AIM: start

FRI, 03 AUG 2001 23:06:13 GMT

Nothing New in Tourism

AIM Zagreb, July 28, 2001

Lately, the main topics of conversation in Zagreb mostly concern tourism, the sea, sun and other summer joys, such as: how the police drove from the main city square foreign artists who were stripping as a part of their festival performance; how almost one half of citizens think about the sea only in terms that Slovenia should not have access to the sea; about miles long lines of foreign tourists patiently waiting under a blazing sun on the Croatian highways; and about pizza centre in Dubrovnik charging three times higher prices than those during off-season, etc. On the other hand, in her answer to frequent criticism of against foreign tourists for leaving so little foreign currency in Croatia, Minister of Tourism Pave Zupan-Ruskovic asked openly what has Croatia actually offered foreigners so that they would loosen the purse-strings and save Croatia from money shortage. Well, some of the possible answers are enumerated above.

More than ever before, Croatia is faced with the truth about its tourist industry. In the nineties we blamed the socialist concept of tourist development when Croatian natural attractions were being devastated for the needs of mass tourism while heaps of foreign currency went to Belgrade. We accused invisible Serbian saboteurs for hundreds of forest fires every year although they did nothing else but leave behind lighted cigarette butts same as they did before, but no one dared mention it then. Today, it is very clear that no one from the side imposed his concept of tourist development, because even now the independent Croatia is unable to reprogramme, although the real earnings from tourism can be made only as a feedback mechanism by the activating other branches of the economy through tourism. And the Serbian tourists are nowhere to be seen, not even the (humanely resettled) domicile Serbs as potential instant-troublemakers.

Namely, this season is a failure no matter how much the Government reports try to hide it. The Minister in charge has discreetly pointed to shortcomings, but to no avail because her authority goes as far as the rest of the Cabinet supports her, and they are only interested in short-term and short-range actions. The domestic tourists have remained in the freshwater oases of their continental homes, because people have no money for two or three weeks in the Adriatic. Late this July, Prime Minister Ivica Racan paid his first visit to Split, the second largest Croatian town, which is up to its ears in economic and political problems. It is true that there is a latent rightist threat in Croatia, which has its formal headquarters precisely in Split. Nevertheless, no protests were organised during his visit because of the Hague indictments, which have been handed to individual Croatian generals for war crimes committed against Serbian civilians in Croatia.

How can this shortfall be explained if we, nevertheless, choose to believe the reports on the absolute increase of tourist visits to Croatia? We should keep in mind the fact that an average foreign tourist in Croatia will leave to his host about DM 2.5 daily for extra services! They have nothing to spend his money on, and also the amount of domestic currency he gets for his German marks is decreasing daily. The unrealistic foreign exchange policy makes the kuna nominally stronger, but it can buy less and less goods. Also, investments in tourist infrastructure were so negligible that hotels are shabbier and beaches in a worse state than ever, which is why stories of Croatia earning from tourism as much as USD 4 billion a year sound extremely dubious. Turkey, which has been a tourist his for the last couple of years, makes USD 10 billion while the Croatian offer and even air rates are far behind.

This is how things stand geographically speaking, going from the north-west to south-east of Adriatic. Istria, as usual, has a great number of tourists since this most stable Croatian region did not lose its tourists even during the war. This peninsula has greater agro-tourist offer than the rest of Croatia taken together, although proportionately Istria is no more rural than, for instance, Dalmatia. The Croatian coast between Istria and Dalmatia is the usual destination of domestic tourists, while motorboat tourists prefer island in the Bay of Kvarner. As regards that type of tourism it should be noted that the strained circumstances on Croatian islands and coast have caused greater losses than it should be realistically expected, as over 20 thousand yachts are anchored in the Adriatic every day. However, the offer here still reminds of a "Robinson style" tourism than first-rate economic activity.

Dalmatia is yet another story and can be divided into several parts. The northern Dalmatia is geographically more accessible destination and is not exposed to justified discrimination like its southern part. It is mostly visited by East-European tourists who came in greater numbers every year because, in contrast to their Croatian hosts, their living standards are constantly improving. However, in Croatia they find exorbitant prices and therefore stick to the old style of vacationing as campers, with liver-wurst in their car trunks and some tomatoes purchased from Dalmatian farmers. Island in central Dalmatia get a relatively large number of tourists, although car-ferry services to the mainland are very bad and the fares resemble those on the French Riviera. The greatest number of tourists goes to the central part of the Dalmatian coast between Omis and Ploce, which is the favourite destination of visitors from Bosnia and Herzegovina whose purchasing power is well-known.

Finally, there is south Dalmatia, more precisely the Dubrovnik region, which is torn between its pre-war results and the present impoverishment. The tourist season registered the worst results there because the prices are the highest and the offer is mostly based on natural beauties and cultural-historic places of interest. In other words, you will get no entertainment for your money, but will undoubtedly feel heated. Also, transportation-wise this part of the world is very distant from the developed West. A bus trip from Zagreb to Dubrovnik takes 11 hours (for less than 600 kilometres), and only if you are not travelling on weekends when you need an additional spare weekend to reach Dubrovnik. The construction of Zagreb-Dalmatia highway will not start for another six years, so that it is unclear how Croatia plans to attract foreign guests to its most attractive part.

True, there have practically been no forest fires this year, but not because of the improved fire-fighting service and even less because of badly organised Serbian pyromaniacs. Thanks to the global climatic changes, occasional rains and lower temperatures this summer was more bearable than any other in the last ten years. Cynics say that the sky has denied the little customary excitement to strayed tourists who have completely lost any hope of getting any after the recent visit of the American nuclear submarine to Dubrovnik. If, on the other hand, you have been reading this text on your vacation on the Croatian part of the Adriatic, then you know what kind of idleness we have of mind. But, it could be worse. Imagine that the Croatian Rightists have blocked the Adriatic Highway during your stay in Dubrovnik. In that case you would not have gotten continental button mushrooms on your DM 20 worth pizza.

Igor Lasic