"Traditional Albanian cuisine is trendy again"

"Traditional Albanian cuisine is trendy again"
Fundim Gjepali, source: Agroturizëm Gjepali
 Speaking with Fundim Gjepali, "Agrotourism Gjepali", source: Monitor

Traditional Albanian cuisine has gained ground due to a growing demand from tourists to enjoy original recipes as part of their experience during their stay in agritourism.

Masterchef Fundim Gjepali assesses that the performance of the sector this year is exceptionally good, with increased attention from tourists towards rural Albania.

He believes that several strong points are contributing to the growth of agritourism, starting from the quality of food to lower costs compared to urban areas.

A key strength of this sector remains production, and that's precisely where the focus lies, at least for those who have temporarily concluded the investment cycle.

How has the agritourism sector performed this year, considering the tourist influx in the country?

It has been very good. There has been a notable increase, especially during the spring which has been fantastic. Reservations from foreigners through platforms like Booking have been high.

During the summer, it is expected that the situation will improve further. For example, July, August, and a portion of September already appear to be very promising.

From which countries do they mainly make reservations? Is there any particular group that stands out as a new trend?

They come from all around the world. If you go online and read the "reviews" left on the page, you can clearly see that the nationalities are diverse. There are visitors from Australia, America, Europe who are exploring rural Albania.

Promotion, particularly by international media, has played a significant role, sparking curiosity from all directions.

Despite the influx of foreigners, I believe our mainstay is the local tourist, as they are sustainable throughout the year.

What do you think are the reasons that have made this business model successful in our country, especially in rural areas?

I think there are several factors. Firstly, it's the quality of the food. Secondly, I believe it's the lower costs compared to urban areas. Thirdly, it's the unique experience that agrotourism offers, which is distinct from simply going to a restaurant.

There's a high interest in traditional cuisine, even outshining foreign cultures.

In the past, if your menu didn't have something Italian or French, there wasn't much curiosity. Now, traditional cuisine is back in style.

This year has been unusual in terms of climate conditions worldwide, and this has been reflected in our country too. Of course, this hasn't been good for the agricultural sector. How have the climate conditions impacted agrotourism, given that you also have a role in production?

Indeed, this year has been full of unexpected weather events, and the negative consequences have affected us as well. For instance, the biggest damage we suffered was in our sunflower plantations, which were completely ruined. There was also damage to beans and especially to grapes, which is equally unfortunate.

We understand that agriculture is a risky sector, and we normally operate with limited reserves. However, I believe that despite the damages, we will manage this season very well.

Our best option is to adjust everything according to the seasonal production. We offer items on our menu only as long as we have our own produce. For example, we offer cherries only until we have our own harvest; after that, no longer, without being influenced by the market. Meanwhile, there's also another very positive aspect.

We still have local agricultural products, at very good prices, and even in some cases humorous, so within this flexibility, we have the opportunity to offer good prices to clients and to have a profit that guarantees the continuation of our investments.

How is the situation regarding meat and dairy products, given that the figures indicate that livestock farming is not in its best days?

Meat and dairy products are a global issue. Prices have increased in this sector, especially labor costs, which have reached European standards.

The rise in costs, both here and worldwide, is inevitable. This is the moment for us to focus on local production and its growth, rather than foreign products. +I believe we have a good profit margin, and with the tourist influx we have, there is room to be sustainable.

What are your expectations for the sector's performance this year?

Considering that this year has started very well from the beginning and a large influx is expected in July-August-September, I believe that overall, the whole year will be very good.

Those who are organized will reap the rewards. One of the issues this year was the labor force hemorrhage in spring, but it seems to have been mitigated.

Do you work more with individuals or organized groups of tourists?

We lean more towards individuals and small groups as this format fits better with agrotourism. In this form, we handle the service better and offer a more immersive experience for the client.

The feedback we've received has been very positive, and we've tried to facilitate access to information for our visitors, utilizing what the Shijaku and Durrës areas offer for tasting and visiting.

This is a way to increase tourists' spending in the area and also provide a more comprehensive and enjoyable package.

What is your focus going forward?

At the moment, we are focused on managing the tourist influx and making minor adjustments.

Towards the end of the year, we might implement some structural additions, as our current focus is on production.

Do you see similar models being implemented in the area where your agrotourism operates?

Any investment in the area is positive, and I believe there is room for everyone. Shijaku itself is turning into an important agrotourism zone, and everyone can stand out by offering their best.

The products offered, service quality, and hospitality are elements that create opportunities for anyone who appreciates them.
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