Training professional hospitality workers is the key to growing a luxury tourist market.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 20/06/12
Experts say Turkey is Europe's leader in the luxury hospitality sector. Pictured is a beach near the resort town of Bodrum. [Reuters]
Tourism in the Balkans is doing well, but industry experts maintain that workers in the sector need solid management-level education in hospitality, as well as a more focused approach based on detailed plans in order for the industry to fully blossom.
The region's high-end tourist potential has caught the eye of the world's most extensive network of hospitality management schools, Switzerland-based Laureate Hospitality Education (LHE), which is now trying to attract students from the Balkans.
"Once highly educated students finish their studies, some of them will return and contribute to the development of tourism in their home country. It pays off on both sides," Julia Tokareva, LHE's regional admission director for Eastern Europe, told SETimes.
Tokareva visited the region this month to assess the potential for tourism growth. "In my opinion, there's much for tourists to see and much to tell them so they will be reassured about their safety and comfort while visiting," she said.
Experts say there is an emphasis on producing highly skilled specialists because high-end -- and increasingly "typical" -- tourists expect the utmost in comfort and attention to detail.
"One should not underestimate the importance of specialists who have acquired the knowledge and expertise needed to further develop the tourism and hospitality industry. Great customer service, a positive experience and comfort are what draws tourists back and gets referrals. I think the Balkans have a very good chance of success," Tokareva said.
She added that potential students from Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo have expressed an interest.
Belul Beqaj, a Pristina University professor, agreed it is necessary to create a new contingent of professional staff.
"There is a big need now for professionals in this field, given the importance attached to tourism nowadays in Kosovo. We have to have new professionals if we want to develop this field and support this development with adequate human resources," Beqaj told SETimes.
Besart Xhaferri has been a recruiter on behalf of the Cambridge Education Group in Albania and Bulgaria, which has graduated over 80 Albanian and Bulgarian students.
"It is important for employers to hire staff who come out of schools and are as qualified as possible so there is no need for training at a company's expense. The fact that Les Roches and Glion qualified students at school with the obligatory yearly practice gives the students this advantage."
Graduates who return to their respective countries are the best assets to attract the big companies to invest in hospitality.
"For some time Croatia, Greece and Bulgaria have had a considerable number of active students at these two universities, and one can clearly see the success in their countries' tourism industry," Xhaferri said.
"As for Albania, preparing an army of experts in this field is more vital than investment in the basic infrastructure of the country," he added.
To promote high-end tourism, experts said Albania should offer better service, preferably following Croatia's standard, which is one of the region's highest.
"Bulgaria is going ahead fast and Greece has a century of tourism now, while Turkey is already Europe's leader in the field of luxury tourism," Xhaferri said.