Does Croatian Tourism Have a Plan B If Climate Change is Real?

Total Croatia News

Even though I live in Varazdin, I always know when it is raining in Split and on Hvar. 

My Google Analytics Real Time shows two articles on the subject attracting hits as people who came for the sun and are met with the rain desperately search for some activity to replace the planned day soaking up the rays. 

Both Hvar and Split have content even on a rainy day, but there are many destinations along the coast which essentially offer sun and beach, and very little else. With the Adriatic coast famous for its excellent weather in general, this was never really a problem. Tourists knew what they were getting, and the Croatian tourism strategy was little more than ‘wait and they will come.’ If tourists wanted sun and sea, Croatia had that in abundance with little effort. Locals built apartments en masse, and everyone was happy. And suddenly, Croatia found that 20% of its GDP came from relying on the cleanliness of the sea and those fabled blue skies. 

But what if – as seems to be the case – climate change is real, and those idyllic temperatures and endless blue skies which are the bedrock of the Croatian tourism offer were to change?

It is no secret that freak weather is becoming more common. and perhaps Croatia’s reliance on those faithful blue skies is a risky strategy. One only has to look around the storms that have occurred all over Croatia this week to realise that the old 99% guarantee of perfect weather is not looking as rock solid as it once was. 

As a pink Brit, I personally feel that things are a lot hotter than they used to be. When I first moved to Dalmatia in 2003, there were four distinct seasons. Now it seems on the coast that we go from the winter into a hot summer, and those four seasons have become two. I don’t think I am alone. 

This is not an article about how bad this season could potentially be, although many destinations are reportedly far emptier (it should also be borne in mind that even if this season is 20% down on the last one, the continuous rise in the official statistics over the last few years will place things back to where they were a couple of years ago), it is more about what would happen if the prime attraction of Croatian tourism (the weather)  which contributes to 20% of the country’s GDP cannot be depended upon to deliver as it always has in the past. Not only would the numbers suffer, but so do the GDP and the economy. 

You can see how several Croatian destinations have changed since 1969 and how they are projected to be in 2049 IF we stick to the Paris Climate Accord. Quite sobering, isn’t it?

So does Croatian tourism have a Plan B? A strategy to diversify beyond slogans and strategy documents? And does it have enough content away from the beach to still attract tourists who cannot be as confident about the beach weather as they once were. 

In theory, and in slogans and strategy documents, it does. 

The Ministry of Tourism, for example, has committed to building 30 golf courses around Croatia between 2013 and 2020 in its strategic document. As we enter the second half of 2019 with 18 months to go, none have been started, and the only tangible development is a $500 million lawsuit against the State from a disgruntled Israeli investor from the Dubrovnik golf project. 

We proudly learn that the original Zinfandel comes from just outside Kastela, and yet the famous wine region of Dalmatia does not have a wine road. 

We are proud that Kings Landing is the home of Game of Thrones, a global superstar, and yet we have no sections about the hit HBO series on the websites of either Dubrovnik or Croatian National Tourist Board. 

We are proud of the amazing quality and diversity of Croatian cuisine, and that the late, great Anthony Bourdain recognised Croatia’s ‘world-class food, world-class wine, world-class cheese’ – and yet compared to similar gourmet destinations such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain, Croatia earns only a tiny percentage. 

This season may be another record one for Croatian tourism (and official statistics for the first six months indicate this is the direction we are heading), or it may be sharply down on last year (as many are saying – and my evening out in Jelsa last night gives an indication of how busy things are there – see above (19:25) and below (22:00), but the bigger issue is where Croatian tourism is heading and how can it build more solid foundations in the event that climate change affects its prized jewel – its fabulous weather. 

The good news is that Croatia has some excellent potential to develop its tourism industry without such a reliance on the coast and beach tourism, if the Kings of Accidental Tourism were able to consider a real strategy to develop tourism for the long-term. One of the comments I have been getting from many locals up and down the coast this month is how empty some of the beaches are – and how nice that is. There is space for locals to enjoy their local beach in the summer. Wouldn’t it be nice if that could continue and we could also have great revenue from tourism.

We can. 

Quite easily. 

But it requires a little bit of a rethink and a reboot. I have already written about Branding Croatia for the Future: 5 Gifts and Trends to Focus On. You can read in more depth in that article, but the key components of a diversified, more secure tourism future for Croatia, which will move the country away from mass tourism are the following:

1. Medical tourism – many experts agree that Croatia has the potential to be in the top 10 medical tourism destinations in the world within 10 years. In the world. If only their officials could unite. In addition to Croatia’s clinics of excellence attracting health tourists, many of those patients would stay to recuperate. Medical tourism is an industry which is only going to get bigger. Croatia is in a great position to take advantage.

2. The digital nomad revolution. With some one billion digital nomads projected to be working remotely by 2035, Croatia is again perfectly situated to take advantage. Nomads come at different times of the year, generate money to fund their nomadic lifestyle and spend in the local communities where they stay. There is a LOT of buzz about Split as a new digital nomad destination right now – and the nomads are already here. You can meet some of them in our dedicated section

Imagine if Croatia, with its fantastic lifestyle and so many other advantages, could attract just 2% of that billion for part of the year. 20 million nomads, more than the current number of tourists visiting Croatia each year.

And if little Estonia can do, surely Croatia can too? Check out how and why Estonia is attracting so many international visitors in the video above and also in Lessons from Estonia: Farewell Uhljebistan, Welcome to the Future

3. Embrace the future and technology. Croatia is the land of Rimac and the birthplace of Tesla – two incredible icons of technology. Manchester United has the Theatre of Dreams at Old Trafford. Turn Tesla’s birthplace in Smiljan into something outstanding. Most tourists come to Croatia by car and there will be 21 million electric cars on the road by 2030. Build the temple, celebrate technology, educate, build Tesla-inspired attractions. And those joining the electric vehicle revolution will have reasons to visit one of the most important focal points – the birthplace of Tesla. 

4. Capitalise on Croatia’s phenomenal sporting success and natural beauty. The 2018 World Cup success was one of the greatest tourism gifts ever, one which Google Trends tells us was wasted. But there are so many other ways to attract sport to Croatia and the healthy lifestyle. That wonderful Croatian lifestyle. Learn from – and support – great initiatives such as the Run Croatia project, which is developing year-round tourism to Croatia. Learn more about it here

And we haven’t mentioned the beach once. 

And if golf is your thing, build a couple of those golf courses, but try not to get sued for 500 million each time. 

And maybe create that Dalmatian wine road rather than just telling people about the original Zinfandel. Tourists apparently like content once they arrive. 

And use that fabulous Bourdain promotion and put action into words – Croatia should be getting close to the gourmet tourism revenues of its European neighbours. Pay some consultants to figure it out for you if you don’t have the knowledge. 

Several very simple ideas, all of which are not weather dependent and move Croatia away from its crazy obsession with cruise ships and mass coastal tourism. 

And if climate change is a hoax, all the better – and there will also be plenty of space for locals on the beach.


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