Ruzhdi Kurtishaj: “We are 5 million Albanians and together with the Diaspora, we can become a powerful market in the Balkans”
November 4, 2023 || views
Born in Greikoc, Suhareka, Present for more than two decades on the scene of Kosovo society, Ruzhdi Kurtishaj has made a great contribution to the construction and then to the advancement of many important institutions in the country and is today one of the names most important in the tourism business. From 2018 until today, he holds the position of Speaker of the Assembly and at the same time that of the chairman of the Road Passenger Transport Association. An early member and chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, exercising various functions since 2006, he has always been in defense of the interests of businesses with the problems they have encountered all along.
Travel took this interview to Mr. Kurtishaj, to understand a little better and a little more about Sharr Travel’s more than twenty years of activity in Albania, as a very important actor of tourism, which is not just “a transporter” of tourists in the summer season but a true determinant of the trend for year-round tourism in Albania.
You are one of the most engaged and talked about public figures for your approach to Albania-Kosovo cooperation and not only in tourism, despite the opposition or different opinions. Why do you have this approach?
You are telling me why I love Albania, right? I love Albania because I am Albanian, because I grew up with the spirit of love for Albania not as an Albanian state across the border but as a nation, even though we were separated. Our parents suffered separation and paid dearly for the expression of patriotism.
Ever since I started thinking about business, I have aimed to get as close as possible to Albania and my contribution to the field of tourism was my approach to a union that transcends political boundaries. We are 5 million Albanians and if we unite the millions of Diaspora Albanians, we can become a powerful and quite interesting market, which creates income for our families and strengthens the economy of each of us.
How many years have you been practicing your tourist activity in Albania?
From 2002, I reopened the company after the damage of the Sharr Travel agency, both as an agency and as a property, from the War in Kosovo, and I started the activity in the direction of Albania. And since then our only market has been towards Albania for more than two decades and this makes us even more proud. Today I can say that we have access to all Albanian tourist structures, in every city of Albania, and we send our groups on all weekends of the year, except for the summer season.
How has Albania’s tourist offer changed over the years? For good? For bad? the same?
Albania’s tourist offer has of course changed a lot. In order to understand how much has changed, it is enough to tell you a simple fact; in 2002, when I traveled from Pristina to Saranda, it took me 29 hours, while today I can go in 5 hours. Of course, the change in Albania has not only happened in the road infrastructure but also in the tourist infrastructure, even in the economic infrastructure, because today Albania is not simply part of the region’s offer but of agencies that operate in the entire world market.
The change is big and has come gradually over the years, but I think that the real big change happened during the time of Mr. Blendi Klosi’s tenure as Minister of Tourism, whom I prefer to call the Minister of the Nation, for the very constructive and pro-tourist approach he has had in terms of relations between us, especially during the Pandemic.
Your fleet “Sharr Travel: is currently the largest in Kosovo and this is clearly visible every weekend when colorful buses fill the streets and hotels of Albania. What exactly is its capacity?
Of course, Sharr Travel is already in every corner of Albania and not only on the coast, it is present throughout the year and not only in summer and with our hard work we have been rewarded with the high title “Ambassador of Kosovo in Albania”. thanks to the commitment to extend the tourist season beyond the former peak. As recently as 2012-2013-2014, the tourist season in Saranda did not last more than a month and a half, today we have groups enjoying Saranda and Ksamil from early spring to late autumn.
Our fleet consists of about 30 modern and very comfortable buses, which offer excellent conditions for all travelers, thanks to the exceptional work of a very professional staff. We have managed to raise the company on the shoulders of a big job and today we are satisfied with the financial results as it was not very profitable before but today we are seeing the fruits of our work. We have always wanted Sharr Travel to be identified as a company whose market is only Albania, and we have reached the goal.
How is your cooperation with operators and hosts in Albania? What would you like to change about this report?
The cooperation is excellent not only with the operators but with all the actors of the Albanian market at the local, central, institutional and managerial level, in terms of leaders and structures and investors. We have excellent relations with many mayors of tourist cities, with whom we organize joint activities where we highlight problems and many of them also receive solutions. I can say that our relations are constructive, because our interest is also common.
You and other fellow agencies in Kosovo have invested heavily so that tourists from Kosovo come to Albania not only in summer but throughout the year and in fact their number constitutes more than half of the annual flow. But the same thing does not happen with the Albanian agencies in relation to Kosovo. Have you ever thought of offering tours the other way around, that is, your fleet should move to Albania and offer tours in Kosovo, to balance the unfair ratio of the number of tourists?
In fact, it has been a long time since we have been thinking of opening a Sharr Travel office in Tirana as well, for a more complete extension of our activity because we also feel what you say, that is, the fact that Kosovo is not the first choice for Albania , as Albania is the first choice for Kosovo. This is not so simple because we have to increase our fleet, to build reverse itineraries, that is, from Albania to Kosovo.
However, very soon I believe that we will also implement this project of ours, in an effort to slightly balance the skewed ratio and to make Kosovo as visited as Albania throughout the year. We know that we do not have a sea and it is difficult to balance this balance, but in winter tourism we have many advantages, even Albanians visit us in all our winter tourist spots, in our mountains and in ski resorts.
But Kosovo does not only have skis and snowboards, it has many beautiful natural, historical, cultural heritage spots and on the other hand we are a nation, we have a history, there is no need to be ashamed to use the term patriotic tourism. Many nations have oriented their economy towards the patriotic approach, they build their tourist offer around the theme of patriotism, there is no reason why we, being a small nation, should not do it. So let’s visit Albania and Kosovo for patriotic reasons, if we can empower them economically