If we don’t open our borders, we’ll need a week to visit the most well known cities in the region, and we’d spend 4-5 hours at border crossings in peak season. That’s why the Open Balkan initiatives are so important, according to Minister of Economy Kreshnik Bekteshi at the first panel session titled “Open Balkan opens tourism” at the Open Balkan Summit in Ohrid, transmits MIA.
“It’s through these initiatives and contracts we sign together that we will take concrete measures to reduce the current wait times at border crossing, or for there to be no wait times at all. That’s the only way to attract tourists from other countries,” Bekteshi said, emphasizing that mutual support can develop our countries.
“That’s why we will always support regional initiatives and we will promote the countries of the Western Balkans the same way we promote our tourist destinations. I’m convinced that Serbia and Albania share the same views, and why shouldn’t Kosovo do the same in the future? That’s the only way our countries will develop. If a tourist from Asia wants to visit the region, they’d have to lose a whole year just to get two or three visas and visit two or three places that are only 2-3 hours apart. That’s why we need to harmonize visa regimes to attract tourists from third countries,” Bekteshi said.
We need full harmonization “because tourism is sensitive”.
“Visiting one another will help us get to know each other better and forget the past,” Bekteshi said. Albanian Minister of Tourism and Environment, Mirela Kumbaro Furxhi, said that the Open Balkan initiative is a door-opening concept, unlike the Western Balkans which “seems to have its doors shut”.
“We named our region Open Balkan, whereas everyone else calls us Western Balkans and they won’t let our doors open. Open Balkan is a good rebranding of the future that we want to take the Balkans to, where the people can move freely, as well as a region that sees its future in European integration,” Kumbaro Furxhi said.
Open Balkan “is a good brand and its best cooperation lies in tourism, because we’re always ready to welcome tourists in the region”.
“The idea is to create an open market in which tourism is worth more than regular goods. With it, we’re removing the burdens of history. Tourism is a good market for our countries. Tourists from Canada, Australia, Asia and the Middle East aren’t just going to one country, they want to visit regions and they’re constantly looking for new destinations. They’re exactly the crowd we want to attract, and if we open up new possibilities in our respective countries, we’ll be more competitive,” Kumbaro Furxi said.
Tatjana Matic, Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications deemed the Open Balkan Initiative a step forward towards the trust this region has been lacking. “We need this idea now more than ever before, and I hope it leads to new agreements and memorandums that our citizens can benefit from.
As line ministers, I expect to get results this year,” Matic said. Tourism is a kind of industry “that has great potential after Covid, and it will help take down the stereotypes that have been passed down to us”.
“That’s why it’s necessary to create a regional offer for distant and more serious markets so that we can attract a greater number of foreign tourists. We need to think bigger and present ourselves as a region in the right away. I believe that other countries from the region will join us, and signing these memorandums will inspire them to do so,” Matic said.
The representatives of the Chambers of Commerce of the three countries also expressed support for the Open Balkan Initiative.