By Ilda Hoxha

The Mayor of Tirana, Erjon Veliaj declared a few days ago that Tirana has broken the record regarding the number of tourists and that their number this year exceeded the number of the local residents of the capital city. According to official data from the Municipality of Tirana, it turns out that we have an increase of 91%, compared to a year ago. However, tourism experts say that comparisons should not be made with the years of the pandemic, and explain why there seems to be a tourism “boom” this year.

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“Today, Tirana is full of tourists. Today, for the first time, we broke the record, Tirana has more tourists than residents”, stated Veliaj in Top Story.

Regarding this statement by Veliaj, Faktoje first addressed a request for information to the Municipality of Tirana, asking how many tourists visited the capital this year.

Request for information sent to the Municipality of Trana, September 6, 2022

The Municipality of Tirana officially announces that in the first 8 months of this year, 1.7 million tourists have visited the capital.

“Referring to sources from INSTAT, for January – August 2022, the number of foreign citizens who have arrived at ‘Mother Teresa’ airport, which means Tirana as well, is 1,718,572 people. Compared to the same period last year, i.e. January-August 2021, when the number was 898,907, we have an increase of 91%”, announces the Municipality of Tirana.

What are the most visited attractions in the capital city for tourists?

“The most visited attractions for tourists in the capital city are: ‘Skënderbej’ Square, Pazari i Ri, Tirana Castle, E’them Beu Mosque, Clock Tower, National Historical Museum, Palace of Culture, BunkArt 2, Museum of Eavesdropping” The House with Leaves’, the Installation ‘Cloud’, the Tomb of Kapllan Pasha, Ura e Tabakëve, the Pedestrian Street ‘Murat Toptani’, the ‘Post Bllok’ Memorial, the Block, the Great Park of the Artificial Lake, the Square ‘Mother Teresa’, BunkArt 1, Dajti National Park, etc.,” explains the Municipality of Tirana.

We also addressed a request for information to the Ministry of Tourism and Environment. This institution clarifies that it only has data for visitors in the protected areas of Tirana District, where in the first 8 months there were over 62 thousand tourists.

“This is to inform you that we do not have data at the local level. Our data include only those visitors who visited the protected areas in the District of Tirana during January-August 2022. It was 62588 visitors”.

Referring to the latest data from the Institute of Statistics as of January 2022, Tirana has 919,511 inhabitants.

Population of Tirana according to INSTAT, January 2022 data

So, referring to the official data from the Municipality of Tirana and the number of inhabitants, it turns out that the capital in the first 8 months had almost twice as many tourists as inhabitants.

However, how do tourism experts explain this increase? Mr. Besnik Vathi emphasizes that it is not fair to make comparisons with the years of the pandemic.

“First of all, it makes no sense comparing this year’s figures with those of a pandemic year, because the years of the pandemic were the years of a total closure, where everyone from Europe was forbidden to travel to Albania. The borders were closed, everyone was required to be tested for the virus. You cannot make comparisons with the years of the pandemic, neither with 2020 nor with 2021. Comparisons should be made with 2019. It makes more sense to compare with 2019 instead. And compared to 2019, there is an increase indeed, probably around 10%-20%”, argues Vathi, who adds:

“The first factor is the post-pandemic situation. The big pressure following the pandemic made people travel more than in a normal period.

The second reason is a low-cost airline that has doubled the number of European cities that have direct flight connections with Tirana. There used to be 29 or 30 such cities, and it is 45 today provided by one company alone.

There is a third reason, too. It is the ‘no visa’ regime with the countries of the Middle East, which we did not have back in 2019. The removal of visas with the countries of the Middle East meant that there are more tourists mainly in Tirana now during the summer because people from the Middle East do not come to Albania for the beach, but mostly to visit Tirana”.

Even the tourist operators point out that there has been an increase in tourists from Israel, Arabia, and even Egypt.

“Tourists in Tirana are mostly from Western Europe. Many of these tourists do not come in groups, but individually, organizing their own trips to Tirana or Albania. It is true that there is an increasing trend from the countries of the East (with Israelis, Arabs, and Egyptians dominating)”, they say.

On the other hand, tourist operators say that Albania is not yet ready to manage large flows of tourists.

“In my opinion, this year is the year of a turning point in tourism in Albania. I don’t know whether this is for better or for worse. Practically all over the world, the majority of tourists are those who book hotels, come by themselves and move around in rental vehicles, and book tours with local operators. This year was the beginning of this type of tourism for Albania. I think this is a good thing because it seems that their fear is gone and word-of-mouth marketing is starting to work. But on the other hand, Albania is not yet ready for managing large flows, and we must be careful and work more strategically in this direction”, say the tourist operators.

According to official data from INSTAT, 5.6 million tourists visited Albania in the first 8 months of this year.

Based on the verification carried out and the information gathered, we decided to categorize the statement of Mayor Veliaj about Tirana having more visitors than residents this year as True.