I visited Croatia in 2008, it was the first holiday my girlfriend (now wife) and I went on. I invited my entire family along too. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Anyway, it was a great holiday for all sorts of reasons but I can’t help think back to seeing shells of what looked like old hotels riddled with bullet holes and mortar fire damage. These old buildings may give an insight into the days of old when tourism was huge for the then Yugoslavia.
Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991. The following October the country entered into a four-year war in which independence was successfully protected. From that point on the economy has grown and tourism has had a resurgence which sets to continue. Of course, during the early to mid 1990’s tourism didn’t really exist in the region.
Back in the 1980’s I was but a child, only reaching my teens towards the end of the decade and thus I am far too young to understand how popular Croatia was as a holiday destination throughout the 1980’s. Turns out it was huge for tour operators. On the 18th September 2012 the Telegraph newspaper ran an article stating that in 1990 UK visitor numbers reached 500k for the year. 500k UK visitors make it a major tourist destination. It’s estimated that in 2011 tourism accounted for 20% of GDP (or 6.6 billion Euros). That’s a tremendous proportion of the economy but back n the 1980’s it was even higher.
That same Telegraph report stated that UK visitors for July and August of 2012 reached just over 240k, a 23% rise on the same period for 2011.
If one assumes the average number of seats on a plane is 250 then 240,000 people means circa 960 return flights. Given Croatia is a summer only destination, based on the above we’re looking at circa 960 flights during 10 weeks, 96 flights per week or just over 13 per day from the UK. Massive. It’s also interesting to note that tourism wasn’t always concentrated into Dubrovnik as it is now from the UK, the north attracted large numbers into Pula, Zagreb and Split.
So, why haven’t the volume of visitors yet reached those past highs?
Well, I believe there are a few reasons but I am certain that the numbers will continue to rise and tourism will continue to be a large part of the economy, one only needs to look at the popularity of the cities but more so the coast and common sense tells us people will want to visit.
1990 was 23 years ago as I write this, or, we could say, pre-internet. Just that statement automatically changes the context in which one considers the potential changes that have occurred in the travel industry since that period.
So, no low-cost airlines, difficult to make a hotel booking on your own, difficult to get a flight. The only real capacity of flights seats available to Croatia came from the large tour operators of the day (Thomson, Thomas Cook, et al). These flight seats were part of package holidays (where all components are predetermined – like buying a ready meal).
In essence Croatia was a package holiday destination. It would have been rare people might visit Dubrovnik for the weekend or a take a ‘mini break’ on Hvar. Logistically (and financially) it wasn’t viable for most of the population. So, given the idea of building a holiday yourself didn’t exist it’s not so remarkable that package holiday numbers were so high. This was after all the golden period of the package holiday and undoubtedly Croatia would have been seen as exotic.
Tour operators were buying or leasing planes, buying fuel in large quantities thus achieving economies of scale and so keeping prices down and of course, the fact the destination was considered great value whilst staying there helped.
These days many customers produce their own holidays by purchasing flights and hotels entirely separately. Therefore, the number of visitors is directly linked to both flight capacity and crucially, flight prices. So, if one or more of the low-cost airlines add capacity and hotels are able to offer good prices then I suspect visitor numbers will rise.
But why would the low-cost airlines add more capacity? Ultimately, it’s a risk for them. It’s not easy to get slots at airports, plan the scheduling, back up the route with a marketing plan, manage the yielding and the list goes on. So the end game is, the airlines would be taking a huge risk f they added more capacity. Before they take that decision they wisely, want to be as certain as they possible can that they’re going to make some money. One potential solution is for the Croatian government to subsidise seats and or airport taxes, again, helping to keep taxes down.
If the government is unable to take such measures then who else can influence the airlines? I am not sure. The hotels industry is so fragmented that alone, no single hotel has any influence. Tour operators could add more capacity but they’d want to sell their flight seats and their hotels (which are increasingly exclusive to that tour operator). I think the airlines must make any decisions on capacity alone but it will be interesting to observe if they engage large on-line travel agents in the coming years.
Croatia may also been seen by some as a gateway to Eastern Europe, countries such as Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Serbia which have not yet been touched by mass tourism from the UK. Of course, Croatia lies on the Adriatic and the Dalmatian Coast for me remains one of the most attractive areas of Europe if not the world. Just search for the Dalmatian coast and view images. Stunning.
I am due to visit again this October. I can’t wait.