Speech of Prime Minister Edi Rama at a meeting with tour operators of the city of Vlora:
Nice to meeting with you once again!
Actually, this is not the first time we’ve met. We’ve met several times, and I’m glad to see that you have been increasingly enthusiastic every time we’ve met – we’ll see today – about the development path of this whole area which has, of course, a high price to pay to the past because you are witnesses to the fact that Vlora, Himara, Saranda, and certainly the whole inland area from Selenice and along the river of Vlora, were left for many years in a total oblivion by the governments in Tirana, and these areas could survive only with what the local enterprise could built, and with the very little the local units could do just to guarantee a minimum level of maintenance. So, it is inevitable to sympathize not only with the high expectations, but also with the expression of great impatience to see this situation we have inherited, completely overturned.
But you know better than anybody else that an enterprise, even small, cannot be built within a day, let alone a state, or furthermore recover in such a short time, namely 44 months, what was ruined for a quarter of century.
Nevertheless, today we meet for the first time since we removed the tax, or more specifically, since we removed the burden put on the low-middle level of the region, which was actually the heaviest VAT burden in the region, namely 20% for tourism. Today this tax is 6%, and it actually is 4% upon ongoing request of the interest group representing the tour operators.
I am glad we made it, although it was one of the most difficult points, for more than one reason, but above all for the simple reason that we started from a dramatic debt situation, where we risked a major energy collapse, about which I am sure Damian has already shared with you the overview of that reality.
Today we are in different conditions. Of course, if we look today at Vlora and at the whole Ionian coastline with the eyes of 3 and a half years ago, I don’t think there is anybody who can deny that we’re at a stage of a major change.
But if we look at this area with the eyes of the Albania we want, and of the development we want, there is a lot to do.
I am convinced that this year we will have a further increase of tourism. I am convinced that this year we will have a further increase of employment thanks to tourism, and I am convinced that with this path we have started our work, we will be able to turn tourism into an extraordinary power of our national economy. Just last year, we have had a 13% increase, in figures 200 million euros, compared to 2015, from the tourism sector, and if we consider that it is an increase that is not yet linked to the impact of our development plans, the potential is huge.
The National Urban Revival Program has already started to deliver the first tangible results which, in addition to being enjoyed by the residents of Vlora or Himara, Saranda, Korca, Berat, Gjirokastra, or even Durres, definitely increase the attractiveness of those who visit these cities during the tourist season.
However, I want to tell you that we are far from being in the condition of sufficiency because, definitely the new axis of the coastline or of Lungomare, as people use to call it, is a new base for building the tourism of the future, but we need to continue with the boulevard. The Vlora Boulevard Project has been completed. It also will be a colossal transformation for Vlora. We need to continue with all the inland areas of the municipality, where the strategic point, let’s say of an increased change impact in view of the economic growth, will be the restoration of the entire historic centre of Vlora, which today has virtually disappeared behind the shutters and the commodities that are sold there, and behind the plastered facades and the ruined roofs.
Certainly the further continuation of the Vlora River road project, another part connecting Selenica with the highway in the Levan – Fier area, will now enter the process for the competition and the respective contract.
The other two parts are also about to start the process, and at the same time, within the “1 billion for Reconstruction” program, we have started a procedure for rebuilding the entire axis from Orikum to Himara, where the existing road will be made according to European standards. It is a tourist road, and we don’t intend to transform it into a highway, but we will widen it sufficiently in order to ease traffic, and above all to improve significantly both the turn areas and the intersections of the villages which are important towns of our entire tourist map.
We have started, and in the following weeks we will continue with the projects for the full restoration of Old Dhermi, Old Vuno, the reconstruction of the whole area down in the beach of Jale and Dhermi, and we will extend further in order to transform all the villages in gems of this fantastic natural crown, which is the Ionian coast.
We have also started with the project that will connect the exit point of the old municipality of Vlora with Orikum, as even there the potential to make a real transformation is great, so that the entire area which currently is neither a village nor a town, will be transformed in a urban area where the investments made will have a new value. In addition, movement for pedestrians and vehicles will be eased because, as you know, it is a path for goats, and there is a great congestion, especially during summer.
On the other hand, we will start soon the road to the fortress of Kanine, which has a great value, and it has very often or always been forgotten in all the years prior to our government. It is true that the sea, the sun, the sand and hotels are important, but there is an extraordinary potential for tourism development in our cultural heritage, in all these monuments of culture.
Actually, in a study made by the EC a few months ago, I saw that 40% of the tourists in the Mediterranean area, choose it because they want to harmonize the need for beach vacations with the desire to visit archaeological sites, to visit monuments of cultural heritage, or natural monuments. In this respect this area is very rich, but much neglected. We have made a number of investments for some important cultural monuments, but there is still a lot to be done in this regard.
The last one, which I am glad to mention out loud, is that we are now at a stage of concrete work for the airport project. It’s a very ambitious project. It is an old wish. It is a commitment that has been made whenever there were elections. But even though I did not make this commitment in the past elections because it seemed to me as necessary a project, as difficult to accomplish in today’s conditions, here we are today, and very soon we will have the first point of contact with the group, with the consortium interested to build the new Vlora airport; they have already sent the working groups and are preparing for the feasibility study.
It will not be a tourist airport, but it will be a commercial airport with a view to being an important regional airport, which means a considerable investment. It will be a competitive airport with Rinas airport, which means that competition will lower tariffs and increase the quality of service, and it will be an airport that will meet the needs of a large part of the population, not just those who live in southern areas, but also those who live abroad and usually use Rinas as a point to travel to European countries.
On the other hand, we are also preparing for the tourist airport of Saranda. It’s a small investment because it’s just a tourist airport, and seasonal for now, but however small. A big airport would require thee appropriate elements, the right selections of investors, the right investments, and so on.
I believe that the panorama is optimistic, although as I said at the beginning, we are in a race with time, as the expectation of people is very high and the impatience is too big because they have waited a long time to see this change, and want that all things to be done immediately, but that is certainly not possible.
You have seen that the Mayor has started to intervene also in the neighbourhoods. There are still many areas that need intervention, but financial means are not unlimited. The volume of investments we have dedicated to Vlore and to the whole region, is actually the largest investment volume compared to 25 years taken together.
On the other hand, I am sorry we couldn’t do what we wanted to do and what was expected from us to do with regard to the bypass of Fier and the bypass of Vlore, because of a scandalous contract signed before; because of an even more scandalous subcontract with impossible prices and a number of bitter stories that have virtually led us into the mandatory position to cancel the contract and reopen the race from scratch, for which we have also agreed with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development which is the main donor of two projects, and so unfortunately this season we will not have completed these two very important joints. But I believe that, despite this painful solution, this also is an issue which will be addressed at a proper time and will not be delayed indefinitely. So, all these said, I know that you need more, you want much more, and the truth is that what remains to be done is a lot more.
However, at least I think that there is one thing we have proved to everybody, whether they voted us or not, and it is that we haven’t worked any miracle, because government don’t work miracles, but what we have proved is that we know how to make statehood, that we have a vision that is the right vision, and that in view of realizing this vision, we know the order of things. Because, if we consider the money that has been allocated in Albania since 1991 for water supply systems, the water supply grid should have been built twice so far in Albania. There are whole areas in the country that don’t have a normal water supply. If we consider the money that has been allocated for irrigation and drainage canals, the irrigation and drainage grid should have been built twice thus far. But we’re still in a battle with the sludge we have inherited in 25 years, a quarter of century during which an infinity of irrigation and drainage canals were blocked. Suffice it to say that we have doubled the agricultural land that is irrigable and protected from flooding, and we’re not done yet. So imagine, half the surface that is watered today, was not productive until yesterday because it was not watered. But it’s not over yet. There is still a lot to be done, but I am very optimistic that with the strategy we have built up, with the tools we have made available to the new municipalities, with the financial support of the government, we will manage in the span of the next two years not to have any centimetre of agricultural land remain without irrigation and without drainage.
And this is certainly connected again with tourism, because if we build the new road across the inland area of the county, in the Labëria area, not only people will be able to move normally, but economy will grow across that area, production will increase, and tourism and the need for products of the area might be harmonized, in addition to starting developing agro-tourism, which will accompany the developments we have and will continue to have in the coastline.
* * *
This tourist season is different for Vlore, but not only. The VAT cut on tourism from 20% to 6%, which has now reached the minimal level in the region, along with the cities with a revived urban infrastructure, and the various tax reliefs, have encouraged the sector which looks optimistically to the future. The expected increase of the number of employees in the sector, the increase of hospitality capacities, and the increase of standards in general were discussed today in a conversation between Prime Minister Edi Rama and tour operators of the city of Vlora, in one of the picturesque coast resorts.
Entrepreneurs, administrators and hotel owners present at the meeting thanked the Prime Minister for the measures taken, especially for the VAT cut, and claimed that their expectation is high in terms of increasing the number of tourists. “Change is great, expectations are high. I can tell the difference in the increased number of tourists, in the increase of demands. We believe we will have all booked in the month of July and August. I thank you for this”, the administrator of one of the renowned hotels of the area said.
Despite appreciating the very good work done so far by the government, they are still demanding and determined to have the best for their city. “It is true that our city has become an attractive city, and it will continue to be even better, but we still have demands. We want the port of Vlora to be not only a tourist port, but also be used for cruise ships, which are important for the tourist development of Vlora, in order for Vlora to be a destination. And a yacht harbour, as well. I want to thank you for the investments. At the end, the winners of this competition will be us, the entrepreneurs. I urge all businessmen wherever they are, even foreigners, to come back to Vlora”, one of the tour operators said.
With regard to their concerns about the energy supply during the peak of the season, Minister of Energy Damian Gjiknuri said that two very important projects will be implemented. “You have seen that many interventions have been made in the power grid in the coast area, and we will continue with two very important projects. We have just entered a contract for one of them, which regards the 20 kilovolt line from Llogara up to Borsh, while the second project has been concluded and it will be tendered. It is worth approximately 9 million Euros and concerns a 20 kilovolt line from Orikum to Vlora. This whole 20 kilovolt new line will have a very good supply, also with added capacities in the field of tourism.”