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 Peja region.
As everywhere around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a really negative effect on the tourism sector in Peja. Last year, due to pandemics some of the businesses could not operate at all meanwhile the others did so in very limited capacities. The pandemic affected not only the gastronomy, touristic guides and tour operators but also the Museum of Peja. In this museum the number of visitors decreased enormously compared to the previous years. However, during the lockdown, the Museum and some of the other businesses have used this period to undertake construction work in their enterprises in order to improve the visitors' experience.
Accommodation industry and gastronomy are some of the sub sectors which have been hit hardest because of the pandemic. The Kosovo borders’ closure during the pandemic caused the halt of foreign tourist arrivals and it wasn’t until the summer of 2021 when the lockdown measures were relaxed that this sector started to get back to life. According to an official from the Peja municipality, the data shows that there was a decreased profit of around 4 million euros in this municipality due to the lack of tourism during the pandemic.
Regarding the future of their businesses, most of the participants stated that they are not concerned, as the nature of their work has the potential to go on to greater development and growth. However, their biggest concern when it comes to the region of Peja is the biodegradation, such as deforestation, waste, over construction, usage of tools that are environmentally unfriendly, etc.
Some of the suggestions that the entrepreneurs have received from the tourists are: preservation of virgin forests and the prohibition of road construction in the forests and mountains as soon as possible. According to them, Kosovo needs to develop mountain tourism, but the waste dumps all over the natural environment can negatively affect tourism, resulting in the decline of tourist arrivals. In the area of Gjeravica and Hajla, the environmental degradation is quite enormous and every tourist complains that these issues need to be resolved sooner rather than later. They are also concerned about the management of wastewater, contaminating the stream, degrading water quality and rendering it toxic to humans and the environment. Moreover, another negative phenomenon is hunting and aimless shooting of guns in the air in mountainous areas which are creating fear among tourists. The main and most frequent question that tourists ask tour operators is whether they will be safe during their stay in Kosovo.
Recently, there are also requests such as avoiding the use of plastic when served in restaurants and hotels, but sometimes the tourist operators encounter difficulties and fail to fully meet their requirements due to high cost and difficulty in finding alternative products.
Despite the fact that the pandemic has had a quite negative impact on businesses in the tourism sector in the region of Peja, the entrepreneurs have not changed their tariffs at all. Some of the businesses operate by selling annual tour packages and once they sell them in advance, even if the prices increase massively, there is nothing they can do until around 2 years after.
The main goal for most of the businesses in the tourism sector is to offer a unique experience of Kosovo culture. When it comes to sustainability global trends, they claim that they try to adapt and follow these practices but nevertheless it is quite difficult for them to align these practices given that in Kosovo the term ‘sustainability’ is quite a recent one. Nevertheless they believe that over time they will be able to implement sustainability practices not only in their businesses but in their personal lifestyle as well.
Although they are open and want to make innovative investments which are eco-friendly, they haven’t had the opportunity to do that yet because investment and financing opportunities are quite limited. As an example, the electrical grid in Rugova is very weak, and the only way to fix this issue is to install solar panels, but the cost of their installation is quite high.
This region could grow their operating months into the winter season as well since currently they are active only during the summer season. In 2019, they started with snowshoeing and ski touring, and now their goal is to extend tourism in such a way that it goes continuously from summer season to winter season.