Activity holidays to put Montenegro back on Europe's tourist map

Surrounded by conflict, the Balkan state hopes to revive its fortunes, writes Oliver Bennett

The latest European destination pitching for British holiday-makers' custom will be familiar to most of us from television news programmes - the former Yugoslavian republic of Montenegro.

The latest European destination pitching for British holiday-makers' custom will be familiar to most of us from television news programmes - the former Yugoslavian republic of Montenegro.

This week, the National Tourism Organisation of Montenegro (NTOM) faces the task of changing perceptions of the country, which have been blighted by trouble in the border countries of Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.

"We've had a very positive response so far," said a spokeswoman for NTOM. "UK tour operators seem to be interested."

Yet none has so far taken up the challenge of promoting the country - a situation that NTOM hopes to change with a series of "familiarisation" trips for agents and operators to be staged over the next few months.

The country is hoping to sell itself by way of its miles of sandy beaches on the Adriatic and its opportunities for skiing and for activity holidays such as rafting, climbing, trekking, mountain biking and extreme sports in the mountains.

There is also excellent scuba diving - Jacques Cousteau once described the Montenegrin sea water as the purest in the Mediterranean. Not to mention that Montenegro is apparently famed for its coffee shops. The NTOM believes Montenegro is likely to appeal to "adventurous travellers. You can ski in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon".

At present, the only direct flights to Montenegro are via Dubrovnik in neighbouring Croatia, courtesy of Croatia Airlines, followed by a 40-minute bus trip. The flight costs around £320.

In an attempt to promote tourism no visa is required, apart from those who enter the country via Serbia.

But it may take a few years to get going. "We did a very successful tour there a few years ago," said Derek Moore, operations director of tour operator Explore Worldwide, which goes to 106 different countries. "But I do think it's a little early to contemplate going back."

Montenegro is not on the Western tourist map - although it attracts many Russians to its shores - but it once enjoyed a reasonably big influx of visitors from Britain. In the late 1980s, when tourism was the republic's biggest industry, it drew up to 1.3 million foreign visitors a year, nearly a third of them British.

During the 1970s and 1980s, package tourism was based around the so-called "Montenegrin Riviera", centring on the coastal resort of Budva and its nearby stunning neighbour Sveti Stefan, which was once a honeypot for yesterday's glitterati, including names such as Sophia Loren.

"Because of its past tourism industry, it has already got the infrastructure in place to cope with visitors," said the NTOM spokeswoman. This time around, however, Montenegro is poised to position itself as a fashionable "ecological" destination rather than a package fleshpot.

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