The trail – Peaks of the Balkans – service operators have reported that during the 2021 season, regardless of the pandemics, offered their services throughout the year. Worth mentioning is the fact that, according to them, August and September were considered the best months of operation whilst June and July suffered a severe drop in interest.

Considering that last year was the worst year in a long time in tourism, the second consecutive year of tourism during pandemics – the 2021 – has started to bloom. However, the tourism business and the visitors have not so far coped with the new circumstances. The anxiety and the
reluctance at the beginning of the season followed by air-travel restrictions, which came into play during mid-year, severely affected the business. All of the aforementioned resulted in the postponed opening of the season from July and August. Worth mentioning is the fact that there was a significant increase in the number of clients during September.

“Similar to the previous year, June 2021 was considered as a year of struggle to survive. We did have our hopes for the better but there was a lack of ambition. July introduced the vaccine administration and things started to head towards normality – the tourist query increased.”, comments Mr. Nol Krasniqi, Balkan Natural Adventure’s Head of Operations.

The “Ad hoc booking” demand

“We were in the middle of the 2021 season and we were being contacted by the tourists for quick offers in order to please their travel demands. We were accustomed to getting contacted and booked well in advance but now we found ourselves booking ad hoc, which I consider we administered it pretty good.”, he adds in.

Mr. Zeki Ahmetxhekaj, the owner of the “Lojza” guesthouse in Zllanopojë, concurs to the aforesaid and additionally comments that “June was canceled a lot because of the snow conditions, too. My business performed halfway in comparison to the 2019 season.”

Apart from the presence of the clients on the PoB trail, issues of concern to pandemic were the reconditioning of the guesthouses and training of guides. The three neighboring countries, in their fight with the pandemic, strove, ensured, and administered vaccines by giving priority to the hospitality sector. They also implemented the Safe Travel measures.

In addition to the guides of the PoB trail, a vast number of the accommodations adhered to the vaccination appeal and got the staff vaccinated.

The role of the police in vaccination

Bearing in mind the length of the trail, vaccination passports became mandatory due to the fact that people had to obtain border permits in some of the countries that had obliged issuance of the border crossing permits with the immunization passport. No border passing denial nor any incidents were recorded of the individuals who possessed the immunization passport, though. Worth mentioning is the fact that the police and other relevant border crossing officials didn’t significantly intensify paper-checking for immunization of individuals. With the smooth administrative flow and the demand increase of the travelers, as of July, the business in the PoB trail was rejuvenated. “Nine out of ten of my clients had two vaccine shots” proudly comments
Mr. Ahmetxhekaj, envisaging that the precaution of the individuals taken was at a high level. “I believe that the increase of the number of people sleeping in tents is a result of COVID-19”, he analytically adds in.

Thinking of 2022

The indicators reflecting the overall expert estimations and the feedback from locals show that the following year might be even more prosperous. Not a few experts estimate that the following year will rival the 2019 season. On the other hand, there are a few others that are rather skeptical.

Mr. Ahmetxhekaj has high hopes about the 2022 season of the PoB trail, aiming to reach a similar to the 2019 season; a better one than the 2021 season at worst. However, his colleague from the Balkan Natural Adventure, Mr. Krasniqi, shares a different point of view in this regard.

“We may rest assured that the following season will be better than this one and, moreover, even better than the 2019 one. I am aware that some things will be different but I think that mountain tourism will keep growing since people are gratified each day more with the adventures that only the mountains offer.”.