Tourism as propaganda

Albanian touristic development from 1944 to the regime fall

The People’s Socialist Republic of Albania was established in 1944 and it officially lasted until March 1992, year of the first democratic elections. During these fifty years, the country has been ruled by a Marxists-Leninist government, which deeply transformed and affected local communities, history, culture and territories.

Tourism played an important political role both at international and national scale, meant as a proper tool of propaganda. Indeed, tourism was strategically used for showing abroad the wonderful values of the socialist society, while it actually acted as discriminatory factor for local communities, generating class inequalities. Who could travel and who could not was strictly regulated by politicians and members of the socialist party, which had full control over the entire population.

Hotel Adriatik in Durrës. A touristic complex of five buildings on the beach at the city entrance, designed for foreigners and heads of socialist party (source: Albturist, 1958)

So, while entire delegations of tourists belonging to other Soviet countries were invited to travel in the country and to discover its landscapes and historical heritage – always under the control of local guides and following decided and precise paths-, the local communities were obliged to spend their holidays in working camps, generally located in the interior. Holidays were regulated according to the typology of job of family members, age, sex, education and, obviously, loyalty to the party.

On one hand, “tourism for foreigners” led to the construction of a proper utopia, where tourists were experiencing a reality far away from the actual: luxury hotels on the beach of Durrës, exclusive resorts along the Albanian Riviera, etc. In this way, socialist party aimed to show the world, both allies and enemies, the beauties of the country end the positive effects of their socialist government.

On the other hand, tourism for local Albanian society represented a vital factor for building a collective identity and it was mainly conceived as “domestic”. Visits to borders were discouraged, trips abroad were limited or simply disallowed, but in the meanwhile a touristic mass phenomenon was taking place within the country.

Map of the Albturist touristic structures and itineraries (source: Hall, 1984: 545)

Socialist tourism of propaganda represents an interesting study case because it somehow controlled the explosion of mass tourism typical of 60s-70s in many Mediterranean countries and preserved the natural and cultural landscapes. Tourism activities promoted can be considered as avant-garde of contemporary “eco-sustainable tourism”. As the anthropologist Vietti stated, socialist tourism has never sponsored individual departures for merely seaside stays, but collective experiences strongly linked to nature and mainly comprising moments of relaxation in special tourist-health facilities and open-air excursions, on foot, by bicycle, by boat.

Without putting aside the inequalities generated, it is worth to notice that socialist tourism promoted a territorial development tourism model which is unique and let Albanian landscapes arrive preserved until last two decades.

The research Tourism as propaganda: Albanian touristic development from 1944 to the regime fall has been selected for the collaborative project titled “Leisurescapes: Architectures and Landscapes of Tourism in the Global Sun Belt, 1945-1980″ in May 2020.

“Leisurescapes” is a research framework launched by the Mesarch Lab, University of Cyprus that currently hosts ongoing research projects co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Cyprus through the Cyprus’ Research and Innovation Foundation. More information available here.