Calling all Saudi tourists to Albania

Dhermi beach
Updated 12 May 2016
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Calling all Saudi tourists to Albania

Albania’s virgin natural environment and an enjoyable Mediterranean climate are some of the features that make it a top tourist destination of 2016.
Sami Shiba, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Albania to Saudi Arabia, explains in an interview to Arab News why his country should top the list of must-visit holidays spots this year:

1. What can you tell us about the values and tourist resources of Albania?
The tourist potential of the coast and mountain areas of Albania is exceptional. As you may know, Albania has been ranked as the first country to travel to in 2016 by the Gazette Review and many international sites. The magnificent coastline where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet, the natural beauty, its geographical position and its mild climate make Albania a special place in Europe. Albania should be the first stop for all tourists who are seeking to enjoy the nature, the history or the food of this unique tourism destination.
Albania has a virgin natural environment and a very enjoyable Mediterranean climate making Albania a top tourist destination during the entire year. Recently, Albanian tourism has grown, with the offering of touristic packages that allow its most precious traits to shine, such as: “sun and sea tourism”, “history and culture tourism,” “mountain tourism”, along with other growing fields.
Albania’s seaside has a length of 450 km, with many gulfs, which allows for its great potential in the field of seashore tourism and makes it the main source of tourism in that country. Albania has a considerable number of beaches with fine sand and pines, as well as rocky shores, along the coast of the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea, where within minutes tourists can experience the mountain climate of Llogara and warmth of the coast of Dhermi, a feat made possible by the country’s impressive natural features. Albania is known for its riviera with beautiful beaches, especially Himara, Borsh and Dhermi beaches. In this area, I would like to distinguish the location called “Blue Eye Spring”, (Syri i Kalter), an unexpected oasis in the middle of nowhere, that is a natural spring where crystal clear water bubbles up from 50 meters below the surface. The frigid water gently passes over the white sand producing a stunning turquoise color which turns into a pretty green as it travels around the mountains. I want to mention the wonderful underwater caves of Viroi Lake (Gjirokastra city). It is a natural underwater treasures and has a depth of 249 meters and is surrounded by wild pines on the outside.
Albania has important resources for the touristic enjoyment of its mountainous areas. The Albanian Alps to the North, the mountains along the Ionian Sea, the Kruje, Berat, (called ‘the city of a thousand windows’), Gjirokaster (a historic UNESCO-listed town surrounded on all sides by stunning mountain ranges), Saranda, etc., offer great opportunities to receive tourists during the year, including during the winter, which has a mild climate. Albania offers traditional housing in its mountainous regions allowing for an interesting experience of cultural immersion. Mostly you will stay in old traditional stone houses called “Kulas”, where the local hosts spoil you with homemade bread, honey, cheese and delicious homemade dishes, all stemming from their own domestic produce.
The accommodation units, which are both special and traditional, the rich cuisine, affordable prices, accompanied by the historic Albanian hospitality create a truly wonderful ambience, making Albania a sought after destination by Western tourists who have already visited the country and who frequently return to it.
The Peaks of the Balkans Trail region, which belongs to the Alpine border region between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, is a destination that is rising in popularity on the maps of tourists around the world. The transnational Peaks of the Balkans Trail leads the visitor on a unique experience through one of the most remote and wild mountainous regions of the Western Balkans. Using shepherd paths and footways, the trail winds through high alpine mountains up to 2,300 meters above sea level and leads through wild mountain scenery, with a diversity of breathtaking landscapes, varying from green valleys to crystal-clear mountain lakes, waterfalls, rivers and remote picturesque mountain villages, in which time seems to have stopped — a veritable “hidden treasure” for lovers of nature and hikers from around the globe.
Growing interest and coverage around the world is already making the Peaks of the Balkans Trail a world famous destination. In this area, I would like to distinguish Valbona River, one of the most beautiful rivers, which is part of the Valbona National Park, a pristine area in the North of Albania.
Albania, located at the crossroads of two ancient civilizations, the Greeks and the Romans, has a rich historical and cultural heritage recognized as part of the world’s cultural heritage that warrants special protection. This Albanian historical and cultural heritage can be seen and felt in its natural parks, archaeological sites, art galleries, photographs and movie archives, citadels and castles, religious monuments and folk homes, in its old rock-paved streets, as well as in its museums.
Butrint, in Southern Albania, is one of these archaeological sites with an indisputable value, which has already been included in the UNESCO project for the protection of the world’s cultural patrimony. Cities with a long and vast history, such as Berat and Gjirokastra — also under the protection of the UNESCO, not only bring a unique value to the world’s cultural heritage, but are also a beautiful experience for the visitor walking through them. Also, Apollonia, Antigonea, Voskopoja are remnants of a past filled with culture and significance, and have a major archaeological potential. I am sure the rich history will leave any interested foreign visitors pleasantly surprised.

2. How do the authorities in Albania help the tourist sector?
The Albanian government is working with determination on the country’s road infrastructure, in order to further improve a modern road network which would allow Albanian citizens, visitors, and foreign investors to easily and effortlessly experience the whole country. In addition, I want to emphasize that special attention has been paid to the exposure of Albanian tourism through different fairs in many countries.

3. Since it is always good for a traveler to know some words in the language of the country he/she visits, would you please teach us a few common expressions in your language, such as, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good bye, cheers and thank you?
Yes, in the order you mentioned them, these expressions in the Albanian language would be: mirëmëngjes, mirëdita, mirëmbrema, mirupafshim, gëzuar and faleminderit.
Albanians are friendly and very open toward foreigners who visit their country. If you are lucky enough to be invited to visit an Albanian’s home, you will be treated as royalty. The guest will be shown the highest respect by being offered a seat at the head of the table. The guest is then regaled with the best the family has to offer, usually reserved for the head of the household.
Albania is a safe country for visitors. Its tradition of hospitality affords great respect for foreigners; almost all Albanians will go out of their way to provide assistance when you are in need — whether you are lost or in trouble.
The Albanian monetary unit is called “Lek.” The currency floats freely but is quite stable. Presently, the exchange rate is about 140 lek to the Euro and about 125 lek to the US dollar.

4. Tell us about the Albanian climate.
Albania has a mild, Mediterranean climate. The Ionian Cost, in particular, is very clement; with average winter temperatures of 10-12 °C. The country enjoys a good deal of sunny weather, with an average of around 300 sunny days each year. Most of Albania’s annual rainfall occurs between late autumn and early spring; outside of the mountainous areas, it is unusual for it to rain in summer. In the summer, visitors often find the inland towns to be quite hot, with July usually being the warmest month. In Tirana, for example, temperatures occasionally reach 38 °C. The best places to be in midsummer are on the coast, where sea breeze keeps the average temperatures down to a more tolerable 25-35 °C, or in the high mountains.

5. Tell us about the cuisine and some of the Albanian traditional products.
Every region in Albania has its own unique dishes. Albanian cuisine is characterized by the use of various Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, black pepper, mint, basil, rosemary and more in cooking meat and fish. Olive oil and butter are also main ingredients. There are Albanian specialties that everyone likes plugged into the pizza-pasta menus as if they were in harmony. But there they are along with ferges, the popular Tirana specialty with cheese, eggs and bits of meat or liver and 27 other Albanian specialties including stews originating in Elbasan, meatballs from Korca and, cornmeal spinach mush from Gjirokastra, as well as many Mediterranean specialties. Albania, a traditionally agricultural country may be one of the last countries in Europe to have real seasonality in food, causing prices to be high.

6. How can a Saudi tourist visit Albania? Are there any specific requirements?
For Saudi travelers who want to come to Albania there aren’t any specific requirements. During the summer period, from May 15 2016 to Nov. 1 2016, Saudi citizens can travel to Albania without having to obtain a visa at the Embassy of Albania. Travel can be done with a passport. I want to seize this opportunity to invite Saudis tourists to take Albania into consideration as one of the best options when making their holiday plans. (see www.akt.gov.al).
Thank you, shukran!


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Scenic Highlands at eye of Scotland’s Brexit storm

Updated 24 March 2019
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Scenic Highlands at eye of Scotland’s Brexit storm

  • EU migrants account for half the hospitality workforce in the city of Inverness, a hub for the Highlands tourist region
  • Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU was outweighed by the rest of the country

INVERNESS, Scotland: Glen Mhor Hotel, a picturesque base for tourists hunting Scotland’s Loch Ness monster, is struggling to find staff for the summer season as workers from the European Union snub Brexit Britain.
While Prime Minister Theresa May battles to win support for her plans to leave the EU, a shortage of migrant workers from the bloc is already threatening Scotland’s economy and upsetting its politics.
Migration is a major source of irritation between London and Edinburgh. It is also one reason behind a new drive for Scottish independence from Britain.
EU migrants account for half the hospitality workforce in the city of Inverness, a hub for the Highlands tourist region popular with golfing Americans and whisky-sipping Europeans.
But local cleaning and cooking staff for the 75-room Glen Mhor are proving hard to find. Unemployment in Inverness stands at 3 percent compared with 4.2 percent in Britain as a whole.
With Brexit looming, the Victorian hotel’s manager, Frenchman Emmanuel Moine, is struggling to recruit.
“Last year I advertised for a chef de partie in a specialist French hospitality newspaper and I got 50 resumes in a few days,” Moine said, in an elegant hotel lounge overlooking the River Ness. “I didn’t get one from the UK.”
Potential staff from the EU are put off by the prospect of tougher immigration rules and a weaker pound reducing the amount of money they can send home in euros.
Sparsely populated Scotland is aging rapidly so labor shortages affect its economy more than the rest of Britain. Stemming the inflow of EU workers, as May’s government plans, will be “catastrophic,” Edinburgh says.
“Severe restrictions on immigration pose a genuine risk to the long-term health of our economy and our society,” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says.
Home to just 5 million of Britain’s 66 million people, Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU was outweighed by the rest of the country.
Scotland’s working age population will only remain stable over the next 25 years if current migration rates persist, a University of Edinburgh study said. Migrants’ taxes and economic activity help to fund public services in areas where the population is falling.
The Scottish Fiscal Commission projected that if the UK government met its target of reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands,” the Scottish economy would shrink by around one fifth more than the rest of the UK by 2040.
Moine, Glen Mhor’s manager, says the Brexit vote had a “brutal, immediate” impact on his attempt to recruit up to 90 workers needed in the summer. He now pays his cooks 15 percent more than in 2016, the year Britain voted for Brexit.
In Britain as a whole 37 percent of workers in hospitality are non-British EU nationals, the Federation of Small Businesses says. In Scotland that number is 45 percent, and in the Highlands local hoteliers say it is about 50 percent.
In densely populated England, many people voted for Brexit because of fears about migration. But in Scotland foreign workers help offset a birthrate at a 150-year low and keep the rural areas economically viable.
Scots rejected independence by a 10-point margin in a 2014 referendum. But many of Sturgeon’s supporters say plans to end free movement of EU citizens as part of Brexit amount to a huge change in Scotland’s circumstances that necessitates another independence vote.
Thousands of volunteers are planning a door-to-door campaign in support of independence. They hope to win over EU nationals living in Scotland who mostly rejected independence in 2014.
“We’re quite confident it will be the opposite next time around and we’ll get a pretty solid majority of EU nationals,” said Ross Greer, a pro-independence Scottish Greens lawmaker, who is involved in the campaign.
EU migration to Britain has fallen since June 2016, and net migration of EU citizens in the country fell to its lowest since 2009 in the year to September. The Scottish government estimates EU nationals in Scotland have fallen 5 percent to 223,000.
Meanwhile some workers at Glen Mhor are waiting see what Brexit actually means for them.
“This is good place to work, money is good and you can live well on the minimum. After Brexit, I don’t know what to tell you,” says Marta Ofiarska, a 41-year-old housekeeper at Glen Mhor who has been in Scotland for 13 years.
But her 21-year-old daughter went back to Poland after the 2016 Brexit vote and at least 20 of her Polish friends have left Scotland since then.