While easily accessible from all points abroad, and boasting all the amenities of the Western world, North Macedonia is still one of Europe’s least discovered tourist destinations: a natural paradise of mountains, lakes and rivers, where life moves to a different rhythm, amidst the sprawling grandeur of rich historical ruins and idyllic villages that have remained practically unchanged for centuries.
The majority of the population of 2.09 million is ethnic Macedonian and Orthodox but there is also a significant Albanian Muslim minority. One can expect a wonderful mix of architectural and ethnic heritage. North Macedonia represents the Balkans in the truest sense, consisting of a fascinating mix of Greek, Albanian, Turkish, and Mediterranean influences. The country, covering an area of 25,700 square kilometres is land locked sharing borders with Serbia and Kosovo to the north, Albania to the west, Bulgaria to the east, and Greece to the south.
North Macedonia, a parliamentary republic, is a member of the UN, WTO and the Council of Europe, and has applied for NATO membership. It has also been a candidate for joining the European Union since 2005 and in 2018, the EU Council set out a path towards opening accession negotiations in June 2019. North Macedonia’s capital and largest city, Skopje with a population of 507,000 is located in the country’s north on the Vardar River. It is emerging as a modern city hosting international trade, cultural and sporting events while being endowed with many historic landmarks, archaeological sites and architectural monuments.
North Macedonia’s economy picked up in 2018 following stagnation in 2017, posting GDP growth of 2.7 per cent supported by consumption and net exports. It is now well positioned, according to the world Bank to seize opportunities created by a new outlook ensuing resolution of the country’s official name. The government’s early market-oriented reforms, openness to trade and prudent macroeconomic management have created an environment of economic stability that has attracted private investment and boosted exports to 5.7 billion EUR (2018), particularly manufacturing. North Macedonia’s exports include foodstuffs, textiles, steel and automotive parts.
The economic outlook for North Macedonia is positive and growth is expected to gradually rise to 3.2 per cent in 2020 aided by resolution of the country’s official name and EU accession negotiations. Large infrastructure projects, in particular roads and the lifting of moratoriums on local governments’ ability to issue building permits will further boost investments. Consumption is expected to be a stable source of growth, sustained by increases in employment, wages and household lending. Net exports, especially those related to FDI are expected to contribute positively to growth (World Bank).
Economic Indicators – 2018
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in North Macedonia
Continuing FDI provides an important catalyst for the development of North Macedonia’s economy. In 2018, FDI inflow reached 658.9 million EUR or 5.8 per cent of GDP, from major economies including Germany, Greece, US and UK. North Macedonia’s legal and regulatory framework is favourable to foreign investors and provides for incentives to attract new investments.
Invest North Macedonia is the Government of North Macedonia’s official investment and export promotion agency responsible for attracting foreign investments and supporting the promotion of the country’s exports. It assists investors to avail themselves of the benefits on offer to investors including:
- All foreign investors are granted the same rights and privileges as Macedonian nationals. They are entitled to establish and operate all types of self-owned private companies or joint-stock companies;
- North Macedonia has introduced a ONE-STOP-SHOP SYSTEM that enables investors to register their businesses after 4 hours of submitting on application (in practice, it might take 1-2 business days);
- Recent economic reforms have included a revised corporate income tax rate of 10 per cent and personal income tax rate of 10 to 18 per cent relative to taxable income;
- Access to 650 million consumers through trade agreements negotiated by the government;
- The government has sign investment protection treaties with 28 countries and agreements for avoidance of double taxation with some 41 countries; and
- The Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia guarantees an investor’s right to property. Foreign investors may acquire property rights for buildings and for other immovable assets to be used for their business activities, as well as full ownership rights over construction land through a locally registered company.
Tourism in North Macedonia
Tourism in North Macedonia is in its early stages of development but saw solid year-on-year growth of 12.8 per cent in 2018 taking total visitor arrivals who stayed overnight to 1.13 million. Just over 700,000 or 63 per cent were international visitors staying an average of 2.1nights. The number of Day Trippers have not been published and would significantly increase the total number of visitors. Visitors’ ‘Purpose of travel’ also isn’t published however as only 18 per cent of overnight stays are in the capital and business centre, Skopje, it could be assumed that a large proportion of business and government travel is day trips.
Skopje is a bustling city with a rich Hellenic heritage and a cityscape that is an incongruous mix of architectural styles and gigantic neoclassical statuary. Grandiloquent monuments sit beside monolithic socialist apartment blocks. Old Ottoman and Byzantine edifices recall the country’s pre-communist history while the business hub, happening bars, clubs and the arts scene project its forward-looking aspirations. Global hotel brands are present amongst Skopje’s 4 and 5-star properties including Marriot, Hilton, Holiday Inn and Accor.
The New York Times however wrote, “Macedonia’s best face is outside its cities, where snow-capped mountains, picturesque lakes and villages hidden in steep valleys evoke a lost kingdom.” Around 60 per cent of tourist overnight stays are in the scenic lake district in the south-west of the country. Here, the town of Ohrid, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is located on the eastern shores of Lake Ohrid, popular with international and domestic tourists for its beaches, heritage and culture, bars and restuarants. Ohrid is one of the many fascinating towns in North Macedonia which has numerous historical monuments including the Samuil’s Fortress, Church of St John, the Monestry of Saint Naum and Lychnidos amphitheatre which is still used for many cultural events. The are also a number of beautiful fishing and mountain villages along the Lake’s coastline such as Trpejca, Pestani and Ljubanista.
Over 70 per cent of North Macedonia is mountainous and the country has listed three National Parks and 33 nature reserves. Mavrovo National Park is the largest protected area with 3 mountain ranges, 80 peaks and 60 canyons within its borders. It’s popular for snow skiing and winter sports, and when the snow melts, it has all that is required for an adventure break with hiking, biking, horse riding, kayaking and white water rafting available. Mavrovo also has much to offer ecotourists. The species statistics are impressive: 1,500 flora; 130 bird and 50 mammal types are found here.
Apart from the rare landscapes and spectacular natural beauty, nature also endowed North Macedonia with natural springs containing important therapeutic properties. The country spreads over vast inexhaustible geothermal underground lakes with some 60 thermal spring tapped for spa complexes. They offer facilities for treatment, rehabilitation, recreation and accommodation with Proevce spa near Kumanovo and Kezovica near Stip being particularly popular.
Snow skiing is also gaining prominence in North Macedonia’s tourism offering with 8 ski resorts providing 48 kilometres of ski slopes and 31 ski lifts. Popova Sapka, the largest resort, reaches an altitude of 2,525 metres and has 20 kilometres of ski slopes.
Tourist Arrivals and Overnight Stays over past 5 Years
Profile of Accommodation by Tourist Destinations – 2017 and 2018