Travel And Tour World: In 2022 Croatia has an overwhelming footfall of 18.9 million tourists along with record revenue generation. How do you evaluate this growth in tourism vis-à-vis the earlier years?
Kristjan Stanicic: Croatia is one of the only European destinations that stayed open to most travellers throughout the pandemic, while still maintaining a high-level of health and safety measures for all travellers throughout the whole duration.
From a record-breaking 2019, Croatia became the top Mediterranean destination in terms of tourist traffic and overnights, while most of the travel and tourism industry was strongly impacted. In 2020 Croatia reached 50% of the overnights compared to 2019. While 2021 saw a further rebound and just under 80% of overnights compared to 2019 and again, making Croatia the top Mediterranean destination.Tourist arrivals and overnights in Croatia in 2022 increased by 37 and 25 percent, respectively, compared to 2021.
To be precise, as noted, in 2022 18.9 million tourists visited Croatia, accounting for 104.8 million overnights, a significant increase compared to 2021 and 96% of the overnights recorded in 2019 – which was a record-breaking year for Croatia.
In terms of income from foreign tourists in the first nine months of 2022, this amounted to €11.6 billion, up 23% from the same period in 2019. Showing an increase in spend compared to this pre-pandemic period.
The majority of the tourist turnover was achieved by foreign tourists, with 92.3 million overnight stays, while domestic tourists, with 12.5 million overnight stays, rank second among individual nations, behind the Germans.
Travel And Tour World: How do you plan to keep up your tourism record in 2023 both in leisure and business tourism sectors? Please share your opinion in detail.
Kristjan Stanicic: Early indicators from our key markets, such as Germany, show that bookings are currently good and we can expect 2023 to continue to show growth across all our traditional markets, while with travel rebounding in general, we also believe we will benefit from this pent-up demand.
Travel And Tour World: Croatia is one of the sought-after destinations in Europe and CEE region. What are the top attractions you would like to highlight for tourists (leisure and MICE)?
Kristjan Stanicic: Croatia continues to see great investments in both hotels and infrastructure. Over the last few years there have been some very interesting new hotel developments and openings such as the 5-star Hilton Rijeka Costabella Beach Resort & Spa, the 5-star Grand Park Hotel Rovinj – which was also this past year’s winner as Croatia’s best hotel at the Croatian Tourism Days held earlier this month, while Rovinj was awarded as Croatia’s top destination. Other unique hotels that have recently opened include the luxury Maslina Resort on the island of Hvar, the luxurious and award-winning Villa NAI 3.3 on the island of Dugi Otok, the Palace Elisabeth heritage hotel in the city of Hvar amongst others.
This year saw the recent opening of the Hotel Ambassador on the western seaboard in Split, as well as the entry of the Mövenpick brand of hotels in Croatia with the opening of its first 4-star business hotel in the capital city of Zagreb. Mövenpick plans the opening of a new hotel in Split in late 2023, early 2024, which will add to their offering. Split will also see the opening of a brand-new high-rise AC Hotel Split located in a Business Tower, also the tallest building in Croatia – with 28 floors. Five collaborative conference rooms and breathtaking views over the Adriatic. Istria also saw the opening of a newly revamped 5-star hotel in Pula, the Grand Hotel Brioni Pula, A Radisson Collection Hotel.
In terms of nautical tourism, ACI also revamped and opened a new marina in front of the Grand Park Hotel in Rovinj, which now accommodates larger yachts, while offering the highest standard of amenities.
Croatia also saw further investment in infrastructure and this past summer we saw the opening of the long awaited Pelješac bridge – which provides a land-based corridor between central and southern Dalmatia via Pelješac – enabling a great road trip opportunity from Dubrovnik to Split, while also offering new opportunities to explore Pelješac – home to some of the best robust red wines including its authentic Dingač variety. Or take a short ferry ride to the island of Korčula and explore something new.
In terms of products, aside from our amazing beaches and nautical tourism, Croatia continues to be of interest to those looking to explore culture and history, as well as foodies. Croatia has a great and authentic selection of food and wine, with natural and organic products and fresh food markets. Croatia is also home to 10 MICHELIN-star restaurants. Our olive oils are amongst the best in the world with the region of Istria ranking as the best olive oil region in the world via FLOS OLEI, while our wines also won numerous awards at the Decanter World Wine Awards including 3 Platinum awards.
Travel And Tour World: Croatian National Tourist Board (CNTB) has recently introduced Euro in Croatia. How do you (if at all) think the Euro changeover will impact tourism?
Kristjan Stanicic: Croatia expects that entering the Eurozone and the use of the Euro will enable greater transparency in pricing and make it easier for those using the Euro to visit Croatia, without the need for currency conversion.
Travel And Tour World: Do you think Croatia’s entry into the Schengen area is a milestone in its tourism sector? How do think it will contribute to the initiatives to boost national tourism industry?
Kristjan Stanicic: Upon entering Schengen Croatia joined 26 other EU and EEA countries comprised of countries that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders.
Since January 1st, 2023 land and sea border controls with Slovenia, Hungary and Italy were removed. While the external borders with Serbia, Bosnia & Hercegovina and Montenegro became the external Schengen border.
Croatian international airports have a transition period of 3 months to adjust their border controls. After the transition is complete – by March 26, 2023, Schengen originating flights arriving in Croatia will no longer require passport/border control.
Travellers boarding flights between Schengen countries, but originating from a third country outside the area, are required to go through Schengen entry border checks upon arrival in the Schengen Area.
An open Schengen border towards Schengen neighbours eliminates border congestion for tourists, but at the same time increases Croatia’s responsibilities at its external borders towards its non-Schengen neighbours. Freedom of movement within Schengen will certainly improve the flow of tourists within the region.
With Croatia in Schengen, there is now greater interest from those requiring Schengen visas, as they only require a single-entry visa, so long as they remain within Schengen – allowing for Croatia to easily be included in multi-country itineraries for these visa-holders.
Travel And Tour World: How many events have you secured successfully in 2022? How, in your opinion will be the year 2023 vis-à-vis Croatia’s MICE tourism scene?
Kristjan Stanicic: Croatia has been a great host to many events from music festivals and sporting events, to various industry events. As such, 2023 has seen Croatia continue to host events such as Ultra Europe and WRC Croatia Rally 2023 amongst others. While also hosting new events such as this year’s European Travel Commission’s 8th annual Market Intelligence Group and Marketing Group conference in Zagreb, while Zadar will be host to the UNWTO’s 2nd World Sports Tourism Congress from 26-27 April 2023. With each successful event, Croatia gains momentum in terms of MICE tourism.
Travel And Tour World: Where do you wish to see Croatia’s tourism industry in the next five years?
Kristjan Stanicic: Croatia has entered a new strategy cycle and will be rolling out a new communication platform under a new umbrella brand by the end of 2023. We recognize the need to continue to be a high-quality tourist destination, and our goal is to be additionally recognized as a sustainable destination of high value in the future, and as a destination with authentic and quality tourist experiences, with greater emphasis on digitization and new product development.