Few will dispute that Montenegro has been riding a wave over the last five years. It has gone from a place that few had ever heard of to a place that everyone is talking about. Investment has been pouring in to its coast particularly around Budva, Tivat and the UNESCO listed Kotor Bay. Podgorica has also benefited disproportionately as businesses grow, tax revenues increase and money flows back to the capital. But all this has left the heart of the country strangely unaffected. The North of Montenegro is where more than half of its population lives. It is where most Montenegrins consider their true origin to be. It is also home to many of the most beautiful sights the country has to offer.
And yet, in spite of all its attributes it is a sad fact that the North still attracts a very small part of the tourist pie. Last year only 2% of the tourist nights spent in the country were spent in the North. But finally it appears that this may be starting to change. The largest investment project in the country’s history has finally gotten underway after a decade of false starts. By May 2019 the first stage of the Bar Boljare highway will be completed connecting Podgorica directly with the North of the country at Matesevo. This will cut the journey time between the two from 80 minutes to 25. It will open up all a plethora of new opportunities.
Among those places affected Kolasin probably stands to benefit most. It is located around the corner from Matesevo on the banks of the Tara River. Up to now it has been known for its skiing in winter and its outdoor pursuits in summer with an emphasis on local and regional visitors. But the attention of international investors is starting to turn towards the town. Starwood recently opened its first mountain hotel in Europe here. It is planning another one by 2022. The ski centre entered into a joint venture with Malaysia’s Arnn Group to start development of a ski village and further investment is planned. The government too is playing its part with supporting investments designed to encourage developers. In addition to the highway project, the government is also building a new road from Kolasin to Berane to connect the town directly into Southern Serbia and Kosovo. It is also close to completing a new set of lift and ski infrastructure to extend the facilities of the ski centre.
Kolasin will soon find itself at the nexus of a new set of regional networks and investors are taking notice. The international airport at Podgorica will be 40 minutes away. Southern Serbia and Kosovo will be less than an hour away. The coast and two million annual visitors will be an hour and a half away. It is hard to imagine a scenario where this does not lead to an immediate and significant boost to tourism in the area. And where there’s tourism there’s profit. Which is why investors are starting to pay attention. Currently, land prices are twenty times lower than on the coast but buyers can see the potential for that to change fast once the highway is finished. For larger investors it is much easier to find larger sites to develop which allows them to control the environment and the experience of their projects more easily. They can offer higher quality at a lower price. All of which makes for an attractive proposition for anyone wondering where to invest in Montenegro.
But all of this may miss the greatest opportunity of all. To build for the local market. Traditionally the focus has always been on foreigners for both tourism and investment. But the new connections will put Kolasin so close to Podgorica that it may very well become the de facto weekend retreat for people in the capital. Kolasin offers a clean, natural alternative to the pollution and summer heat of the capital. Expect local developers to recognise this soon if they haven’t already. All of this helps to explain the frisson of excitement surrounding Kolasin at the moment. Whether the town ends up developing to capture winter tourism, summer tourism, weekenders from the capital or a combination of all three the future for Kolasin promises to be exciting. It would augur well for those looking for a place to invest to check out the town now before the word is out.