Continuing our series on how tourism hotspots are faring under Covid-19, Stephanie Holmes finds out Croatia's outlook for the future
Since the end of the Croatian War of Independence in the mid-90s, Croatia's appeal as a tourist destination has been rapidly increasing — so much so that in the last few years the problem has been too many tourists, not a lack of them.
Cities like Dubrovnik and Split were dealing with the effects of overtourism, forced to impose restrictions on the number of visitors allowed within the historic cities' walls.
This year, it's a different story.
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"The start of the pandemic began just as interest in  bookings for Croatia began to grow," says director of the Croatian National Tourism Board, Kristjan Stanicic. "At this moment we have seen an overall drop of year-on-year tourism numbers by 50 per cent to date and we will certainly see the impact of this on the revenue side."
In 2019, 47,000 Kiwis visited Croatia for a total of 140,000 overnight stays. That puts New Zealand in 38th place in terms of the Eastern European country's tourism numbers, where top ranked countries include Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Poland and Italy.
"Tourism is a very important part of Croatia's overall economy," says Stanicic, who notes that tourist numbers in 2019 totalled more than 108 million overnight stays.
"The revenue generated by tourism in 2019 equalled 10.54 billion euros ($18.93 billion), which accounts for approximately 20 per cent of the country's GDP."
The country has fared reasonably well through the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to strict lockdown measures helping to contain the spread of the virus. To date there have been 2119 cases but 1601 of those have recovered, and new daily case numbers have decreased significantly.
"Although we are moving towards alleviating and lifting certain restrictions, we continue to remain cautious and monitor the situation daily and the further development of the situation at hand," says Stanicic.
Croatia's high season is usually July to August, and at its peak there are usually around 105,000 people employed in the tourism sector. Stanicic says there is "mild optimism" that restrictions will be eased enough to see some tourist visits during this year's all important summer months.
"We have managed to maintain positive results and are currently satisfied with the way the situation is developing," he says. "There continues to be a level of public uncertainty, both in terms of economic impact as well as public health and safety, but overall, the Croatian public is in good spirits and at the same time are known to be very resilient and are able to deal well in stressful circumstances."
Stanicic says even though it might be a long time before New Zealanders can return to Croatia, they can still play a part in helping the industry recover.
"All those who have had the opportunity to visit any one of our beautiful destinations can share their positive experience with others. Research shows that word of mouth and recommendations made by friends continues to be one of the greatest drivers when choosing a destination to visit."
He'd also like to alert us to a Croatian/Kiwi connection.
"Listen to any one of the Croatian songs by the Klapa Samoana, whose singers and musicians are Samoan New Zealanders that have fallen in love with Croatia's culture and history and I am quite certain all other aspects and parts of Croatia as well."
And there is a final silver lining for Kiwis who want to visit Croatia once international travel restrictions have been eased — affordability.
"This year, as well as those to come, the market will be very competitive in an effort to attract every visitor," he says.
Add it to your wishlist and start planning for dream European trips to come.