Focus Groups were an integral part of the Needs Assessment of the MSMEs in the tourism sector in Kosovo. These Focus Groups are a component of the Green Hub Program, a program which is implemented by Sustainability Leadership Kosovo in partnership with VentureUP and UNDP Kosovo. This program is leading the change and driving the ecotourism trends in Kosovo. In this Focus Group we hosted representatives from different sub-sectors of tourism from the Gjakova region.
Entrepreneurs of the tourism sector in the Gjakova region, just like in other cities as well, stated that the pandemic was really challenging their operations, regardless of the sub-sectors that they belong to. In order to continue operating with their businesses during the pandemic, they tried to serve the clients in the most suitable and careful ways during the time of strictest lockdown measures so they could maintain the health safety. Due to the pandemic, the gastronomy sector, accommodation industry were not permitted to operate for a long period of time, and some of them even had to lay off some of their employees, only keeping the essential staff, while some of them ran their businesses themselves.
When the lockdown measures were relaxed and a high number of members from diaspora came to Kosovo, the situation improved slightly, but nevertheless there were still hardships in their operations.
In Gjakova, one of the hardest hit sub-sectors were the guides, who are self-employed, and due to the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic they had to cancel all their prior reservations/bookings, which resulted in their revenues going to zero income. According to them, the year 2020 has been a complete failure and quite worrying, but that will not stop them from working and expanding their businesses.
In Gjakova, the tourism actors are not concerned about the sector, but emphasize that everything depends on tourism, and that the economy, in general, depends on the management of the government’s policies regarding their sector. As long as the government adjusts the policies to the needs and potential of the aforementioned sector, their business will grow.
The touristic guides sector is different from other sectors since it is intertwined with the other sub-sectors, in that if the accommodation industry operates well then the guides will have their share of work as well. One of the biggest necessities in Gjakova is the need for a tourist information center, as currently there is none of that kind. The locals are really interested in the development and promotion of tourism in Gjakova, but according to them the local institutions have not done enough to promote the city and attract new tourists.
The structure of tourists depends on whether they come in groups or as individuals. Diaspora members usually come in groups while foreigners usually come as individuals. Usually, groups of mountaineers, cyclists and students stay in hostels/lodgings. On the other hand, small groups of people or couples usually go to Meja at Biolodge, and they ask for bio products, based on the name that this lodge bears.
Tourists that visit Gjakova are usually satisfied with the food and the hygiene, but they have suggested the local entrepreneurs not to use one-use plastic products. One thing which has soured tourists experiences has been litter in different parts of the city. The requests for vegetarian and vegan food is on the rise, which was not present before.
As for sustainability with their limited knowledge, entrepreneurs are open and want to implement green practices in their businesses. One of the participants even emphasized the fact that Kosovo needs to have a green political party which would offer more beneficial and different alternatives from the other traditional parties.
During the pandemic, some of the entrepreneurs had slightly increased the tariffs due to the coverage of hygiene costs, but after the relaxation of lockdown measures the tariffs were turned back to the original price, while the majority of businesses did not change their tariffs at all.
Entrepreneurs in Gjakova region try to adapt to green practices, but according to them, their opportunities are limited to make such investments due to financial costs and limited access to financing.
One of the participants stated that he started the process of certifying his business as eco-friendly, but the situation with COVID-19 forced him to postpone this certification. Plastic disposal, waste categorization and recycling, heat pumps, solar panel installation etc. were only some of the innovative ideas that they would like to implement in their daily operations. However, according to them, regulations and laws in Kosovo are not that practical and need to be amended and updated in order to be more beneficial for everyone.