11 2018 | TIMEOUT
Gem of the Adriatic
Since its independence in 2006, Montenegro has been on a path of constant economic growth. Tourism in particular is booming in this wonderful country with its old medieval towns, expansive beaches, gorgeous sea food and pristine mountain nature.
Anyone who wants to have a view of the entire beauty of Montenegro at once should not rumble into the country via the runways in Tivat or the capital city, Podgorica. It is better to glide gently from the sea into the Bay of Kotor. Then, the jagged rocks of the Dinaric Alps, which gave the “Monte Negro” its name – “black mountain” – rise up from the turquoise blue water one at a time.
Many nations have already been inspired by the picturesque contrast between sea and suddenly rising rock in the fjord-like waterway. The Osmans, the Venetians and even the Austro-Hungarian Empire, have left their traces as occupiers. The Austrian Emperor built a huge sea port for his fleet on the southern Adriatic coast of the country, which has 650,000 inhabitants. It is now called Porto Montenegro and has become a kind of Monaco of the Adriatic.
The basis for this is a huge marina, which also offers sufficient water depth for super-yachts of the wealthy. The Canadian billionaire, Peter Munk, with partners, such as the Russian commodity tycoon, Oleg Deripaska, and the banker, Jakob Rothschild, have had a promenade built around it with luxury apartments and boutique hotels, which quickly make you forget that the future of Montenegro was still quite uncertain in 2006. At that time, the country, with a size of nearly 14,000 square kilometres, broke away from its current largest neighbour, Serbia, after many years of Balkan wars, and became independent.
»Tourism has always been the most important industry for Montenegro.«
MONACO OF THE ADRIATIC
Due to the ambitions for achieving EU accession by 2025, Euro notes can be conveniently used at locations such as Porto Montenegro to shop for luxury brands. Tom Ford has opened a shop here, as have Gucci, Dior and Rochas. At a café with an impressive view of the Bay of Kotor, paysafecard Head of International Expansion Martin Penzes explains that “Tourism has always been the most important industry for Montenegro. But projects like this show that an attempt is now being made to invest more in quality and new holiday-maker target groups.” That is one of the reasons why paysafecard has been available here since August.
Tourism also puts additional money into the pockets of locals for online consumption and entertainment. 22% of the gross domestic product is generated by tourism. In 2017 alone, 1.8 million tourists came into the country. That is nearly three times the number of inhabitants. As a result of this, growth was most recently the strongest in the Balkan region, at over 3%. Around 28,000 people are employed in the tourism industry, while many others rent out rooms or small apartments during the main travel season from May to September.
The boom becomes noticeable on a boat trip to Kotor at the southeastern end of the bay. Several huge cruise ships are anchored here, from which the passengers scurry like ants through the narrow alleys of the UNESCO-protected picturesque Old Town. There is plenty to see: The Saint Tryphon Cathedral, for example, the largest preserved Roman church on the eastern Adriatic coast, and Sveti Ivan’s Fortress, from which a wonderful view over the bay can be enjoyed. Or the imposing palaces, which were built between the 15th and 18th centuries. Until 1797, Kotor stood under the patronage of Venice. The Lion of Saint Mark at the entrance to the city still bears witness to this. The Venetians have long gone, but the Italian flair has remained. Perast, an old shipbuilding and maritime trading village, is only a few kilometres away and from its shore, the idyllic pilgrimage island, Sveti Dorde, the island of Saint George, can also be visited.
But Martin Penzes also wants to show us something else in the picturesque little town. In and around Kotor alone, there are several Tobacco S Press Shops. This is where the Montenegrins buy newspapers, cigarettes and, as of recently, also the paysafecard. “With Tobacco S Press, we were able to gain the biggest retail chain in Montenegro as a partner. There are more than 300 shops distributed across the entire country. Even in the small towns and villages,” he explains. Martin asks the man behind the counter about the type of customer that typically buys paysafecard. “Particularly young people,” he says: “And those who don’t have a credit card.” There are many such people here. Only 15% of the population can pay online with plastic, which is 3% below the global average. We find out that even a bank account is not a given, which is the case in many Balkan countries. Only 60% have one.
SEA, BEACH, PARTY
On the way to the south in the direction of Budva, via the E65 and E80, the blue-green Tobacco S Press logo actually does appear several more times. The town by the sea stands for beach, sun and partying, like hardly any other in Montenegro. This is also shown in the townscape.
Concrete fortresses tower over the coast and there are currently thousands of young people in the town for the SEA Dance Festival. On the 2-kilometre-long sand and pebble beach of Buljarica, the legendary Nile Rogers of Chic can be seen, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike massage the eardrums of the audience with their basses and Paul Kalkbrenner, with his techno colleague Nina Kraviz, keeps the buzz going into the early morning hours.
MORE SMARTPHONES THAN INHABITANTS
Naturally, everyone is fiddling with their smartphones and taking pictures and videos. For example Steven. The 22-year-old from Bristol has come here to party for a week. He knows about paysafecard from playing games: “When I am on holiday and see something that I would like to have while surfing the web, I don’t really like to use my credit card on a foreign network. paysafecard is a good and secure alternative for this,” he says. “The smartphone has become the most important accessory for the Montenegrins, not just for the tourists,” confirms Martin Penzes. “There are more smartphones than people in Montenegro. But the Internet has so far only arrived in 61% of households. But the growth rates are enormous,” he explains.
»With Tobacco S Press, we were able to gain the largest retail chain as a partner.«
This growth also has an impact on the gambling market. Wherever there is tourism, gambling also works well. In Budva, you can’t avoid walking past one of the more than 600 betting shops and see the slot machines glistening in the smaller arcades. There are also several casinos here. The most attractive one is arguably the Casino Royale, in the five-star Hotel Splendid, just outside of the town, which lures people in with 15 table games, 84 machines and an electronic roulette wheel. “For paysafecard, the online market is considerably more interesting,” says Martin Penzes, over a glass of excellent Montenegrin Krstač at one of the bars. “Montenegro regulated this market earlier than most of the other Balkan countries. Online gambling has already been permitted with a licence since 2007. That is why, in addition to the classic paysafecard, we have also introduced the paysafecard gold, which is specifically intended for this market segment.” Gambling providers receive a licence if they have a local branch and pay EUR 10,000 per month for the concession.
»A motorway will soon link the port city of Bar with Boljare in Serbia.«
This is good business, as sports betting is particularly popular in Montenegro. This is shown by a visit to Konoba Portun, a typical fish restaurant in the winding alleys of the Old Town of Budva. Naturally, the best freshly-caught sea fish is available here, na gradele, i.e. from the grill, rubbed with rosemary, for example, served with a marinade comprised of garlic, parsley and olive oil. Or fish soup, which is called Brodetto. Or seafood salad, Riblija Salata, and as an appetiser, Priganice, a small, delicious pastry with honey or sheep’s cheese. Before a Loza, a typical grape schnapps, is served at the end of the meal, the men watching the television in the next room briefly become loud.
Then, they stare spellbound again at swimmers, who are playing a type of water handball. “Water polo is one of Montenegro’s national sports,” says Martin. “For this type of sport, the betting volume for online bets is at least as high as it is for football or basketball. The European Championship was held recently and Montenegro was only eliminated in the quarter final against Croatia. In future, I am certain that we will notice such major events considerably in the transaction volume.”
INVESTMENTS INTO INFRASTRUCTURE
The next morning, the journey is continued on the E80 in direction of Serbia. Another Balkan country, where the paysafecard will soon be available. On the road and at the roadside, the many construction machines are noticeable. Some of them have Chinese lettering. “This is related to one of the country’s major projects,” says our companion. “The Chinese are completing the country’s first motorway here, which will connect the port of Bar with Bojare in Serbia, after it is completed.” This will mean a further boost for the economy and trade. Among other reasons, because the magnificent mountain landscape of Montenegro will be more accessible and the country will no longer be as dependent on summer tourism. After all, it is not just the coast that has huge potential.
This is noticeable when you take a detour to the Durmitor National Park, the largest of five in Montenegro: 321 square metres of wild, unspoiled nature. Since 1980, the park, which surrounds the Dinarides mountains, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Long hiking trails lead past green overgrown slopes, through the forest and wild flower meadows, right up to the Tara Gorge, the deepest in Europe. Here, in the northern part of the Durmitor, the river passes through the snow-covered limestone peaks. These paths should not be taken without a guide, as the nature here is still unspoiled, wild and isolated. From the top then, a last view of the sea glistening in the sun, beaches, hotels and luxury marinas.
Montenegro really has everything to offer. Hopefully, this gemstone on the southern Adriatic Sea will soon sparkle a little bit more.