Never has a tourist season in Croatia been as important as this year. After two years of living through a global pandemic 2022 is the year that Croatia’s tourism industry gets back on track. So we caught up with the main man of Croatian tourism, the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Kristijan Staničić, to ask him the big questions.
After a challenging two years it would appear that Croatian tourism is back on track. After impressive Easter figures what can we expect for the rest of the season? How close will we get to the record breaking 2019 numbers?
This year we planned to have 90 percent of the tourist numbers from 2019, which was a record year for Croatian tourism. We had an excellent Easter period. And we had superb indicators from the beginning of the year all the way up until the war in Ukraine, and then bookings slowed down drastically. But now reservations have started to increase again and we expect that we will continue this pre-season in a positive rhythm with a large increase over the same period from last year. Of course, last year we didn’t have a pre-season due to the global pandemic. The indicators for the main tourist season are excellent, and if nothing happens on a global scale to disrupt the season then we can expect that we will reach our goal of 90 percent of tourist numbers from 2019. When we compare the first four months of this year to 2019 then we are currently around 94 to 95 percent of that number. The fact that we will have a great tourist season is confirmed by the airports throughout Croatia, they are planning more than 460 direct flights to the country, which is around the number from 2019. This is especially important for the Dubrovnik region which is mainly an air destination.
This year we planned to have 90 percent of the tourist numbers from 2019 - Mark Thomas interviews the Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board - Photo - Kaludio Pozniak
Dubrovnik, being an almost exclusive air destination, has struggled for years to attract tourists out of the main season. Do you see a time when Dubrovnik is a year-round destination and what needs to change to reach this goal?
The fact that so many airlines, especially airlines from the UK, have decided to return to Dubrovnik in such large numbers this year should mean that the city’s tourism industry recovers faster. It is also important to mention the upcoming opening of the Peljesac Bridge which of course will mean that the Dubrovnik-Neretva County is better connected with the rest of the country. This will also help tourists who wish to drive to the south of Croatia, and from some of our most important markets, such as Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. And I firmly believe that the completion of this new bridge will help in changing the structure of guests to the south of Croatia.
Apart from Dubrovnik, which is the strongest tourist brand of Croatia, the region has plenty of potential which could be a motivation for tourists to come all year round to the region. From agro-tourism to small family businesses in the hinterland around Dubrovnik, such as Konavle, Zupa Dubrovačka and Dubrovačko Primorje. The cultural heritage and historical heritage of the whole region, along with the culinary offer, are all great motivators which can motivate tourist to come all year round.
Tourists want the Croatian experience - Photo - Klaudio Pozniak
Rural tourism in the far south of Croatia is often a branch of tourism that gets unfortunately overlooked. This is especially important in Dubrovnik where the Old City is a magnet and therefore can suffer from overcrowding. How can we disperse tourists beyond the walls and into rural areas?
Rural tourism is one segment of tourism in Croatia that will really start to flourish in the next years. The pandemic, apart from affecting tourism traffic, also showed the possibilities of rural areas to develop. That’s because we are usually talking about micro-destinations and small business owners who connect agriculture and the production of food with tourism.
Don’t forget that Croatia still has a high level of quality organic food, healthy food, a clean environment, clean air and leading water quality. These are all elements that lead to the development of sustainable type of tourism.
Tourists are looking for a connection with the local population and with an authentic way of life, they want the Croatian experience. Regions such as Konavle, Peljesac and Neretva and Mljet have a great chance to develop in this way and attract tourists out of the main season.
Whilst tourism is an important wealth generator for Croatia with around 20 percent of the GDP coming for this branch, there are over 300 tourist boards across the country. Do you think that this is cost effective and why is there a need for so many tourist boards, especially in today’s digital world?
The law on tourist boards has a goal to optimise the number of tourist boards in Croatia, of which we currently have 302 across the country. We are moving in a direction of reorganising, modernisation and effectiveness of work of the whole system of the tourist board and also in the direction of uniting tourist boards. This is a process that we continue for the next few years and we certainly boost the effectiveness of the whole system.
How do you think the introduction of the Euro from the beginning of next year will effect Croatian tourism?
The introduction of the Euro will firstly make tourists from the European Union stay in Croatia easier, as it won’t be necessary to exchange currencies. From September this year prices will be displayed in two currencies, the Kuna and the Euro, which will also help tourists to better understand prices. The Croatian National Bank has fixed the exchange rate of the Kuna and Euro, so if something today costs 10 Kuna the price in Euro will be fixed to that price. Next year all tourists who come to Croatia will be able to pay in Euros. I think that this is a benefit for our tourism.
Euro a benefit for our tourism - Krisitijan Staničić and Mark Thomas - Photo Kladio Pozniak
Is there a long-term plan for the labour shortage in Croatian tourism? This seems to be a problem that raises its head at the beginning of every year.
The question of labour shortage is in fact a global question. What I can as a long-term solution to this problem is that the Croatian education system adapts to the needs of tourism and the labour market. That is the first step, from high school, to higher education and further course. In this way we’ll be able to have a specialised workforce in tourism, yes, this is of course a long-term project. On the other hand, employers need to think about developing better conditions for workers, not just through pay increases, but through paid accommodation and other benefits. And the third point is that the unions and the relevant ministries need to find a solution to make the whole system easier. When a whole packet of measures is introduced then the pressure on the labour market will be eased.
In your time as Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board which project, or projects, are you proudest of? What do you think your legacy will be?
I have been in the position as director of the Croatian National Tourist Board for almost five years now and the thing that I am proudest of is my colleagues. I really have a great team, a team that is made up of young, creative and professional colleagues who offer endless energy. Many of the awards that Croatia and the Croatian National Tourist Board have received over the past years are down to their hard work. Two years ago the Croatian National Tourist Board was awarded in the top three tourist boards in the world, and that is the outcome of their work.