the most memorable moments will always be the ones where you experience the authentic local life.
Tour operators insist on pointing out our natural beauties, amazing heritage and delicious food, all very true. But what they have failed to highlight so far, is the authentic cultural adventure that is exploring our country with locals and like a local!
When we started, there was an immense temptation to follow their footsteps. Big numbers of tourists mean big money. For us of course! We figured a different way to introduce Albania.. Not our idea though, we just listened to people from North to South. Locals felt excluded from the tourists visiting their cities and the countryside was just not tasted by foreign guests of our country.
Albania has amazing cultural cities but trust me when I say that the true soul of the country is in the rural areas. I firmly believe that a combination of these two is the best tourism formula for the country as a whole.
The implementing of this scheme is not easy at all but well worthy. Travelers gain memorable life moments and also the local community is hugely supported. If you think of how many different ways are to explore a country and multiple that with the number of travelers wanting to, you can quickly see how many people are faced with a decision to support something that helps both the economic and societal sustainability of a country, or not.
But with some research and a little determination to really help local communities when traveling can and does make an impact on people’s lives.