Montenegro is becoming a key tourist destination in the Mediterranean, potentially providing a model for other countries in the region.
By Nedjeljko Rudovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 19/04/12
Postcard perfect Montenegro is capitalising on its natural beauty and political stability. [Reuters]
Forecasts from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) suggest that revenue from tourism in Montenegro will climb every year for the next decade, and will contribute a whopping 17.8% of GDP by 2022. That rosy scenario corresponds to projections by the Ministry of Tourism.
Due to its compact size, "the possibility of combining the sea and mountain tourism in one day is undoubtedly the unique advantage of Montenegro in relation to its competitors. Bringing great hotel brands is a serious indication of our intention to become an elite tourist destination", Nebojsa Rackovic, adviser to the Minister of Tourism, told SETimes. Nor does it hurt that the country is no more than a two-hour flight from all major cities in Europe.
Rackovic notes that the government works constantly to improve the quality of services and to maintain competitive pricing. "The fact that Montenegro is a destination for all tourists, regardless of their purchasing power, is our main priority. [In addition], by bringing big investors, known around the world, such as Aman Resorts and Orascom … we send the message that we are a stable country and our goal is to become a high quality tourist destination."
The message appears to be resonating. Already, according to the WTTC, tourism in Montenegro contributes 7.5% of GDP, compared to 3.5% in Slovenia; 2% in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and 1.7% in Serbia. The same data suggests that last year alone, income from tourism and travel industry was 249.3m euros in Montenegro.
Zarko Radulovic, co-owner of Montenegro Stars Hotels Group and president of the Montenegrin Tourist Association, told SETimes "Luckily, Montenegro has a great advantage -- good geographical position and extraordinary natural beauty -- both the sea and the mountains in a small space. In slightly more than three hours, you can go from swimming to skiing." But it’s not all is sunblock and ski poles. Tourists also recognise "the political and security stability" he added.
Radulovic argues that Montenegro could be doing far more to develop the sector, citing for instance, the dearth of three, four and five star hotels, which he says are the accommodations modern tourists seek. "[Sector] income of 249m euros is not that good; it should be six or seven times greater."
He noted that in Croatia last year, income from tourism was 2.6 billion euros. Acknowledging that its coast is much larger than Montenegro’s, Radulovic says a better comparison would be Cyprus.
"The territory is similar, but less favourably located. Yet despite that, Cyprus’s income is around 3 billion euros. Unlike Montenegro, they have worked better. And [what] Cyprus possesses is not even close to what Montenegro can offer. When we balance the offer in the summer and winter season, Montenegro could become a champion and one of the stronger players in the Mediterranean."
According to 2011 data from the Chamber of Commerce, the number of overnight stays saw double digit growth --10.17% -- while the growth in terms of tourist arrivals was 8.75%. As in 2010, most of the visitors came from Serbia, Russia and BiH.
"We could become a global phenomenon when it comes to development, because the starting base is low and each step in the percentages looks impressive. When a Spain, which has 40 billion in gross revenues from tourism, earns 42 billion, percentages don’t look great. When Montenegro earns 400m, growth is 100%," Radulovic said.
He points out that Montenegro’s innovations are already yielding results: "For example, the hiking and biking project is very good, because of … rapidly changing habits and desires. Instead of the beach, customers want something more attractive, dynamic. Tourists want an active vacation, not to stay in one place."