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One of Europe’s poorest countries aims to become tourism mecca

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Albania’s prime minister is hoping to be re-elected this weekend so he can work to make one of Europe’s poorest countries a “tourism champion”.

The negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Albanian economy is a key issue in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, in which the European Union has set a condition for the opening of full negotiations to admit the small Balkan nation as a member. Irregularities have marred previous elections in post-communist Albania.

Outgoing Prime Minister Edi Rama cited the opening of a new international airport on Sunday, a construction deal reached on Monday for another airport on the country’s 322km coastline and plans to transform its main cargo port of Durres into a destination reserved only for ferries and yachts. and other pleasure boats as a promising sign.

“We are on the right track to make this country the tourism champion of the Western Balkans,” Rama said on Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Ksamil is one of the most famous beaches in Albania.


Ksamil is one of the most famous beaches in Albania.

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Pre-election polls showed that Rama’s left-wing Socialist Party was likely to place first in the elections.

Albania attracted more than 6 million tourists in 2019, when tourism accounted for around 9% of gross domestic product. Preliminary figures from the Ministry of Tourism for 2020 show a drop of at least 40% in tourism revenue, attributed to the coronavirus pandemic. A nighttime curfew, social distancing rules and other government-ordered virus-fighting measures have mainly affected hotels, restaurants and cafes.

Under the country’s mass vaccination program, the government has prioritized hotel and restaurant workers, as well as operators of private home rentals along the coast or in mountain resorts.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama.  The country holds legislative elections on Sunday.

Petros Giannakouris/AP

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. The country holds legislative elections on Sunday.

After previous complaints about a delay, Rama thanked the European Union’s executive branch for donating 145,000 vaccine doses to Albania. Albania launched its vaccination campaign with half a million vaccines developed in China.

Brussels gave Albania and North Macedonia the green light at the end of the year to launch full membership negotiations, but no date has been set for the first meeting.

EU membership remains Albania’s main goal, Rama said.

“The integration process… is a process of overcoming obstacles. We have no other choice. We have to keep going, fight and be there, and we will,” he said.

Albania experienced a 3.31 percent drop in GDP in 2020 due to the pandemic and a Fatal 6.4 magnitude earthquake in November 2019 which caused significant damage.

The next steps for the country are to “put aside the pandemic and the aftermath of the earthquake and move Albania forward,” the prime minister said.

“We want to be the champions of tourism. We want to be energy champions. And we can (be) in agritourism, for sure,” Rama said. ” We must go further. And these are the goals.

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