Local Tour Operators Put Kosovo on the Adventure Travel Map

Local Tour Operators Put Kosovo on the Adventure Travel Map
Biking allowed Sali Shoshi to move easily between historical buildings he was restoring. Now, biking is also part of his company's tours of 18th century stone houses.
USAID EMPOWER Private Sector
Mountain views, 2,000-kilometer hiking trail among country's offerings
“There are no politics up here—the mountains bring people together.”

September 2016—Though only slightly larger than the state of Delaware, Kosovo has a lush mountainous perimeter that boasts over 20 peaks above 2,500 meters—offering spectacular panoramic views to those willing to make the climb.

Due to its tumultuous history, the country’s rugged mountains and breathtaking vistas have largely been a secret kept by the traders and shepherds that have called them home for centuries—until recently. A group of local tour operators is now working to broadcast that secret, promoting Europe’s youngest country as its newest adventure travel destination.

“I only started hiking about six years ago, but I was immediately hooked,” explains Uta Ibrahimi, who recently left her career in marketing to launch tour company Balkan Outdoor Experience. “I want to share the same passion for these mountains with my guests that was first instilled in me. There are no politics up here—the mountains bring people together.”

Ibrahimi is one of 40 Kosovo mountain guides and tour operators to take the two-part AdventureEDU training course provided by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in 2015. Participants learned how to access the international adventure tourism market and how to best prepare and promote safe tour packages.

The course is sponsored by the USAID EMPOWER Private Sector project.

“The training really pushed me to think creatively, so I restructured my existing tour offerings and expanded my knowledge of adventure sports,” says Sali Shoshi, founder of tour company Catun. An architect with over 15 years working to preserve Kosovo’s cultural heritage, his most popular tours pair mountain biking with visits to restored 18th century stone houses, known as kullas, for guests to learn about western Kosovo’s traditional way of life and cuisine.

Shoshi had just launched his company when ATTA first came to Kosovo to host AdventureWeek in August 2014, which introduced a select group of buyers and journalists to the Balkan region. In May 2016, he presented his company at the trade association’s 300-person conference in nearby Ohrid, Macedonia. And in September 2016, USAID sponsored Shoshi to attend ATTA’s Adventure Travel World Summit in Alaska alongside 700 other operators, buyers and journalists.

“The fact that Kosovo is not a traditional destination for leisure travelers makes it that much more intriguing for the adventure tourism community,” explains ATTA Executive Director for Europe Chris Doyle. “We see Kosovo’s potential and are committed to continuing our work alongside USAID to help the country’s dedicated tour operators develop further.”

In addition to its partnership with the ATTA, USAID is focusing its regional tourism efforts on developing and promoting the 2,000-kilometer Via Dinarica mega hiking trail and cultural corridor that follows the Dinaric Alps from Slovenia to Macedonia. In Kosovo, this means training and equipping local operators to join the alliance of well-established adventure tourism companies in the region. Since completing the trail markings in fall 2015, Via Dinarica Kosovo has already seen its first 100 visitors.

The five-year USAID EMPOWER Private Sector project has been working since July 2014 to stimulate large-scale job creation by elevating the competitiveness of Kosovo firms in the growth-ready sectors of apparel, wood processing, ICT, renewable energy, tourism and metal processingTo date, 24 companies have benefited from the project through trainings, fairs, B2B (business-to-business) events and other promotional activities.


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