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article imageAlbanian tourism is booming: Interview with Jimmy Lama

By Paul Bradbury     Mar 3, 2012 in Travel
Once the butt of many jokes, Albania is emerging as one of Europe's hottest new destinations, and its ambassadors are taking the message from Tel Aviv to Berlin. Digital Journal caught up with one of them in Montenegro.
Albanians do things differently. While the rest of Europe shunned George Bush's farewell tour, the Albanians embraced him and even built a statue in George Bush Square in Fushe Kruje. During the Communist era, the only permitted Western films where the slapstick comedies of 1950s of Norman Wisdom, who was subsequently awarded the freedom of Tirana. And while what was once Europe's most isolated country has been the butt of many jokes in the past, things are changing - fast - and Albania is emerging as one of Europe's hottest destinations.
Digital Journal caught up with one of the people at the forefront of the Albanian tourism revolution on the Tivat ferry crossing in Montenegro on March 1, 2012. Jimmy Lama is a former cocktail bar manager at the Grosvenor Hotel in London, who is now director of one of Albania's best bespoke tour operators, Albania Private Tours.
The George Bush Statue in Fushe Kruje  Albania
The George Bush Statue in Fushe Kruje, Albania
Recently returned from the tourism fair in Tel Aviv, where he was interviewed by the Jerusalem Post, Lama was in Montenegro to arrange transfers for tourists, before heading off to a major tourism fair in Berlin next week.
Tourism in Albania is something most Brits have not heard of. Tell us more.
Some of our best clients come from England, and they all go home very happy, and very surprised at just how beautiful, hospitable and welcoming Albania is. Having worked in England for many years, I am very aware of the negative perception of Albania as a dangerous mafia state. It is one of the safest tourist destinations in Europe, and the more people who visit and realise that, the quicker we will be able to develop our tourism.
We had more than 3 million tourists last year, according to official statistics, and while perhaps a quarter of that figure was people passing in transit from Kosovo to Montenegro, it is a significant increase.
Albanian tourism combines stone heritage with a stunning coast
Albanian tourism combines stone heritage with a stunning coast
Jimmy Lama
Lonely Planet named Albania as its number one destination for 2011, which raised a few eyebrows. Were you surprised?
In terms of what Albania has to offer, I was not surprised. We have an almost unspoilt coastline of 350km of stunning sandy beaches, great Mediterranean cuisine, a warm welcome, thousands of years of history, and UNESCO sites such as Butrint. Albania is cheap and a tremendous amount to offer the tourist wanting to get great value in one of the few undiscovered places left in Europe.
But yes, I was surprised that such a big company chose us as number one. It was a very proud moment for us, but Lonely Planet is not alone. Cox and Kings recently described Albania as “Landscape of almost heart wrenching beauty, rugged mountains, snow-capped for much of the year, towering above unspoilt white sand beaches and green mysterious valleys.”
Jimmy Lama on the Tivat ferry in Montenegro
Jimmy Lama on the Tivat ferry in Montenegro
You were in Tel Aviv recently, Montenegro today, Berlin next week. Albanian tourism is going international!
It is important for us to promote our country and our tourism attractions. Israel was interesting, because we have much to offer Israeli tourists who are looking for new tourism destinations after recent events in Turkey and Egypt. Albania is finally emerging from the cold, and we are keen to welcome tourists who want to discover our beautiful country.
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