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The U.S. market might be seeing a pullback, but Europe continues to lure budget-conscious travelers to under-explored destinations with a booming hospitality sector.

Nestled between the Adriatic and Ionian Sea inside the Mediterranean is a country smaller than the state of Maryland but rich with wetlands, national parks, mountains and home to 30% of Europe’s flora. 

Albania isn’t what comes to mind when one imagines a European vacation — even so, tourism officials in the country are expecting up to 10 million tourists this year as travelers prioritize budget-friendly destinations. With a long coastal riviera, mountain ranges, lakes and protected natural areas, in January of this year alone, Albania welcomed over 300,000 off-season visitors. That number stood at 194,000 in 2022. 

“We knew that Albania was one of those hidden gems or a secret spot five years ago,” said Niels Mueller-Wickop, CEO of travel company JoinMyTrip, which helps solo travelers find groups to travel with. “Not anymore. It’s picking up tremendously and has become a hot spot for Europeans.” This summer alone, his company is organizing 17 trips to Albania. 

Mueller-Wickop noted that though the country has a negative reputation associated with crime, drug trafficking and corruption, the country is trying to change the image. In terms of tourism and hospitality, it has a lot of potential compared to other Southeast European destinations like Croatia and Greece.

Touted as the Caribbean of Europe, the country has steadily attracted hotel groups. Spanish hospitality group Melia Hotels International announced it will open seven properties in the country by 2025. IHG Hotels & Resorts has signed a franchise agreement with InterContinental Tirana, a first InterContinental Hotels & Resorts in Albania, also due to open in 2025.

As it stands today, most foreign visitors to Albania prefer short-term rentals to hotels. According to official tourism statistics, 11% of visitors stay at hotels, and only for a night. 

The coastal village of Ksamil (sometimes referred to as Bora Bora of Europe) is second among Airbnb’s trending summer destinations by search. And according to AirDNA and a United Nations Development Programme report, the home-sharing and short-term rentals’ sector generated an estimated annual revenue of around  €20 million ($22 million) in 2022.

“2022’s novelty is the emergence of new or little-known markets in the Albanian tourism sector. Since the previous decade, Albania has experienced a steady increase in tourists from Eastern Europe such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine,” the report added. “However, since the beginning of 2022, Albania is seeing a notable increase in visitors from many other European countries, especially high-income ones, such as Spain (+57%), Belgium (+23%), the Netherlands (+36%).”

Growth of the short-term rental market in Albania has been swift since 2019. According to data analysed by AirDNA, there were 4,663 available listings in January 2019. That number rose to 13,770 by May 2023 — that’s a 195% jump. But demand for nightly stays demand spiked 543% in the same period, from 7,425 to 47,794. 

While the average length of stay remained steady, the increase in supply has caused the average daily rates to fall from €67.8 ($75.90) to €59.4 ($66.48)

Vlorë, Albania’s third most populous city, boasts the highest number of properties listed on AirBnB — the city experienced a notable surge in the third quarter of 2022. During this period, there were more than 7,000 apartments available for rent, marking a remarkable 77% increase compared to the same timeframe in 2019. In 2022, the number of rental units saw a significant rise in all locations when compared to 2019, but Tirana city surpassed them all by reaching a record-breaking number that was twice as high.

“While Albania also has good hostels, most tourists prefer renting apartments,” said Mueller-Wickop. “Like I said, Albania isn’t a secret destination anymore — it’s becoming increasingly popular among European millennial tourists.”

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Tags: airbnb, future of lodging, online travel newsletter, short-term rentals, summer travel

Photo credit: View of coastal Ksamil, Albania from a house listed on Airbnb. Source: Airbnb

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