Croatian tourism is suffering from its normal seasonal problem, a lack of a workforce. Employers are struggling to find workers ahead of the main season, from waiters to cooks and especially cleaners. This problem is particularly highlighted in Dubrovnik, a relatively small city with a large influx of tourists every year. In 2019, a record year for Croatian tourism, Dubrovnik “imported” around 5,000 workers.
The problem with the missing workforce has been going on for a few years now, it isn’t only in the tourism industry, all sectors are in need of workers. And many of the holes were filled before by workers from neighbouring countries, from Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia. The region may have been divided by a war in the 1990’s but the needs of business have reunited it.
However, the pandemic to a large extent changed the face of employment in tourism. As tourist destinations shut down and isolated themselves from the world the closed hotels, restaurants and cafés meant that seasonal workers weren’t required. Of course these seasonal workers needed to earn, and a large proportion of them turned north, and went to work in Germany, Italy, Austria, basically in larger job markets that aren’t reliant on the travel industry.
The Covid-19 pandemic finally dies down and the tourism industry comes back, step-by-step. However, the seasonal workforce is now employed far from the Adriatic coast and has no desire to leave the northern European countries and their bountiful wage structure. A gaping hole has appeared. One that will be challenging to fill.
What about learning Croatian?
Now, you might be asking where are the locals? Here’s where you bump into two issues. The first one being there aren’t that many, well not enough to service the large number of annual tourists. In a town where around 40,000 people live and 3 million tourists visit, well let’s just say that the ratio between the two groups is large. The second issue is the phenomenon nicknamed “Booking Boys.” Basically people that rent out apartment and live from the proceeds. Instead of being a secondary income this rental money is there only source of income. And whilst it is a solid monthly income it also breeds a lack of a work mentality. In many ways the Booking Boys are a lost generation.
The solution has been for companies to look further afield than the former Yugoslavia. Nepal, Thailand, Philippines, etc. these Asian countries have been high on the list for seasonal workers. And it isn’t even in tourism, Dubrovnik now has a postman from the Philippines.
Now there is an obvious problem with hiring workers from outside of the region, and that’s a language one. By all accounts these Asian, and indeed European seasonal workers, are extremely hard-working. However, Croatian is a tough language to learn. There are foreigners living in Croatia for a decade who still can’t speak the language, and they are surrounded by it every day.
Hotels are in trouble again
Now traditionally, on the eve of the season, employers in tourism struggle to find labour. This year, it is not only a problem with the lack of waiters and cooks, but it is also difficult to find cleaners and maids. Hotels are also in trouble, and announcements for the season have never been better - so many are wondering who will clean up after the guests.
According to the data of the Croatian Employment Service, after salesmen and waiters, the job of cleaner is the most sought-after occupation, for which the hourly wage ranges from 17 to 20 euros. However, polishing glass surfaces, vacuuming and changing bed linen is a job that not everyone wants to do.