August 3, 2019 – A deeper look into the tourism statistics in Jelsa on Hvar points to the realities of season 2019 in Croatia beyond the headline numbers.
Statistics are such useful things. On the one hand, they can be used to track progress on things, while on the other, they can be interpreted in certain ways to fit a particular narrative.
And when – as is the case with the Croatian tourism chiefs – the powers that be decide that statistics (and their interpretation of them) will be the biggest barometer of success, then having control of public opinion of the interpretation of those statistics becomes crucial.
And so when the Ministry of Tourism decided to restrict access to the transparent, award-winning, real-time eVisitor statistics reporting system, I was not the only one who was suspicious that there was something ‘going on.’
Some people think I am a tourism expert because I write a lot about Croatian tourism. I am not. I am a former male chambermaid turned wine merchant turned aid worker turned English teacher in Japan turned real estate agent turned writer. My first article published online was less than 8 years ago.
My understanding of Croatian tourism is still evolving, and I – like many others – was impressed at the growth of tourism in Croatia. Record number of tourists, record overnight stays. It was all good.
Or was it?
The overtourism debate in Dubrovnik started to spill over to other places on the coast, and somewhere along the way, the charm of the Dalmatian coast (I am referring mostly to the Adriatic coast here, and would also like to point out that little of this refers to Istria) seemed to be getting lost with an ever-increasing influx of tourists on the mainland. Were all these extra tourists a good thing, and were they actually spending to compensate for the inconvenience?
There has been a growing call in recent months for cruise ships to be limited, to have a general rethink on the tourism strategy. This mass tourism strategy is not healthy, and anyway Croatia cannot really compete with the likes of Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt, who are all now back in competition after recent terror attacks. And as there is a severe lack of quality hotels, luxury tourists are looking elsewhere.
But the statistics. If statistics are the thing you have decided to be judged on, then statistics you must deliver at any cost. The quality of the tourism has become less important than the statistics. If Minister Cappelli can announce that last year’s record overnights of 106 million (54 million more than in 1990) has been exceeded, then he can officially declare the season a success and a vindication of his ‘strategy.’
But is it? Is judging a tourist season by its arrivals and overnight stays the way to measure success? If we all worship at the Temple of Record Overnight Stays and feed it more and more overnights to make the temple bigger, is that what we call success? Or a strategy?
Statistics. As Mark Twain famously wrote, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Let’s take a closer look.
As readers of TCN will know, I have been following the season very closely in my adopted hometown of Jelsa on Hvar this summer. I felt saddened enough by the low-quality tourism that this lovely town is now enduring, while at the same time enjoying a lovely summer – the empty Jelsa of summer 2019 is as nice as I have known it. And if you have not booked a holiday yet, then come! There are some great offers for an affordable holiday, as we will discover below.
The statistics for the 2019 season to the end of July are now finally available, so let’s dive in to see how Jelsa is doing, as it seemed so empty in July. And remember, statistics can be interpreted to suit any narrative.
The first surprise in such a seemingly empty destination is that tourist arrivals are actually UP! By 1.44% compared to this time last year. Is this the World Cup dividend finally coming to light?
But then, if you wanted to write a negative narrative, you could say that the overnight stays were down 0.91%
Either way, this is a good season, isn’t it? What the hell is that fat, pink Brit complaining about?
Here are the arrivals and overnight stays by country for the first 7 months. In Minister Cappelli’s Kingdom of Accidental Tourism, All Overnight Stays are Equal.
As a foreign fly on the wall, I beg to differ. I think that overnight stays from countries who are also going to spend in the bars, restaurants and on tours are worth more than those bringing their own food and drink and looking for the cheapest option to have their summer holiday on the beach. But he is the minister and I am just a blogger, so what would I know.
If we look at the overnights so far, the only countries which are up are from Eastern Europe (big welcome to our friends from Ukraine, up 177%). If we look at who is down, we have Austria (-20%), Norway (-19%), UK (-12%), Italy (-14%). The higher spending East Europeans are also down (Poland and Serbia – 10%).
Not great news for the restaurants.
These are the numbers for July, the month I was documenting – while Norway was down almost 30%, Bosnia was up 12%. We will figure out why in a moment.
If we look at the hotels in Jelsa, they are having a great season – at least the main two are – 15% more arrivals than last year. Great news for Minister Cappelli’s spreadsheet.
So who is staying in the hotels, and where are the biggest increases coming from? Ukraine (269% on overnight stays), Slovenia (30%) and Bosnia (20%). It is nice to see that there are 13% more Croatians in Jelsa this year – many complain that the coast is too expensive for them these days, especially islands such as Hvar. So why the big increases in the hotels from places like Bosnia and Ukraine, for example?
Could it be something to do with price, perhaps? An example of some of the offers for Jelsa hotels being discounted already this summer. In the cheapest offer of them all (available for the first three weeks of July), 2 adults (1,750 kuna each) and one child under 12 (free) could have a week in a hotel room close to the sea and a great beach, with breakfast and dinner, free WiFi and parking for just 3,500 kuna inclusive.
Or 166 kuna per day per person.
That includes the agency fee, taxes, running costs, and all the rest.
Expensive Hvar? Never was it so affordable! We live 100 metres from the hotel and only half-jokingly talked about moving in for a week to save money. A REALLY good value holiday, and with such an excellent beach and everything in the hotel, no need to go and spend downtown. Perhaps on an ice cream for the little one.
In Minister Cappelli’s Temple of Record Overnights, All Overnights are Equal.
And just in case you are cursing yourself for missing out on such a bargain, relax. There is still time. It will cost you 39 kuna a day extra now in August, but that family of three can enjoy magical Jelsa for just 205 kuna a day. Book here. 21 more overnights for the hallowed spreadsheet.
How is it going in private accommodation? Up with East Europeans, down with Germany, Austria and Norway.
Camping has always been one of Jelsa’s accommodation strong points. With several camps within walking distance of the catamaran, it is the perfect place for camping tourists to base themselves when coming to Hvar.
Not this year.
Perhaps the most surprising – and alarming – statistics are in this table.
After 108 years of tourism in the town, nobody still has any idea what Jelsa’s brand is. Most people talk about it being a family destination. More a destination for old people and teenagers these days it seems, rather than young families and parents aged 25-44.
So what have we learned?
Jelsa is extremely good value, with bed, breakfast and dinner available even today from 205 kuna per person per day. Tourists from the region are taking advantage of those offers and then staying within the hotels, while the traditional higher-spending guests from places like Germany, Austria and Norway are going elsewhere, which is leaving the restaurants and the town considerably emptier.
It is the worst kind of tourism Jelsa could have, but Minister Cappelli will be able to preach from the pulpit at the Temple of Record Overnight Stays about how well Croatian tourism is doing.
Just make sure you don’t ask him to explain the World Cup tourism dividend.
In this era of manipulated information, some will cry Fake News. Others will not believe something unless they see it. A quote from my recent blueprint to improve Jelsa tourism, Some Simple Steps to Improve Jelsa’s 2-Star Tourism Strategy on Hvar.
I posted quite a few of these on my Facebook wall (apologies to my FB friends) because I wanted to document the reality when the inevitable will happen when the statistics are announced. We will be blinded by science and spreadsheets about numbers and overnights. Those Ukranian 21 overnights will cover up the real situation to save some ministerial embarrassment. As the hotels are filling with low-cost half-board tourists, the restaurants are complaining that the higher-spending guests, such as Norwegians, are a lot less this year. Does 21 Ukrainian half-board overnights equal 21 Norwegians in private accommodation and eating in the restaurants and drinking in the bars? For the spreadsheets, they are the same. For tourism revenue to Jelsa businesses, I would put the ratio at 21:3.
For the more visual types, a selection of videos of Jelsa’s tourist season in July, shot at different times of the day. I am sure Minister Cappelli can only see packed tables and a main square Full of Life.
July 8, 2019. 19:25
July 8, 2019. 20:45
July 8, 2019. 22:00
Jelsa, 18:45, July 13
19:45, July 13
21:00, July 13
21:45, July 13
July 16, 2019, 20:35
July 16, 22:55
July 20, 12:30
July 20, 12:40
July 20, 19:10
July 20, 2019 at 21:00
July 21, 20:30
July 21, 20:40
July 21, 22:40
July 22, 19:35