New Deal Europe Weekly Update on Tourism to the Balkan Region

December 18. 2021.

News from the destinations: Croatia

NDE: Ivica, it is our great pleasure and honour to have you as our Blog guest just as we announce the date for NDE 2022, especially as you were with us in all the previous events. You know the travel industry very well, working on all aspects of it in one of the biggest destinations in the region: Dubrovnik. Let’s start by finding out more about you, your company, and your role in the Croatian tourism sector?

IB: The pleasure and honour is on my side, and thank you for the invitation! I usually don’t like to talk about myself, but here you go: I am the co-founder and Managing Director of Dubrovnik Sati DMC but you could say that I have been in the tourism industry since I was born. After all, I was born and grew up in Dubrovnik, with parents who both worked at the biggest hotels in Ex-Yugoslavia. I can remember more days when I was playing in the lobby of Hotel Croatia in Cavtat than days in nursery… and of course, I am not complaining given that it was the most luxurious hotel back then. I started gaining work experience when I was 20, in the largest Croatian agency Atlas, and in 2004 my mother and I founded Dubrovnik Sati DMC & travel. From the very beginning the idea was to create an agency with a personal approach to all projects and with a special focus on group travel. Today, thanks to our hard work, I think we have succeeded.

NDE:. Can you give us your overview of how the last two seasons have been for you, your business and in fact for tourism in Dubrovnik and in Croatia?

IB: I would say that all of us want to forget the last two years, and that goes for us in the south of Croatia too. After a record-breaking 2019, we were preparing for the 2020 season: bookings were up by 20% against 2019, with confirmed groups already in January. News of a new virus and the pandemic were coming in and soon after, at the end of February 2020 we got the first cancellation. Before we knew it, we were at zero reservations. This was when the most difficult period began, both privately and for business, because when you have a family business it is impossible to separate the two. However, we remained active and quickly reoriented ourselves and set to work with individuals. Croatia did ok in 2020 and even gained tourism arrivals, especially thanks to its geographical location. But this was mostly the case from Istria down to Split in central Dalmatia. Everything further south was not as attractive for western guests on self-drive holidays. Dubrovnik and the region are ‘flight-in’ destinations and while tourism was happening in the rest of Croatia, in the far south the hotels remained empty and closed. It may sound odd, coming from somebody depending on tourism, but maybe the streets of the most beautiful city in the Mediterranean deserved to rest. For us, the travel and tourism professionals this was a good time to rethink our next steps.

It may sound odd, coming from somebody depending on tourism, but maybe the streets of the most beautiful city in the Mediterranean deserved to rest.

NDE: That’s interesting Ivica as some of our partners in Croatia have reported even better results in 2021 than in the pre-Covid 2019 season. It appears that Croatia has been comparatively liberal in terms of Covid restrictions, both in 2020 and again in 2021 which I’m sure helped the travel sector a lot. However, this has also brought with it increased numbers of Covid patients and also, sadly, fatalities. How would you assess the way Croatia has dealt with this situation?

IB: Yes I agree, Croatia really had a liberal approach to the pandemic, although we had a lockdown on several occasions, for instance cafes were closed and for the Croats it can’t get worse than that! But if we compare with the other EU countries, we had shorter and easier restrictions. Of course, the fact that tourism makes up more than 20% of the Croatian GDP contributed to the removal of restrictions from the first days of summer 2021 which enabled some kind of tourism activities. As an entrepreneur, I believe that Croatia acted well, provided a short break from the pandemic and gave people the opportunity to work and earn. This is especially important due to the large number of employees in tourism. I would like to emphasise that it was the tourism workers who did everything to coordinate the work for the measures against the pandemic, which was not at all simple. In 2021 the overall situation was completely different: it started late but very quickly tourism was back full scale, and the numbers were really fantastic. On the other hand, I am not an expert on measuring how that decision affected the development of the pandemic, so I really can’t comment on that.

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