Blerina Ago: “Albania Adventure Resort” welcomes anyone to contribute

After developing a new touristic market and remaining a strong promoter of sustainable adventure tourism in Albania, many may wonder: what is next for Albania Rafting Group (ARG)? In fact, there is a big surprise coming from ARG: The creation of Albania Adventure Resort!

Albania Rafting Group ( ARG ) is the first tourism and sport organization in Albania with full member rights of International Rafting Federation. 

“We are working on Albania Adventure Resort which is a very ambitious project that aims to build the largest adventure tourism hospitability center in the Balkans to promote all year round sustainable eco-friendly tourism featuring 15 sports and activities,” said Blerina Ago, Vice-President of ARG in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times.

Ago welcomed everyone who wants to give a contribution to the development of this new center. The 28-year old professional lawyer is happy that ARG has never been alone in all these years. “Through the years, ARG has been very grateful to all its direct and indirect supporters. I must mention that USAID has been a constant help and support through these years, especially in the early growth phase,” she said.


Albania Rafting Group is a project, which is being developed for many years now. Please can you make an updated picture about this project and what are some of its major highlights?

Albania Rafting Group (ARG) was the first organization in Albania to introduce rafting more than a decade ago, both as a sport and as a touristic outdoor activity. ARG has been developing a new touristic market and is a strong promoter of sustainable adventure tourism in Albania.

In 2011, ARG founded the Albanian Rafting Federation which is a part of the International Rafting Federation and a member of Adventure Travel Trade Association.  In 2012, ARG represented Albania for the First time in the World Rafting Championship and achieved substantial results by ranking in the 4-th place in one of the competition disciplines.

What is the latest innovation Albania Rafting Group is about to launch?

We are working on Albania Adventure Resort which is a very ambitious project that aims to build the largest adventure tourism hospitability center in the Balkans to promote all year round sustainable eco-friendly tourism featuring 15 sports and activities. We have already set our goals and objectives and we are working hard to achieve our first milestone of establishing the visitor welcoming center and basic accommodation facilities within the year 2017. The AAR project is being implemented in three phases over the period of 5 years, so we expect to unravel one by one each one of the surprises that this centre hold and to list a few that we are working hard to develop within the first two years: 1. developing 5 new outdoor sports/recreational activities besides rafting (kayaking, hydro speed, mountain biking, snow-shooing, climbing) in the area around the centre within the first phase; 2. developing student spring-summer-winter break programs  for high-school and university students. 3. offer tourism professional and tour guide certification for young people that want to invest in a career in adventure tourism, tourism management, etc.If you were in front of a foreign audience, what would be your invitation to them about Albania Adventure Resort and would you address any remark or request to them?

We are now being supported by a lot of people through funds and capacity building because the AAR project is a very big project for Albania, the Balkans and outdoor sports. We welcome anyone who wants to give a contribution to the development of this center to join us, or come and visit us in a rafting trip in Vjosa River, Permet or for Osumi river canyons exploration, in Skrapar. We are still fundraising for this project and any contribution or volunteering engagement is very welcome and highly appreciated.

Who have been some of the conspicuous personalities who have been part of the unforgettable Albanian rafting experience?

 We have had the privilege to host many personalities in our activities such as the current Albanian Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, heads of the major international embassies in Albania, former ambassador of USA and I’ll take this chance to make an open invitation to his Excellency the current ambassador of US Mr. Donald Lu who is a renowned nature lover. Ambassador of Slovenia Lea Stančič has been part of our rafting trip in Osumi Canyons this June, surprising our team with her sport and energy behavior. The Czech Ambassador Mrs. Bronislava Tomášová is as well one of our biggest supporters, enthusiast of adventure activities. All of them have helped us not only in promotion of this new tourism destinations for Albania, but in the meantime to increase awareness about environmental protection and better management of these nature parks and monuments like Vjosa river and Osumi Canyons.

Over this decade, has Albania Rafting Group been alone or a constant supporter has followed it?

Through the years ARG has been very grateful to all its direct and indirect supporters. I must mention that USAID has been a constant help and support through these years, especially in the early growth phase. The GoA has been a very big help as well. It helped reconstruct the current road that connects the city of Corovoda to the Osumi Canyons, and now in cooperation with the ADF is making a considerable contribution to ARF-s newest project Albania Adventure Resort.  Also very important supporters have been the Swiss Embassy, Albanian Development Fund and EBRD. I would also express a very special “thank you” to our greatest supporters, the Albanian media community in spreading the culture of sustainable tourism, love for the nature and wellbeing though sport.

There have got to be some startup challenges you faced trying to get this business started. What were some and how did you overcome them given that you are a female entrepreneur in this field?

It is challenging for women, especially young women everywhere in the world to assume a leadership position, mainly because of how societies have been built. I have been through a lot as a young women working in Albania and I am trying to inspire other young women like myself by giving a positive model, a model of hard work and perseverance as the right way to succeed. We have been doing great with rafting, almost every season, for over 15 years, we have accomplished a lot! Here, I am not just talking about promoting and standardizing rafting but also promoting adventure tourism, nature preservation and youth employment and participation in our activities. It didn’t happened overnight…It started over 15 years ago when after so many requests from our friends and family members we started to do our first rafting trips in the Osumi canyons.  Zamo Spathara who is now the president of the Albania Rafting Federation (ARF) was the one of the first rafting aficionados in Albania, so he had the idea to transform his passion and the many requests that he was getting into an actual experience. He acted upon his dream of making rafting accessible, safe and enjoyable for everyone and he pushed me and a few other young rafting fans into becoming certified guides. Ever since, the ARF was established and has been doing a lot of work to guarantee that rafting is exercised according to international standards in Albania.

You obviously are doing what you love but what is the ultimate goal in this business?

I believe it is possible to make Albania on the world scene as an advanced, world-class and professional adventure tourism destination. This is my dream and I will do my best to see it come true. I love everything about rafting…and I take great pride in touring visitors around with our rafts. We have been given a great opportunity to show to the whole world that Albania holds remarkable treasures ready to be discovered. To add to that rafting is one of the best activities to meet and bond with people.  There is so much positive energy, laughter and friendship involved around rafting and I get to do that every year, every season! It really motivates me being around people and that’s what I believe enjoy most about rafting.

July 8, 2016

‘Let me show you all about The Plaza Tirana’

The newest hotel in Albania is The Plaza Tirana which has opened its doors since last April. It cannot be missed even for its nice architecture which has the name of the Belgian company, “51N4E” in Brussels, managed by the architect Johan Anrys.

This Hotel is a 100% Albanian investment highlighting two big companies – TID (Tirana International Development sh.p.k.) and Agna Group.

But its management is Italian and Albanian. Carmelo Franco Lentini, the General Manager of this hotel, alongside with his Team is constantly working in the management of The Plaza Tirana in the best way possible. Using his 30 years in the hotels’market, Mr. Lentini explains in the following exclusive interview with Tirana Times why clients should choose The Plaza Tirana which comprises 190 rooms, 3 restaurants, 3 Bars, a 24-hour Gym, Wellness SPA, meeting rooms and many more.

– What is the story about The Plaza Tirana Hotel?

– I arrived in Albania in April 2015. But the construction of this hotel started some 5-6 years ago. Only two years ago, the owners of this building decided to go for a 5-star hotel. Then, I was asked alongside with my team to come over for the opening of this hotel.

– How does the beginning look like?

– Last year, the building was polished off. We are giving our experience to organize all the management aspects of the hotel and its positioning in the market. We started to take care of the process since last year. My experience is directly linked with the hotels. For 30 years, I have worked with big names in this field such as Hilton, Intercontinental, and others. This is the seventh time in my career when I deal with the operation of a new hotel.

– How is the feedback of the clients so far?

– We are open for one month and a half. So, it is a short time. However, the clients are happy. Most of our clients are from the other countries. If you read their comments on TripAdvisor or, the big satisfaction for us is to know that they appreciate the quality of the building, the quality of rooms and the quality of service. I think the owner has done a very good job with the project.

– Can you tell us some interesting facts about the people who stay behind the architecture and the design?

– The architecture of our building bears the authorship of a Belgian company, “51N4E” in Brussels, managed by the architect Johan Anrys. The Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 is currently being held. And The Plaza Hotel is being displayed in this prestigious international project for its fine architecture. We are proud of that. Even last year, the project received awards by MoMa (Museum of Modern Arts) in New York, US. So, the Hotel has been highly appreciated architecturally. We also have a group of Italian architects and interior designers who work for all the rooms, the restaurants, the SPA and the furniture. Mauro Margheri company, which is based in Albania, is the coordinator of this group of architects and interior designers: Alessandro Dolci is the architect from Trento, of every room in this Hotel. Two other architects and interior designers from Florence, Camilla Lapucci and Lapo Bianchi Luci have made all the projects about the restaurants: Panevino, Convivium and Savor. All these experts cooperate together to take care of the rest in this Hotel.

– I have heard that The Plaza Hotel comprises the best Spa in Albania.

– (Laughing) I don’t know whether it is the best SPA in Albania… But even the Spa is a work from the hands of Alessandro Dolci in cooperation with an Italian company, called Starpool. The latter is the number one in Europe for the construction of spa areas.

– How about the beds?

– The group of architects and I have chosen “Simmons”, the number one bedding company in the world for hotels. For example, Starwood, Hilton, Four Seasons and others buy beds from Simmons.

There is also a Greek supplier, “Coco-Mat”, which produces beds made of natural products only to avoid allergic reactions.

– And the chef?

– We have an Italian Executive Chef, Marco Pinelli, with a long international experience in the most prestigious hotel chains. We have even a great cooperation with Italian food suppliers to meet all the requirements and the tastes of all our clients. Obviously we also use the best food suppliers that exist in Albania.

– In your view, what makes a good hotel?

– A good hotel is a place where we can combine together the hardware with the software parts, such as the building, the comfort of the rooms and the public space, the SPA, the restaurants, and a high level of services. But the target is not only to provide good rooms and good services only. If you want to win the competition on the market, you have to offer excellent experiences to all the visitors and guests of the hotel. This is the actual challenge of all the 5-star hotels all over the world: to create experience that people must remember, and feel like high value. And this is the only way to go away from a competition based only on prices. And this is the real strong challenge, because it is a combination of comfort with service. The first part is easier to be achieved but the second part is far more difficult. You need to train very well all the staff. We have a lot of people working here. Everyone needs to be conscious that he/she is part of the process. So, all of them share a part of their contribution to guarantee a great experience to the guest. So, this is like a clock which needs to work precisely.

– What is your invitation to the clients?

What we are doing now is that we are offering a nice combination between comfort, service and price as well as a full service hotel to the guest. We make avail to them a variety of food proposals and services.

– Among the several hotel services, which ones would you choose as the strongest points?

– I would choose Food and Beverage proposals and the SPA. We have Panevino, where we offer homemade pasta and homemade desserts, but even Convivium restaurant, which is open for dinner and offers to our guests a real food experience. So from breakfast, room service to bar, we are trying to offer the highest standard we can. For example, “Nespresso”, the most famous coffee in Europe, was missing in Albania. We, along with Agna Group, brought it here.

About the SPA, we chose as our partner ELEMIS, one of the best producers of cosmetics in Europe.

Small things together make a big difference.

July 1, 2016

The Amazing Story of “UniversPromotion” in Albania

“The backbone of our vision is to continuously strive for innovations and new products in the market”

The leader company in advertising in Albania, “Univers Promotion”, turns 10 years in 2017 while Univers Reklama celebrated its 15th anniversary last January. On such important occasion, the Managing Partner of “UniversPromotion” in Albania, Klodian Haxhiu, speaks about his company in an exclusive interview with Tirana Times revealing its milestones and moreover the key to reach the highest success possible.
“Univers Promotions” serves a large number of clients in banking, telecommunications, FMCG, pharmaceutical industry and not only, by offering a range of more than 2500 products and services, most of which can be found in their yearly catalog.

– How many years is “Univers Promotion” in Albania?

2017 will be the 10th year that Univers Promotions is operating in the Albanian market. Following a need in the market that we had identified for high standards promotional gifts, we first started with the basic technology and products.
It was then and still being extended into a complex production line with the latest technology as well as with a much wider product portfolio.
However, as Univers Group, our first year was in 2001. It is an anniversary year because Univers Reklama also celebrated their 15th anniversary in January. The Group was created based on the idea to have a “one stop shop” for our customers where they can cover their needs for indoor and outdoor advertising materials at Univers Reklama and their needs for promotional gifts and later for digital printing at Univers Promotions.

– How did Univers Promotion stay inspired and fresh at 10 years in the advertising industry?

When we were launched, Univers Reklama was already the leader in the indoor/outdoor advertising industry, so we could not have as an objective other than getting the leading position also in the promotional sector. And we did within 3 years.
– It is this position we had the responsibility to develop the sector and be a benchmark for quality of products and service.
– We’re here on the 10th anniversary of Univers Promotions. I think a lot of people know that the story of this company is pretty amazing. Can you mention some of the major highlights of Univers Promotion?

Well… The backbone of our vision is to continuously strive for innovations and new product launching in the market.
We were the first company to introduce full range catalog in the market for personalized promotional gifts. As the market matured we then focused on creating a vertical range and achieved this in 2012 by introducing High End Brands such as Cacharel, Cerruti1881 and Ungaro.
Later in 2015 we managed to sign exclusive distribution contract with Hugo Boss so we are now able to offer personalized business gifts from a simple ballpoint pen to a super premium conference folder or USB.
– Without a doubt as the most important development since Univers Promotions was founded I would point out our new production line that we introduced in 2013 for small format digital printing. The market has now the opportunity to print exactly the quantity that someone needs. If you need 10 copies, you get 10 copies. Also the speed is tremendous. Once the design is ready it only takes 2 minutes to print the first copy and it goes with a speed of 4000 A4 per hour.
Not only this but printing quality and parameters are very advanced. It is is High Definition printing with resolution 3600x3600dpi. This production line is produced from MGI, a French-American company and in Europe it was launched only in 2012. It is and Eco Friendly line and it consumes only electricity, unlike offset or other printing methods where solvent, plastic inks and other hazardous substances are involved. I am proud to say that this was the first machine in the Balkan region of it’s kind.
Another major highlight for us was the introduction of work wear and safety products in 2015. EU certified products that enabled us to supply such products for high standard safety and quality demanding companies such as FusheKruja Cement Factory, Alumil, etc.

What would you say is the unique DNA that has made UniversPromotions grown up on its own?

There are a few factors together I would say. It starts with our ability to identify market needs and market trends and fulfill them efficiently.
We pay a lot of attention to our suppliers and partners. We consider them crucial for our business. The supply chain can determine directly the service level that one can offer, therefore we choose our suppliers carefully.
Our technology is always updated allowing us to provide quality and efficiency for our customers.
But what is most important of all it is our team. A team designed of young and energetic people, with the right pace and rhythm to perform in a very high intensity work environment that we daily face in the industry we operate.

What’s the coolest thing that you’re excited about in terms of implementing of all the new technologies that the company has followed in these 10 years?

It is inspiring how different technologies combine and work with each other. As I mentioned above, having a complex technology it is one of our main strengths.
At a first sight it seems like our 3 product categories do not have much to do with each other: digital printing, promotional gifts and work wear… But it is exactly the technology that we have implemented that brings them together and allows us to produce all three of them with maximum flexibility. For instance with screen printing we can personalize gifts, work wear and quite a few paper products, while digital printing can be used in paper products as well as personalizing promotional gifts.
When working with our investment plans, how the new technology will integrate with the existing ones is the centre of the analysis.

– What do you see as the biggest challenge in front of the business?

We live in days where digital world is evolving so fast. This is having a direct impact in our industry also. It has an impact in the simplest process such as presenting a catalog or a product, or the process of purchase but even questioning that product’s existence itself.It’s the complexity and the impact that digitalizing will have that I see as the biggest challenge of our business.

– What’s next on the horizon for Univers Promotion?

We are currently working on being closer to our customer by expanding our sales and customer care team. Having such a wide range of products, sometime it is overwhelming for our customers; therefore we are trying to offer a more personalized service.
In terms of technology and new products the plan is to develop POS materials and displays by introducing laser technology within 2017. Laser technology not only will help us to develop new products but can also bring added value to our current portfolio.

September 8, 2016