Montenegro’s tourism industry is heavily hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Gone are the gargantuan cruise ships that have become a daily feature of Kotor’s port and the tour groups that clog up the charming alleyways of the walled Old Town, steeped in history.
And yet it is hard to feel at ease as fear mounts over the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Because, tourism contributes to around a quarter of Montenegro’s economy in normal times, and employs nearly 20 percent of the workforce.
Economists say the pandemic has exposed the dangers of “putting all your eggs in one basket”, revealing an urgent need to diversify an economy that otherwise rests on agriculture — which accounts for 50 percent of GDP — services and a small industrial sector.
During summer of 2020, tourist arrivals and spending have plummeted around 90 percent compared to last year, according to official data. That is a bigger-than-expected drop and will likely send shock waves across the economy.
Gliding across Montenegro’s majestic, mountain-ringed Kotor bay, captain Ivan Gvido Krivokapic revels in the unusually tranquil waters of a destination that has become a tourist magnet in recent years.
During the most difficult period of pandemic, tourism operators are desperate to see an end to this nightmare soon.
In 2019, a single tour-operator company named TUI succeeded in bringing 72,000 tourists to Montenegro, mainly from Western Europe, Nordic countries and Russia. But in 2020, they were able to bring only 300 tourists.
In the coastal city of Tivat, only two planes were arriving daily in 2020 — compared to 2019 summer’s average of 50 planes and 9,000 passengers a day.
Stefan Petrovic, a 29-year-old who manages a restaurant in Kotor, says young people are already struggling with high unemployment, at more than 18 percent, and low wages averaging just over 500 euros a month.
“For us young people, who want to work and make money, this has not been pleasant,” he added.