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Albanian tourism minister seeks high-end visitors for Europe’s bargain nation

Simon Calder’s Travel

Summer flights from the UK to Albania are on sale for under £50 return. Beachfront apartments in the resort of Durres can be rented for less than £20 a night. A full meal with drinks comes in at under £10. But the nation’s tourism minister insists: “We are aiming for high-end tourism in Albania.”

Mirela Kumbaro, whose brief also includes the environment, was speaking exclusively to The Independent. In a wide-ranging interview, the tourism minister says she is “pushing for four- and five-star hotels with international brand names” – and hits out against comparisons between Albania and the Maldives.

For most of the second half of the 20th century, Albania received only a handful of foreign tourists. Ms Kumbaro says her nation “lived under the wildest dictatorship in Europe for half a century”. Visitors could only join organised and closely supervised tours, with mandatory shaves and haircuts at the border for male tourists with long hair or beards.

The hard-line communist dictatorship ended three decades ago, but only this year is Albania easily accessible from the UK.

Research by The Independent shows widespread availability of flights between Luton and the capital, Tirana, for under £50 return in May, on the multiple daily departures on Wizz Air.

Ryanair will also compete to the Albanian capital in summer 2024 from five UK airports – Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and London Stansted – while British Airways continues to operate from London Heathrow to Tirana.

Living costs are the lowest in Europe, with rooms in a good city-centre hotel in Tirana selling at under £30, including breakfast. Beachside apartments on the Adriatic shore are even cheaper.

Distant dream: the beach at Durres in 1989, when tourism to Albania was strictly controlled

(Simon Calder)

But Ms Kumbaro is determined to avoid overtourism and maximise high-spending visitors, saying: “You will not have mass-market holidays on the beach at Albanian resorts.

“We think that we are complementary in this map of tourism between Croatia, Italy and Greece.

“So we are not going to see lots of hotels being built.”

Much store is being put on adventure tourism away from the coast. “Three quarters of Albania is mountains, forest and rivers,” says the minister.

Tirana’s Mother Teresa International Airport is currently the only air gateway to…

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