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Croatia enjoys rebound in visitor numbers

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-01-25 07:42
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Fishing at sunset in Rovinj, Croatia. Located on the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula, Rovinj is a popular tourist resort and a bustling fishing port. SRECKO NIKETIC/PIXSELL/XINHUA

Renowned for its Mediterranean islands, medieval towns and natural wonders, Croatia, the southeastern European country depending heavily on tourism revenue, suddenly faced uncertain times after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

"In February that year, we were booked for almost the entire year," Teo Smrkic, a local tour guide, explains. "Our colleagues from Asia were warning us of the problems that the pandemic could bring about, but it seemed impossible that the whole sector could fall apart. When it did, it collapsed in only a few days. All tours were canceled."

For the rest of the year, Smrkic, as well as many other tour guides in Croatia, were out of a job. The Croatian government introduced job preservation measures, but still many employees were forced to leave the tourism sector.

In 2020, the country logged a mere seven million tourist arrivals, 64.2 percent less than in 2019. Its gross domestic product contracted by 8.4 percent.

"We were jobless until the summer of 2021. When I saw the first tourist in Zagreb in mid-June last year, I was thrilled that things were finally changing," Smrkic says.

And it did. The summer season of 2021 brought Croatia more revenue from foreign tourists than any summer season before.

According to the Croatian National Bank, tourism revenues in July, August and September last year amounted to 6.8 billion euros ($7.7 billion), an astounding 100-percent growth compared to the same period in 2020.

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports said recently that Croatia generated the best tourism results in the Mediterranean with 13.8 million arrivals and 84.1 million overnight stays in 2021. Compared to 2020, this was an increase of 77 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

According to the Croatian National Tourist Board, the country has been promoting the image of being a safe country where the pandemic is under control. The main slogan of the board is "Stay Safe in Croatia"-and not without reason. As soon as vaccines became available, people working in the tourism sector were among the first to receive the shot.

Moreover, the government offered free COVID-19 tests to all foreigners staying in Croatia. Clear border crossing protocols with minimal restrictions made Croatia even more accessible and attractive.

Damir Novotny, an economic analyst, explained the reasons behind the recovery of the country's tourism industry in 2021.

"First and foremost, the composition of visitors has changed, as tourists from central Europe discovered Croatia again. This year, many Poles, Czechs and Hungarians visited the country," he says.

Before the pandemic, Croatia was a fast-growing tourist destination for visitors from around the world, including from North America and Asia. In 2019, almost half a million Chinese tourists visited the country. However, the exponential growth in the number of visitors from non-European countries was abruptly stopped by the uncertainties surrounding air travel and the rampant price increases.

Luckily for Croatia, it saw an increase in visitors from countries within driving distance, such as Austria, Hungary, Germany or Italy.

"Croatia's biggest competitor in the Mediterranean is Greece, where 60 percent of the accommodation establishments are hotels. In Croatia, this figure is only 14 percent, as most of the hostelries are private apartments. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most people would choose to stay in isolated apartments with their families rather than in hotels to avoid contact with other guests," Novotny says.

The Croatian Tourist Board has big plans for 2022. Its goal is to reach 90 percent of the record achieved in 2019 and to further position Croatia as the most desirable and safest destination in the Mediterranean.

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