Our first destination was Saranda, known as the pearl of the Albanian Riviera. From a distance, the town, built like an amphitheater around a bay with palm trees and bougainvillea, looked like a number of Mediterranean resorts. The main difference was that there were no private cars. We met a group of French tourists who had just been swimming and they were delighted with the cleanliness and mild temperature of the water”
wrote Marvine Howe in 1989 for the New York Times.
Today, you can add to this description; half unfinished hotels, a half destroyed mountain by savage constructions and a growing number of tourists.
The construction boom. Saranda is a bit THE city of speculation. Like in Spain, they planned to have tourists who will come and buy everything. Except that in Spain, the buyers has not come yet. However, the crisis did. And all the hopes have been lost since then. In Albania, no crisis needed. If there is no one to buy, it is simply because no tourist came.
I mean, yes, Saranda sees plenty of tourists… on the cruise ships. They are going from Corfu to Dubrovnik, leaving aside the poor Albania. And even if one on twenty stops (personal estimation), it is clear that Albania does not make anyone dreams (personal affirmation).
Hotels without permit. The wildcat constructions are the real plague of the Albanian resort. In an interview to the Balkans Insight, the mayor Stefen Cipa complained about builders who do not have any scruples. They start construction without permission from the city administration.
Yet, the mayor sued some builders but…nothing. In Albania, something that actually works is the saying “Foes of my friends are my foes”. If the builders are friends with the prosecutors…you know…Do you follow me?
Unfinished constructions. Let us be clear. In Albania, it is not rare to see half-finished buildings. When I say half-finished, I am talking about a groundwork built only to a “house” with just its four walls.
Once in Saranda, you meet, as usual, a lot of building under construction… But people told me about it before: “Saranda is not really pretty, it is full of hotels which have never been finished“. It was a sweet euphemism. By constructing on the mountain which overlooks the city, the builders left a lasting mark on the white stones, destroying a large part of the natural peak.
A virtuous tourism? And even if! Even if Saranda would success to have, some days, thousands of tourists, is Albania ready for that? The only road that the State is developing are the ones which are used by the tourists to get from a resort to another. It is the same for the waste treatment which only concerned oceanfront cities.
Besides, Corfu Island, located in front of the city, is already inaccessible for the Albanian population. Not because of the distance, the city and the island are separated by only ten kilometers. But because of the price: about 40 euros for the round trip whereas the average salary is 250 euros. A luxe which is exclusively available for the tourists .
Could the Albanians resorts change into a new Thailand? Where the tourist would bring more prostitution, drug traffics and a rapid growth of prices? The Albanian State does not take care of its population. Yet, it is a minimum before taking care of tourists…
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