White Elephants? Tourism in Montenegro
January 12, 2011 1 Comment
By Rob Packer
In southeast Asia when a subject overstepped the mark, the king sometimes gave him a white elephant, a holy animal requiring elaborate care and a ban on paying its way by working; in most cases, this “gift” bankrupted the recipient and the term white elephant has come into the English and French languages to mean something that is very expensive to maintain with very little gain. The term doesn’t exist in all languages and certainly doesn’t in Serbian: one of the real estate agencies I saw in Budva was called Bijeli Slon, which means White Elephant. Not exactly what Montenegro’s government has in mind as it develops its tourism infrastructure at breakneck pace.
Montenegro is often touted as an “undiscovered Mediterranean jewel” and while that might be true for the time being, there are big plans that depend on Montenegro not being undiscovered for much longer. Much of the country’s tourist development centres on the old town of Budva, a walled port town like Dubrovnik, which is now full of estate agencies advertising (in Russian) Ваш яркий выбор, an apartment with Вид на море (“Your hot choice” and “Sea view” in English).
In terms of location, Budva is ideally—and strategically—located between Montenegro’s two international airports and is within striking distance of the Bay of Kotor, which as a UNESCO site is off-limits to developers. And, as you might guess, in summer, the town fills with Montenegrins, Serbians and Russians, who must fill the bars and clubs that line the water’s edge, a lot of which reminded me of places in Kyrgyzstan and I was told off by a girl where I was staying for not going to the discotheques.
I’m in no place to judge how Montenegro develops its tourism industry. The country is mountainous, the roads to pretty much everywhere are tortuous, the population is tiny and it has little else to offer by the looks of things.
And with places like Trocadero and Ambiente, who could stay away?