Travel to Croatia from outside the EU becomes more difficult this year, but the country's tourism industry expects the benefits of union membership will outweigh the drawbacks.
By Cornelis van Zweeden for Southeast European Times in Dubrovnik -- 13/02/13
As Croatia prepares to join the EU later this year, the country expects to see a boost to its tourism industry. [AFP]
Croatia is expecting another bumper year for tourism in spite of losing non-European foreign tourists as a result of joining the EU.
"For people from the EU travel will become easier," Meri Matesic, director of the Croatian tourist board, told SETimes. "They will not need passports anymore. Croatia will effectively become a domestic market for half a billion people."
EU membership means Croatia has to impose a visa regime on Turkey, an unwelcome change for the growing number of tourists from that country.
"Having to wait more than a week for a visa for a one-week holiday makes me angry," Esra Yavuz, a Turkish tourist, told the SETimes.
Ercan Abitagaoglu, who works for the Mika Tur tourism agency in Istanbul, said he expects an 80 percent decrease in the number of Turkish tourists visiting Croatia. He added that many travel agents would now offer package tours to Montenegro as an alternative.
Last year, Croatia welcomed almost 52,000 tourists from Turkey, a 20 percent increase from 2011, the Croatian national tourist board said. But that figure was dwarfed by the almost 9 million tourists from EU countries whose average stays in Croatia were much longer.
Overall, Croatia last year recorded 12.3 million tourists, an increase of 5 percent compared to 2011. This year the tourist board will promote the Croatian hinterland in an effort to brand the country as more than a "sun-and-sea" destination.
"One of our main goals is to entice travelers to perceive our country as a year-round city-break destination," Matesic said, adding that Croatia was banking on an increase in tourist numbers similar to last year's.
Taking a lead from neighbouring Slovenia, which became an EU member in 2004, Croatia expects to greatly improve its tourist infrastructure using the EU's structural funds.
Croatian tourism officials hope to promote the country as more than a "sun-and-sea" destination. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Drawing on these funds, Slovenia has invested 608 million euros to update ski facilities, renovate hotels, develop golf courses and build mountain huts since it joined the EU.
"From 2014 onward, 11 billion euros will be available for Croatia," Mirella Rasic, press attaché at the EU Delegation in Zagreb told the SETimes. "Much of this will go into tourism infrastructure."
Local and regional authorities were requested to submit proposals to the ministry of tourism before January 1st. To be eligible for funding, tourism projects had to be in the areas of public infrastructure, business infrastructure or human resources. Evaluation of the proposals is ongoing.
Since it joined the EU, the number of tourists visiting Slovenia has grown to 3.2 million as of 2011, up from 2.3 million in 2004. The growth rate accelerated after 2007, when the country adopted the euro.
Marjan Hribar, director of tourism at the ministry of economy in Slovenia, played down the drawbacks of visas and strenuous border controls.
"On the one hand it is perhaps a disadvantage," he told the SETimes. "But on the other hand, tourists with Schengen visas can travel freely within the Schengen zone, and Slovenia has most certainly benefited from this fact."
Croatia is expected to join the "borderless" Schengen area in 2015.
Rather than fearing increased competition, Hribar hailed Croatia's entry into the EU as an opportunity for co-operation.
"We will be able to apply for EU structural funds for joined projects," he said. "And once Croatia has joined the Schengen area, we can jointly target long-haul tourists who can visit both countries with one visa."
SETimes correspondent Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul contributed to this report.