Located at the crossroads of Europe, Croatia has some 5,835 kilometers of coastline coupled with Mediterranean-style culture and food, not to mention seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Old City of Dubrovnik, the Roman Palace of Diocletian and the Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Croatia is among the eight most popular destinations for European holiday makers and it is the number one destination for Hungary, according to Marin Skenderovic, Representative of the Croatian National Tourism Board in Budapest. “The country has seen a record number of tourists in 2012, with figures set to be given a further boost in 2013 as it joins the EU this summer as the 28th member. Many airlines have already announced plans to increase frequencies to airports across the country,” Skenderovic tells Diplomacy and Trade. He adds that the accession will probably ease decision making for those who aren’t easily lured to non-EU destinations when planning a holiday trip. “The tourism sector is one of the few sectors that have continued to grow and create jobs, despite the crisis. It currently accounts for one fifth of the nation's economy. Therefore, the Croatian government has made tourism a top priority project,” Skenderovic notes. “One of our main goals is to entice travelers to perceive our country as a year-round city-break destination,” he continues, adding that the other goal is to promote the Croatian hinterland in an effort to brand the country as more than a “sun-and-sea” destination. “Entire regions such as Istria, are generating higher tourism flows, both domestic and inbound, and are being recognized on a wider scale. Reaching out to new types of tourists, strengthening their cultural offer as well as their natural heritage, such destinations have become brands within a brand, carefully shifting Croatia to being recognized as more than just the “Mediterranean as it once was” destination. More and more people are recognizing that the country has something to offer everyone,” Skenderovic says. According to him, among the new or “rather renewed” Croatian “selling points”, is gastronomy. “The country is a haven for foodies and wine lovers alike. To present our rich gastronomy and enology at its best on the world market, the Ministry of Tourism, The Croatian Culinary Association and the Croatian Chamber of Commerce have launched a project of branding the Croatian viniculture-gastronomy offer. Their first assignment in realizing this intention was gathering recipes for a cookbook with indigenous Croatian dishes, which have their own culinary story and visual identity,” Skenderovic says.
Wine and olive oil routes
As for the wine, every Croatian tourist region has its wine aces, offered through the project ‘Wine roads.’ The prestige of Croatian wine has also grown due to recent research that proved the Californian Zinfandel to be a grape native to Croatia. The discovery was made by the most famous of the Croatian wine producers in the world, Miljenko 'Mike' Grgic. “Grgic founded 'Grgic Hills Winery' in the Napa Valley, California, where his very first vintage won the 'Great Chardonnay Showdown' with 221 international competitors, he then came back home and built a winery near Dubrovnik,” Skenderovic remarks. “When he went to the Napa Valley in 1958 to make wine, he noticed a remarkable resemblance between the Zinfandel and Plavac Mali of his native Croatia. Some 35 years later, he worked with scientists at University of California, to prove that Zinfandel was actually Crljenak Ka¹telanski, a grape native to Croatia and parent of Plavac Mali.” Skenderovic also highlights the olive oil tours as a popular program in Croatia. “One of the most famous Croatian olive groves is located in the area of Luna on the island of Pag, where about 80,000 indigenous wild olive trees, separated into allotments by old stone walls, are grown on 400 acres of land. The oldest olive trees there are over a thousand years old. Lovers of this area are currently working on a proposal for inclusion of this site in the register of UNESCO cultural heritage sites,” he notes. “Oh, and let’s not forget the truffle,” Skenderovic cries out suddenly. “Did you know that the world’s largest white truffle weighing 1.31 kg was found in Croatia, near Buje?”
Although commonly criticized as having negative impacts for Croatian tourism, leisure cruise arrivals are increasing. “With an average high level of spending per capita, cruise ship visitors are welcomed as good visitors; although they do not contribute to the main focus for tourism in Croatia, number of bed nights,” Skenderovic notes. “With imminent EU membership, as well the general increased interest in undiscovered Mediterranean jewels such as Croatia, leisure cruise, especially on board of some of our Oldtimer Yachts, is expected to see the healthy growth in arrivals over the forecast period and will be the main driving force for further market recognition.” As for the mainland, according to the representative, 90 percent of tourists arrive to Croatia by car. Hungarians intend to stay, in the peak season, for 5-6 days on average, and, are more and more likely to spend long weekends in Croatia. In 2012, they have spent over 1.8 million nights in Croatia. “Excellent road infrastructure, which is one of the guarantors of security and quick access to our coast, is our competitive advantage,” he says, referring to the newly built motorway network totaling 1,200 km.” Skenderovic notes that the Croatian National Tourist Board has, at the end of August 2012, accepted the operating marketing plan of Croatian tourism for 2013, with a budget of EUR 32.7 million. The plan puts a strong emphasis on increasing the development of products and creating new products as motivation for visiting the country. “There is a significant increase of investments in online, mobile and viral marketing,” Skenderovic says. “Measuring the implemented activity effects is also important so that in the end of 2013 we could see which activities are effective and to which ones the market reacts positively.”
DID YOU KNOW? Croatia’s natural beauty draws in millions of tourists each year, with tourism revenues representing around 15% of the country’s GDP. The Croatian National Tourism Board in Budapest has been active in Hungary since Oct 1, 1997. The agency is a Non-profit organization (NPO) under the auspices of the Croatian Government.