Thanks to the support of USAID, Albania is one of six countries featured in The Western Balkans Geotourism Map guide Land of Discovery, an interactive web portal hosted by the National Geographic and available on www.balkansgeotourism.travel.
The portal was publicly launched this week at the headquarters of the National Geographic in Washington D.C., through a series of photo exhibits. The first one, held at the Ronald Reagan Building during June18, 19, presented the traditions, heritage, culture and exciting geotourism opportunities in the Western Balkans. The second exhibition featured individual presentations and promotional materials provided by the national tourism authorities of each country. The launch ceremony attracted over 200 people representing the private and public sectors, as well as the diplomatic community, and the American and other media.
The Western Balkans portal, created through a regional collaborative process between Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia highlights the cultural, historic, and natural assets unique to the Western Balkans. Through this partnership, USAID is helping the region benefit from the National Geographic,s considerable expertise in promoting the Western Balkans as a world class destination, while contributing to its economic health and encouraging sustainable tourism development according to the well known principles of geotourism stewardship.
Tourism is recognized as an important sector representing a unique opportunity for regional collaboration in order to help the middle income Western Balkans economies, including Albania, face the effect of the European economic crisis whilst building country and regional competitiveness. More importantly, tourism stands in a special position to benefit their local communities, both economically and socially and to raise awareness and support for conservation of the environment.
The project was supported by the United States Agency for International Development USAID through the Regional Competitiveness Initiative RCI project. The Map Guide project took only one year to reach its current stage.
It is the first joint effort of the counties in the region to promote the Western Balkans as a single destination by highlighting the rich natural and cultural wealth of the region. The Western Balkans Map Guide is an interactive destination information platform that highlights authentic, natural, cultural and historic attractions. It provides travelers with an online map that captures and conveys the authenticity of the region through the eyes of the local people. Through its interactive platform the Map Guide links travelers directly to the local attractions and the many small and medium size tourism businesses, owned mainly by locals. The purpose of the co branding by National Geographic is not only to help improve the local economic situation but to contribute to a more positive and distinct image of the region.
The Map Guide presents the Western Balkans region to the more responsible and educated travelers who will be curious to explore this undiscovered destination. Since more people are looking for experience, heritage and cultural travel rather than just doing one thing, we believe that it was the right moment to develop such product for the Western Balkans region.
As above, the National Tourism Agency because of its work in the promotion of the touristic values in the foreign market became part of this initiative with USAID Rritje Albania and the well known informative, international television network, National Geographic.
The National Tourism Agency participated on 18, 22 June at National Geographic headquarters in Washington DC for the inauguration of this portal which is very positive for Albanian tourism. There were presented the traditions, heritage, culture and exciting opportunities for geotourism in the Western Balkans. The residents, visitors, tourism organizations and local businesses in each Western Balkan country are those that have recommended to the tourists the places to see and visit in search of unique destinations and authentic experiences. Following this project, a delegation from AKT composed of Mr. Arber Uka, Director of Marketing and Promotion and Mr. Klodian Pajuni, General Director, participated in an inaugural event of this site on the Internet.
It was organized a small exhibition of some of the most beautiful photos of Balkan countries in the USAID office on 17, 19 June accompanied with a cocktail meeting on 21 June with the project managers of USAID, and also of National Geographic with headquarters in Washington DC, followed by a 2-day exhibition 20 and 22 June in Farragut Square, which is one of the central squares of Washington. This event was very well received by the media of all the participating countries and Albania too.
The series of promotional events in Washington D.C. that marked the official launch of the Western Balkans Map Guide succeeded in generating buzz and positive word of mouth among residents and guests of the US capital. An estimated 2000 people learned about the region and expressed readiness to plan a trip in the near future. In order to build on this success, the Western Balkan countries plan to continue using the same creative and dynamic approach in promoting the region and the Map Guide itself.
Albania will soon be participating in another promotional activity, similar to that of Farragut Square but this time in Tirana.
It is a major step for our destination to be promoted as a destination for National Geographic, but the portal would not have existed without the extremely valuable support from USAID and RCI.