The great results that we’ve achieved in tourism are a great source of joy, and also oblige us to exert efforts constantly in order to continue the growth trend and to be more competitive on the market. By improving the quality of our offers in hotels and hospitality establishments we are realising our strategic goal of becoming a high-quality destination with a year-round tourist offer

Montenegro generated more than a billion euros in revenue from tourism for the first time ever last year. “Considering that interest in periods beyond the peak season is growing among tourists, as well as the fact that our country’s airline connections have improved significantly, while accommodation capacities have increased and improved, I expect growth in all parameters again this year,” says Montenegrin Sustainable Development and Tourism Minister Pavle Radulović.

What were the key factors of this success?

– Last year was a year of achieved goals and fulfilled expectations. We managed to generate more than a billion euros and to set a record in terms of tourist numbers: with over 2.2 million tourists visiting Montenegro in 2018. That’s 10 per cent more than in 2017.

Almost 13 million overnight stays were realised, representing annual growth of over eight per cent. Last year is also significant due to the fact that it was the first time that over a million tourists stayed in Montenegrin hotels. It should be noted in particular that the summer tourist season ended in November, while we opened the winter season on 25th December, with which we reduced the seasonality that was previously as before. Contributing to the extending of the season were numerous events, a diversified tourist product, but also major tour operators. It also shouldn’t be forgotten that the credit for these results belongs to the dedication and work of all stakeholders in tourism, from representatives of the tourism industry to local and state institutions.

In order to maintain good results, it is necessary to constantly raise the bar in terms of quality. With what kind of new capacity will Montenegro await this season?

– By enhancing the quality of our offer in hotels and other hospitality establishments we will achieve our strategic goal, which is to be a high-quality destination with a year-round tourist offer. Testifying to this aspiration is the fact that 25 new hotels opened during 2018, with a capacity of about 2,000 beds, including six five-star hotels, nine three-star hotels, eight three-star and two two-star hotels. Moreover, a total of eight new hotels have been categorised in Montenegro since the beginning of 2019, including one five-star hotel, five hotels categorised as four-star and two three-star hotels, which means that the upcoming tourist season will be around 500 beds richer. I would note that back in 2006 we only had two fivestar hotels, while today we have 20. The process of constructing a significant number of hotel capacity projects is currently underway, and what is certain is that the capacity of the Holiday Village Resort in Ulcinj will – thanks to the construction of new extensions – be increased by about 270 beds this year.

In order for us to have a balanced distribution of financial investments and reduce possible burdens on taxpayers, we plan a phased realisation of investment and infrastructure developments for Chapter 27

Most construction it sill happening on the coast. How do things stand when it comes to developing capacities in the north of the country?

– Great interest in investing in the tourism industry in the north of our country exists, which is why the state is exerting considerable effort and investing money to create the infrastructure that is a prerequisite for the development of everything that would be a tourism product, and which would also improve the quality of life for people in the north. It is important to note that some hotels have enhanced their accommodation capacities, through reconstruction and adaptation, and those hotels today operate with more stars than before.

I would cite as an example the Hotel Berane, which opened during the 2017 summer season and which, according to all indicators, works well and represents a major advance for the city of Berane in terms of the promotion of tourist capacities. Apart from this hotel, Berane will soon also be enriched with another adapted and renovated hotel – Lokve, under the scope of which a ski resort has been operating successfully for the last three years. A similar situation exists with the Hotel Plavsko Jezero in Plav, which is currently being renovated and will be open by the beginning of the 2019 summer season.

Apart from these hotels, there is a positive trend of opening new small hotels in other cities in the north as a result of family business ventures, in Mojkovac, Plav, Gusinje and Bjelo Polje. When it comes to the offer of accommodation capacities in Žabljak and Kolašin, the undisputed fact is that these two cities are already recognised as ski resorts that record high visitor numbers during both the winter and summer seasons. In terms of larger hotel facilities, one of the hotels that has improved its capacity is Four Points By Sherathon, the former Hotel Lipka, which is a four-star facility and has a capacity of 150 beds, while the opening of the Kolašin 1600 ski resort created the necessary preconditions for new projects and new accommodation capacities.

Apart from top quality hotels, tourists also want to be surrounded by pristine nature, to have flawless services and, of course, excellent transport infrastructure. Can all of this be jointly reconciled, if we consider that the construction of the highway has been delayed due to ecological reasons?

– It is correct that we halted works on some sections, but those works were compensated for. I must note that the approach to the design of the Bar-Boljare highway, or the priority section that is now being built, was multidisciplinary, with consideration given to all economic, spatial, ecological and other consequences of construction, with respect given to all limitations and conditions. When constructing such complex projects, problems often emerge that can slow construction, but they are resolved “on the go”, but the construction of the highway is not being disputed for environmental reasons. Ecological standards are respected because we don’t want to ruin the special qualities of Tara, which is a jewel of Montenegro and Europe. Transport infrastructure is certainly as essential to tourism as the quality of the offer. Tourists are today becoming increasingly mobile, and when they come to a destination they want to visit more places and experience everything that the destination has to offer. Improving transport infrastructure enables them to do precisely that, and to improve their experience of the destination. The completion of this highway will enable better access to the north of Montenegro not only for tourists, but also for investors wanting to invest in Montenegro.

Late last year also saw you open one of the most difficult EU accession negotiation chapters, Chapter 27 – Environment and Climate Change. What is the next step for the country to be able to get to grips with this chapter?

– Montenegro is defined by its Constitution as, among other things, an ecological state dedicated to protecting its environment, thus the opening of this chapter on the environment and climate change represents success on the European integration front. Applying European Union legislation is by no means an easy or simple process, but we want to implement it properly, which is why we’ve requested transitional periods when it comes to applying some of the most complex regulations.

In terms of the next steps to be taken, we are continuously exerting serious efforts and resolving outstanding issues in this area, and here I’m primarily referring to the obligation to build the necessary infrastructure in the areas of waste management, then wastewater treatment plants, while special attention and focus is placed on reconstructing the worst areas of industrial pollution in Montenegro, as well as larger unregulated waste dumps. A very important task is also represented by the establishment of the NATURA 2000 ecological network of protected areas of importance to the European Union. According to our current projections, it will be necessary for us to invest around 1.4 billion euros in the field of the environment by 2035, while the main sources of funding will be the Eco-Fund, followed by EU funds, donations and funds from municipal and state budgets.

How satisfied are you with the implementation of the Law on Spatial Planning and Construction?

– Application to date of the Law on Spatial Planning and Construction has shown that we took the right step when it comes to the implementing of reforms in this area. Specifically, the situation in spatial planning is already changing for the better; we’ve simplified procedures but also got to grips with the problem of illegal construction. As you know, building and usage permits no longer exist as administrative acts (except for complex engineering structures), and this allows for the faster implementation of investments.

I believe that a sustainable balance can be found between ecology and development, and that the development of infrastructure in Montenegro does not mean environmental degradation, and vice versa

What are your expectations when it comes to the economic citizenship project? In which areas do you expect the largest number of investments and new jobs?

– The economic citizenship programme will have numerous and exceptional benefits for Montenegro. This is an important instrument for stimulating investment, primarily in the field of tourism, so I expect new business ventures and financial resources that can be used for developmental projects primarily in the north of the country. This will mean the creation of new jobs and more balanced regional development. As for the direct inflow into the budget, it will total more than 200 million euros.

When it comes to facilities in the area of tourism in which investments are required, those are hotels or mixed tourist complexes in the coastal region and in Podgorica: with at least five stars and at least 60 accommodation units, in which the minimum investment totals 15 million euros and the hiring of at least 80 new workers. In the northern and central regions – with the exception of Podgorica – the criteria are for these to be hotels or mixed tourist complexes with at least four stars, 35 accommodation units, a minimum investment of five million euros and at least 25 new employees.

Along with the creation of new jobs in tourism, a shortage of high-quality workers has also emerged. How are you dealing with this challenge?

– Our tourist products and offers are advancing and diversifying year on year, while the number of accommodation capacities is growing, which is why the criteria for tourism personnel are also increasing. Service is actually a factor that can make a destination unique.

For this reason, the Strategy for the Development of Human Resources in the Tourism Sector envisages a significant number of direct jobs in the hotel industry, travel agencies and other areas. Due to our determination that we are a high-quality destination, the need for qualified staff in the hotel and hospitality sector is growing. This is why training is being provided for the vocational training of personnel, who will acquire the qualifications and competences required by the tourism sector. The fact that Montenegro has hotels like the Chedi, Regent, Splendid, Maestral, Aman Sveti Stefan, Four Points by Sheraton and other elite hotels certainly represents a great opportunity for our staff to learn from the best. In addition to budget inflows, I really consider learning and working to such high standards as a privilege.