Sveti Stefan beach, Montenegro. Picture:
Sveti Stefan beach, Montenegro. Picture:

Belgrade — Montenegro won’t repeat the mistake of closing its borders to curb Covid-19 because it has to resuscitate its tourism-dependent economy, says the Adriatic nation’s new finance minister.

Making up almost a quarter of the $6bn economy, the 90% plunge in tourism revenue between January and September hurt. That’s put travel front and centre for Milojko Spajic, a former Goldman Sachs credit analyst who has worked in Japan, Singapore and the US. He returned to his homeland earlier in 2020 and now runs the finance ministry.

“The new government will make sure our borders definitely remain open, not only for neighbouring countries, but also for Eastern European markets and tourists from all over the world,” the 33-year-old Spajic said in an interview this week. “We’ve learnt our lesson.”

Coastal neighbours Croatia and Albania retained more than half the amount of tourism revenue they generated in 2019 because they remained more open to tourists, says Spajic. Montenegro has already removed all entry restrictions for residents of the EU and dozens of other countries.

In any case, the restrictions didn’t help much in containing the coronavirus: the country of 620,000 people, a candidate for EU membership, is struggling with one of the highest number of cases per capita.

The curbs were largely down to bad blood with some of its neighbours, the minister says, referring to the previous government’s decision to shut out holidaymakers from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for much of the high season. Those two countries, along with Russians, provide the biggest number of visitors to Montenegro.

“The politicised and pretty bad border management ultimately destroyed the growth prospects” for 2020, Spajic said. He sees Montenegro’s economy contracting 14.2% in 2020.



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