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Meetologue 2015

THE TALE OF THE EAGLE

The ‘land of eagles’ will be a pleasant surprise for many congress organisers – it is a destination that is still waiting to be discovered. For decades it was completely inaccessible for foreigners and tourists, which led to quite a lot of stereotypes that are instantly swept aside by the welcome of the locals. Well, most of the stereotypes are, other than the Albanian traffic, which is chaotic and has roads that vary from modern motorways to a gravel rodeo. Before arriving at Tirana the highway suddenly ends and the speed limit of 110km/h is to be respected, as here you can meet some cows, goats and even horse carriages are not a rarity, so careful driving is mandatory. Another Albanian transport specialty are its petrol stations, which can be found at almost every junction on Albanian roads.

Congress impressions are unusual, as the country itself also unusual – loud and bright, where everything is colourful and somehow a functioning chaos, almost like it is intended to be higgledy-piggledy. Albania was for decades the poorest country in Europe, but now it has lifted itself off the bottom and is now “only” fifth poorest country on the old continent. Despite the stereotypes and the road chaos this not spoil the positive impressions about this new European congress destination, mainly thanks to the many friendly professionals who we met on the way.

The centre of Tirana is nicely stocked and its diverse bars offer a rich gastronomic choice. According to the latest information the city has more than 600,000 inhabitants, which you can appreciate when getting through its traffic from the suburbs to Tirana centre. The nicely arranged city centre is quite different from the construction and urban chaos of the suburbs – they are building a lot! The concrete buildings in all formats and architectural styles intertwine with socialist blocks and multi-dwelling houses that are scattered across the surrounding hills. Tirana is a city of contrasts: roads choked with cars, pavements full of traders, side streets full of children…a city pulse is not lacking in Tirana!

There are some 750,000 concrete bunkers scattered around Albania
Driving through Albania you are probably going to notice quite a few concrete bunkers. There were over 700,000 of them built during Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship to protect the country from an invasion that never happened, so, needless to say, many Albanians view them as unpleasant and annoying reminders of the 50 or so years of isolation.

Mercedes rules the roads
Public transport in Tirana is not well provided and transport by car is often the only option, with the consequence that the city is flooded with cars. The old German ships with the star are considered as a status symbol and many people claim that they perform brilliantly on the wild Albanian roads, although they are slowly being displaced by other car brands. Rough terrain jeeps are becoming especially popular and they help to exploit the ‘law of the strongest’ that prevails on the Tirana roads. Traffic lights and traffic signs seem to be there just for a kind of feeling, so pedestrians and cyclists have to fight it alone. After the initial stress you somehow get used to this, as well as the traffic flow ‘in the Albanian way’.

Bunkers as a special venue
After the second world war, the government of the country was taken by the communists under the leadership of Enver Hodža, who built one of the most totalitarian regimes in the world and created Albania as one of the most isolated countries. The result was a constant phobia of enemies, whose legacy is around 700,000 bunkers. Most of them have been left to decay, with a few of them converted into restaurants, so we can quite easily imagine them as a special venue for incentive groups. To get started, you can show your congress guests a typical bunker in the park across from the hotel Rogner.

Urban life
People in Tirana seem happy, look satisfied and they are much younger that the average European – the average age of male inhabitants of Albania is 29.6 years, while female inhabitants is 32.1, so older people are hardly noticeable. The easiest way to feel the youthful pulse of the city is in the Bllok or Ish-Blokk area, where among the residential blocks can be found some of the best cafes, shops and restaurants of Tirana. Also the villa of the former dictator Enver Hodža is located here. In the time of communism, the area was reserved solely for government officials and only citizens of high functionary status were allowed to move here. The area was opened to the public in 1991 and has become a popular destination for young people from Tirana. At night, the area is full of people, especially at weekends, when most of the nightclubs are full of visitors.

Shopping centres
The city’s main avenues have been refurbished and upgraded and today the city streets are full of the kind of providers that illustrate the Albanian openness to the world: travel agencies, for which tours to neighbouring Kosovo dominate, airline offices, foreign banks, mobile and computing technologies stores. Many police officers can be seen amidst the river of people streaming through the avenues and it is these men of the law the reason we don’t find street vendors selling products of rather dubious quality and provenance, with here and there some socks and shoelace sellers having their small space. Just a few steps from the main avenues the less glamorous reality of Tirana can be seen; the markets are awash with plastic products mostly from China and Turkey and the stores are mostly all the same, with some of the slightly bigger ones having products of colourful ceramics, such as statues or ornaments.

Bar Fajon
The Slovenian member of the European Parliament, Tanja Fajon, has gained a lot of kudos for the liberalisation of the travel regime for Albanian citizens. They have therefore dedicated a bar to her, which is actually a modern restaurant and lounge. Pictures and images – and even coffee cups – of Tanja Fajon decorate the place; they know her everywhere and it seems that the mere mention of her name opens the door to Albanians’ hearts.

Colourful façades
In 2004, mayor Edi Rama received an award for the project of changing the city’s façades. The painter and former basketball player ordered the repainting of the gray communist buildings into more vivid colour combinations, defending and promoting the idea that colours raise the spirits and Tirana will become more friendly with colourful buildings. The city’s inhabitants, tired of the grayscale architecture of socialist realism, supported his idea and foreign artists now use the buildings as their canvas for expression.

Diaspora
Albania has just a little more than three million inhabitants, with many more living outside their home country. Most of them live in neighboring Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro, with quite a lot also in Italy and Turkey, but also in Germany, Switzerland, USA and Canada. On Albanian roads you will meet a lot of cars with foreign number plates, even British ones with the steering wheel on the other side. However, in this case it is second hand bought cars either bought in the UK or from Albanians working abroad. Albanians are excellent sportsmen, particularly in football, and football fans know that half of the Swiss national team is originally from Albania.

tirana

Albanian cuisine
Albanian cuisine is similar to Italian, except that the prices are affordable. Knowledge of the Italian language comes in handy when reading menus, which are mainly in Albanian, although with basic Italian knowledge you can at least stand a chance about what you might be ordering. With a friendly bartender (if you do not speak Serbian) you can communicate by way of pointing out what you would like to order, smiling and hoping everything will turn out well.

Congress voice of the people
The congress offer is concentrated around the three bigger congress hotels, all of which are located in the city centre. Tirana International Hotel & Conference Centre has 170 rooms and the biggest conference centre in the city, with a total of 13 halls, the largest being for 300 participants. Rogner hotel Tirana is a very nicely furnished hotel with a smaller congress centre for a maximum of 150 participants. This year they are planning to extend the congress centre to be able to host meetings for up to 300 participants. In the vicinity there is also the hotel Sheraton Tirana, with seven congress halls of a capacity for up to 380 participants. All three hotels are of an excellent quality of services at the European level.
For larger events Tirana Expo centre is suitable. Located on the outskirts of the city, the expo centre offers comprehensive, multi-functional conference rooms.

In the city there are a lot of special venues that excite either by their historic story or their special architectural qualities, such as the National History Museum. Unfortunately, however, they have not yet been properly inventoried and therefore when choosing venues you will have to rely on local DMCs, many of whom are young agencies that will surprise you with their creative energy. At this point in time the congress industry is incoherent and the city does not have a convention bureau, which will be urgently needed for the international breakthrough.

WHAT'S HOT IN 2015

January 2016
The Municipality of Tirana, in collaboration with UNDP, hosts Tirana Smart City Conference 2016-2026, an event that reaches out to the private sector, investors, and donors that can find common interests in this vision.

February 2016
The conference is intended to support hydro development in Albania, to increase foreign direct investment and aid further privatisation of the hydro power industry.

March 2016
The fair where you will find everything for hotels, restaurants and cafés.

May 2016
At TEDxTirana 2016 they aim to deepen the individual and collective sense of the common good through bold and engaging talks from visionary individuals.

June 2016
The 10th Balkan Congress of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery focuses on all the topics of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery and will appeal to an audience of over 500 attendees from the Balkan countries and beyond.

DESTINATION GRADE

3.42

RECOMMENDABLE MEETINGS DESTINATION
grade:
5 – excellent meetings destination
4 – quality meetings destination
3 – reccommendable meetings destination
2 – average meetings destination
1 – so so

A. Natural and cultural factors: 4.79

Post-communism of the hardest kind this city surrounded by hills is today dressed in many colours and the image of the capital city of Albania has become alive and cheerful. The architecture has been strongly influenced by the Italians (huge markets and boulevards, ministries, the building of the Municipality, the National Bank, Royal Palace) and the Ottoman Empire (public baths, mosques, the clock tower). It all works surprisingly adventurously, both in terms of its rich history, picturesque architecture and especially the hospitality of the locals, all of which leaves a lasting impression.

B. General and transport infrastructure: 4.35

A developing, illuminated and noisy city, where the old is quickly merging into the new, where traffic flows on every side, and yet where despite the apparent chaos it is still functioning well. In terms of infrastructure, for now it is impossible to consider sustainable development, as the level of pollution is very high, and although the overall impression is that Tirana is one big frenzy – roads, people, traffic, new construction increasingly filling the landscape, petrol stations everywhere – the fact remains that in Albania everything can be arranged and despite the impression everything somehow manages to work.

C. Tourist infrastructure: 4.12

In recent years Tirana has risen in terms of tourism visibility, but they undoubtedly still have a lot of work to do, especially due to the fact that 92% of the Albanian coast does not have decent infrastructure. Alongside Tirana’s congress hotel spine of the hotels Rogner, Sheraton and Tirana International Hotel & Conference Centre, quality boutique hotels there have also been joining in the last few years. The biggest surprise is the Blloki area, with numerous bars and cafes, which works in a very European and attractive way. Destination management practically does not exist, however, and it seems that it is entirely left to the private tourism market.

D. Congress infrastructure: 3.38

The entire conference infrastructure is based on the three key congress hotels and a few proactive agencies. Currently the entire industry survives off many events of international institutions that are investing in the Albanian economy. We see the greatest potential of Tirana and Albania in developing incentive programmes that are currently marketed only by rare DMCs and incentive agencies, such as the potential of the Dajti mountain that can be reached by cable car. As with other developing destinations, an active and functional congress bureau would contribute a lot to its progress.

E. Subjective grade: 3.48

To have a true and clear picture of Tirana, a visit is necessary. The Albanian capital is surprising, as it is not lagging behind and in many ways it is comparable to other Balkan capitals. The Albanians are very friendly and hospitable people and they have a good attitude to foreigners, having been closed off for a long time – all that is foreign is better. They appreciate a respectful attitude and will give you back the same. There are excellent prospects for further development, but they still have a lot of work to do with infrastructure construction.

F. Marketing buzz 3.69

The Tirana brand on the international meetings market is practically non-existent. There are a series of stereotypes that the Albanian capital is struggling with, yet such a starting point may actually be an advantage when creating meetings stories of the Albanian capital. Tirana is a definitely off-the-beaten-MICE-path destination that because of its special, creative soul has many possibilities for a breakthrough in the future.

BEST INCENTIVE IDEA

Jeep Safari in North Albania
A jeep safari in Theth, Albania, takes you to the heart of the Theth national park where you will be free to explore the village, visit the waterfall and discover the “Blue eye”. If you’re looking for a deeper dive into the Albanian lifestyle, this is the right place, as you will learn about daily life in the mountains from your more-than-welcoming hosts. Prepare to fall in love with Albania.

COMPARISION WITH THE REGION

Despite the chaotic first impression, you can organise your event in Tirana without any problems and to the satisfaction of your congress participants. Albanians are in fact extremely proud, friendly, calm, excellent hosts, which outweighs any weaknesses in infrastructure. They like to help, are very sociable and stick to their words and promises, expecting the same in return. Tirana has enormous meetings potential, which could be improved with investment in hotel infrastructure. Due to their beautiful nature there are also untapped opportunities for incentive programmes, today marketed by only a few DMCs. For a faster breakthrough they will have to connect and establish a congress bureau.

COOL MEETINGS

SKENDERBERG – an Albanian cognac that was named after the national hero who freed Albanians from the Ottoman authorities in the 15th century.

WHO TO CONTACT

A contact point in the form of a convention bureau doesn’t yet exist, so you will have to contact one of the DMCs in Tirana.

1 COMMENT

  1. Quite a good article about Albania and Tirana, considering it as a first impression. Our company has been investing in the MICE market since more than 5 years now, and have been also participated in Conventa, but we think each country in the South East Europe, even more in Balkan region, need to cooperate in order to grow together in the MICE industry. So we should sell the region and not a single destination if we want to be considered in the very competitive MICE marked.

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