Polishing a hidden gem: how Intesa Sanpaolo is supporting Albanian tourism
Alberto De Stavola, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and ESG Manager at Intesa Sanpaolo Albania, explains how Intesa is supporting and challenging the developing Albanian tourist industry.
With 280 days of sunshine a year, as well as spectacular scenery, white beaches and historic sites, Albania ought to be on the radar of every international tourist.
But, says Alberto De Stavola, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and ESG Manager of Intesa Sanpaolo Albania, potential visitors are somehow put off due to infrastructure on-going works, paucity of staff training and sometimes a limited promotion of the country as a tourist destination in their country of origin.
“The government has considerably increased investment in infrastructure during the last years,” he says. “But more needs to be done in order to narrow the gap with the standards offered in neighbouring countries.
“More effort should be given to advertising and promoting Albania at an international level – to put the country on the tourist map as a hidden gem to be discovered.”
The role of Intesa Sanpaolo group in Albania
As the country recovers after the pandemic, the Albanian government is prioritising tourism. It is investing heavily in infrastructure – and Intesa Sanpaolo is providing support to those businesses that want to benefit as tourists return.
“We are reviewing and processing financing applications for operators at all levels, providing not only financial support but also consultancy during all the steps of their application,” De Stavola says.
The Bank’s clients include hotels of all sizes and ratings, as well as other businesses in the tourism sector such as restaurants and bars. A new initiative called the Albania Agribusiness and Tourism Support Facility (AATS) offers even more opportunities for Albanian businesses: they can access finance and receive a refund of 10% of the borrowing once investment is completed. “This is really appealing for our clients,” De Stavola says.
As the bank’s ESG lead in Albania as well as Deputy CEO, he is proud that the company supports all sectors as they progress in a sustainable way.
“This is one of the differentiators of the bank in the local market,” he says. “We are among the most active, designing specific instruments to support social integration, the circular economy and, especially, investment in energy production from renewable sources and financing of electric and low-emission vehicles."
“We also share best practices we have experienced, both locally and in other subsidiaries, trying to find ways of introducing such practices in the Albanian business sector.”
"In all our interactions with customers and potential customers, we look for ways to be their long-term partners, to support them with more than just one product or service. "
Alberto De Stavola, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer and ESG Manager, Intesa Sanpaolo Bank Albania
The cost of Covid-19
During the early days of the pandemic, Intesa supported its clients as tourism shut down. “We applied a wide-ranging programme of moratoriums to clients exposed to the tourism sector, including freezing instalment repayments and giving extensions, as well as adjusting repayment plans and cash-flow expectations."
“These were extremely effective. They avoided any defaults. And this really supported the overall sector so that it bounced back immediately.” As a result, last summer Albanian tourism exceeded expectations, and De Stavola hopes that this will continue.
While Albania works hard on improving infrastructure and training, De Stavola says there are still issues to be overcome. “There is widespread informality in the economy, which makes it very difficult to assess underlying risk. This is something that must change to come even closer to Western international standards."
“There is also no clear definition when it comes to property documents – which becomes an impediment for banks when they have to consider a property as collateral for financing. The Banking industry is advocating with the authorities in local and central level to resolve this documentation issue,” he explains, adding that, although there is a process to digitize land ownership, it is a “huge and time-consuming activity”.
Infrastructure projects currently taking place in Albania will make travel easier and bring in more visitors, De Stavola says, with a new airport opening in the south of the country by 2025, doubling its capacity to receive visitors by air.
Together with new mountain roads, marinas, ports and surrounding infrastructure, he says that Albania is being transformed: “There is a lot of interest from our bank to support part of this development. Access to Albania will change positively, in a drastic way.”
To help support clients at this time, Intesa is launching two new products in the region: a cash-flow management business called Confirming which will help companies that export from Albania to reduce risk and financial debt, and a digital loan scheme that will help companies to take the next step towards digitizing their businesses to meet modern expectations.
With all this innovation helping the tourist industry, De Stavola is hopeful that even those who have not considered Albania as a holiday destination before will be inspired to give it a try.
I believe that any tourist coming to Albania with a little bit of a pre-conception would be extremely surprised, and would come back, for sure, year after year – because they would be extremely impressed by what they found. It really is an amazing, unique tourist destination.