Throughout Kosovo there are several beautiful mountains, and, two mountain ranges that exhibit diverse geology, flora, fauna, and local culture of its native inhabitants. Tourism in these areas can not be seen as something isolated, but rather a part of a larger chain, where each of the chain’s links need to be simultaneously developed. To develop this chain, we need to train tour operators, mark new hiking trails, develop guest houses and hotels, improve the ease of travel, and promote tourism packages. Whilst the private sector can develop some of these chains, the government needs to offer a greater deal of assistance in supporting the tourism sector.
For the people who live in these mountainous areas it is important for them to view tourism as a potential livelihood and something they can support themselves or their family with. This is especially important for tour operators and guides. For instance, hotels and restaurants are quite developed in these areas, but conversely, the tour operators and guides have difficulty in selling their services and guiding tourists through these areas. In Kosovo, tour operators face a consistent problem; a lack of professional full-time guides. However much more can be done to develop the entire industry, we can: mark new mountain trails, provide guide training, train tour operators, training of personnel in restaurants, guest houses, and hotels. Since most people in these areas aren’t aware of its potential for employment, we need to develop outreach programs and raise awareness amongst local peoples.
Neighbouring countries like Albania and North Macedonia have developed more advanced and widely publicised tourism packages. Although some of these packages include Kosovo in their itineraries, the local industry does not directly benefit financially from these activities. These foreign packages do not engage local guides nor engage with other areas of the tourism sector in Kosovo. There is a unique opportunity here to capitalise on a special experience that visitors cannot receive anywhere else; beautiful wilderness and pristine trails. The youth have an opportunity to make the most of this developing industry.
Many young people in Kosovo believe that life outside of Kosovo is always better, in fact, life is the same everywhere if you don’t work hard and make progress. Kosovo can potentially offer a large sector for young people to find solid employment, but the central institutions have no done enough to help them develop their skills and contribute to our society. At the same time, the youth also need to show initiative and some courage themselves to develop their own ideas too. We also need to show young girls that mountaineering is something you can make a living from. Unfortunately, during my experiences as a tour operator, I met only five other people who worked fulltime in the industry.
I believe that we need to take inspiration from work done by the government and private enterprise in Nepal and Turkey. In Nepal, ten thousand people per month visit the Khumbu region, which contains the most impressive peaks of the Himalayas. During each of my visits to the region, I met many trekkers and only few climbers like myself. We don’t need to have massive mountains to attract interested people, but we do need to market to these people more directly. The villages I had seen used to be abandoned, but now whole families work together in accommodating their needs. The region was developed through personal entrepreneurship initially, but then the Government of Nepal started investing in the area too. This shows that hard work by committed and well-trained people can pay off.
Another example, which is the opposite of Nepal, is Turkey. And this is an example that, after I heard it, has made me see the tourism sector differently. Turkey was known for its summer and seaside tourism, which left the people without work during the rest of the year. Because of this, the government started promoting the mountains as another tourist destination. This was difficult, however, because tourism in Turkey was so associated with the seaside. So, the government invested in the building of a chairlift in Erciyes and promoted the area through a large snowboarding competition which included 20 of the most well-known snowboarders at that time. All costs were covered for VIP’s and even prizes awarded. The presence of these snowboarding celebrities put this tourism destination on the map and now Erciyes is well known as a snowboarding destination.
I hope that soon, we can increase the number of visitors to our mountain regions, through improving our services, the quality of our guides, and the number of guides. I think that this is a realistic goal, and possible if we raise awareness among local people, use the best practices from around the world and receive support from the government.
I also hope that by growing this industry, local people and everyone around Kosovo will become more aware of the need to protect the environment. The value of a healthy, thriving and pristine wilderness is priceless. Not only can it give people a potential income through the tourism industry, but it also leaves a long-term legacy of nurturing and protecting the wonders of nature that we are so fortunate to inherit.