Theth is a wonderful village in northern Albania’s Shkodra region. Set among the peaks of the Shala mountains, Theth is isolated, and in times of snow, practically inaccessible. Edith Durham, a famous English traveler and writer on the Balkans, visited the area in 1908. She wrote of its seclusion:‘I think no place where human beings live has given me such an impression of majestic isolation from the entire world. It is a spot where the
centuries shrivel; the river might be the world’s well-spring, its banks the fit home of elemental instincts–passions that are red and rapid.’
Legend has it that Theth was founded 400 years ago by 6 brothers. Individual parts of the village still bear the names of these brothers. In a presentation at the International Peace Research Association, Antonia Young, an anthropologist who participated in a 2005 research project in Shala valley, suggested this ‘perceived family link’ could be the explanation for the unusually low levels of internal conflicts and blood feuds in Theth.  According to Theth’s primarily Catholic inhabitants, the village was founded as a refuge to escape conversion to Islam by the Ottomans.
After the Second World War and the country’s self imposed isolation, access to the markets in Montenegro and Kosovo dried up.
The fall of communism led to emigration and a declining population. Antonia Young’s team only found 17 families who reside in Theth year-round. Many of these depend on remittances from relatives who have sought employment elsewhere in Albania and abroad. The inhabitants of Theth receive very little government assistance. They lack electricity as well as telephone or radio communication to surrounding villages.
Theth also contains 12 small mills and a functional hydro plant. During the period of March to November, Theth is visited by around 5000-10000 foreign tourists yearly.
UNDP is seeking to improve Theth’s economic prospects by promoting tourism in the area. In cooperation with the German Technical Cooperation Enterprise, GTZ, it has provided initial funds to several households which will allow them to convert their homes into Guesthouses. UNDP says this strategy could help the whole community:
‘Despite the challenges to tourism development in Theth, the potential is enormous. Residents young and old can benefit from increased tourism by becoming local tour guides, while others can produce and sell traditional handicrafts as souvenirs.
Established in 1966, Theth National Park covers an area of 2630 ha and ranges in altitude from approx. 1200 m to 2567 m (summit of Mt Radohima). It is located about 45 km from Koplik and 72 km from Shkodra. Its main extension is on the embouchure of the river Theth. Human activity is subject to regulation in three distinct zones, A, B and C: in zone A all human activity is prohibited, in B it is conditionally prohibited and in C strictly regulated. If these rules were respected, there would without doubt be adequate protection for plant and animal life in the area. As things stand at present, however, no action is even taken against illegal tree felling.
The most striking mountain peaks and passes (moving clockwise from the north) are: the peak of Jezerca, which is Albania’s highest peak, lying just outside the park at the north of the valley (2679 m high), followed by Peja Pass (1776 m), the Dry Peak (2543 m), the pass of Lugu i Valit, the saddle of Zhapora, the peaks of Papluka (2569m) and Alije (2471m), the saddle of Valbona (1876 m) and Mt Valbona (1966 m) at the east, the wooded Mt Zorgji at the south (1663 m), Mt Arapi (2217 m), Mt Boshi (2415 m), Shtegu i Dhenve (‘Goat’s Track’, 2104 m), and Mt Radohima (2567 m) at the west.
Almost two thirds of the park are covered in trees; in many places, the steep wooded terrain is so inaccessible to humans as to be considered ‘primeval forest’.
The Dinaric Alps are a chain of mountains in southeast Europe that stretch the length of the Adriatic coast and reach both their highest point (Mt Jezerca, 2692 m) and greatest width in northern Albania. No other part of the Balkans offers high mountain scenery of such distinctively rugged and forbidding beauty. The barren karst landscape is a regular feature, since the rock here is predominantly limestone – indeed this is Europe’s largest region of karst topography. Thanks to its unique geomorphology and hydrology, the region has become the focus of important scientific karst research. Dolines (sinkholes), chasms and karst caverns are found wherever water penetrates the rock. These barren, rocky wildernesses can provide unusual attractive itineraries for hikers; until now, however, they have brought little in the way of economic development to the indigenous population.
The valley of Theth was formed by the ice movements, especially on the northern side. Theth has mountains that are up to 2570 meters over the sea level. This height is reached at the top of Radohima. The inhabited area of Theth is positioned 600 to 1000 meters over the sea level. Theth is linked to some other areas through some strips that are up to 1600 meters over the sea level.
In the territory of Theth and around it are located 170 caves and semi caves, from which ten are internationally known. The most beautiful and the most important are the cave of Rrathëve and the cave of Harapi.
The area is crossed by a water network that flows from both eastern and western slopes in the valley. The River Theth rises from several different sources and streams above Okol. The direction of the flow is from the north to the south. In heavy rains it is prone to a sudden and violent swelling, destroying crossing points and fords. Perhaps most famous is the gorge of Grunas Canyon, standing 40 m tall and just one meter wide. Visitors can look down into the canyon from a wooden bridge. Following the path in an easterly direction, one arrives at a cascading waterfall. Further downstream at Ndërlysa, the River Theth merges with Lumi i Zi (‘Black River’), which in its upper stream consists of a raging torrent which carves a path through the rocks before reaching the tranquil lowlands and merging with the Theth to become the River Shala, which ultimately flows into the Drin. The river of Theth is crystal clear and foamy in some places. It flows with a range of 1000-1300 l/sec and an average water temperature of 7ºC. One of the most distinguished properties of this river is the abundance of mountain trout. Theth has over 80 water sources and three waterfalls, and they all flow to the river. There are also many springs of water named ‘Okol’, ‘Nikgjonaj’ etc. ‘Grunas Waterfall’ and ‘Gjeçaj Waterfall’ are two of the most sensational spectacles of the National Park of Theth. They originate from rocky parts of the mountains around the park. The height of the first one reaches 30 meters of root water and the second 24 meters.
The main streams of the valley are the brook of Shan Deda, the brook of the Sheep, the ones of Ded Lula, of Gurra, of Shkafi, of Vali, of the Border and the stream of Belona. These streams flow in the mountainous territory and are precipitous during the winter. Theth has many springs that can serve as water supply for tourists. You can virtually find water in every place you encroach in Theth, from the heights of mountains, to the center and they also maintain considerable flow in all seasons of the year. Theth waters have permanent purity and very low temperatures. Their flow varies from 0.2 l/sec to 10 l/sec.
The climate in these mountains is complex and the biodiversity is great. The Dinarides act as a climatic divide between Mediterranean (coastal) and moderately continental areas. Moisture-laden warm air masses accumulate on the cool, high mountains, leading to comparatively high precipitation levels.
The Park has a hostile climate in the winter with snowfalls that range from 1.5 meters in the lower part up to 3 meters in the higher part of the park. The park has an average of 2900-3000 mm rainfall per year. According to the seasons rainfalls are spread as follows: in spring 21%, in summer 9%, in autumn 32% and in winter 38%. Mostly the rainfall is in the form of snow creating a stable covering for some months. With small investments, the hallways of the valley with stable snow can fulfill the standard dimensions of stadiums for applying winter sports.
The temperatures range from +20º C to +26º C in June and go down to -14º C and -20º C in the freezing winters. The snow stands more on the slopes, largely in the western part where the sun falls less during the day.
Theth has 110 sunny days per year.

This diversity of habitats which is closely related to the mountain-Mediterranean climate has created through centuries a rich diversity of flora and fauna in the region of Theth. A study carried out a few years ago recorded the existence of at least 1650 plant species within the confines of the Theth National Park. 85 species are rare and threatened with extinction, 4 are endemic (found only here) and 16 are sub endemic.
The four endemic plant species are: Wulfenia baldaccii (plantain, or Plantaginaceae), Petasites doerfleri Hayek, Lilium albanicum and Viola ducaginica, which for obvious reasons have no English names.
On the other hand, the genus Gentiana is widespread here, continuing to bear the name it was given in classical antiquity, where it is said to have been particularly common in Ancient Illyria. Genthios was the name of the last Illyrian king, defeated by Romans in Shkodra in 168 BC. It is said the king was the first to use Gentiana asclepiadea (Willow Gentian) as protection against plague. In the area there are over 130 medical plants. 50 plants can be eaten and around 50 are used for coloring. All these come from the spontaneous flora as: beer plant, wild pomegranate, wild fig up to a height of 900 meters above sea level, etc.
The main species of mammals encountered here include deer, wolf, fox, brown bear, lynx, otter, wild pig, wild rabbit, wild goat, jackal, hedgehog, chamois, badgers, wild boar and roe. The European brown bear (Ursus arctos) is a very shy creature and a rare sight in these parts; stones upturned during the hunt for small animals provide an occasional clue as to their presence. The Balcan chamois (Rupicarpa rupicarpa balcanica) is also native to the high mountains. Hunting animals are the wolf, hare, ibex, weasel, and fox. And in the river can be found the speckled trout, which is also one of the nicest fishes.
Bird species include the golden eagle, snake eagle, honey buzzard, peregrine falcon, capercaillie, rock partridge, scops owl, Eurasian eagle owl and the snow finch. Among the amphibians there are the alpine salamander (southern most distribution), fire salamander, yellow-bellied toad and fire bellied toad. The rich herpetofauna include the fence lizard, green lizard, Greek tortoise and snakes such as the true vipers including the poisonous horned viper and adder.
Many species of butterflies are found, which makes Theth one of the richest area in Europe for butterflies.
The forest is mainly composed of oak, pine, bushes, hornbeam, osier etc. If the forests of the national park are well maintained, they can produce a considerable amount of wood for fire thus fulfilling the needs of inhabitants for heating.
For a long time the Theth valley remained remote and inaccessible. Humans struggled to build routes for trade and progress. The Shtegu i Dhenve (‘Goat Track’) is part of a long-distance route from Kelmendi, Kosovo and Valbona to Fushë Kuqe near Laç, an historic mule track that presented the shortest route to Shkodra prior to the construction of the road over the Buni i Thorës pass in 1936. It was even passable in winter, for despite snow depths of up to 2 m in places, the use of large round snow-shoes (rrathë) meant one sank only up to one’s knees rather than to shoulders. Although avalanches were commonplace, accidents were avoided by deploying the modern strategy of inducing snow slides by firing salvos directly at the point of fracture.
The importance of this communication links is illustrated by the elaborate wooden structures built on the Theth side of Shtegu i Dhenve that are still visible today, although most are in a poor state of repair.
The starting point for trips to Theth is Shkodra, the regional center of North Albania. You can reach Theth on two different ways: 1) the shortest way via Koplik, Boga and the pass Buni i Thorës (1.786 m) is around 68.8 km long but not passable in winter. The road is paved until Boga, the remaining way is unpaved; 2) an all year accessible road is located more to the south via Prekal, Kiri, Nikaj-Shala and Ndërlysa but the distance adds up to 128.3 km. For both ways the use of an off-road car is recommended.
The first official mention of Theth is in a document of 1485 coming from Shkodra, when the village numbered seven houses. In the sixteenth century, during the Ottoman invasion, the ownership of the valley was transferred from the Sandjak of Shkodra to Peja. Today it belongs to the district of Shkodra.
Most Theth families can be traced back to the legendary figure of Ded Nika, who is thought to have lived nine to twelve generations earlier. Collective memory sustains the belief that migration to Theth from the lower Shala valley took place around 300 to 350 years ago in order to avoid conversion to Islam. Although the individual hamlets of Theth do not belong exclusively to a single fis (clan or large family), each is dominated by one such family which owns the surrounding Alpine pastures. In most of these hamlets operated a communal mill.
Durham described Theth as a bajrak of some 180 houses and also observed that it was almost free from the tradition of blood feud (known in the Albanian language as Gjakmarrja) which so blighted other parts of the Albanian highlands.
When the road to Theth opened in 1936, it heralded a new era for the entire region. Theth acquired its own electricity supply in 1966. The tourism complex (Campeggio), with its well-built hotel and numerous wooden bungalows dating from 1968, once afforded many Albanian families the opportunity to holiday in natural surroundings; since the unrest of 1991, however, it lies in ruins. Much is being done to revive tourism in the region, but this is currently restricted to eco-friendly bed & breakfast tourism in private accommodation.
By 1991 Theth was made up of nine hamlets with a total of 280 houses and formed the geographic centre of the Dukagjin region. The population was estimated at that time to be around 7000 inhabitants. But the school had difficulty finding teachers on account of the remote location, and the lack of teaching staff was a major reason why families with children migrated to the towns and cities or moved abroad. This drift towards the cities has become a major problem since the political watershed, leading to the state of virtual depopulation we find today and the serious consequences this has brought with it. Nowadays only a few families spend the entire year in the valley. Most do not sell their houses, coming – if at all – to spend a few days or weeks during the summer holidays.
Today the vast majority of the population depends for its livelihood on agriculture – mainly in the form of small, family-run farms. Until the turn of the twentieth century, transhumanance and nomadic farming involving large herds were commonplace. With the establishment of national borders, however came a gradual switch to alpine farming, i.e. summer grazing of livestock up on the alpine pastures (June to September) and winters sheltering down in the valleys. Expropriation of private property during the 1950s and the sharp political contrast with neighboring states (establishment of military no-go zone in border areas) led to further impoverishment of the population. Forestry is an increasingly important sector of industry.
Even though Theth is outstretched in a very large territory, its agriculture land is limited. The average of land per person is 2 thousand square meters. The land is fertile and well-watered. The climate is favorable for growing well  maize, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, onions, garlics, pease, cabbages, the beans of Shala with high organic values, apples, pears, plumbs, cherries, quinces, chestnuts, strawberries and vines by which is produced homemade wine and raki.
Honey, raki (plum or grape brandy, a useful cure against winter melancholy and other illnesses), dried wild mushrooms and herbal teas (çaj mali, an aromatic mountain tea, almost as effective as raki against colds and chills), berries for jams, medical herbs and ewes’ milk cheese and yoghurt, as well as nearly all sorts of fruits and vegetables are the region’s main products. The trout (Salmo trutta) is native to Kelmendi, it can be found in the River Theth and is now also systematically farmed and sold in Shkodra.
Until recently the mountain regions of northern Albania were isolated not only in terms of geography and communication. In matters of jurisprudence, too, the region was literally a law to itself. Ottoman jurisdiction never prevailed here. Instead the Code of Lekë Dukagjin was in general use, a set of traditional laws passed on from one generation to another and not codified, written down and printed until 1933. The laws of the Kanun of the mountains are still perpetuated and partially observed by local populace today.  The 12 chapters of the code cover all key areas of life, including marriage, transfer of property, honor and criminal law. The legal framework is based on the concepts of family honor and breaches thereof. The patriarchal social structure gives the head of the family extensive powers and authority that include imposition of punishments. The Kanun reflects the austere, ethnic reality of the mountain dwellers, aspects of which are still occasionally visible to visitors even today. It is thought many customs possibly have pre-Christian roots, demonstrating the ancient origins of some elements of the Kanun.
Myths and legends were once part of an oral tradition, performed by singers to the accompaniment of the lahuta, a one-stringed musical instrument, and adapted textually to suit the occasion. Although mostly unable to read or write, the singers could recite thousands of verses by heart. Perhaps the best known is the Këngë Kreshnikësh cycle, which recounts the heroic deeds of Gjeto Basho Mujo and his younger brother Halili in the frontier lands occupied by Austria-Hungary, the southern Slavs and the Ottoman Empire. Similar to Homer’s epic poems, the tales are probably based on historic events (in this case dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries), which over time have been the subject of fanciful embellishment. This is evident, for example, in the most recent songs, where Mujo appears as a sort of demi-god with the powers to summon to his aid the three ores (derived from the Greek ‘Horai’, literally ‘Hours’).
The zanes are still present in northern Albanian folklore, appearing in various guises depending on the region. The zana of Nikaj was dark; that of Shala was said to be mail; one feature they all had in common was the fact they lived in the mountains or in caves.
The moon also played an important role in everyday life. Sowing was timed to coincide with a waning moon, which was also the best period for cutting hair (if premature grayness was to be avoided). Full moons were a time for marriage, since this was auspicious for starting a family.
The Franciscan friar Shtjefën Gjeçovi (1874-1929) not only collected the epic verse of the mountains of Albania; he also codified the Kanun, which until that time existed only as an oral tradition, thereby rescuing these works for posterity.
1. The source of the Shtrazë brook is situated to the north of Theth village. Here water bubbles up from underground over an area of many square meters.
2. Sadri Luka’s house in Okol, built in the beginning of the twentieth century (today inhabited by Gjon Deda). A large house built by a local ‘prince’ who kept a family of 30, 20 cattle and 300 smaller animals and wielded considerable influence. The handsome assembly room was intended for guests and for meetings with local patriarchs. An interesting feature is a deep pit in the cellar, where potatoes were brought inside and covered over with earth to prevent them from freezing during the winter months.
In the separate kitchen wing, items of furniture, including painted commodes and chests and an ingeniously combined kneading trough and flour chest (with tightly fitting angle-cut joints to keep out vermin), illustrate the relative prosperity of their one-time owner. This is said to be a home in which the American travel writers Rose Wilder Lane (1920) and Cora and Jan Gordon (1925) stayed.
3. The Museum of Ethnography (Kulla e Lulash Keqit) is thought to have been built in the nineteenth century. Although it currently stands empty, the exhibits are accommodated at the Museum of History in Shkodra from where they could be brought back without major difficulty. The building itself, a robust, well-proportioned tower, is now in private hands and there are plans to restore the derelict building as a museum. Visitors can ask for the key from Gjovalin Lokthi who lives next door to the church.
4. The church at Theth (1892), a simple rectangular design with an apse behind the choir, was sited in the most beautiful part of the valley and is most certainly worth a visit. The key can be obtained from a neighbor, though the interior is of little architectural or artistic interest. A number of Albanian emigrants to the USA provided funding for the recently completed renovation (2004-2006). The tower was rebuilt on existing foundations – the original tower had been demolished by the Communists and the church interior converted for use as an outpatient’s clinic and later for storage.
5. Kulla e Ngujimit (‘Isolation Tower’), probably dating from the nineteenth century and built at a prominent location, is a multistory residential tower with embrasures, in which men targeted by a vendetta could escape their pursuers for a few months. The building was built by a large local family and is no longer in use. The interior is unfurnished; only the wooden floors and wooden staircase have survived.
6. Grunas Canyon is reached from the main road, where a small footpath leads to a wooden bridge of dizzying height, affording the most spectacular view of the mountain streams as it tumbles through the ravine far below.
7. On the other side of the bridge, a 25-minute hike up the steep path leads directly to the waterfall (ujëvara) above Grunas, which has a drop of apporx. 25 m.
8. Mulliri i Kolajve (Kola Mill) is a small wooden construction beside a bridge, powered by a water conduit from the River Theth. One cannot but help admire the highly ingenious yet wonderfully simple mechanism that controls the falling grains of maize as they are dispensed onto the millstone. These mills are still in use during the late summer and autumn months.
9. The moulins at Ndërlysa offer a unique natural spectacle. Here the waters of the Lumi i Zi or ‘Black River’ surge through a construction in the rock carved out over many thousands of years. Both banks afford spectacular views of the extraordinary smooth and jagged rock formations, which reflect a kaleidoscope of colors in bright sunlight. The narrow wooden bridge directly beneath the construction has recently been restored.
Bukë misri ­– flat, round, hard cornbread; conventional wheat bread is now increasingly found instead.
Byrek – filo pastry stuffed with spinach, ground meat, tomatoes or cheese and baked in the oven.
Çaj mali ­– mountain tea infused with oregano (Origanum vulgare, Lamiaceae).
Djathë – cheese, a staple food in northern Albania, is home-made and can be very salty. The salt is use as a preservative.
Djathë i ziem – melted cheese with milk, flour, butter and salt, a northern Albanian speciallity.
Groshë or fasule – thick soup with white beans, sometimes eaten with pilaf.
Kaçimak – boiled potatoes with milk, flour, butter and salt.
Kos (yoghurt) – is a popular side dish, often made of sheep’s milk.
Lakuriq me kumuj – pastry made of flour, eggs, pumpkin, sugar and other ingredients and baked at a low temperature in the oven.
Lakra me mish – sauerkraut with meat; a typical winter dish.
Pastiçe – pastry made of milk, cheese and eggs and baked in the oven.
Patate – potatoes, usually French fries, eaten with mutton.
Petulla – pastry fried in oil, only slightly sweet, eaten with honey or cheese.
Pilaf – rice usually with a meat sauce usually served at breakfast.
Raki – grape or plum schnapps (prunus domestica, Rosaceae) with a variety of uses: as a rub for infections, as an inhalation of cold sufferers and as a traditional drink to greet guests (served with coffee).
Speca/patëllxhana të mbushura – peppers stuffed with ground meat, rice, onion and tomatoes.
Soups with chicken, vegetable etc. are served with fresh lemon juice.
Tarator – yoghurt with olive oil, cucumber and garlic.
Turli – thick vegetable stew, with or without meat.
Fërlig – a whole lamb or young pork prepared on skewer over open fire.
Some of the Activities that can be developed in Theth are:
Visitors of Theth may walk with the help of a tour guide throughout the wonderful footpaths for a few days. It would take more or less three to five hours to see some of the points of interest in and around Theth.
There are some possible places in Theth where you can hunt for the river trout. The most suitable places for fishing are the so called Kolaj Bridge and Gerla Bridge, where there is a wonderful place to swim as well.
Rowing can be done very well in autumn and spring when
Theth River has abundant water from the melting snow and the rainfalls.
 Mountain Cycling Tour
The mountain cycling tour following the way from Koplik to Theth through the pass of Thore (1773 m above sea level), and from Theth along the rivers Shala and Kiri in the direction of Shkodra (Bogë, Theth, Breglumi, Shosh, Kir, Shkodra; roughly 100 km of unpaved road) for all those who practice cyclism would be one of the best mountain cyclist tours through some of the most beautiful panoramas Albania can offer.
 Rock Climbing/Speleology
During the last years alpinists from different countries have arrived in Theth to explore its different caves and to discover unexplored ones. Tour guides can take new explorers to some of the caves. The most famous one is that of the top of Harapi. The tunnels inside the cave bring to three inner lakes. In this kind of exhibition climbers must be well prepared with all the necessary equipments that are needed to go through caves that are some 900 m high which is very challenging.
Walking in the Snow
A real adventure in the Albanian Alps is winter tourism. In winter the inhabitants of Theth use special tools called ‘Rrathë’ which are made of wood. With this kind of equipment visitors can walk from Boga to Theth and after staying for a while in Theth they can continue to Valbona or return to Boga. Part of this route can be followed even by skiing.
Parachute jumping
One of the activities in the mountains of Theth can be the parachute jumping as the rugged landscape well favor this kind of sport.
Since 1988 there has been a positive development in the cooperation between Germany and Albania moving toward EU integration. The focus of the action of the German Government is on sustainable economic development and water supply. The GTZ water project advises on improving conditions for a safe drinking water supply and sustainable waste water disposal. GTZ’s support is made in the light of its projects to strengthen the private sector in Albania. GTZ has been supporting private sector tourism throughout Albania to organize a national association. The Albanian Tourism Association has been operating in Albania since 2008 focusing three main sectors: hotels, travel agencies and restaurants, which are the basis of tourism business.
In Theth the GTZ has provided funds for the first homes to be capable of receiving family tourists. With the help of GTZ, private houses were built for tourist accommodation. In 2010 there were 230 beds in private rooms available - 100 more than in 2007. Also there have been developed and marked hiking trails, published orienting maps and set up guides. Nature and water in that area are well known for their curative properties with regards to health since 1915 with analysis performed by the Austrians. GTZ has supported the development of tourism as a new source of income in the village giving some families a considerable amount of money for the renovation of traditional buildings in Guesthouses since 2000. Also GEF’s small grant program (SG/GEF) contributed to improve tourism facilities and tourism infrastructure in the area. This in turn has created the opportunity for families to have better facilities to host foreigners in their homes. In the first two years: 9 families were supported in a material form with 2000 Euro. Families were also supported with kitchen equipment and sanitary equipment, beds and furniture. In collaboration with UNDP Small Grants Project, home wooden windows were replaced with double glazed windows to ensure a more efficient heating. At first there was much skepticism to villagers. Meanwhile there’s almost a competition about who has the best Guesthouse. During 2010, Theth’s villagers operated with 20 Guesthouses, with more than 230 beds that offered accommodation in their typical homes of stone. The offer of accommodation in local private houses was improved by creating facilities with a simple but good standard to satisfy the expectations of national and international guests. The night cost is about € 20 (2000-3000 Lek) per person per night including full board. Camping sites are also available. There are also 4 or 5 bars in the village. The maps and a list of accommodation facilities in on line brochures provide a first outline and help visitors to choose an appropriate accommodation for their stay in Theth.
The number of tourists visiting the region and staying with the families keeps rising significantly. In the period from 2006 to 2010, the number of tourists rose from around 300 to 8500 per year - unlike the rest of Albania. Nine every ten tourists are foreigners. Theth tourism brought about an income of 100,000 Euros in 2008 and more than 180,000 Euros in 2010. Income derived by residents of tourism, as a result, are 7-8 times higher than that received as social assistance.
Foreign tourists are constantly invited to experience the long tradition of hospitality of the families of Theth! A stay in their historical houses offers them the possibility to get acquainted to the typical and traditional way of rural living of the local Albanian families.
But still few families live the whole year round in Theth. The majority of the inhabitants leave the village due to the harsh living conditions, especially in winter.

Source: GTZ
Even in these hard economic conditions the local population remains critical against any kind of action that may damage the park. Their help is vital in maintaining and preserving the distinct fauna and flora. All of them have very good relations with the forest management technical unit. A good contribution has also been made from different national and international awareness campaigns. They have had a positive impact in helping restore and increasing the public awareness of possible damages in the future.
A Balkans Peace Park Project is working towards the creation of a park extending across the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo and has taken a lead in recent years in encouraging sustainable and ecologically sensitive tourism in and around Theth (for example by funding the marking of footpaths). The Balkan Peace Project is an international charity which aims to connect the adjoining areas of Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania which all lie on the single mountain range of Bjeshkët e Nemuna, the Accursed Mountains
The Balkan Peace Project works with local population to revitalize the village life in the Shala Valley through promoting the environmental and biodiversity conservation, stimulating local employment and supporting sustainable visitor activities including hiking, biking, climbing and caving.
Antonia Young, a British citizen and President of The BPPP and Walter Todd, an American citizen are two people to thank for this project. These two foreign nationals have taken an interest in the nature of the village, the culture, and the architectural values of the houses in Theth more than any ministers of Culture and Tourism of Albania since 1990. They have arranged for the children of Theth to learn English through summer schools that are organized every year in Theth. Through these projects the residents are presented in domestic and global tourism. Antonia Young has visited Theth, spending the whole month of July there in 2005. There she visited every family to explain the tourist opportunities to them. There are many organized tourist guides and university students studying nature. Todd has been to Theth as representative of the Peace Park Project. In the first year Theth Summer School has run some very important projects. With the support of foreign donors he has led and invested in the construction of the bridge over the Grunas canyon, and the wooden roof of Kolajve mill. Todd has led the project during his year in Theth and has visited all the families of the village, offering a big help to the workers and residents.
Supporting the development of a truly international cross border peace park on the borders of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro GTZ hopes the Balkan Peace Park will act as a symbol of peace and cooperation, will promote environmental conservation, will stimulate sustainable development, will promote eco-tourism. Personal contacts over a period of more than 15 years have been set with individuals, civil society, NGOs and local authorities, government officials, international bodies.
The fantastic nature and landscapes offer great potential for people who want to explore pristine and undiscovered regions. To raise the attractiveness of the village and the accessibility of the surrounding nature GTZ supports the identification and labeling of walking tracks and climbing routes. Just recently several walking tracks and trails were identified and partly marked. A new map covering the region of Theth and Kelmend (Tamara, Vermosh) gives information about 18 hiking tracks or trails (eight in Theth, eight in Kelmend and two cross-regional tracks). A new walking guide provides detailed information including GPS data.
BPPP aim is the development of mountain tourism in the border triangle of Albania Kosovo and Montenegro based on the experience of the increasing of mountain tourism in Theth. The project will develop the basic infrastructure of tourism in these three countries. The population in mountain areas is the poorest of the three countries. Mountain tourism destinations of the Bjeshkët e Namuna, The Accursed Mountains, offer great touristic potential. Pristine nature, massive mountains that reach up to 2692 m of altitude, biological diversity, the traditional living style of residents still represent a treasure box waiting to be opened and explored. Because of the lacks in the infrastructure the promotion of specific countries as warm and cozy destinations has a limited potential. The promotion of the entire region will attract more tourists. The objective of BPPP is to improve the conditions for the development of the border triangle between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro as a single tourist destination. This will result in an increased income for local population and the prevention of rural depopulation.
The product of the relationship between border areas will be a central cross-border road for excursions, which is being created jointly. There are only two official border crossing points in the project area: a border point in the mountainous area between Montenegro and Kosovo and another between Montenegro and Albania. An official route between neighboring villages in the three countries in many cases runs 5 to 10 hours by car. The project will guarantee several crossing points for hiking in addition to the existing official border crossing points. This will increase the opportunities for crossing the borders along the mountains.
Historical routes are possible links between communities. An example of these historical routes is the track Pec-Milesevski-Plav-Gusinje-Vusanje-Theth-Ragram-Valbona-Cerem-Doberdol-Koznar-Peja. The track can be traversed in 10 days, which fits with the average travel time of an international tourist. Some sites offer the possibility to rest, exploiting the opportunity for cultural tourism. It is possible to shorten or extend the route. In total it is 130 km, but with a difference of 650 m in altitude. A high level of physical condition of the excursionist is required.
Another objective of the project is the introduction of European standards in tourism SMEs, improving the quality of tourism SMEs in the area, thus increasing competitive capacity. This change will be realized putting together the minimum European standards accessible and feasible for local participating actors. For the inclusion of the best practices and the implementation of the standards established, voluntary training seminars will follow.
Creating a security concept in the mountains is another objective of the project. Ensuring the safety of hiking at the base of medical care and opportunities for mountain rescue teams are currently at a very initial phase. Accidents due to insufficient safety and the lack of rescue teams could damage significantly the image of the park. The security criteria can be implemented by experienced medical assistants. Local medical staff specialized in hiking and mountain accidents initially must be supported by experts from other mountainous areas of Europe in facing the emergencies.
The BPPP aims to the promotion of the area as a tourist destination, creating a brand and introducing it to the international market. Theth already has become a magnet for European tourists. GTZ is considering how to develop the Albanian mountain adventure, financing home repairs and the construction of tourist infrastructure in Valbona, at the other side of the Alps, enabling tourists to travel across the Alps to the Adriatic sea or in Kukës and in Kosovo. But the goal seems more to contemplate the development of winter sports. The area can turn into a tourist destination for skiing and other sports, but such plans must wait for some other time due to their costs.
The Albanian Alps are indisputably an important tourist destination known internationally. The combination of resources and extraordinary natural beauty with tradition of hospitality of the local community, are unquestionably the largest capacity of developing tourism in this region.
The fantastic nature and landscapes offer great potential. Theth is a paradise for people who want to explore pristine and undiscovered regions. The natural resources of the zone have remained yet untouched by human activity. The climate is very suitable for the development of tourism. The territory is variegated. In a small geographic area you can experience hillside, mountain areas, fields and pastures, streams, springs, canyons and waterfalls at not a long distance from the main cities and from the seaside. Albania is located at the eastern part of the Adriatic Sea, not more than three hours from the European capital cities. This strategic location makes it possible for Theth to be visited by thousands of tourists every year.
The rich culture and the history of the mountain sites in Albania are other characteristics that increase the attractiveness of Theth. Pristine nature, massive mountains that reach up to 2692 m of altitude, biological diversity, the traditional living style of residents still represent a treasure box waiting to be opened and explored.
Theth represents a particular model as a tourist destination that has recently begun to recognize significant growth. Of course it is quite impossible to note the exact number of tourists, but residents of the host families and especially GTZ refer to more than 8,500 tourists who stay for one or more nights in the families or individual tents.
What is special about Theth is that tourism in this region is dominated by young tourists from all countries of Europe, especially from UK, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and from the USA. Another fact about Theth is that if in every other touristic destination of Albania 90% of visitors are Albanian (from Kosovo, Macedonia or emigration), in Theth in every 10 tourists, 9 are foreigners.
Theth has become a model project, as a result of a wonderful collaboration between the local community and all Albanian and foreign partners who have contributed and continue to contribute to the development of tourism in the area. The map and a list of accommodation facilities in the brochure published by GTZ provide tourists a first outline and help them to choose an appropriate accommodation for their stay in Theth.
The offer of accommodation in local private houses was improved by creating facilities with a simple but good standard to satisfy the expectations of national and international guests. Camping sites are also available. The number of tourists visiting the region and staying with the families keeps rising significantly.
During the period June 15-July 15, 2006, with the financial support of Millsap College and a private donor, Bud Robinson, a team of 18 archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians conducted a research in the Shala Valley. Their primary goals for the 2006 field season were 1) to conduct intensive archaeological survey in the lower half of the Shala Valley, 2) to answer various outstanding questions as regards the architectural and cultural history of Theth, and 3) to conduct limited test excavations at the archaeological site of Grunas, discovered in 2005. Their focus in this expedition was the archaeological research. They published the results of historical and ethnographic fieldwork primarily as they relate to the archaeological record. This significantly increased visibility of the area in the Internet World. Several American anthropologists manage to cross the Alps in the middle of winter, challenging snow and harsh weather conditions.
The Albanian Alps and especially Shala Valley and Theth have been very well marketed in the international tourism circles mostly in the west than in Albania. Since the time when Lord Byron came to Albania more than a century ago with horses on a route that is unimaginable today, then across the Alps from Shkodra to Tropoja, Kukës, Peshkopi etc., more and more adventurous Westerners found travelling across the Albanian alps a pleasant way to pass their free time. Lately a couple of British writers did the same ride that Byron had gone through and produced a film and a book on the trip.
Employees of foreign organisms, adventurous and nature loving travelers have produced an abundant amount of information online about Theth. Numerous pictures and impressions have been published on the web about a country full of canyons, waterfalls and other amazing natural spectacles.
At present day Theth remains remote. It is most easily accessible by a 25 km unpaved road from the village of Boga which is impassible during winter months and it is not suitable for motor vehicles without off-road capabilities. The road was designed in 1936 by Ing. Spiro Koleka and was supported by the government and the citizens of Shkodra from time to time. Since that year this remote area had kept the same track and there have been no interventions to improve it. It has taken several years for the road to be paved with asphalt from Koplik to the village of Dedaj. It has taken five years to pave it from Dedaj to Boga. No one knows how many years it will take for the road from Boga to Theth to be paved. Every year residents of the area and tourists who want to visit Theth expect the road to be paved with asphalt. Most early as the autumn the road is blocked by snow and ice and cannot be driven.
There is avalanche danger.
Shala villagers primarily complain about the lack of elementary school and electricity. Theth has a tiny hydro plant that started work in the 60s. Now it is no longer able to produce enough energy for the entire village. Private investors have found it unprofitable. The plant is supplied by the central river that crosses the village. Since 1990 Albania has had worsening problems with electricity supplies. One of the obstacles and major problems with the electricity in Theth is the national energy system. In Theth there has not been any investment in the power grid. It is not equipped with meters like any other area in Albania. Energy in Theth does not exceed 150 KW, a fact that hampers investments in the tourist area.
It seems that the government has little reason to remember that Theth is losing the latest sign of civilization. The school has been adjusted by an international organization, but there are not enough pupils and so it is closed.
Formalization of the tourism sector is needed.
Although Theth has not suffered from the recent (post-Communist) reappearance of the blood feud which has troubled other areas of Northern Albania, the Kanun (traditional Albanian law) remains influential, because of the lack of the state power. You never see a policeman in that area. Medical service does not exist. Due to their tradition, a resident of Theth would never sell his land to a foreigner. Ironically, Theth boasts one of the very few remaining ‘lock-in towers’, a historical form of protection for families that were ‘in blood’.
There is a lack of road signs indicating the direction to cultural monuments and natural areas. The lack of signage makes it complicated for local professionals and nearly impossible for visitors.
Depopulation represents a serious long-term challenge for the community. The population has been greatly reduced over the past few decades and the majority of Theth houses remaining occupied are inhabited only during the summer months. Few families live the whole year round in Theth. A lot of the inhabitants leave the village due to the harsh living conditions, especially in winter.
Tourism is a powerful tool for job creation and employment. The development of tourism in Theth will increase local income. To achieve this goal Theth has to attract tourist flows from Western Europe and neighboring Balkan countries in other periods of the year, not only in spring and summer.
Culture, adventure and ecotourism are considered to be markets with the fastest growth of tourism worldwide - 15 to 20% per year - and representing more than 25% market share.
Internet and telephony are extremely important for tourism development. High quality access allows local businesses to market their products directly and keep alive contacts with suppliers and their customers in a more direct and fluid way. Internet access is also a valuable service and very significant for international guests. Increasing use of systems by local tourism business will help defray the costs of operating the network.
Albania needs to establish a clear and simple mechanism for informal actors in the tourism sector to act accordingly. Low-cost incentives, such as inclusion in the national website and support spent by the tourism promotion fund have proven to be effective in many countries. It would be mandatory for private sector to promote the formalization as a necessary and important work of associations. Government should ensure that licensing and other requirements are appropriate and not unnecessarily hinder formalization. It’s a fact that in Theth land property is not legalized.
Albania needs to explore a variety of funding mechanisms (traditional and non-traditional) that can be directed at areas. The time required for successful proposals is usually one to two years from initial approval to the project.
We all know that Albania suffers of a negative image due to misconceptions and clichés which are the result of its isolated past. Tourism markets are very competitive. Countries like Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Austria, France and Canada are well established mountain destinations.
A successful tourism sector requires a stable and highly sophisticated business climate. Business sectors grow more successfully with a regulatory framework that is clear and ensures that all players play by the same “rules of the game.” Currently the tourism business climate in Albania is unclear. Several priorities will make positive strides towards building a healthy business climate.
In operational terms Theth is ready to move forward with its tourism offer. The village today has the capacity to host many more international tourists with accommodation for one night (overnight tourists) than received to date. Although Theth is not ready for aggressive marketing abroad, it is absolutely ready to host dozens of additional adventurous tourists, “pioneers” who would be willing to be flexible and “forgiving” in exchange for being among the first to experience a unique new destination. The number of tourists visiting Theth is expected to increase, but this will bring several problems like pollution, augmentation of waste water discharges, possible fires in the forests. It would be wise to revitalize diffused tourism, helping the resident families of Theth to improve and enlarge their traditional houses. The construction of big resorts would compromise sustainability in Theth.
Last, but not least, the political effects on domestic and international tourism are great. Albania needs more stability and collaboration between political forces and private actors in order to achieve its goals for more economical development.
The Alps are now one of Europe’s main tourist attractions for major industrial centers. Tourism has for some areas represented a fundamental economic activity that can prevent the complete depopulation of the mountain areas, ensuring employment opportunities and income.
Every year the European Alps receive approximately 12% of the world tourists (World Tourism Organization). In 2001 alone, more than 80 million tourists visited the Alps. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of ski-related tourism in the Alps. In Italy alone alpine areas are crisscrossed by a network of 4693 km of ski-runs, 60% of which are serviced with artificial snow. Cross-country ski tracks amount to 2981 km, 304 of which make use of snow cannons. The situation is similar across the Alps.
The spectacular increase in tourism in the Alps in recent decades has been founded mainly on the boom in skiing, resulting in both strong real estate development and an increasing array of infrastructures and ski runs. Today the ski market seems to have virtually reached saturation point and the winter sports sector has begun to diversify its offer through innovation.
 The uncertainty and the crisis in European mountain tourism are both caused by climate and geo-cultural change. This is why, for many observers, the kind of tourism established during the second half of the 20th century appears to be a “worn-out” model, and should be reorganized thoroughly. This will involve drastic adaptation measures. According to the International Scientific Committee on Alpine Research (ISCAR) such new watching grids will be required to understand and monitor the way out of “all ski”, “all snow” and even “all tourism”. Tourism industry has a key role to play in confronting the challenges of climate change.
Climate change poses a serious challenge to social and economic development in all countries. While international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are essential, adaptation to the impacts of climate change must also be integrated into sectoral and economic policies worldwide.
For many alpine areas in Switzerland, winter tourism is the most important source of income, and snow-reliability is one of the key elements of the offers made by tourism in the Alps. 85% of Switzerland’s current ski resorts can be designated as snow-reliable.
 If climate change occurs, the level of snow-reliability will rise from 1200 m up to 1800 m over the next few decades. Only 44% of the ski resorts would then still be snow-reliable. While some regions may be able to maintain their winter tourism with suitable adaptation strategies, others would lose winter tourism due to a diminishing snow pack. Climate change must be viewed as a catalyst that is reinforcing and accelerating the pace of structural changes in tourism.
Today, adaptation strategies are predominant in tourism (e.g. artificial snow production). As an industry that will be severely affected by climate change, however, tourism will increasingly have to focus on mitigation strategies (e.g. less greenhouse gas emissions by tourism traffic).
The snow tourism in recent years is going through a phase of evolution, in particular the demand side: the tourists who frequent the ski resorts today are very different from those of the past in profile, behavior and needs.
For a long time, talking about winter tourism and skiing has meant essentially the same deal. The winter holiday coincided for the majority of people with “white week”, a period during which concentrate almost exclusively to skiing. There were, of course, the so-called “non-skiers as a result” (often mothers, grandparents or people on vacation with the family “sports people”), but these were almost “sentenced” to an inevitable boredom, made up of repetitive walks in the center of the country or waiting for days in shelters at high altitude that members of the family came back from the “battlefield”.
Today it is no longer the case. First, the ski holiday is no longer the only possible (or better, available for many) during the winter season: until a few years ago, going to sea in winter was a luxury for the few. Today a holiday “in the heat”, perhaps in a Caribbean beach paradise, is within the reach of many people, with similar prices or even lower than those of a ski vacation (without taking into account the not indifferent cost to the necessary equipment for skiing). Secondly, the skiers are always less energetic and more vacationers looking for fun, while the people below are always more numerous and demanding the opportunity to take a more active and enjoyable time on their own. For these reasons, the alpine winter resorts must commit to offer something more than the services and infrastructure necessary for the practice of winter sports (which, however, remain a largely predominant activity), in order to create a more complete and varied offer to meet the different needs of different groups of tourists or rather, the various market segments.
In the initial phase (1950-60), the fundamental expectation was really that of “living the mountain experience” with the mountains representing a place that was different from the usual dwelling place. Essential infrastructure was therefore accommodation, beginning with hotels and then increasingly other forms of tourist habitat. The resources specific to the alpine destination (landscape, natural environment, climate, presence of other visitors, etc.) were therefore sufficient factors to attract the tourist.
The intermediate phase (1970-80) strengthened this potential of the alpine destination by allowing it to increasingly benefit from the mountains in winter. Winter attractions became the real key factor for tourism operators but also imposed the need for new, increasingly large and invasive infrastructures in terms of ski runs, ski lifts and accommodation. Tourist demand also developed and, with this, the services to satisfy it: in winter, downhill skiing, and thus a sports orientation, and in summer the development of sports and recreational activities to satisfy the motivations of the summer visitors to the mountains.
The most recent phase (1990-2000) showed signs of crisis at both a quantitative and qualitative level. Quantitative development has in fact ended for a number of reasons: the virtual saturation of the space available for the extension of ski areas, considerably increased environmental sensitivity, the variety of alternatives now available to the tourist that tend to distribute demand among more destination areas, even though total demand has risen considerably. Another factor has been the changing tastes of tourists who demand more entertainment, more relaxation, more well-being and less physical effort, fewer rules and less continuity. They are increasingly interested in living an experience and in activities that provide emotions, as long as such activities do not take up too much time, are intense and can easily be renewed.
The stations of the second and third generation are becoming less popular (though many stations continue to be successful as Cervinia for example). A fourth generation of stations is making its way with a new design and a new urban model. The main feature of these stations is that they try to reproduce the style of an alpine village in order to obtain a “country effect”: the typical mountain environment is seen by tourists as a factor of attraction, and therefore this is created ad hoc. This type of stations, often more than a “country effect” get a “Las Vegas effect”; in reality there are not many (the prototype is Verbier, Valais), but it is not difficult to find them.
There is a trend that sees more and more tourists as actors for their holidays. Active tourists search for destinations which provide more sporting and cultural activities. The tourist also requires more and more the ‘immersion’ in the destination, with more attention to the cultural, natural and social environment. There is also the trend that more and more tourists want to actively participate in the tourist product, or add custom items to ‘standard’ offers. The greater concern for the environment involves two types of behavioral tendencies. The first is general focus on environmental aspects of the holiday destination. The second is directed to the choice of particular products of ‘ecotourism’. Eco-tourism is one of the sectors of tourism in the largest increase. Inside the eco-tourism, however, we may distinguish a large number of types: hiking, farm, fields, volunteering...
Under the stressed urban life it is always manifested the desire to get away from stress. A growing number of people are searching for these values ​​of peace and relaxation in their holidays. People looking for this type of holiday can easily take up the opportunity to perform physical activities (nature walks, swimming...).
There is an increasing share of the tourist population that appreciates the cultural and artistic destination, and even the local traditions, ways of living etc. This is one of the tourist market sectors, along with that of ecotourism and cruises, at highest growth rate. Many tour operators are seeking to integrate their products with different products and services, in order to offer customized packages. Another vogue consists in ‘thematic’ packages: archaeological holidays, bird watching, etc.
With an aging population and the greater propensity to travel, senior tourism occupies an increasing share of the tourism market. It is interesting because the senior population, usually with a certain cultural level, travel during medium and low tourist season. There is a tendency to go farther and farther away, in unknown places more and more different. Many touristic locations somehow have become ‘discounted’, opening opportunities for other less established.
Over the last fifty years, alpine tourism has experienced a spectacular increase in visitor numbers, leading to the virtual saturation of certain mountain tourist destinations, and in particular winter sports areas. In recent decades, the consequences of this strong growth, the effects of change in the world tourism market as well as social and cultural changes have resulted in a number of problems for alpine tourism, problems that are encouraging the search for innovation.
Compared with other sectors of the economy in the western world, tourism has not suffered from stagnation, either because of increasing demand from the emerging countries (Asia and the countries of Eastern Europe), or because of improvements in technology and organization that have significantly encouraged the growth of mobility (for example, declining air transport costs and the phenomenon of low cost flights).
However, over the last decade, the growth of mountain tourism in all the alpine countries has been much more difficult, particularly in the summer season. Thus the editorial of the August issue of “Montagne Leaders” observes that “in France, the number of visitors to mountain areas is declining each year. As a summer destination, the mountains have now fallen behind the coast, the countryside and the city (translation)” (Drapier, 2008).
In certain countries, this is reflected in a clear decline, as can be seen in the figure which shows the number of hotel visitor nights in the alpine regions of several European countries.
Fig. Number of hotel visitor nights in the alpine regions of certain European countries 1990-2007
ASTAT, Provincial Institute of Statistics of Bolzano
The climate is obviously one of the main factors determining a region’s potential for winter tourism. Nevertheless, the climate is characterized by considerable variability and it is therefore important to take every possibility into account: an increase in temperatures would mean a lack of snow in low altitude resorts, making it difficult to maintain snow on the ski runs. Lack of suitable terrain imposes limits on the size of resorts and their ability to create new ski areas: the alpine region has now reached a point of saturation and the Alpine Convention has put a brake on the further development of ski areas (CIPRA, 1998 and 2002). It is essentially the small resorts that are demanding more space for expansion projects, while for the large resorts the problem is mainly one of creating links to provide a more extensive “network” of ski runs.
Population ageing is resulting in a reduction in the potential market during the winter season. The declining birth rate and the increase in the older sections of the population are forcing marketing managers to consider targeting groups other than those traditionally linked to winter sports and to make sure that their demands are satisfied through new infrastructures and services. In addition to providing traditional winter sports activities, the winter resort must now cater to a clientele that is not so young by providing activities more in keeping with their physical capacities.
Globalization, through the opening up of new markets, is one of the factors that have had the greatest influence on tourism development, including that of the alpine region, in that today it is easy to reach a large number of new destinations. Competition has greatly increased over recent years. For the developing resorts this has often meant new markets and new possibilities to attract tourists, but in the case of mountain resorts it has sometimes led to intense competition that has been difficult to support. The increasing development of areas of leisure activities has brought to the fore new holiday destinations which have been made more accessible by decreasing transport costs and travel time. The alpine resorts have thus had to face heightened competition with an offer that has already reached maturity and a product, namely skiing, that is losing its competitiveness in terms of costs and the special characteristics that initially helped it make resorts successful.
Demand has also undergone substantial changes in recent years, changes due both to the behavior and expectations of tourists and to the type of activities practiced. Tourists are now more used to traveling and demand very high standards of quality, which not all winter sports resorts are equipped to provide. The trend is increasingly towards “all-inclusive” products or package holidays, in contrast with the typical fragmentation of the mountain environment. Furthermore, tourists are becoming increasingly unpredictable and autonomous in their decisions, creating a factor of considerable uncertainty. Indeed, globalization has contributed to a more fragile relationship between resorts and their clientele, since the latter have the possibility of experimenting with new destinations. In this way, operators are no longer guaranteed a stable clientele for the entire season. In addition, there is a certain trend towards shorter holidays, even if they are more frequent during the year.
With regard to clientele behavior in the resorts, tourists seem to be more interested in activities that promote personal well-being, health and relaxation, as opposed to the sports activities demanding greater physical effort. The trend is to move away from sports activities to activities more oriented to play or fun, and to more “emotional” activities. There is an increasing demand for products that are accessible to everyone, are fun, or related to getting fit, and that satisfy a growing need for an emotional experience (Macchiavelli, 2004).
The saturation of western markets has resulted in the search for new markets. In the case of the Alps, the most interesting region is that of Eastern Europe. Here is a market that is still young, is beginning to open up to tourism, and needs a policy of targeted marketing. The new market is not yet familiar with winter sports and its rules and therefore requires special attention because it tends not to want to be considered as a traditional market.
Among the obstacles that mountain areas must overcome to compete as a tourist destination, a certain number are strongly related to a series of factors inherent to their cultural and operational conditions. First, there is the attitude of the local mountain population toward economic and tourism development. The culture of mountain dwellers is based on a strong attachment to the local area. Often this has given rise to hostile behavior toward not only those from the outside but also those from bordering valleys who are considered as competitors rather than allies; hence the difficulties in setting up local partnerships for the construction of an integrated resort and a global product offering. Local residents are observed to be less amenable to change, a situation that acts as a cultural brake on the need to innovate. This is found particularly among the indigenous population and in regions which have less opportunity for dialogue and exchange with the outside.
It is this situation, in fact, that often creates difficulties when there is a need to respond quickly and appropriately to changes taking place in the market. Organizational and strategic innovations may be necessary to provide the flexibility to face the challenges imposed by the market.
In addition, among those working in mountain activities, it is often harder to find the management culture and entrepreneurial spirit necessary for developing an efficient system of management and a strategic vision. The latter is in most cases provided by large firms, which are generally very rare in alpine regions. This makes long-term economic development more problematic and creates substantial dependence on private and public actors from outside the region.
The presence of a large number of family-run micro-businesses, in both the accommodation sector and services, raises problems from the point of view of management and organization. While this situation creates a more intimate environment and more “human” relationships, it also has the disadvantage of being less efficient in terms of managing the firms and the destination area as a whole. Indeed, there is a real difficulty in obtaining economies of scale enabling a reduction in fixed costs. As a result, firms are less productive and prices tend to be higher. It is interesting to note that in the 1990s the Economic Research Institute of Bolzano demonstrated that hotels needed at least 60 beds to be profitable. However, at this time, in the High Adige region of Italy, the average size of hotels was around 35 beds. This means that hotels were operating thanks to a high level of management flexibility. The consequences are many, particularly at the economic level, because the difficulty in realizing economies of scale leads to lower productivity. This in turn implies higher costs and consequently higher prices. Such firms also tend to suffer in terms of quality, especially the quality of human resources.
It is precisely this fragmentation of a firm’s fabric that also leads to problems of integration and thus to the difficulty of guaranteeing unified and coordinated policies for a tourist destination. Integration and unified policies must be implemented by a far greater number of stakeholders and it is thus understandable why they are more difficult to be put into place. The local area suffers not only in terms of image and the variety and quality of services, but also from an economic point of view in that the integration of firms could contribute to a reduction in management costs. When integration and understanding are lacking among operators, there is a serious risk of resources becoming dispersed because of measures that are poorly targeted and do not meet the real needs of the region as a whole.
Innovation does not only depend on the capacity for management and organization; there is above all a cultural dimension in that innovation develops when conditions are present for a change in behavior with respect to the situation to be dealt with.
It is exactly the capacity to interpret changes in the real world that is often lacking among those working in mountain tourism today and is creating difficulties for adopting innovative models. Numerous ski resorts today provide a good example of this: although the expectations of the tourist regarding leisure activities on the snow have not disappeared, today they are expressed in a different way (for example, tourists want more entertainment and less sport, more emotions and fewer rules) and there are even some expectations that cannot be met by winter activities. Insisting on using models which do not take into account these new demands runs the risk of exposing the destination to the risk of declining visitor numbers.
Alpine communities are characterized by a strong feeling of belonging and unity, encouraged, particularly in the past, by more intensive relationships within the community and less frequent external relationships. This might suggest that even from an economic point of view collaboration would be easier. In reality, this is not the case: alpine communities are more oriented toward community life and solidarity than operational collaboration, so that the feeling of belonging does not always succeed in translating into concrete communal projects. The divisions between the valleys and even between the towns and villages, and a strong chauvinistic feeling, often prevent the development of a unified strategy, a need which is sometimes mentioned but not responded to in terms of effective instruments and methods of implementation.
The creation of integrated tourism systems (in Italy, a law has made them obligatory) constitutes an interesting test bench. Faced with the necessity of confronting the national and international markets with a unified system, many alpine valleys are not yet ready to give up their total autonomy to assert their belonging to a larger and more extensive tourist area, and in most cases this penalizes them. In this context, the scope for innovation ends up being more limited than elsewhere and outside intervention is sometimes necessary. Thus innovation tends to develop mainly where there is a willingness to collaborate because this provides the conditions for the transmission of know-how and experimentation with new solutions. It should be added that this problem is not exclusive to the alpine regions, but in the Alps the limited availability of financial and human resources, and greater difficulties in the decision-making process, make it impossible. This then is why the alpine destinations operating with the “corporate model” (where tourist property ownership and services are managed by a single company) end up by being more competitive, thanks mainly to their greater capacity for innovation.
Over recent years numerous alpine localities have witnessed important innovations in the tourism field: from the creation of new outdoor sports activities (rafting, canoe kayaking, mountain biking, adventure parks, etc.) wine-tasting and gastronomic routes (cheese routes, for example) to the development of cultural heritage activities, such as eco-museums, and many other innovations in organization, management and marketing. In certain cases, intervention in the alpine region from the outside has played a decisive role, but in the majority of cases innovation has been the result of a process launched and developed within the alpine community, often encouraged and supported by national and international institutions, thanks to which the structural difficulties mentioned earlier have been successfully overcome.
Compared with the preceding decades when innovation was induced largely by the technology that enabled the development of skiing, today it is mainly oriented towards diversification of the use of free time in mountain areas and towards products based on management models more adapted to sustainable development, an element which is beginning to be recognized as indispensable by those working in the tourism profession in alpine areas. In this perspective, the level of technological development reached today is giving rise to conditions that did not exist before, enabling those working in mountain tourism to become more involved as actors in its development in a way not previously possible.
The mountain is an important part of the French territory, representing 22.8% of the national space.  France has 6,000 mountain communes for an average population of 724 inhabitants. These regions now depend largely on the tourism economy. The development of winter sports has changed the approach to the mountain areas in emphasizing their virtues: beauty of natural elements, air quality, water, snow and climate, traditional skills. French resorts consist of specific ranges, gathered in the following categories: the big mountain resorts, which often include the largest ski areas in the world; the medium and small stations, which strength often lie in the quality of their natural and urban landscapes, and the friendliness which animates them.
The richness and diversity of natural and economic context of mountain tourism give France a dominant position in the supply of winter sports: the country total of 357 stations makes the 8.93% of the stations in the world (source: Department of Tourism and DEATM).
French territory has 118 000 hectares of ski area, representing the 30% of the European ski area (source: ODIT FRANCE).  The trails cover about 25 000 ha (source: DEATM) for all French stations. The average area of ​​tracks per station is 150 ha. The intrinsic quality of the ski areas is reinforced by the station equipments, which guarantee their snow.
The operation of the alpine skiing requires heavy infrastructure. The facilities are located in territories where no other type of activity is possible in winter. They open the possibility of economic recovery with exceptional benefits. The development of tourism in French mountain resulted from the gradual implementation of a park that now has 4 013 ski lifts, which represents 18% of the world ski lifts (source: ODIT FRANCE). Qualitatively, after the first generation stations, France has developed, especially during the snow plan, stations including ski areas with accessible accommodation at the bottom of the slopes.  The fields have the distinction of being interconnected and connected at the top. This is one of the major assets of the French offer for foreign customers.
The park facility is renewed: the average age of equipment is 25 years, if we do not take account of equipment changes since their construction.  The newer devices are chair lifts, two thirds of which were built within the last 10 years. 19% of the total installed capacity consists of devices placed in service since 2000. Conversely, older devices (placed in service prior to 1980) represent 20% of installed capacity.
It should be emphasized that these investments have helped to provide significant support to industry.  In 2005, the amount invested in the ski area set a new record with 359 million excluding taxes. For comparison, the ski lift companies had invested 121 million Euros in 1996. The ski lifts are comfort and strength improved.  Operators are investing a significant portion of their revenues in the modernization of ski lifts, grooming gear, installations of artificial snow, the development of trails and ticketing equipment.  However, the situation of French resorts is not homogeneous and the challenge of renewing and modernizing the network of ski lifts is not addressed uniformly depending on the category considered. Thus, it should be noted that despite an exceptional investment effort, small and medium-sized stations generally are unable to guarantee the sustainability of their equipment.
The French ski resorts attract a national and an international clientele. According to Maison de la France, the share of foreign skiers is estimated to be 2 million of the 7 million skiers in France. For the season 2005/2006, the main foreign clients are:  Great Britain (36% share of the UK market (increasing) or approximately 320 200 ski stays); Belgium (38.4% share of the Belgian market, or about 271 000 ski stays); Netherlands (33% share of the Dutch market (down), or about 151 400 ski stays). The diversity of clientele offers the theoretical conditions of maximum use of the product.
The French tourism winter sports, based on a rich and varied natural heritage, is also recognized for its quality, diversity of accommodation (houses, compartments, hotels, lodges, guest houses...) and its propensity for outdoor activities. The total turnover of the economy of winter sports for the 2005/2006 season is estimated at 6 billion, spread up to 5 billion for French customers and 1 billion for foreign costumers. This represents 6% of income from tourism.  These results confirm an overall dynamism of the sector. 

Dritan KOKA

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