What a difference two years make. In April 2019 a massive 210.803 passengers passed through Dubrovnik Airport, 12 months later and that number was exactly 210.803 less. And as Dubrovnik is almost exclusively an air destination it’s fairly straightforward to see how many tourists are in the region by the number of international passengers landing at Croatia’s southernmost airport.
The Covid-19 pandemic completely closed down the airport, in fact the very first case of the virus was detected from an employee of the airport. The record tourism year for the city of 2019 soon faded into the distant past, from 210.803 to zero, April figures have never been more opposite.
April and indeed Easter are very much the start points of the tourism season in the south of Croatia, which is why April passenger numbers tend to be an indication of what’s down the line.
In April this year there was clearly a bounce back, with 117.715 passing through the airport. Compare that figure to last year when the pandemic was still at its height but some travel was possible and only 8.094 used the airport. And the indications for May, and indeed the rest of the summer, are just as optimistic. With the director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Kristijan Staničić, recently stating that “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.”
How do we measure success? - CROPIX
And the UK market has certainly “rediscovered” Dubrovnik with a plethora of routes from the UK and Brits the most numerous tourists in the city. This is highlighted by the fact that the majority of flights coming from the UK to Dubrovnik are running at 90 percent capacity.
Does Dubrovnik need to get back to 2019 record levels?
2019 was indeed a record year for the city’s tourism industry, but with that came headlines in international media of overcrowding, often Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik were grouped as the main culprits. Clearly, these three cities have one thing in common, cruise tourism. In that record year around a third of the tourists in Dubrovnik came from these floating hotels. Creating a huge strain on the city’s infrastructure, which was compounded by the fact that cruise ships generally come in a limited time period. Any city the size of Dubrovnik would struggle to cope with such an influx of people, especially a historic old city that clearly wasn’t designed to handle cruise ships.
Indications are that the cruise ship industry is returning to Dubrovnik, not to 2019 figures but somewhere close to 80 percent of that number. How much does that city earn from cruise ships? There is really no hard and fast answer, although directly a source has told us that one cruise ship earns the city around 100,000 Euros. Do the maths. Around 340 cruise ships are expected in Dubrovnik this year. And that figure of 100,000 Euros is direct earnings, not indirect. Is that figure worth the overcrowding problems?
How do we measure success in tourism?
Tourism in Croatia, or rather the success of tourism, is too often based on counting tourists. Whilst in some ways this might be the easiest method it isn’t necessarily the most effective. Miguel Gallego, the Head of Marketing and Communications at the European Travel Commission based in Brussels, recently stated to The Dubrovnik Times that “Really it’s about changing how we measure success. Is success based on rooms filled? Or on visitor’s expenditure? Or maybe on local satisfaction? This is where a tourism board needs to play a role, to move from promotion to management. And finding a way that success in a destination should be measured. There really isn’t one solution for every destination. For example, one parameter could be perception. Are visitors talking positively about your destination. Just counting tourist numbers isn’t enough. Job creation could also be a factor.”
And why April’s figures from the Dubrovnik airport are encouraging and clearly indicate that the upcoming season will be close to 2019, the question that we should be asking is do we really want to return to those days. What indeed have we learnt and implemented over the two years of the pandemic?