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