Can Gjirokastra be a model of sustainable tourism destination? This was the topic of a webinar organized by Visit-Gjirokastra association, with the support of RisiAlbania. The webinar aim was to introduce the criteria of Global Sustainable Tourism Council – GSTC and how these standards can be implemented in Albanian destinations, or tourism business such as tour operators and hotels. Members of Visit Gjirokastra Association (VGA), representatives of Municipalities of Gjirokastra and Permet, Representatives of Risi Albania representatives from universities, tourism guides and experts in tourism attended the webinar. Previously two members of VGA were trained in Switzerland from Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) through the support of Risi Albania with the aim of knowledge sharing and transfer to other board members and further to tourism business community.
Gjirokastra has already established an public -private organisation for tourism in the region with the aim to manage Qarku of Gjirokastra as tourism destination. It includes 7 municipalities: Gjirokastra, Permet, Tepelena, Kelcyra, Libohova, Dropull and Memaliaj. Visit Gjirokastra Association (VGA) has already identified tourist attractions in the area, the list of cultural monuments, archaeological parks and natural protected parks, the list of intangible heritage, traditions, music, costumes, the culinary is currently promotion the region through tourism portal www.visit-gjirokastra.com.
This association has done an amazing work to promote the whole destination, where main focus was the marketing of destination. But now due to the covid19 situation and shortage of tourists, this is the right moment to think how to manage this destination, how to approach sustainable principles, and inform all the new members how they can start with small steps to think about preserving the destination, preserving the nature, the culture and tradition, and how to produce less waste.
Advantages and challenges of Gjirokastra as potential sustainable destination
Gjirokastra has some advantages why this destination can be a model to start implementing sustainable criteria. First it is a UNESCO town, so it has a protected status, whose situation is monitored and reported every year. Secondly, it is situated and surrounded by mountains, has protected parks and rivers, far from highways and airports. It is not a polluted area and is not an industrial city. Last but not least, the region has the association with a strategy and vision which is now established to promote this destination and hopefully to manage it.
The main challenge of Gjirokastra toward sustainability is for VGA to expand the membership with all tourism businesses in the region, to have the main hotels and tour operators as members, as well as artisans, farmers. The association may have observers and collaborators from institutions such as RAPA (regional agency for protected areas) or other Directories responsible for preservation of monuments, UNESCO representatives and from other civil society and community. The next challenge is to get as much data as they can for the whole region, regarding the number of tourism businesses, the incomes from tourism, the employment direct and indirect, the situation of transport, the situation of monuments and protected areas, the situation of pollution in the region etc. You can’t manage what is not measured. Therefore, there is a need to gather all the statistics needed for the region in order to start and set some objectives for destination and for members of association, as well as municipalities.
The participants were actively involved and asked concrete questions about the future of association itself and how sustainable principles will be put in practice and embraced by businesses. There is a long way to go toward making Gjirokastra a truly sustainable tourism destination, and VGA board members are fully aware of it.
Here is the link of full webinar