Q: Albania appears to have a huge amount of tourism potential that is not quite fully tapped. What constraints have there been to the development of the sector, and how are you removing those constraints?

A: Albania right now is in a situation, paradoxically and unbelievably, where we have much more demand than capacity.

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The country is becoming like a [typical] European destination, and more and more tourists are trying to reach Albania. We have been part of NATO since 2009, and we are near negotiations with the EU [over membership], so in people’s minds – and in reality – Albania is a safe country and a European one. There is an increasing [amount] of tourism in Europe, and Albania needs to profit from this.

We have made huge investments in all of our cities. We’re transforming the cities and the infrastructure of the country. But this is not enough: we need to work more and think more. First [we need to improve] the image of the country; second is an improvement in infrastructure and services for tourism; and third, which is also very important, is the creation of more capacity, in the sense of more hotels – especially high-end hotels.

[With this in mind] we have come up with a new strategy for the development of the country's [tourism offering] in the coming five years… First of all we need to work towards more infrastructure. Second, we need more diversification in our tourism package – that is, seaside areas, culture and heritage tourism, Unesco sites, religion tourism, and culinary as well as business and general tourism. The third [idea] is to work on security and the protection of the environment.

Q: What are you doing to promote the country internationally for investment and tourism?

A: We need to [overcome] the history of this country and focus more on its image. We also need to work more with the internal community of investors and conclude deals with big investors. We are in negotiations with several of them already. At the same time, we need to protect the 475 kilometres of [coast] that we have, which has huge potential [for tourism development], but we do not want to [ruin] this [virgin territory]. We have to protect this beautiful nature.

QIf I come back to Albania in five years, what will I find that is different?

A: Something that will never change here in Albania is our smile, not even in 2000 years, and the hospitality of the people will never change. We will have improved with regards to the infrastructure and a more European standard of tourism. More brands will have come to the country. We will have more of a European style.

Q: How important is EU accession to the development of the tourism industry?

A: Everything started with Albania entering NATO, and Albania asking to be a candidate [for EU membership]. This is a crucial moment for our political life, but also for the tourism sector because it brings security to all the sectors. We don’t want tourism in Albania to be seen just as ‘adventure tourism’, but [rather as] a normal country with normal tourism. So the country has to meet European standards and European security levels. For us, being part of Europe is crucial.