Peaks of the Balkans in times of Covid – 2021 in review

The Peaks of the Balkans trail was open during the pandemic times in 2021, reaching its peak in August and September, while being quite low in June and July, report different guesthouses and agencies.

2021 is the first year after “the tourism dead year 2020” thus the industry and the travellers were not adjusted to the new conditions. The beginning of the year started with fear and hesitation, and June faced quite some flying restrictions, therefore the market was open only in July and August, with a higher than usual presence of clients in September.

“In June we were looking at 2021 as a survival year same as 2020. We were hoping for a bit more but no ambition. In July with the implementation of vaccine regulation, things looked like they were coming back to normal and there was a flow of tourists”, says Nol Krasniqi leading the operations of Balkan Natural Adventure.

Add hoc booking soared

“We faced a season when people were looking for quick solutions to their travel requests. Usually, people book far in advance. This year we had an ad hoc situation which we think we have managed nicely”, he adds.

Zeki Ahmetxhekaj owner of the Guest House Lojza in Zllanopoje agrees with the estimate “we had a lot of cancellation for June, also due to the snow. Our business was half of that of 2019”.

Other than the willingness of people to travel, there are other things that influenced the season.  These issues are the rate of vaccination and the implementation of safe travel rules in different countries. Governments and institutions in the three countries of Peaks of the Balkans took action.  All have secured vaccination for hospitality workers as a priority and implemented safe travel measures.

Most of the accommodation respected the rules and got staff vaccinated, as did the guides on the trail.

Police requesting vaccination

For travelers to gain border crossing permits in the mountains, there was a need for proof of vaccination. During this period, there were no incidents or refusals for border permits for anyone that had vaccine proof.

Additionally, police and other border authorities were not stricter in checking travellers for their papers. With the growth of the flow of clients in July, the trail Peaks of the Balkans looked business as usual.

“90 percent of my clients had two vaccines”, says Zeki Ahmetxhekaj. He was pointing at the fact that people took precautions and then traveled. “There was a big number of clients sleeping in tents. This may have been due to covid”.

What about 2022

The next year looks like it is going to be better, based on a general evaluation of experts and local expectations. Many an expert has evaluated that 2022 will reach the levels of 2019, however, some are sceptical.

For the Peaks of the Balkans trail, Ahmetxhekaj hopes for the same business as in 2019, while he expects better than 2021. His college from Balkan Natural Adventure, Nol has a different view:

“We are confident we will have a better year than 2021 and even better than 2019. Some things will change however we believe mountain tourism will grow as people are more conscious of the nature and joy that this brings in their lives”.

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