Croatia Building on Record Tourist Numbers in 2011
By James Ruggia
August 09, 2012 10:19 PM
Croatia’s combination of medieval cities, idyllic off-shore islands, stellar beachfront, Istrian villas and sophisticated Dubrovnik is swelling its tourism numbers despite economic frailty in all of its key markets. The country, which set an arrivals record in 2011, had 6.66 million tourists and 36 million overnights in the first seven months of 2012, according to new statistics released by the Croatian Ministry of Tourism. The figures show a 3.8 percent increase in visitors and a 5.4 percent increase in overnights in the period January to July 2012, compared to same period last year.
Within those numbers, foreigners accounted for 5.8 million arrivals for a 5 percent increase, and 31.9 million overnights for a 6.6 percent increase. At a recent conference in Zagreb, the tourism ministry predicted a 3 to 5 percent increase for the full year.
North America has been an important player in Croatia’s rising fortunes. Only Germany surpasses the U.S. as an overseas market. During this year’s January-to-July period, the country registered 125,282 North American arrivals, a 14.88 percent increase, and 354,669 overnights, a 14.3 percent increase.
“In recent years there has been a growing demand for specific types of tourism -- cultural and natural heritage as well as gastro and enology,” said Andreja Cvitkovic, director of the Croatian National Tourist Office in New York. “This is what the Americans expect to experience from a European destination. Croatia has all of that, in addition to the beaches and some of the cleanest sea in Europe. Mix that together with high quality and diversity of accommodation, rich supply of activities and entertainment, particularly good service, and you have the definition of the current Croatian tourism product.”
Fort Lauderdale-based Kompas Travel has been one of the most successful at selling Croatia in the U.S. “About 60 percent of our U.S. travelers come on Croatia-only itineraries, but many combine it with Italy, Slovenia or even Greece,” said Kompas General Manager Mike Babic. “The most popular packages are seven or eight days. Dubrovnik, the islands and increasingly the Istrian Peninsula are popular attractions.”
“Croatia attracts both the FIT and the organized tour traveler from this market,” said Cvitkovic. “There is a good split between the younger travelers who like to go and arrange everything themselves and explore our country either by renting a car or using the public transportation, and then the organized tour travelers who usually spend between five to seven days in Croatia on organized programs. I would say that Croatia attracts the savvy American travelers who are interested in an array of activities that enable them to get to know the destination pretty well during their stay. I think that Americans see Croatia as undiscovered and a charming new destination for them to explore.”
A recent survey conducted earlier this year by Travel Leaders, a travel agency franchisor, found that over a third of their agents see Croatia as Europe’s top up-and-coming destination for this year.
Last week, US Airways and Croatia Airlines announced a new bilateral codeshare agreement that will give US Airways' customers access to destinations in Croatia and the convenience of a single-ticket purchase for a seamless travel experience. US Airways customers will be able to connect to Zagreb on Croatia Airlines flights from Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt, London-Heathrow, Munich and Zurich. Equally, Croatia Airlines' customers traveling from Zagreb will have access to US Airways' East Coast hubs of Charlotte and Philadelphia when traveling from these European destinations. Croatia Airlines will also add its code on US Airways flights from Philadelphia to Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis. In the future, US Airways and Croatia Airlines intend to expand their relationship to include flights to and from Dubrovnik and Split.