Tourism, although in principle a secondary economic branch, is a strategic economic orientation in Montenegro, which generates a significant income in the short term, but threatens to endanger the long-term values of the state that make the country an attractive tourist destination. The basic comparative advantage of Montenegro in comparison with most Mediterranean countries is that it offers very diverse natural attractions in a very small area, as well as an extremely valuable cultural heritage, located mostly in Boka Bay, enjoying the status of universal values under the protection of UNESCO. How strategically we are considering the development of tourism, and whether we are using the legacy of heritage for development purposes, we have asked Dr. Rade Ratković, Dean of the Faculty of Business and Tourism from Budva.
"Tourism has evolved in Montenegro for a long time since the 1960s, but with a great stagnation in the 1990s, which has nothing to do with tourism and economics but politics. Tourism recovery came in 2003 and 2004, modestly and slowly, in order to achieve some of the quantitative indicators we had in the 1990s. So, we renewed tourism, we went into privatization that still lasts. We have good results, and we have significant shortcomings, that we need to correct in the coming period, in the next decade, so that we can come back to the side with developed Mediterranean countries, such as neighboring Croatia and other Mediterranean destinations. We have not yet taken significant steps, but it's a good thing we're going in that direction," says Dr. Rade Ratković, the author of many publications and projects in the area of Genesis, state and perspectives of development and tourism development policy in Montenegro, having great experience also in the field of hotel management.
TMN: The question is whether we will be able to correct the mistakes we are making now, especially from the perspective of space use, which is, in terms of its small territory, a very limited resource for Montenegro?
Dr. Rade Ratković: "We have a very good development strategy, called the Masterplan for Tourism Development, which is in force until 2020. However, we were not consistent in its implementation, probably because of strong building lobby and scant budgets, and so it fell apart in the initiatives to build secondary dwelling homes. Today we are the world champions in the share of secondary flats in the total tourist offer – even more than 60 percent. We are now waiting for this to be sanctioned. I think we have the legal possibilities to do this. Recently, the new Tourism Act was adopted, where an integral hotel model was envisaged. There are no hybrid hotels like in Croatia, only integral, although it can be corrected and refined during the law enforcement. This is a good chance, if organized, that we turn a significant part of the accommodation capacity from secondary flats into hotel facilities. The first such great example is in Petrovac. The hotel, which has 120 accommodation units, with about 300 beds, was planned and built for the secondary housing market offer. The owner realized that because of the high saturation of the market this is not a very good business option, neither for him nor for Petrovac as a tourist destination. He then transformed his apartment building into a hotel building, and we should congratulate him. This should be an example to be saluted and promoted. This hotel will now employ 60-70 people constantly, and about 30 seasonal workers, which will have a positive impact on the social incomes and national product. Such models need to persist and we need to support them through the spatial planning documents. "
TMN: The Tourism Act is proposed by the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, the same ministry responsible for spatial planning. This is also the ministry that has adopted the Law on Space Planning and Construction of Facilities. It is the same governing body whose proposal for the Special Spatial Plan for the Coastal Area the Government of Montenegro adopted on 14 June 2018, and will soon be found in the Assembly of Montenegro. How much synergy exists within different sectors of the same ministry when planning space and defining the tourism development strategy?
Dr. Rade Ratković: "I do not think spatial planning, sustainable development, and tourism should be married within the same government body. Sustainable development management needs to be separate and serves as a controller for all ministries and businesses to put them on sustainable development. This unnatural marriage that has lasted for several government mandates has just meant that the importance of tourism and the importance of sustainable planning are being sacrificed for the account of large investors. The building lobby within the ministry has proved much more significant than the tourism lobby. If these sectors are separated, then we have rounded separate entities, as it was before, and as in some other tourist countries, I believe we would not come to this situation. It is good that the institutional door is open to overcome it. I would like tourism, considering its importance for Montenegro, to be separated into its own ministry and that the management of sustainable development is also separate, in order to be a shield of sustainable development in Montenegro, compared to tourism and all other branches of industry. In this, I mean all three elements of sustainability, economic, ecological and social. The balance needs to be found. According to the United Nations Declaration, tourism is only acceptable if it is sustainable for the population, for nature, and for economics as well."
TMN: The fact is that Montenegro is attracting an increasing number of tourists. In your opinion, is the reason in our rich natural and cultural heritage, or just the fact that, given the stagnation in the development of tourism in the years when it is flourishing globally, our country has long been a relatively unknown tourist destination?
Dr. Rade Ratković: "Montenegro is a destination in the Mediterranean. By joining the NATO Alliance, it became more secure in the eyes of tourists, so fears, naturally tied to staying out of their country during the summer, are now amortized because we are in the collective security system they are familiar with, and trusted by guests from developed broadcasting markets. Montenegro is a pearl in the Mediterranean, a land of exceptional natural beauty. Our main attraction is nature. Just look at Boka Bay, the Budva Riviera, the Ulcinj Riviera, our mountains. In the Master Plan of Tourism Development, it is figuratively stated that Montenegro in winter may be like Switzerland in the best sense of the word, as well as it could be sustainable or Majorca in the summer. So, we have the potential that has developed the best quality tourist destinations, in a small area. We also have a significant cultural heritage, which is our great advantage. All cultures, both west and east, Venice, Byzantium, and Islamic culture left their traces in Montenegro. It should only be well-known to be marketed and incorporated into new forms of sustainable tourism - agro-tourism, wine tourism, creative tourism. Not to boast about my own country, I would quote a scientific delegation from Germany, postgraduate students who stayed with their professors for seven days in Montenegro. Their conclusion was that there is no market segment in the German tourism market, which is one of the strongest emotive tourism markets, which could not be met in Montenegro. But, they say, the German public is not familiar enough with our country and its treasures. We are not on relevant social networks, there are no catalogs and electronic brochures for important tour operators. That's something we need to keep in mind. What is missing is the fact that we have recently destroyed a great deal of natural heritage, and that is irrefutable. But if we stop now, and I hope we will, if we acknowledge our mistakes and sanctify the situation, I think we can go back to the right path and take advantage of the strategic opportunities we have with such natural and cultural heritage."
TMN: Therefore, the development of tourist products of special interest is our greatest development opportunity. At the same time, these are aspects of a tourist offer that is not invasive, massive and does not lead to social and environmental disturbances that have a bad impact on the life of the domicile population. Have we made some progress in recent years in this regard, do we realize that mass tourism should not be our target?
Dr. Rade Ratković: "Verbally yes, but essentially no significant progress. Big concrete mastodons continue to burst, investors continue to plummet and gain support from institutions to build in protected zones. Even I have heard an opinion that the status of the area of Kotor on the List of world natural and cultural heritage of UNESCO is somehow a development barrier, which is anachronistic. Some aspirations for a quick profit are still not defeated. State institutions and media are not concerned enough, and we strive to protect sustainable development. The main topic in the world, in the debates on tourism, is the issue of sustainability. This is also reflected in Croatia. They argue that there is a danger of over tourism, that there should be control over the number of guests gravitating to the destination. We are only talking about powerful investors who will build great resorts, new cities, which is incompatible with the principles of sustainable development, which we are declaratively advocating, with the category of Montenegro as an ecological state, a constitutional category that is not respected."
TMN: When it comes to staff potential in the field of tourism, as well as scientific and educational capacities if we talk about accessible education for future tourist workers, do we also need a strategy and a plan for the future if we want sustainable tourism?
Dr. Rade Ratković: "When the staff is concerned, in my opinion, the biggest problem is motivation. We have been absent from the overseas tourism market for almost three decades, we were present exclusively in the regional market where we had no incentive for staff. The working period was short, only a few months, the salaries were very low. Later, by moving to the dominant Russian market, the situation did not change a lot. Therefore, people are demotivated to work in tourism, to be educated for tourism, to be permanently educated as tourism workers because they cannot charge their efforts. How will someone be motivated, if his working period lasts two and a half months during the summer season, and if his salary is 300 euros?! How can people be enthusiastic in these circumstances, how can they be satisfied?! If the workers are not satisfied, then neither the guests will be satisfied. So that's the key problem.
It is necessary for us to bring our tourism industry to the long-term capacity of 170-180 days, or at least 150-160 days, as we had in the 90s, and to strive for the standards of Italy, Spain and other developed countries of the Mediterranean. Then, through increased coverage, larger direct and indirect revenues would be generated, and larger salaries could be provided. We are at risk of our staff, who, in spite of all the criticisms, still remains the better part of our tourist resources. We will face a wave of moving of our staff first to Croatia, where these jobs are paid several times better. And then they will go to other European Union countries. And that is totally unsustainable tourism - if your workers, your citizens, flee from tourism, then tourism cannot be socially viable, then it makes no sense. As far as educational institutions are concerned, there have been a lot of educational institutions who have internationalized their curricula lately, but the key problem is, precisely, that we miss motivations. This can only be solved by system measures - destination management, good management. It cannot be left to be only the task of economics, but it needs to be managed by specialized organizations that will, through the form of private-public partnership, help motivate the staff to deliver their maximum and to have a natural urge to improve their profession. To illustrate this, I will serve the training that German experts have provided for our experienced staff. It was training for future trainers - our experienced waitresses, chefs, housekeepers, guides. When they were awarded a diploma, Crone School's Director pointed out that they were tested in the profession and that their German colleagues did not have anything new to teach them, that they knew all they needed to know. During the three months of training, they got knowledge of how to transfer their knowledge and experience to younger colleagues. And again we come to the same problem, which is motivation for young people. This will change when we start managing the destination, when we extend the season, and when we reduce the structure of secondary accommodation capacity in favor of the basic accommodation capacity.
TMN: Does the new Tourism Act open the door to those processes that we need to face, if we want the tourism to be one of the true generators of our country's development?
Dr. Rade Ratković: "The new Law on Tourism opens this door, but the Law itself cannot solve anything. It is above all necessary to reform the governance structure in tourism. Tourism organizations are almost exclusively engaged in the promotion, which is just one of the five elements they should deal with. They are not functioning as an enterprise of private-public partnership, but these organizations are over-related to the state, or better to say to politics and political parties. In addition, they do not integrate stakeholders in the right way and do not exercise their function to be involved in all phases of tourism management and development, starting from initiating projects, harmonizing, sharing, common strategic policies, common selling policies, all that other countries in the Mediterranean have, and what we once had in the former Yugoslavia."