Q: How is tourism in Montenegro evolving?
A: Tourism in 2018 represents around 24% of our GDP; for the first time in Montenegro’s history, we have over €1bn of income from tourism. Last year, we had 2.2 million tourists, and close to 14 million overnights, which is a lot for a country of 625,000 people. This represents 10% growth from the previous year.
Tourism into Montenegro from all developed western European countries grew in double digits last year; currently we are close to having one third of all tourists coming from western Europe. Therefore, Montenegro is returning to its natural place, [to how things were] in the 1960s to 1980s. When Montenegro gained independence, we got a lot of tourists from Eastern Europe.
Montenegro’s making a lot of investment in its infrastructure, which needs upgrading. We are building a new highway, which doesn’t sound much to someone from the UK, but for Montenegrin terrain is very difficult and it’s extremely expensive to build a kilometre of highway through mountain and rivers. In the mountains, the government is investing into roads, bringing electricity and water supplies, ski lifts and so on. We are looking for investors to develop the ski resorts, which will also work at least six months, during summer time also.
We have some of the highest quality [tourism services] in the Mediterranean, such as the One&Only hotel with 110 units that will employ 400 people during the season, as part of the €1bn luxury resort development, Portonovi. This is a completely new standard, and something that will create a business culture in Montenegro and a hospitality industry with higher expectations [for] investors and customers. Montenegro has lots of beaches where there is no accommodation capacity behind them [so the opportunities are there]. We are also discussing a partnership between our two airports that would necessitate a significant investment of around €200m. It’s very important for us to connect Montenegro better. We are expecting investors through the programme of economic citizenship that we are about to launch, for approximately 2000 citizenships.
Q: What about geography and culture?
A: Montenegro is home to the second deepest canyon in the world. Five national parks cover 10% of the country, and in the mountains we have more than 130 lakes. We have the only fjords in the Mediterranean, in the Bay of Kotor. We have the Unesco-protected cities in Kotor: the Venetian fortifications along the Mediterranean.
[Twenty to 30 years ago], close to 20% of all of the people living in Montenegro were refugees. And we had no problem, they were accepted. We have a good heritage from a civil-oriented society where everyone has the right to feel and to be whatever he or she wants to be.
Q: When do you think Montenegro will join the EU?
A: We have a stable political situation in Montenegro. We became a member of Nato two years ago, and we’re working to become the next member of the EU, but we are expecting it to happen towards 2025. We are negotiating chapters with the EU except the one about competition. But in competition rules are easy; once it is open, it will go faster. Last year, our GDP grew by 4.9%. Everyone is impressed that we made €1bn from tourism last year; for a country of 600,000, it’s a lot. Our GDP is €4.2bn or €4.4bn.