Interview with Aleksandra Gardasevic

General Director of Tourism Developing Policies of Montenegro

Dr. Aleksandra Gardasevic Slavuljica 

General Director of Tourism Developing Policies in the Government of Montenegro

Ms. Aleksandra Gardasevic Slavuljica holds a Doctoral degree in Marketing, Corporate Communications and HR She is an expert in the tourism and travel industry, with a strong background in Economics. She graduated in Economics and Business Management at the University of Montenegro. Further, she conducted her studies at the University of Montenegro in cooperation with Eastern Washington University, Washington DC, USA, gaining a Master's Degree and as a final, she completed a Doctorate in Belgrade, Serbia.

She became a worldwide known expert in the recovery of tourism and aviation during Covid-19. She was even awarded by WTN as a ”Tourism Hero” for her achievements during that demanding time.

As a tourism consultant, she is specialized in corporate communication, sales, marketing and HR. Her great experience in strategic management is great asset to each destination and company she worked for.

When we asked her to comment on an achievement that she is the most proud of, she says that being a mom of two great guys – one who is a pilot, flying for Bamboo Airways in Vietnam and the other, a student of the most prestigious University in Switzerland (University of Saint Gallen), both being so warm-hearted persons, makes her super happy and proud. "They are my strength, my power and my whole world, together with my great husband, parents and my brother. My family is my fortress that I selfishly guard and cherish."

Dear Mrs. Aleksandra Gardasevic, as General Director of Tourism, we want to know what are the main lines of work of your institution?

The scope of our activities is very broad. Just name it and I am sure we have on our activity list. 

One of them is the creation of a responsible and attractive business environment. In particular, the Directorate, which I am at the head of, deals with all major related to tourism, both from the strategic and operational aspects. So, I would like to point out that we are not only creating strategic framework, but we have “hands on” every day operational activities.

Talking about the last two years, since I’ve been the Director of the Directorate for tourism developing policies, we have adopted numerous strategic documents. The most important and umbrella document is the "National Tourism Development Strategy of Montenegro 2022-2025. with the Action Plan". This document is a road map of a sustainable development tourism path. The complete development process of tourism is defined in the Strategy. Goals and an action plan are defined with instructions how to achieve them. 

We have been officially complimented by the UNWTO for creating such as practical, useful and action oriented document. I am so proud of it, as I was the project manager in this process. In addition to the Strategy, we have adopted many programs and are preparing more. Our main and very applicable program are those for  Rural Tourism, Health, Sports, LGBT, Cultural tourism, etc. Whatever we do, we do it with the aim to create a sustainable environment in which the local population is satisfied, and ready to provide services to tourists at the highest level. Also, positioning our destination on a global tourism stage is one of our goals because Montenegro is still an unexplored and untouched jewel of Europe. I feel like a cosmopolitan, but I will not exaggerate if I say that Montenegro is the most beautiful country in the world.

What does the tourism industry in your country offer for the social, economic and cultural development of Montenegro?

As I emphasized already, tourism development in Montenegro is based on the principles of a balanced between the requirements of the economy, the need to carefully use natural resources and the obligation to provide the population with a good living standards. In this regard, the focus of our activity is on the development of a tourist offer that will meet the requirements of tourist demand and respect the three "pillars" of sustainability. We have a special approach to the development of the offer of cultural tourism, bearing in mind that, in addition to the offer of rural and health tourism products, in this way we create preconditions for a year-round tourist offer and a reduction in seasonality, which will have positive economic and social effects visible through an increase in income and employment.

What does Montenegro offer to the international tourist?

Montenegro is a country of exceptional beauty. We can offer tourists love at first sight, because once he comes to Montenegro, he will be delighted and Montenegro will become his permanent tourist destination. In a small area covering less than 14,000 km2, nature was generous. In just one day it is possible to stay on the beach and swim in the sea, and then reach the mountain tops and breathe fresh mountain air. There are periods of the year, sometimes in April, when you can ski in the snow and swim in the sea at the same day. So, our offer is very diversified in terms of space, activities, accommodation capacities… You can stay in luxury hotels or in rural households, you can have a party time or a quiet, romantic time. Just make a wish and it will come true in Montenegro. 

What are the main challenges facing tourism in Montenegro?

More than 30% of our GDP is related to tourism, so it is clear how important this industry is to us. We all know how challenging it is, especially in these strange times full of various kinds of challenges. 

That is why we are trying to make tourism a sustainable and resilient economic branch. In this sense, we are successfully solving the problem of seasonality, workforce, unbalanced regional development, infrastructure, air connectivity, sustainability... However, these are not challenges related to our country only, but challenges that affect global tourism to a greater or lesser extent. 

Until recently, Montenegro was recognized as a “sun & sea” destination. It's not like that anymore. We are an "all in one" destination, where tourism is performed 365 days a year. We are a country tailored to meet needs of all kind of visitors and our offer is created according to the expectations of very demanding tourists, which we are trying to attract and make them wish to stay at our destination longer. 

And from your international point of view, what are the main challenges in Europe?

The world is a global village, so the challenges are global, as well. Covid-19 was the main showcase of such situation. There was not a single destination in the world which was not hit by it. So, everything I already mentioned about our destination, applies to almost all destinations in the world. However, I would like to comment on perhaps the main challenge, both for Europe and the world, and that is sustainability. This is something we all need to focus on, because sustainable tourism is the key to solving many challenges. Now it is a time when we have to be extra careful. We must not let over-tourism happen again. Tourism should never be as before Covid. I think many destinations realized it and this should be our path fulfilled with sustainable, responsible, inclusive, green, smart tourism. 

You stand out for your capacity for work and collaboration. Do you consider that the different sectors of the State tourism industry are aligned with the Ministry of Tourism?

Tourism is everyone's industry and industry for everyone. There is not a single economic branch, at least in our country, which is not somehow related to tourism. Our Ministry intensively and very successfully connects all tourism stakeholders, whether they are from the state or private sector, from civil society, NGOs... We are at everyone’s disposal. The tourism of a country cannot be successful if it is not recognized at all the levels and all the stakeholders must be in a network. However, SMS are the main carriers of tourism, and in order for them to function, they must have a responsible business environment and stable market. Therefore, cooperation in tourism is an imperative, and no entity or institution can function independently. We are all connected, we are all networked. Networking at the national level is a prerequisite for networking at the global level.

In general, what is the current situation of the national tourism industry?

We are more than satisfied with the tourism recovery and reset after Covid-19. Our quantitative indicators are excellent. We even surpassed the level of the record 2019 in many segments. However, Montenegro has made a change and in tourist direction. We are working on the new branding of the destination, by modeling as diversified product as possible and by increasing its quality. This is the new image that we want to be the seal of our destination. For us, it is important to attract responsible guests, who behave responsibly towards our nature, who stay longer at the destination and spend more.  Our destination promotion is oriented towards such target groups.

In some interviews, you talk about the cultural identity of Montenegro, what are the main concepts and developments that make that cultural identity identifiable?

I think that Montenegro deserves to be better recognized on the map of the global cultural tourism and would like to see this situation improved in the coming period. Our ministry, as well as the Ministry of Culture, are working on it intensively.

Montenegro represents a fascinating area of rich cultural and historical heritage. In our country, we have UNESCO protected properties.

Here, there is a mixture of different cultures, because Christianity and Islam meet here and live in harmony. These are just some of the predispositions and potentials for the country's cultural development. It may be interesting to say that three great Christian relics are located in Montenegro: the hand of St. John the Baptist (the hand that baptized Jesus Christ), a fragment of the Holy Cross of the Lord (part of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified) and the Icon of the Holy Mother of God Philermosa (according to tradition, it was the work of St. Apostle Luke who painted it live in 46 AD). Therefore, Montenegro is an unexplored phenomenon of cultural tourism, and everyone who visits it is delighted by our cultural offer.

What are you developing to strengthen the image and the country brand?

Until recently, Montenegro was recognized as a "sun & sea" destination. Yes, our beaches and coastline are magically beautiful, but that is only part of the beauty of our destination. We brand the country as an "all in one" destination because we really have an offer for everyone's taste and expectation. Therefore, we want our destination to be better recognized globally for its active and diversified tourism, which is primarily based on sustainability and responsibility towards the environment and nature. In this sense we are re-branding our destination knowing how it is important from the aspect of its recognition. The new brand is based on new marketing standards and new principles and that apply in tourism, as well. Montenegro is a responsible destination and we create our offer tailored to the most demanding guests. 

In your opinion, what are the main tourist resources of the country that make it different and unique in the wide tourist offer found in the Adriatic?

Unreal natural beauty is the unique selling point of our destination. Our regions take your breath away and remain etched in the minds and hearts of tourists forever. This is the reason why tourists keep coming back to us. Whoever visits Montenegro once, will keep on visiting it frequently. We have five national parks rich in flora and fauna and numerous endemic species of animal and plant origin. The proximity of the sea and the mountains gives countless possibilities. Sometimes it happens that in the same day, a tourist can ski, both in the sea and on the snow, because the sea and the mountains are only a little more than an hour's drive away. Our traditional food is delicious  and whoever tries it once, falls in love with the country because, as we know, ”love goes through the stomach”. Our traditional hospitality, rich cultural and historical heritage, the meeting of two religions - Christianity and Islam... and all this is happening in an area that has less than 14,000 km2 with only 600,000 inhabitants.

Montenegro is located in an enviable geographical environment but surrounded by very powerful countries for tourism. Do you think there is a common strategy or is it one of the region's weak points?

Trends change and there is room for everyone in the tourist market. Our target group is predominantly high-paying markets, although tourists from the region are also our traditional guests. We believe that we have a unique product tailored for guests from Central, Western and Northern Europe, guests from the Middle East, which is also very important to us. For them, our offer is without competition in many respects, but we just need to strengthen the promotion of our destination. This is also the main goal of our National Tourism Strategy – ”to become a globally recognized destination by 2025.” However, I must highlight our plans to promote the offer in distant markets, such as China and Canada, together with countries from the Region. For tourists from these parts of the world, visiting the Balkans is most probably once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they generally want to visit several countries during a single trip. In this sense, we create regional package arrangements.

However, modern tourism is all about sharing. It is oriented towards sharing knowledge, good practices and experiences, because that is the only way we can make the industry strong, resilient and responsible.

Tell us an essential place to visit in your country?

I don't think I can answer this question. Montenegro is a special place as a whole. 

The whole of Montenegro deserves to be visited and every corner of it to be discovered. Inevitably, one should visit the coastal towns such as Ulcinj, Budva, Kotor, Tivat, Herceg-Novi, the capital Podgorica, Cetinje, then Kolašin and Žabljak in the Northern region. On should go rafting on the "Tear of Europe", the river Tara, go down the serpentines from Cetinje via Njegusi to Kotor (the gondola cable car  from Lovcen to Kotor will be in operation soon), visit our hiking trails that leave you breathless. You should visit the luxury hotel brands that have their own specialty in this area, but also small rural households whose charm even the most demanding tourists cannot resist. Well, our national parks... Lovćen, Lake Skadar, Biogradska gora, Durmitor (under UNESCO protection )... The possibilities are endless. 

And a flavor that will surprise us?

Ah, you are asking me difficult questions again. So let me ask you too... would you like to feel love at first sight, once again? Montenegro is a surprise in itself. It is an unexplored gem of Europe and I promise, when you visit it, the love on the first sight will happen to you. Trust me. So, Montenegro is waiting to be explored. 

Dear Mrs. Aleksandra Gardasevic, thank you for bringing a magical country like Montenegro closer.

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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