Montenegro Says Closing its Borders Over Covid Was a Big Mistake

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

Making up almost a quarter of the $6 billion economy, the 90% plunge in tourism revenue between January and September hurt. That’s put travel front and center for Milojko Spajic, a former Goldman Sachs credit analyst who worked in Japan, Singapore and the U.S. Earlier this year, he has returned to his homeland and now runs the Finance Ministry.

Montenegro Says Closing its Borders Over Covid Was a Big Mistake

“The new government will make sure our borders definitely remain open, not only for neighboring 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 learned our lesson.”

Coastal neighbors Croatia and Albania retained more than a half the amount of tourism revenue they generated in 2019 because they remained more open to tourists, according to Spajic. Montenegro has already removed all entry restrictions for residents of the European Union 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 neighbors, 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 politicized and pretty bad border management ultimately destroyed the growth prospects” for 2020, Spajic said. He sees Montenegro’s economy contracting 14.2% this year.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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