This week it was revealed that 18 million tourists visited Croatia in the first 9 months of 2018. More than 50% of those arrived during the peak summer period.
With tourists come important revenue. In 2017, which was a record year for Croatian tourism with 18.5 million arrivals, Croatia’s tourism revenues amounted to 9.5 billion euros.
An increase in tourists this year has brought with it an increase in reviews with an increase of 276 million or 10 percent in the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year.
The share of tourism revenues in GDP was 19.7 percent, up 1.6 percentage points.
One of the main focuses of the Ministry of Tourism is turning the traditional summer destination into a year-round force.
“Every year Croatia is rising in popularity and there are more bookings, I think that we can do even better than that and extend the tourism to the whole year, but for that we would need some capital investments such as few big hotel resorts for leisure, golf courses, and a cable car to Biokovo mountain, or a fun park that is open whole year,” Zukić says.
Zukić notes that there are already interesting events attracting tourists before and after the summer months such as the successful Advent in Zagreb and concerts, festivals and sporting events. Cities like Split and Dubrovnik, as well as UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Plitvice Lakes National Park, are also attractive all year round.
Croatia’s great potential to expand its health tourism offer will be a key factor in increasing arrivals in spring, autumn and winter.
“For all those who are looking for a rest in peace and quiet or wanting long walks along the beach and the sea, or sightseeing of various historical sights, sports activities, concerts, active or wellness tourism, everything is available in Croatia at any time, 365 days in a year,” says Zukić, before adding.
“For example, Promajna is an ideal place that is close to all the events and yet so peaceful and quiet and can be the basis for all your activities. Most of Croatia’s private accommodation owners are happy if their season lasts for 3 months. Therefore, the first thing that needs to happen is to change this mindset and realise that the all-year season is not something impossible. “Why would anyone visit here except in summer, when it’s not sunny and the beaches are empty?” was a common thought of many people in this industry. However, things are slightly changing year after year. For example, we can see many new luxury villas with swimming pools in the Dalmatian Hinterland that yield good results all year round. In the Imotski region alone, there are over 300 luxury holiday houses with a pool at the moment. At first, these investors were mocked for their actions, but now it is evident that it was a great investment that is bound to pay itself off and start giving back profits.”
Zukić says Dalmatia and the islands can attract tourists in winter when the heat is gone.
“This area has great potential for cyclotourism and agrotourism. Cyclists prefer the off-season to avoid crowded roads. For many guests from developed countries, watching local folks in their everyday agricultural tasks is a real treat. Many are even ready to pay to participate in picking grapes, digging potatoes and planting vegetables. They find it unusual, interesting and even calming,” he suggests.
Croatia has been attracting sports teams as a pre-season preparation base for the last few years, including Manchester City and the Bahrain–Merida Pro Cycling Team who were on the island of Hvar last winter where they held a training camp.
Zukić believes that Croatia needs to improve infrastructure if it hopes to speed up the process.
“Tourists generally have the same complaints about a lack of parking places, inability to pay for everything with credit cards and traffic on the local roads as well as on the highways during peak season. They usually say that they love the weather, coastal scenery, interesting cities, and their heritage, clean sea, restaurants and food, people and various events.” Zukić concludes.
An increasing number of airlines are now extending the period they fly to Croatia past the traditional June-September period as well as new flights being launched such as the new direct flight from South Korea which launched last month.
More flight options, particular from Asia where tourists prefer to visit outside of the peak summer season heat, will help Croatia boost year-round growth.