In his latest report from southeast Europe, David Browne says confidence in tourism to the former communist state of Albania has been boosted by an increase in international flights and the commitment
A clear indication that Albania has broken with its isolation from the rest of Europe is that British Airways (BA) now has direct flights from London Gatwick to Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana. More than that, BA has increased its frequency, encouraged by the take-up of seats, a sign that Albania is truly an emerging tourist destination.
BA began its direct service to Tirana in the Spring of 2006 with three flights per week. By June it had such as good response that it doubled the frequency and now flies every day except Friday.
"Tirana is a very successful route for us," said a BA spokeswoman. "BA is always looking for new destinations and we are very pleased that the route to Tirana has been a success. Albania has enormous potential as a business and leisure destination especially as an increasing number of Albanians are now based in the UK."
BA is cooperating with businesses based in Albania to develop tourism. "BA will be focused on the customers and its needs. High security levels, quality service and affordable prices are our objectives for a successful operation in the UK and Albania," BA said.
At the time of the inaugural flight to Tirana, the British Embassy welcomed British Airways commitment as a major step forward in commercial relations not only with the UK but the rest of the world. "Ultimately, progress depends on the degree of confidence which private UK operators and investors have in the Albanian market.
The arrival of the first British Airways flight is of itself a clear expression of such confidence, by a major British company," said deputy head of mission, Joe Preston.
"The advent of direct flights between Albania and the UK is a further expression of Albania's integration into the rest of Europe. And, if you also consider the connecting flights from London, into the wider Euro-Atlantic community, and indeed the rest of the world. I hope it will result in ordinary Albanian citizens being able to travel more readily to the UK, and learn more about the way in which we do things, and bring that knowledge to bear in Albania's development."
Incoming international travel to Albania received a further boost this week, following the high-profile weekend visit to the former communist country by President George W. Bush. ATA Airlines, previously known as American Trans Air, started a new service of weekly direct flights to Tirana from New York.
The first ATA Airlines flight arrived in Tirana from JFK Airport New York on Tuesday. Normal service will be at weekends and will operate through the summer tourist season until the end of August.
"I am confident that this news will received well by all Albanians living in the United States and here in Albania," said Dr. Constantin von Alvensleben, CEO of Tirana International Airport. "This is more good news following the visit of President George W Bush this weekend. We are pleased to be adding this flight to our schedule, showing once again Tirana International's commitment to providing excellent quality and safety for both business and leisure travellers," he said.
Albania is a country of exceptional natural beauty with a long Adriatic coastline facing Italy that is ripe for tourism development. The government has recently introduced a new tourism law, under the guidance of the UN World Tourism Organisation, to encourage and support international investment in hotels and resorts.
Further indications of confidence in travel and investment in Albania is the interest shown by European low cost carriers, Germanwings and Belleair. The German flag carrier Lufthansa has resumed flights to Tirana as has Adria Airways. Albanian Airways flies from London Stansted to Tirana.
Tirana International Mother Teresa Airport has just opened a new passenger terminal constructed in glass and steel, complete with modern hi tech facilities including WiFi Internet access. The airport is operated by an Albania company under joint American and German ownership.