Croatia, a year-round destination for nature, sun and culture
PM Communications interviews Croatia’s Ministry of Tourism, Veljko Ostojić, who discusses plans and policies to diversify the tourism sector and markets
Is the entry of Croatia into the European Union a good move for Croatian tourism?
In view of the fact that foreign tourists make up almost 90% of Croatian tourist traffic and, of these, the most numerous guests are from the countries of the European Union, in terms of tourism, Croatia entered the EU long ago. Nevertheless, with the formal entry into the EU the level of recognition of Croatia and Croatian tourism will be even more manifest in the whole world. Apart from this, what Croatia has to offer by way of tourism will be experienced on the market of half a billion inhabitants who will be able to travel to Croatia without any formalities whatsoever, consequently for ‘European tourists’ we will become a home and accessible market.
Moreover, accession to the European Community will enable easier movement of people, capital and services – one of the fundamental principles of the European Union. And the completion of the harmonisation of the legislative framework with the laws of the EU will give an incentive to investors and create a better quality climate for investment in tourism. When we become a full member of the European Union, it will enable us to have the opportunity to have usage of the structural funds for the development of tourism and also for those aspects and in those regions which are not sufficiently developed. In that way it will be possible to develop quality services and products on offer in all segments and all parts of Croatia, which will result in the competitiveness of Croatian tourism growing stronger on the world market.
Right now, strengthening of competition is the mission of the Ministry of Tourism. This is being undertaken by means of three groups of measures: modification of statutory regulations, the tourist business environment, and infrastructure and communication with the market. With regard to legislation, from this year there come into effect measures for which our sector has waited for decades: namely, a reduction in the rate of VAT on services in tourism. This, and the changes to the statutory framework, which right now have as their purpose the alleviation of the procedures for investors, are a clear indication of our wish to promote our tourism. What we can do is to privatise businesses that are located in majority state ownership; we wish to privatise them this year. The list of businesses and details are published in the Catalogue of Investment, which can be found on our web site. In addition, we will offer, by means of competition, locations for greenfield and brownfield projects.
Communication with the market includes significant progress in the promotion of the country, especially with regard to the utilisation of the new media, social networks, blogs and a range of activities for strengthening tourism in the pre- and post-season in continental Croatia as well. In view of the fact that Croatia joins the European Union this year we have, in this connection, adjusted the communication strategy for the markets. It is certain that on the occasion of joining, Croatia will be under additional global public gaze and so, we wish to utilise this moment in terms of quality by presenting to the world, in a better way, the potential of Croatian tourism and make our range of tourist attractions better known.
What are the comparative advantages of your tourism sector and what can it bring to the EU market?
Since the subject is about the competitive advantages of Croatian tourism I would like, above all, to emphasise that in connection with tourism Croatia is a country with huge potential. Besides the sun and the sea our advantages are undoubtedly the clean and protected environment, a good and well developed traffic infrastructure and proximity to our Croatian European market, so that our aim is to position Croatia also as an interesting destination outside the summer months and for long weekend holidays. In this connection, we will work on strengthening selective aspects of tourism – for example, biking, golf or gourmet tourism – which would satisfy the wants of a diverse profile of people and also attract them to Croatia outside the main summer season.
Ryanair has announced that it will increase by 50% traffic to Croatia in the 2013 tourist season from the largest European cities to Zadar and they are announcing the establishment of an HQ in Zadar. Is this so?
It is true that Ryanair has announced the opening of its base in Zadar in April of this year and the introduction of seven new lines from Zadar to European destinations. This move by one of the leading European budget airlines makes us happy and demonstrates that Croatia and the city of Zadar are recognised as destinations of quality with a large potential, and recognised as a reliable partner. With the opening of this base, prior to the entry into the EU, Croatia will be an even more open and accessible foreign market and I expect that, in keeping with this, even more visitors will come to our country.
Which parts of Croatia do you wish to develop in order to diversify the range of tourism on offer?
I must emphasise that I regard Croatia as an integral product of coast and continent and, in that regard, an even handed development of Croatia is mapped out in the government’s programme; we will additionally begin to stream tourism to the undeveloped regions and in the continental counties. Right now, with the already mentioned selective forms of tourism – that is, with the strengthened development of products of tourism and packages intended for tourists with special interests – we wish even-handedly to bring tourists nearer to every corner of Croatia since, both in coastal and continental parts, there are, in some places, still insufficiently discovered treasure troves of a cultural and natural richness.
In what way is the Ministry for Tourism attempting to attract more British tourists? How would you convince them preferably to come to Croatia rather than, for example, go to Spain which is their traditional holiday destination?
The biggest increase in nights spent in the whole of the Mediterranean area in 2012 is proof that our country is recognised as a tourist pearl by a growing number of tourists, among others, from Great Britain. Last year at the travel fair WTM in London, Croatia received acclaim in the Travel Agents’ Choice Awards in the category ‘Up and Coming Short Haul Destination’ and the prize for the best up-and-coming short haul destination is one more large recognition of Croatia in its most successful season until now, but also confirmation of the upward course of the popularity of our country as a desirable tourist destination in Great Britain. Last year Britons achieved 1.7 million overnights, that is 23 per cent more than in 2011, and now, with regard to the share in the total tourist trade, it is in 11th place. In the first six months Britons spent half a million overnights, 25 per cent more than in 2011 and with that, Great Britain took 6th place among the most important markets for Croatia.
I believe that Croatia is an undiscovered treasure for visitors from Britain who have not yet visited it. I am certain that those who have already visited Croatia will return another year. Croatia, as is surely known, is a country with 1000 islands, but also a country which offers its tourists everything they wish for from splendid gastronomy, entertainment, relaxation, recreational sporting attractions and now there will be more programmes for tourists with special interests.
Apart from our stunning coastline, we can also commend the seven national parks and the parks of natural beauty and I would especially invite tourists also to the hinterland, where they can enjoy rural tourism or the mountains of the interior of Dalmatia, the Velebit mountains, the Pakleni Islands and other places abounding in plants and animals which are not found anywhere else in the world.
ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, will hold its annual meeting next year in October in Dubrovnik, which will attract more than 700 tourism professionals. What does this event mean for Croatia and its relations with Britain?
Prolonging the tourist season is one of the main challenges for Croatian tourism, so in the previous years we have been working even more in this direction and on the most sought-after products on offer in this segment and which take place in the pre and post season. Well organised and quality promotion of that segment which the Congress and Incentive Office of the Croatian Tourist Board implements, results in a larger and larger number of international annual conferences, meetings and other business gatherings which take place most often in Zagreb and Dubrovnik. It is certain that the annual meeting of ABTA in Dubrovnik will positively influence the promotion and investment appeal of Croatia and will additionally strengthen cooperation between Croatia and Great Britain in all segments.
In Croatia there are many former military properties which currently are empty and which are situated in stunningly beautiful areas. What are the plans for these?
That’s right. In Croatia, from Istria to Dubrovnik, from the north to the south of our coast, there is a range of former military objects which until now have not been made use of, neither entrepreneurially nor for tourist purposes. Our aim is for these objects to be put to use for development and new employment, that is, to transform them into quality capacity for tourism. We can expect the first results of the ‘touristification’ of the military objects by the end of the mandate of this government.
Have you achieved your plans which you announced for the first year of the mandate? What is your strategy for the remainder of the mandate and for future challenges?
Although there is always more to be done I am very satisfied with the result in 2012. Immediately, at the beginning of its mandate, the Parliament adopted a modification to the law on VAT which, from 1st January 2013 conferred a differentiated VAT rate on the tourism sector, and this was a clear sign from the Government that it will seek to build a different relationship to tourism. Apart from the reduction of VAT, we have made changes to some laws which will enable more simple and more robust activity in the sector. We have prepared a Catalogue of Investment and we are also in the process of completing a Strategy for the Development of Croatian Tourism up until the year 2020. In order to strengthen the investment appeal of the sector, with the cooperation of the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development we have devised programmes of more favourable financing of a range of tourism projects and initiatives, and for the coming year, in cooperation with HBOR (the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development), HAMAG (Croatian Agency for the Promotion of Small Businesses) and the Ministry for Enterprise and Crafts, we are preparing a special programme for small and medium size enterprises, which will contribute to increased investment in the sector. Last year we made a considerable number of changes in the promotion of Croatian tourism and, in this way, put emphasis on virile marketing and cooperation with bloggers, whilst, at the same time, the budget for offline advertising, brochures and attendance at fairs was reduced. Moreover, with the aim of improving the range of destinations on offer, we established a DMO (Destination Management Organisation) Board for continental Croatia and in the plan is also a DMO Board for the coastal part.
Along with the achieved overall results of the tourist traffic, a clear evidence of the success of all the measures and changes which we introduced into tourism is the figure of 1.7 million more overnights than last year in the pre- and post-season period, because this is one of the main goals achieved for this year, namely, increasing the length of the tourist season.
As regards the tourism year 2013, this will be at the same time a very important year both for Croatia and for Croatian tourism, especially with regard to entry into the EU, but also with regard to the challenging economic situation which will continue in the coming year. Priorities for 2013 are further changes to the legislative framework which will provide opportunity for investment especially in campsites, development of the quality of private accommodation and an increase in the number of beds in hotels, especially in the highest categories: all of this with the aim of Croatia becoming one of the more competitive countries for tourism. In addition to prolonging the season, which for us will continue to be an imperative of the execution of tourism policy, one of the key goals for us will be the continuing development of tourism in the continental area and the formation of new attractions at the various destinations. On this occasion, I would invite all tourists from Great Britain to come and visit ‘the new star of tourism in the European Union’ – Croatia, because the experience of a stay in Croatia will surely be for them one which they will remember for their whole life.