SAT, 15 JUL 1995 08:05:29 GMT
July 9, 1995
"We are going to the seaside via Montenegro, since our sea suits us the best". However cute this advertising slogan may have appeared to the possible tourists from Belgrade and Vojvodina, it did not bring them to the Montenegrin coast. This opened a new sphere of discord between Serbia and Montenegro. These controversies could "be read between the lines" during the preparation season, but in the last days of June, that is, on the eve of the peak of the summer tourist season, they burst out in the open.
In fact, it must be born in mind that tourism is a natural cause of misunderstandings and disagreements in creating measures of economic policy of the two federal units. The political inheritance of Serb-Montenegrin relations just additionally increases and complicates these controversies. Namely, while tourism on the Yugoslav level is not a significant branch of the economy and does not deserve special attention of the federal agencies since it participates in the social product of the FRY with less than 2 per cent, in Montenegro it is considered to be one of the most significant, even the priority branches of the economy and pillars of its future development. According to the just completed Project of Tourism Development until Year 2000, as it is believed in the Montenegrin Government, this branch of the economy still has to be given the place it deserves and, of course, yield expected results.
This year's measures of economic policy of the Montenegrin Government give priority to tourism. It is a branch of the economy for which the greatest growth rate is planned - 15 per cent. It is planned that the tourist economy will make over five and a half million tourist days this year, and participate in the formation of the social product of Montenegro with over eight per cent. Once, Montenegro used to register up to 150 million dollar foreign currency income out of tourism. The greatest damage to Montenegrin economy caused by the sanctions is in the sphere of maritime shipping industry (since the fleet of about forty ships is imprisoned in world ports) and tourism. It is assessed that, due to the blockade, Montenegro has so far lost about 600 million dollars of income from tourism. There is not a rag of foreign guests, so that last year, as an illustration, they formed just one per cent of the total number of guests who have visited Montenegro. Together with that, the number of employees in this branch of the economy was reduced from 13 thousand in 1989 to just seven and a half in the course of last year.
Since the "invisible" exportation via tourism could significantly improve the blood count of the exhausted Montenegrin economy, the Ministry of Tourism of Montenegro, towards the end of last year, proposed to free organized tourist groups from abroad of the complicated and slow procedure of getting Yugoslav visas. This proposal was adopted by the Montenegrin Government and forwarded to the competent federal agencies. (On the level of the FRY there is no separate ministry of tourism). But, it did not meet with understanding. On the contrary, in the past few days, at the peak of the season, the Federal Government adopted a decree which obliges the citizens of Macedonia to enter the FRY with passport instead of identity cards as until now!
- Our economic arguments, Slobodan Lekovic, Assistant Minister of Tourism, explains - met with an impenetrable shield of political barriers. This year, we will again remain without guests from Western Europe because of the principle of reciprocity. We have succeeded, however, to speed up the procedure for issuing tourist visas.
Having lost all hope in a significant comeback of the richest clients from the West, Montenegrin entrepreneurs turned to the Eastern Eropean market. According to the assessments of the Ministry of Toiurism, the already signed arrangements promise a somewhat more numerous arrival of guests from Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic and Hungary. There was hope that the Macedonians would come in significant numbers, and they were even promised the status of domestic guests, but Belgrade introduced visas for them. Since the Montenegrin seaside is primarily an airplane destination, and since neither Tivat nor Podgorica airport have a permit for international flights, the Montenegrins calculated that they would need at least fifteen flights a day to transport guests from Belgrade to the seaside. But the first talks with the airplane company, JAT, as interlocutors from the Ministry of Tourism testify, proved that this was not at all simple. For such a large number of flights, they said in JAT, they could find airplanes, but not the fuel. Therefore, the only "logical" business conclusion of JAT was - you give us the fuel (not sell, give), and we will fly to Tivat and charge for the tickets. Where would Montenegrins get the fuel? Perhaps from the quota of domestic fuel Montenegro had no way of getting; Vojin Djukanovic, President of the Chamber of the Economy, complains that Montenegro uses only one per cent of the oil from domestic sources although it participates in the industrial production of the country with 6.5 per cent. Therefore, it was agreed in principle that JAT would fly twice a day from Belgrade to Podgorica and six times a day to Tivat. However, JAT decided to proclaim the new flights as charter flights and charges the fare double. That is the reason why the Chamber of the Economy of Montenegro recently protested publicly demanding from JAT to specify which of the planned flights were regular, and which were special, the so-called charter flights. All Vojin Djukanovic could do apart from that was, of course, to state that everywhere in the world charter fights were cheaper than the regular flights, but that this business principle was not valid with the domestic airline company.
That is why the almost comic attempts of Montenegro to found its own airline company began. It was founded primarily for the needs of the tourist industry, and it was announced that the first airplanes would take off at the beginning of the tourist season. In mid May it was announced that the first rented "Tupollev" planes would start flying between Moscow and Tivat in the course of June. But, nothing happened. "Montenegro Airlines" still has just a director, and it got its trademark a few days ago.
Airports, and there are two of them in Montenegro, remain the almost insoluble problem, since they are owned by JAT, which is again owned by the Government of Serbia. The Montenegrin company has no luck with renting planes either, since it is negotiating without any success about renting planes with that same JAT for a couple of months already, and the question whether at least the Tivat airport, like the one in Surcin near Belgrade, will get a permit for international flights, remains without an answer. "The Government is making great efforts to enable landing of international, even if only charter flights, at the Montenegrin airports without having to land in Belgrade first", Montenegrin Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, encouragingly declared at the recent talks with Montenegrin entrepreneurs. "This issue is more than mature", Djukanovic says, "and everyday activities pursued by the Government of Montenegro, hopefully, must yield results".
For a mass arrival of foreign guests, it is, all things considered, already too late. Perhaps something could be done in August with Italian "feragosto", since Montenegroexpress, as claimed by its Director Dusan Lijesevic, is planning to open a ship line Bar-Bari (the name of the ship is symptomatic: "Regina Jelena"), and the Minister of Maritime Affairs and Transportation, Vojislav Micunovic, announces that soon, "Jugooceanija" will also open a ferryboat line between Kotor and Bari.
Therefore, the only hope for a prosperous tourist harvest this year, which remains are the guests from Serbia. But, at least according to what the Belgrade press writes, Montenegrin seaside is too expensive for them. From April until July, Montenegrin tourist workers claim, a campaign has been going on in Belgrade media in which prices of holidays at the Montenegrin coast are intentionally compared with those in Greece, and proclaimed to be too expensive. Sometimes, it was seasoned with political motives, too, with stories about alleged "separation of Montenegro" or "the friendly Greek people". - - Presenting the prices as even higher than they really are - Ljubo Radjenovic, Director of Budva Hotel "Avala", explains - is achieved by comparing the prices in the elite hotels on the Montenegrin coast such as "Avala", "Sveti Stefan", "Milocer" or Herceg-Novi "Plaza" with the prices in mediocre holiday resorts on the island of Corfu, Cyprus or in Greece.
"Our prices are not only lower than those in Greece, Ivo Armenko, deputy Director General of "Budva Riviera" claims, "but we are still the cheapest tourist destination in the meditarranean." Slobodan Lekovic states the fact that last year tourists from Serbia left over a billion dollars in Greece last year, and that, before the incident at the basketball Championship of Europe, the Greek embassy in Belgrade issued about three thousand visas a day for the citizens of Serbia who were planning to spend their holidays in this country.
In the same context, Montenegrin tourist workers were shocked by the latest decision of the Federal Government enabling the citizens of the FRY to take sums up to a thousand German marks out of the country without a bank certificate. Vojin Djukanovic assesses this as a "direct assault on the stability of the economy and the program for economic recovery of the country, the greatest damage of which will be suffered by Montenegrin tourist industry". At the assembly of the Montenegrin Chamber of the Economy it could be heard on the occasion that this decision was unacceptable because the guests were practically pushed to go out of the country in this way, outflow of foreign currency was allowed and smuggling was stimulated. An appeal was addressed to the competent federal agencies because of it, although the initiators of the appeal themselves, in a private conversation admit that they have no hopes that it will have any effects.
And yet, the season has started comparatively successfully. In the beginning of July, about 35 thousand guests have already filled a part of Montenegrin tourist capacities which consist of more than 140 thousand beds. The guests are, of course, mostly from Serbia. After all, as Dr Vanja Brailo from the Tourist Alliance of Montenegro says, they formed 95 per cent of the tourists who visited Montenegrin sea coast last year.
While the media in Serbia are complaining that the holidays at the Montenegrin coast are too expensive, Montenegrin opposition parties state with regret that the former elite hotels are transformed into trade union holiday resorts. In the existing conditions, Montenegrin tourism can operate primarily on account of the guests from Serbia, so it has to form the prices in accordance with their payment possibilities. That is why the advertisement from the beginning of the text was welcomed by the tourist workers. The other one which served some other "tourists" from Serbia to claim Montenegro for themselves (Who says, who lies that Serbia has no sea, yes it has, yes it has, while it has Montenegro!), is no concern of theirs, after all.