Onsite: Croatia Tourism Update

NEW YORK--What a difference a decade makes. In the 1990s, Croatia lost 40 percent of its hotel rooms to war and its consequences, as hotels were damaged, destroyed or taken over to house displaced citizens. But in the '00s, tourist arrivals have been climbing and climbing, with the tally for the year just ended up 8 percent over the previous year. The country's annual tourism revenue has more than doubled since 2000.

U.S. tourism to Croatia increased 18 percent in 2007, Niko Bulic, director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, said Friday at a press conference. Nonetheless, the American portion of Croatia's tourism pie is still small enough that the U.S. was grouped under "other markets" in a pie chart of Croatia's inbound markets that was displayed at the press conference. (Countries that accounted for just 1 or 2 percent on their own were categorized individually.)

Tourism from the U.S. has been stymied by the lack of nonstop flights to Croatia, Bulic said. He noted that after nonstop service from Toronto was introduced last year, visitor arrivals from Canada increased 36 percent.

Virtually all the statistics that Bulic presented were positive. In 2007, Croatia received 692,000 cruise passengers, up from 597,000 in 2006. The country took in 6.9 billion euros in tourism revenue last year, for year-over-year growth of nearly 9 percent. Tourism revenue has increased 130 percent since 2000 (when it totaled 3 billion euros), said Bulic. Hotel inventory, particularly at the four-star level, has also expanded significantly in the last few years, he said.

Croatia's five-year plan for tourism development includes concentrating on golf, agri-tourism and family-run hotels. Bulic mentioned Italy, with 23,000 family-run accommodations, as a model, and said Croatia would like to add about 500 of these properties by 2011. Tourism facilities at rural homesteads will also be developed, and the country is hoping to build 10 to 20 golf courses, according to Bulic.

By 2011, Croatia expects to add 50,000 hotel beds in coastal areas (where 90 percent of tourists go) and 10,000 elsewhere in the country. Bulic said that about three-fifths of these additions would be in existing hotels that had been shuttered by the war or are otherwise being refurbished.

Croatia is aiming to welcome 12 million international tourists by 2012. According to Bulic, the country will emphasize and further develop such markets as spas, arts/culture, scuba, birdwatching and outdoor adventure, including caving, rock climbing, kayaking and fishing.

Ninety percent of visitors to Croatia arrive by motor vehicle (car, RV or bus), Bulic reported. Germany, Slovenia and Italy are far and away the biggest contributors of tourists to Croatia. (AO)