Friday, February 3, 2023

Croatia ready for a Mideast tourism windfall as its FIFA glory continues

As the Croatian football team continue to bring laurels on the world stage at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, the Croatia National Tourism Board hopes to draw more attention to the country’s various tourism offerings. Known for its UNESCO heritage sites, rich and diverse culture and gastronomical offerings and a strong flight connectivity to the region, the European nation hopes to attract more visitors from the GCC countries in the coming months.

Croatia is not a stranger to the ‘post-World Cup tourism’ demand. The success of the country’s football team at 2018 FIFA World Cup saw a 250 per cent rise in the number of visitors to the country’s tourism homepage, with many more millions of visits and impressions on the national tourism authority’s social media platforms. In 2019, the country welcomed a record-breaking 21 million tourist visits (5 per cent more than in 2018) recording over 108.6 million overnights, a 2.4 per cent increase compared to the previous year.

ArabiaTravelNews.com caught up with Croatia National Tourism Board Director, Kristjan Staničić to know more about the Croatian-appeal and what travelers can look forward to at this Mediterranean destination.

Tell us about tourism into Croatia. What have been the key changes implemented since the pandemic?

Croatia is one of the only European destinations that managed to maintain strong tourist traffic throughout the pandemic, while still maintaining a high-level of health and safety measures for all travelers, in the last two years.

From a record-breaking tourist arrivals numbers in 2019, Croatia also became the top Mediterranean destination in terms of tourist traffic and overnights, while many others were strongly impacted. In 2020 Croatia reached 50 per cent of the overnights compared to 2019 and 2021 saw a further rebound and just under 80 per cent of overnights compared to 2019 and again.

In 2022, Croatia is nearly at par with 2019 in terms of overnights, recently surpassing 100 million overnights in total, which is over 90 per cent by arrivals and more than 96 per cent by overnights when compared to the same period in 2019.

During the first year of the pandemic we put a lot of focus on car destinations. With our Adriatic coastline that spotlights one exotic spot after another – for more than 1770km (1100 miles), it is an exciting destination for road trips. In the same period, many Middle Eastern carriers found their own interest in increasing their flights to Croatia and today Turkish, Emirates, FlyDubai and Qatar Airways, fly to Croatia both in and out of season.

Have you noticed any new inbound tourism patterns emerge post-pandemic?

Croatia is entering a new strategic cycle with a strong focus on sustainability, digitalization and authentic experiences. The European Investment Bank (EIB) has extended their cooperation in the development and financing of sustainable transport projects and the country’s green and digital transformation. Our tourism rebound figures are a testament to this resiliency and commitment to growth.

Croatia continues to see strong investment in both hotel and tourism infrastructures. Over the last few years new hotel developments including five-star hotels in Rijeka, Rovinj and Pula; luxury resorts and heritage hotels on Hvar, as well as a unique and authentic sustainable luxury hotel on the island of Dugi Otok have opened doors. This summer, we also opened the long-awaited Pelješac bridge – which provides a land-based corridor between central and southern Dalmatia.

We are now gearing for our official entry into the Schengen from January 1, 2023 and the EURO will become our national currency. This will see Croatia without additional border controls via land borders to other EU/ Schengen countries, as well as at airports, once the 3-month transition period is complete.

What is Croatia tourism’s USP? How will the destination appeal to the Middle East traveler?

Croatia has a premium and nautical offer that will surely appeal to the discerning MENA traveler. Croatia’s primary destinations are Halal-friendly and most hotels and restaurants meet the needs of the Arab traveler. Additionally, there is a strong, growing niche appeal for various medical travel needs, including aesthetic and rehabilitative medical facilities and services.

The geography of Croatia consists of coastal (Northern, central and Southern Dalmatia, Kvarner and Istria) and continental Croatia, while administratively the country is comprised of 20 counties and the capital city Zagreb. Each of these regions are bursting with unique attractions and experiences – from pristine nature reserves and idyllic island settings, to historic towns and vibrant cultural cities. Croatia is also known as the preferred repeat destination within Europe, known for its strong commitment to sustainable tourism and offers quality experiences with excellent value.

Our traditional values, rich gastronomy, friendly people, respect for culture and heritage is what makes Croatia unique. We also have a nautical segment which has the potential of making us a year-round tourism destination. With the success of Croatia’s team in Qatar, we hope that more Middle Eastern travelers will be inspired to get to know our cities, towns and regions.  

Who are your key source markets today? What markets are you targeting at present?

Croatia’s primary source markets are still European nations with Germany ranking #1 in terms of inbound tourism. As for growth markets and the MENA region, the UAE and Qatar are definitely well connected to Croatia with good flight routes established. This is a prerequisite for increasing tourism growth from these markets.

What about MICE and Corporate travel?

In Croatia, it is not difficult to combine business with pleasure and achieve successful business cooperation. Surrounded by natural beauty, endless coastlines, diverse gastronomy and sports and wellness, Croatia is an ideal MICE destination. The diversity of continental and Mediterranean lifestyles, in such a small area, offers business and corporate travelers a unique opportunity.

As we welcome more investments in hotels and infrastructure, we are confident of growing in this sector. Croatia is known for its network of modern and high-quality motorways, which links the capital city with the rest of the country as well as the neighboring countries. Year after year, Croatia has become an increasingly well-known European meetings destination on a global scale. The country is becoming especially attractive for meeting organizers, whether they are focused on conferences and congresses or after-work incentives.

How are you working with the trade to ensure better representation in the Middle East?

The Croatian National Tourist Board will be attending the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai in 2023. This is a logical next step given the interest shown, during the Dubai EXPO. This will also ensure continued growth and better representation via trade partners in the region.

For someone yet to visit Croatia, how would you describe the country?

Along the Adriatic Sea, a stone’s throw from Central Europe, Croatia is a country defined by a rich cultural heritage. Today, history blends seamlessly with a youthful spirit and vibrant energy that is irresistible to those seeking diversity. All year round you can enjoy its breathtaking natural beauty, endless coastline, diverse cuisine, adventure, sports and wellness.

The country boasts of 7 cultural and 1 natural location inscribed in the UNESCO heritage site list. So whether it’s exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town of Dubrovnik, touring the islands of the Split archipelago, searching for truffles in Istria, hiking the winding trails around the Plitvice Lakes, delving into the hidden streets and passages of Zagreb, bird watching in Kopacki rit or spending quality family time on the beach at Zlatni Rat, there really is something for everyone in Croatia.

Croatia is also home to the world’s fastest electric car, the Rimac Nevera, which was also first to cross the bridge at the grand opening. Rimac recently merged with Bugatti and created a second company Bugatti Rimac, which is also headquartered near the capital of Zagreb. The new campus is currently under construction and for car enthusiasts, tours can be organized upon request.

For TV and movie buffs, plus Game of Thrones fans, Croatia is also a home of the real-life King’s Landing and the prequel House of the Dragon: Game of Thrones is also filming in Dubrovnik.

Finally, for all 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.

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