By Aleksandar Vasovic and Florian Goga
BECICI, Montenegro (Reuters) – The once ubiquitous Russian signs along Montenegro’s scenic Adriatic coast have all but disappeared as war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia keep tourists from these countries away from one of their favorite destinations .
Adriatic resorts in Croatia, Montenegro and Albania, NATO members that have signed up to international sanctions against Russia, are all feeling their absence, dealing a blow to their economies.
Sanctions include banning commercial flights from Russia, blocking Russian banks from international payment systems, making it harder for Russians to access cash abroad, and seizing certain real estate. and yachts owned by Russian oligarchs.
In the Montenegrin resort of Becici, Zarko Radulovic, a hotelier, said there would be few tourists this year from both countries, even though thousands of Russians and Ukrainians who had fled the war were renting apartments long-term.
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Hoteliers, however, say there are not enough of them to compensate for the 380,000 Russians who visited Montenegro in 2019, and they spend far less than tourists.
Some Russian tourists might pass through Istanbul and Belgrade, airports still open to flights from Russia, Radulovic said, adding he hoped visitors from Western and Central Europe, Israel and even Saudi Arabia would make up for the miss to win. Tourism has generally accounted for around 20% of Montenegro’s economy.
Last month, the World Bank lowered Montenegro’s economic growth forecast for 2022 to 3.6% from 5.9% previously, due to the effects of the invasion.
It also cut its growth forecast for the Western Balkans, comprising Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and North Macedonia, to 3.1% from 4.1% in January. The six economies grew 7.4% in 2021 after contracting 3.2% in 2020.
In the last pre-pandemic year, neighboring Croatia had a total of 154,000 Russian guests and 139,000 Ukrainians. In 2021, around 145,000 tourists from each country visited, according to official data.
In January and February of this year, 12,000 Russians visited Croatia, but in March, April and the first half of May only around 4,500 came, far less than normal.
In Albania, where the tourism sector is eager to recover from the effects of the pandemic, hopes were high that 2022 would be a good year. But the war in Ukraine threatens to disrupt that, said Aurenc Hima, a hotelier in the resort town of Durres.
“We had many reservations from Russians and Ukrainians, but they were cancelled,” he said.
Kliton Gerxhani, president of the Association of Tour Operators and Tourist Agencies, said the war in Ukraine had also disrupted potential holidaymakers from the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, as well as Poland and Germany.
“There is a reluctance from these countries to make hotel reservations in Albania. Perhaps tourists from these countries will wait until the last minute…depending on the course of the war.”
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Florian Goga and Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
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