Lies, damned lies, and statistics once said the great Mark Twain.
So with August already here, doesn’t time fly without being locked down, and the tourist season is in full swing we are seeing figures flown around like a plastic Albanian bottle in a jugo stirred sea. On the whole this is a completely pointless operation.
Is Dubrovnik having a great season, a good season or not too bad? There are so many factors that its mission impossible. Anyone who has been into the historic Old City over the last couple of weeks could tell you that Dubrovnik isn’t having a poor tourist season; in fact, it is probably better than expected. The doom and gloom that prevailed at the beginning of the year has been washed away.
It is a fruitless exercise to compare any tourism numbers with last year, in a year that was ravaged by lockdowns, travel bans and restrictions finding some kind of baseline is an impossible task. Although I did hear one interview when a senior director in tourism started by saying it was hard to compare with 2020 and then went onto to do exactly that.
So here is the dilemma. 2019 was a record breaking year with almost 20 million tourists arriving. There had been steady annual growth since 2011 when 8.5 million arrived. And then boom! A pandemic. Expectedly numbers dropped to 7.4 million. And then the pandemic is under control (to a certain extent) and travel slowly reopens. So what year can you compare this year with? Is it even worth making any kind of comparison or do we just start again from the beginning? It’s like comparing apples to oranges! Or comparing a cruise ship with the boat to Lokrum. Yes, they both carry passengers but the similarity pretty much ends there.
Do we compare this year to a record breaking year in the history of Croatian tourism or to a year that was decimated by a global pandemic? It isn’t even really a “glass half full or half empty” situation. Even though the optimists and pessimists are trying their hardest to make it one.
The only really fair comparison would be to a post-pandemic year. And fortunately they don’t come around very often. Should we compare it to the year after the Black Plague ended? Well, no.
Or maybe a year just after the war? Well, in 1996 Croatia had around 4.1 million tourists.
Here are the figures for Dubrovnik for July, just to highlight how bloody confusing this all is. The comparisons, and you can make your own conclusions, are 152 percent more tourist arrivals than July 2020, and 50 percent of 2019’s figures. Meaning we are either up 50 percent or down 50 percent, depending on your point of view. If we are both 50 percent up and 50 percent down at the same time are we on zero? And if so zero is neither negative or positive. Does that mean we are in a vacuum or no man’s land? This is just too confusing.
But I fear that this comparison game, this constant bombardment of useless information, is going to go on for a long time, it’s a strong political weapon. For the next countless number of seasons we’ll be hearing how great we are because we beat last year’s figures, and the pandemic will be pushed further into the deep recesses of people’s memories. And what’s the point anyway when there is no feasibility. I’m pretty sure that if Croatia has 1, 10 or 100 million tourists nobody in government is going to lose their job. In many ways the pandemic was heaven sent for them, as they’ll always have the perfect excuse. Or as Mr. Twain would say “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.” And to be honest we are probably comparing and counting the wrong numbers anyway.
Tourism is a little like a supermarket, you don’t count the number of people who walked through the door but the receipts from the cash registers at the end of the day.