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Southeast European Times: Montenegro Sees Upswing in Summer Tourism

Published date: 11.10.2005 16:50 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

Ispis Print

Whether because of aggressive marking, a better-prepared season or burgeoning interest in alternative holiday spots, Montenegro was a destination of choice for domestic and foreign vacationers alike. The number of tourists during the first eight months of this year grew by 16.8 per cent compared to the same period last year, with a 30 per cent spike in revenues. The republic welcomed 49.7 per cent more foreign visitors than in 2004, and had more and better facilities to offer them. While unregistered tourism remains high, the government is taking steps to bring more visitors and accommodation sites into the system.

By Antonela Arhin for Southeast European Times in Podgorica 10/10/05 Photos courtesy of Antonela Arhin

Over the summer, promotional videos entitled "Montenegro -- Wild Beauty" could be seen on CNN. They were part of a campaign put together jointly by the tourism ministry and the Montenegro Tourist Organisation, in a bid to introduce more potential visitors to all the republic has to offer.

Indeed, whether because of aggressive marking, a better-prepared season or burgeoning interest in alternative holiday spots, Montenegro was a destination of choice both for domestic and foreign vacationers. The season not only met, but exceeded expectations. According to government statistics, the first eight months of this year saw a 16.8 per cent increase in the number of tourists and a 13.6 per cent rise in overnight stays, compared to the year before.

Revenues are 30 per cent higher than last year's, and the number of foreign visitors rose by 49.7 per cent -- although most of these continued to come from the former Yugoslav republics. Among other visitors, the highest numbers -- 32,767, or 4.9 per cent -- were from Russia, followed by the Czech Republic -- 19,938 -- and Germany -- 13,088.

Certainly, Montenegro has a lot to offer them, with a gorgeous coastline, mountains and sun. Blue flags -- the international symbol of recognition for high quality beaches -- adorn the coastline. New hotels and villas are springing up, while many older ones have been renovated according to international standards. More has been done to solve problems such as noise, traffic, pollution and tie-ups at the border. Many of the improvements have resulted, directly or indirectly, from a Master Plan for the Development of Tourism in Montenegro to 2020, drawn up for the government by DEG, a specialist in long-term projects and corporate financing.

Herceg Novi, site of the Mediterranean Health Centre for Recreation and Treatment, is a hub of Montenegrin tourism. It has also been the leading city in implementing at tourism ministry initiative called "Let it Be Legal," designed to encourage the registration and categorisation of private accommodations. While unregistered tourism remains high, authorities expect the projected amount of collected tourist tax will be exceeded. Herceg Novi enjoyed a banner summer season this year. Small luxury hotels, such as the Aleksander, Perla and Xanadu, were over 90 per cent full in August, while supersized ones such as the 560-bed Hotel Plaza were at least three-quarters booked. Tourists in the peak season could enjoy such attractions as music galas, book events and the 19th Herceg Novi Film Festival.

Just after passing Herceg Novi on the way to the north, one arrives at the Debeli Brijeg border. Here, a new, seagull-shaped border crossing was opened on 12 July, with the aim of offering visitors an appealing first impression of Montenegro. The border crossing offers a range of services to tourists and executives coming via Croatia, including a police station, inspection office, post office, shipment office and tourist information booth. It also speeds them through in record time; according to estimates, summer wait times at the border rarely exceeded 10 minutes, and on some days as many as 100 buses came through in a single day.

South of Herceg Novi, Budva, sometimes referred to as the City Theatre, saw a 25.9 per cent increase in the number of tourists and a 24.1 per cent rise in overnight stays. In August, the top-rated hotel Maestral, owned by the Slovenian firm Hit Montenegro, marked 10,000 overnight stays, drawing guests from Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia and the United States, among others. Budva is also looking forward to a lively post-season, featuring a rich array of events to encourage tourists to stay longer, including a fish festival and an international festival of majorettes. A number of hotels are to be open throughout October -- uncommon for coastal cities which normally close their hotels in that period in order to renovate, repair and prepare for the next season.

Despite the fierce competition coming from Albania, Macedonia, Turkey and Bulgaria,, tourists from Kosovo have flocked to the southernmost city of Ulcinj, according to Kosovo Tourist Centre director Skeljzen Rizaj. Last year, they contributed almost 2 million overnight stays and spent about 1m euros. One factor, Rizaj speculates, may be the fact that Montenegro remained comparatively free of the ethnic divisions and warfare that wracked the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It is seen as having a good track record in respecting minority rights and promoting tolerance.

Two publications have given a vital boost to summer tourism. On 22 July, the tourism ministry of Tourism and the National Tourist Organisation launched "Montenegro Explorer", the first Montenegrin magazine intended for foreign tourists. It is available in English, German, Czech and Russian languages. All hotels of three or higher category now feature this publication in their rooms. Richly photographed, "Montenegro Explorer" offers a range of information on accommodations, activities, sightseeing, tourist organisations, restaurants, festivals and sports. A few days later, on 27 July, the Tourist Organisation of Montenegro published the first issue of "Active & Extreme" magazine, listing all the extreme sports which a visitor can enjoy while in the republic, as well as information and contact information for sports clubs.

All data on tourism in Montenegro must be taken with a grain of salt. Because of the high number of unregistered tourists -- comprising, according to some estimates, half the total number of tourists overall -- figures remain imprecise. Only hotels and other official accommodations can keep accurate tabs. In addition, it is possible to exaggerate the impact of tourism on the economy; tourists, in fact, have relatively low purchasing power.

Nevertheless, there is a general consensus among Montenegrin tourist authorities that things are looking up in a big way. They are already anticipating the 2006 season, when the ongoing privatisation of Montenegrin tourism will be nearly complete, inaugurating a new chapter for the industry.