Create growth, preserve nature

Authentic and green tourism off the beaten tracks in Albania’s Vjosa river region

Albania is a dream tourism destination. The variety of alluring sandy seashores, alpine mountains and ancient fortress towns coupled with genuine hospitality has made the country a top hit with tourists in the past decade. To unlock further potential, the ILO conducted a study on the tourism sector in the Gjirokastra region, Southern Albania, a region characterised by a constant outflow of habitants who look for jobs and better life conditions in the capital of the country or abroad.

News | 19 February 2021

© Eriona Cami/ILO

The goal of the study was to understand the local tourism market, its key constraints and explore how to achieve growth. The ILO recommendations target creating the conditions for more and better employment opportunities for women and young people in this scenic region.

Tourism in Albania is a relatively new and emerging sector. It only started picking up and developing in the past 20 years, after the country opened up to the Western world in the early 1990s. Since then growth has been constant and by 2019, it made up 21 percent of Albania’s GDP.  In comparison, tourism in Austria contributed with approximately 6.5 percent to its GDP in 2018 (OECD) . In the Gjirokastra region, tourism is an important industry, also in view of creating employment opportunities. The region, with its capital city of the same name, receives an increasing number of visitors every year, many of them coming to marvel at the historic centre of Gjirokastra town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Përmet is the second principal attraction in the region, known for its food (several restaurants being members of the Slow Food movement), river rafting, outdoor excursions and traditional Saze music. In 2019, the town had over 13,000 persons visiting, more than the number of its own 10,000 residents. The Vjosa river, which flows through Përmet, is said to be “the last wild river in Europe” receiving global attention even by celebrities such as actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio, who voiced concerns over preserving the wildlife of the intact river and the unspoilt ecosystem, one of the few that still exist in Europe.
"Every time we bring people to the region, they love the river the most."
Tour operator
While growth has been substantial in recent years, the onset of COVID-19 has hit the tourism sector about as hard as any other sectors. Some tour operators oriented toward the foreign market claim that their revenue is down 90 percent from 2019. Nonetheless, Përmet has seen some growth from domestic tourism, presenting a new opportunity to capitalize on for a post-COVID-19 recovery. Local businesses signalled that the demand from domestic tourists was higher than their capacity during certain periods of summer, and that they had to refer clients to higher capacity Gjirokastra hotels for the first time.
"We don't want to add more rooms to the existing building, but continue operating with host families and create an accommodation chain in the village, so that the tourist feels at home, experiences the rural lifestyle and goes back with a memory."
Guesthouse owner
The study sets out four recommendations that could make Përmet and its surrounding villages more attractive for tourism, increase the number of jobs and boost enterprise growth.

The four recommendations of the study are the following:
  • Define the brand of Përmet and its surrounding villages as a tourist destination and develop a more active marketing strategy. The offer should be branded around specific assets (e.g. adventure sports, culinary experience, etc.) adjusted to different tourist groups and their interests.
  • Diversify and enhance product development and destination value. Currently, the region is well known for its outdoor activities such as rafting. However, in order to attract more tourists and potentially different types of tourists, new products could be developed, drawing on the rich natural and cultural resources the region has to offer.
  • Improve market research capacities and data collection on the motivation of tourists to visit the region, how long they stay etc.  for instance with the help of a tourist registry.
  •  Find a way to create growth while preserving the unspoilt natural environment, the main asset of the region and improve coordination between local tourism associations.