There aren’t many people that are so dedicated to bringing new people to Montenegro as Sarah Pavlović. Her booking platform Montenegro Pulse combines in depth information and passion for the small Balkan nation. That’s not just unusual in itself. It’s also that Sarah is originally quite literally from the other end of the world.
It was love that brought Sarah Pavlović from her native New Zealand to Montenegro about a decade ago.
Her husband is from Montenegro and had missed his old home. For Sarah, there was never any doubt she would come along. This is highly unusual.
Once people leave their native Balkan countries, they almost never come back. Let alone with their foreign born partners or spouses.
Sarah hasn’t regretted the choice, she tells Balkan Stories. „Montenegro offers a simpler and slower lifestyle; it doesn’t offer the range of choice we were used to in New Zealand, but people here often meet friends for coffee daily and the culture is less consumerist.“
It of course helps that Sarah’s husband is well established in the international yacht industry, so unlike for many other couples, there was and is an economic perspective.
Sarah embraced her new home country with an intensity few other people have. Early on, she decided to help other people discover Montenegro, too.
„In 2012 I worked for a tour operator running holidays in Montenegro. At the time, Montenegro was an emerging destination and our customers had a lot of questions and were struggling to find information that would help them plan their trip. They were always very grateful when I’d give them recommendations and tell them what to see and do here.“
„It’s Easy to Love This Place“
On the long run, Sarah wanted to do more. Recognizing the shortcomings of many booking sites and tour operators, she decided to set up Montenegro Pulse.
„I decided to start a website to help people get the most out of their stay in Montenegro and the website took off from there. Montenegro is a fantastic destination: centrally located, abundant natural beauty, a variety of landscapes and culture and a Mediterranean climate. It’s easy to love this place and want to help people discover it.“
From what Sarah told Balkan Stories, she seems to be very good at spreading the love of Montenegro. Which is, of course, helped by the fact that there are many things to love.
„One of my customers, from Norway, was astonished with how friendly and welcoming Montenegrins are. They’d booked a wine tasting and we treated like treasured guests instead of customers. Those kinds of experiences really take travel to a new level and that’s what Montenegro offers because it hasn’t been corrupted by mass tourism yet.“
The occasional cruise ship aside, it is mainly more individual minded travellers that want to discover the country, precisely because it is still a bit off the beaten path.
This will stay this way for a while, even if Covid – hopefully – subsides this year.
2020 decimated the tourism industry in the country, Sarah says. 2021 mainly saw visitors from other Balkan countries. As far as travellers from further away go, Montenegro has yet to bounce back.
A Lot of Potential – And Some Mistakes
Plus, many potential tourist attractions have to be developped yet, Sarah says. Not in all cases does that work all the well.
The temptation to make a quick buck often outweighs longterm considerations.
„For example, Mamula Island, at the entrance of the Bay of Kotor, was a Austro-Hungarian fortress that was used as a prison in World War II. This could have been a very popular attraction for foreign tourists that showcased some of the history of the area. However, the island was privatised and is currently being turned into another luxury hotel. It’s a shame to see such a cultural gem and the potential it had lost for short-term gain. A long-term view of tourism with sustainable development would really help Montenegro make the most of what it has.“
To be fair, this isn’t specific to Montenegro or even the Balkans. Privatisations and overblown and often pointless construction projects have plagued the international tourism industry for decades.
It’s just that these developments are in an infant stage in emerging destinations and they could know better by now, what with all the ruined beaches and mountain ranges from the Cote D’Azur to the Austrian and Swiss Alps. Sometimes, it seems, they choose not to.
Rather than privatising yet another island, expanding and improving public transport would seem a way to make most of what Montenegro has to offer. A lesson, that of course goes to Bosnia, Serbia and even Croatia as well.
„In Montenegro they find authentic experiences and stunningly beautiful places that are essentially empty“, Sarah describes the typical experience of out of the region travellers. That is places outside the developped hotspots like Kotor where it can get fairly crowdy at times.
It’s not that anyone would want crowds in all those beautiful valleys, monasteries and on the mountain tops and beaches. But it sounds like a few more people wouldn’t hurt, either.
Besides, Montenegrins probably wouldn’t mind more and faster bus connections, either.
As long as public transport is the way it is in the region, careful planning such as through Sarah and Montenegro Pulse will be a great help.
The experience will be worth it.
Title photo: (c) Montenegro Pulse
If you want to read more about the undiscovered sides of Montenegro, check out these stories on Balkan Stories. German only, though.