Croatia’s summer season disappoints as tourists return to Turkey and Egypt

Croatia’s summer season disappoints as tourists return to Turkey and Egypt
The authorities in the historic city of Dubrovnik complained of over-tourism, but visitor numbers in Croatia are down slightly this July.
By Clare Nuttall in Bucharest September 26, 2018

Croatia benefitted when concerns over terrorism and political unrest kept tourists away from rival destinations like Turkey and Egypt. Now these fears have receded, leading to a bumper year for the two East Mediterranean destinations and a small drop in the numbers visiting Croatia. 

This is bad news for the world’s most tourist dependent economy. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism’s total contribution (direct and indirect) to Croatia’s 2017 GDP was 25% and one in 10 jobs in the country’s are dependent on the tourism industry. 

The inflows of tourists have been so great in recent years that Croatia has started complaining of over-tourism, especially in the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, one of the locations in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones which has been swamped by tourists, many of them arriving in their thousands on cruise ships. This prompted the city’s mayor to mull restrictions on visitor numbers last year, while Zagreb has announced plans to increase its tourist tax. 

This year, however, there has been handwringing about the opposite problem, with an estimated 200,000 empty hotel beds along the Adriatic Riviera according to local media. 

The dip in tourist arrivals hasn’t been huge: numbers were down a modest 0.5% y/y in July, data from the state statistics office shows, while they rose by 3.2% in June before the peak tourist season started. And Croatia continues to outstrip its neighbours in the Western Balkans in terms of the sheer number of arrivals, with almost 4.1mn coming to the country in July, which is more than Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia put together.

But it still highlights that Croatia’s recent tourism boom was partly fuelled by the security fears surrounding rival destinations. The Adriatic country wasn’t alone in having a disappointing July. In Spain, the number of visiting tourists fell during the month for the first time in nine years, following half a decade of rapid growth. The previous year, numbers spiked at 82mn, with Spain the second most visited country in the world after France. However, this year visitor numbers were down by 4.9% y/y in July, having inched up by an anaemic 0.3% in the first seven months of the year. Reuters reports that hotels and package tour operators are cutting prices, but still aren’t able to compete on cost with Egypt, Tunisia or Turkey. 

Early data show that tourists are back en masse to Turkey and the two North African destinations. 

After they stayed away from Turkey following the migrant crisis and the failed coup attempt of summer 2016, tourists were back in the first seven months of 2018, with arrival numbers up 25% y/y to 21.64mn, according to data from the Culture and Tourism Ministry quoted by local media. Ankara is targeting 40mn tourists and revenues of $32bn for the whole of this year. This would bring numbers back above the 36mn mark passed in 2014 and 2015 before they plummeted to 25.3 million in 2016. The weak lira is also helping matters by lowering prices in what is already a prime shopping destination. 

It’s a similar situation in Egypt, where tourism revenues jumped 77% in the first half of the year, as visitor numbers were up 41%, an unnamed official revealed to Reuters. Previously, tourists had been staying away after the uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak back in 2011 and the downing of a Metrojet charter flight from Sharm el Sheik to St Petersburg. Direct flights between Russia and Egypt resumed this year. 

Tunisia was another north African destination popular with holidaymakers until deadly terror attacks in the Bardo National Museum and a beach in the tourist town of Sousse killed dozens in 2015. But European tourists are back this year, with both Thomas Cook and TUI resuming service to the country. Tourism Minister Salma Loumi announced in February that record numbers of 8mn were expected, Reuters reported at the time. 

The poor data for Croatia this summer also runs counter to the figures for fellow Western Balkans countries, which saw an increase in visitor numbers across the board. 

July data shows the most dramatic hike in tourist numbers in the region was in Slovenia, which saw a stunning 29.6% increase in arrivals in July, following an 18.5% rise in June. Aside from the small country’s Adriatic coast and spectacular mountain scenery, Slovenia has benefited from its raise profile as the home country of US first lady Melania Trump. 

Tourist arrivals in Albania also experienced increases of 13.3% and 19.1% respectively in June and July. Elsewhere in the region, there was also an increase in arrivals in July in Serbia (15.1%), Macedonia (12%), Montenegro (7%), Bosnia (5.8%) and Bulgaria (3.1%), shows data from each country’s statistics office.