Sustainable Tourism Development in Gjirokastra : a current situation analysis

University essay from Högskolan i Halmstad/Sektionen för humaniora (HUM); Högskolan i Halmstad/Sektionen för humaniora (HUM)


The typical tourism planning and development process can be divided into different phases: preparation (goals and objectives), research, conclusions, recommendations, implementation, monitoring & evaluation. This thesis is a part of such a development process and position itself in the research phase with the aim to create a knowledge base for future sustainable development of tourism in the world heritage city of Gjirokastra in the southern part of Albania. To create the socio-environmental map of the thesis, the authors lived two months in Gjirokastra, and with a holistic approach collected, compiled and analyzed an immense amount of data. Thus this thesis is only providing the first piece in the puzzle of the bigger project: to create a sustainable tourism development plan for the city of Gjirokastra. 

Gjirokastra has special conditions for tourism since it is a World Heritage site, elected in 2005 for its rare type of Ottoman stone houses which the old bazaar/old town is dominated by. The management of a World Heritage site is both a national and a global concern involving many stakeholders exhibiting different desires and requests. World heritage management and tourism destination aspirations are only two of many other issues facing the city of Gjirokastra and the nation of Albania. Like many other post-communist countries Albania is struggling between a fast economic development and the restraints of preserving heritage: modernization vs. tradition. In Gjirokastra this is evident through the city’s division in a new and old town – each fighting for attention and resources. 

The results of the thesis contains information on the tourism resources of Gjirokastra; this is described in chapters of supply research and culture-, economy- and natural resources. The current status and potential of each has been described and analyzed, data being collected through participant observation, analyzing written material and through interviews with visitors, local businesses and stakeholders. 

The result describes a city facing many problems due to lack of laws and regulations creating a variety of issues both in nature, culture and economy: poverty, “brain-leakage” through migration, waste, water and pollution, unemployment, poor stakeholder collaboration, abandoned houses and traditions, bureaucracy, corruption, management issue, a lack of tourism activities and information, poor marketing and poor tourism services. Tourism development is identified as an important tool for problem solution and societal development by the stakeholders, however the municipality’s actions are focused on the citizens and by catering to them it is considered that tourists will also benefit. This approach results in interest conflicts between the stakeholders where the municipality is focusing on improving the new town and the cultural organizations on the old town. Even though many elaborate tourism strategies already exists amongst the different stakeholders no one has so far been successfully implemented due to unclear responsibilities, action time frame issues and a lack of funds. Since there is no budget for tourism the different strategies turns into wish-lists from which money is sought. The result is a few successful short term projects funded by various different European organizations. The problem of restoring houses is also the following revitalization of them. The citizens of Gjirokastra want a modern life which the old houses cannot under the world heritage regulation provide. Here is where tourism is considered to be the solution – creating an attractive living and business area that will revitalize the old town. As of now the world heritage suffers from not having a management plan, the old houses are stuck in after-communism-legal issues in many cases then abandoned or modernized.

There is no waste management in Gjirokastra and the effects of this is not being researched. The observation and interview result shows that there are multiple environmental problems that now accumulate, in this study the tourist satisfaction was affected by the waste appearance. Without laws and restrictions on tourism, heritage and environment it is easy to turn the eyes away from carrying capacity and focus on short term solutions. 

Tourism is in the meanwhile driven by private local entrepreneurship and innovation but without strategies, regulations or market research an imbalance in the tourism system is evident in the market and supply match. A bench marketing tradition or “copy & pasting” has so far resulted in restaurants, hotels, cafes and souvenir shops selling indistinguishable products and only a few other activities than sightseeing are being offered. In the visitor surveys from time to time it is apparent that tourists think Gjirokastra has great potential but the city’s problems are surfacing and affecting the level of satisfaction.  

There is thus a pressing need for collaboration between the different stakeholders to create one sustainable tourism development plan, to define roles and responsibilities and action implementation. The natural and cultural resources and its potentials for tourism are huge but without these regulatory bodies tourism impacts might be irreversible negative. It is in this moment of time, before goals are decided upon, ideal that ideas of sustainability, in this case meaning that the environment’s, culture’s and economy’s interests are also taken in account and incorporated to shape the development process. This is highlighted throughout the thesis.

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