And on the Seventh Day, God created Dalmatia.
It really is one of the finest places on the planet.
Some time later, a retiring Roman Emperor decided to embrace the fjaka lifestyle in his declining years and built a retirement home. Diocletian’s Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the finest attractions on the Adriatic Coast.
And slowly, over the centuries, a magnificent city started to emerge around Diocletian’s final home, which was constructed over 1700 years ago.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and Split had all the ingredients to be a world-class tourist destination. Just consider.
Diocletian’s Palace and the magnificent riva as centre stage; the majesty of Marjan, the lungs of Split, for greenery and escape into nature (where else can you rock climb past ancient churches carved into the rock just outside the city centre); a vibrant arts and culture scene with museums galore, including world champion exhibits, such as the celebrated sculptor Ivan Mestrovic museum; island hopping heaven to Hvar, Brac, Solta, Vis; a diverse gastro scene including the gateway to Croatia’s 130 indigenous wine varieties (the original Zinfandal comes from right next to Split Airport, a modern airport connecting to 100 destinations in the season); the de facto digital nomad capital of Croatia with a vibrant remote work community.
I could go on. Split is a destination which has EVERYTHING. Both God and Diocletian chose well.
So how, in 2022, did we come to this?
(Screenshot of most-read articles on Dalmacija Danas portal)
2022 was the year I stopped focusing on Croatian tourism. There is only so much you can say about the country’s one-dimensional strategy of sun, sea, and numbers, numbers, numbers. Besides, there is nothing really new to write about Croatian tourism after 10 years, and the Croatia away from tourism is WAY more interesting, fun and positive – Enjoying a Croatian Summer with No Tourism or Coast: Bliss!
But the inbox will not let me be, and I have had a steady stream (increasing a LOT in the last week) from locals, expats and tourists, all writing about one topic, and one topic alone. Could I research and write an article?
The decline of quality in tourism in Split.
Numbers, numbers, numbers. While the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism talks about the importance of sustainable tourism, it all comes back to numbers, numbers, numbers.
I spend little time in Split these days, but it is a city I know quite well, having started the Total Split portal back in 2012 and co-written the first modern guidebook for city back in 2013 with Mila Hvilshoj – Split, An Insider’s Guide. There has been an uncontrolled explosion of tourism in that decade, but the profile of tourism has also changed. As has the tourism offer.
I was quite shocked to see the rise in pub crawls around the Roman Emperor’s final resting place. The once majestic and upmarket Marmontovaarea has been transformed into a drinking, urinating and vomiting hot spot, with one big club just off it, a huge one about to open on Marmontova itself, fast food and booze shops now dominating the shops where more exclusive shopping used to roam.
I have been sent videos of a couple openly having sex in a club, as well as THAT 6-minute video on the streets of the palace, of a couple pleasuring each other, she by performing oral sex, he manually to the girl naked from the waist down. In public and in broad daylight.
This is the first in a series of articles on the issue, and this one will be 95% in the words of those directly involved. This includes voices from my inbox, Split tourism expert, Mario Seric, Director of the Split Tourist Board, Alijana Vuksic, and the Mayor of Split, Ivica Puljak.
The aim of this article is to highlight the issues and to show the decision-makers that change is possible. The situation might look terrible, but actually some firm and decision action now can get Split back on track relatively easily.
Voices from the inbox and Facebook groups.
From what we see around, the groups of 20 yr olds that came to party and are disrespecting the town (loud, leaving trash everywhere, drunk, throwing beers on the floor, leaving glasses on windows during the night) are heavily replacing our pre-pandemic type of tourists over 30 with middle to high income that were coming to relax and enjoy Split. The lack of attitude from the City is what brought us here, we have rules but nobody to enforce them, I doubt inspectors fined even ONE tourist walking around almost naked in the old town or for drinking in public. We rarely see local police patroling at night…we are truly genuinely worried that we need to pack up and move somewhere else entirely or find a business model that caters to 20 yr olds, because I do not see this getting better with literally no action from the authorities, and although I read the deputy mayor saying we do not need more tourists, we need better quality ones, so far it is just an empty statement and if no signal is being sent NOW, the next season will be even worse. We had better sales in June than we do in July (makes sense, youngsters were still in school and did not yet fill our town to full capacity). We had worse sales days in July this year than in 2021 and about 50% less than in 2019.
The change in and around Marmontova is terrible. You have 305 club on Trogirska. Total nightmare already. Many articles written already about youngsters peeing and pooing and vomiting around. From 9 pm all we see around us are youngsters some already intoxicated. And the huge space that was the Bershka shop on Marmontova is being transformed into the biggest club in the old town. I am afraid the new Marmontova club will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Marmontova itself that was a classy charming street with higher-end or at least ok quality shops, is now full of fast food and booze shops.
Meanwhile more bars are catering/encouraging drunkenness, 1L “Cocktail Buckets” and ` Happy Hours`. Hostel owners bemoan the drunken idiotic behavior of their guests.
I have been living in Split since May 2021 and came for a visit in fall 2020. So all to say I don’t know what tourism looked like pre-pandemic. I truly love it here but July and August put that in question particularly this year. Though I love the city coming to life, I question the type of tourism that Split is going for as I see rather high numbers of tourists still drinking at 5 am from the night before on the streets. The lack of respect and clothing in the old city. And the amount of trash. Luckily Split has some of the most amazing cleaning crews and by 8…. But this morning, was a whole other level of disgust. Besides the 50+ people from the night before… I was approached and almost sought out (as I was trying hard to steer away from the tourists out) while out with my dog. This person then proceeded to pull out 200 Kuna and asked me for a sexual favor. I was horrified and livid. Feeling almost assaulted at 6 am. There is no good time to enjoy Split right now and it’s sad. I am happy I am here, but the tourists and the direction Split is going give me pause as I look to applying for a second digital nomad permit.
The downtown had a soul but it’s dead or dying. Many things changed and mostly in a bad way. We’re more like a big hotel than a town. I used to bring my kids for a walk, at least once a week. Now maybe once a month or even less.
As an expat, I don’t find it attractive in summer. We came to Split in winter and not for holidays but to make it home for a year (at least) but it’s incredible how it changes in summer. Suddenly everything is more expensive, restaurants don’t take cards anymore, only cash, noisy and busy as hell, can’t help but feeling like a walking wallet… If I could choose again I don’t think I’ll pick Split.
It’s a complex problem. As a home-owner / expat / part-time resident I run away for summer while still wishing I could enjoy the city all year.
The profile of tourists changed as well. Split was always just a day or two transit hub for island hopping, serving all kinds of tourists. The ferry, train and bus station are all next to each other for that reason. Meanwhile, it became a festival spot and tourists are frequently T-shirtless, drunk, puking and pissing around youngsters (bcs they don’t understand the Palace is a 1900 y/o monument to respect).
Oh, and another thing we hate this year…because of the dispute on who should charge for the yachts parking on west riva, all spring and summer nobody has been charged for parking there and nobody could use water or electricity. That meant no big yachts came, west riva became the wild wild west with all the local charter boats parking as they pleased….and west riva used to be a beautiful place for superyacht watching
The most interesting (and concerning) part of Split&tourism is how the city center lost its famous and vibrant lifestyle and became a ghost town out of the season (locals also avoid approaching the palace area in the season). It would be a great case study of what tourism should not bring.
And my favourite – ah, Hrvatska…
The reason why “communal officers” can’t charge fines for pissing and other things is that foreigners don’t have a Croatian OIB (personal ID number). Their system can’t recognize the payment. So that’s why they call the police. Then the whole procedure until they take them in front of the judge, if there’s a reason to do that, and only there can they pay the fine.
I asked a friend to list some specific incidents.
Guy wanting to pee on a homeless man.
Guy peeing in the fountain.
Girl pooing in the street vase.
Girl peeing on the street.
Girl giving blowjob on the street.
Couple having sex at Matejuska.
Guy peeing on the street (these must be a normal occurrence, a couple of metres from us where there is a dark spot that smells like a urinal…also last night, I had a Canadian couple tell me they were appalled to see a guy peeing on a monument). I personally saw a very drunk young man touching women’s breasts on Marmontova…him and all his friends laughing.
How did we get here from where we were, a stunning cultural destination, with a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Roman Emperor’s retirement home at its core?
Rather than give my own thoughts, I turned to a tourism expert who knows the city intimately. Mario Seric is an international tourism expert with a Split address, who has undertaken 169 projects in 16 countries. His knowledge and expertise on Split and destination management were key factors in the launch of the TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable initiative earlier this year.
(With Mario Seric earlier this year for the initial planning of the Split Winter Tourism Roundtable)
The situation we have now is the consequence of five factors: no professional destination marķeting, almost no destinaton management, an abundance of relatively affordable apartments and rooms to rent, an abundance of liquor stores (working longer than the bars), imbecile behavior of generation Z as compared to other generations when they were their age.
Split is one of the cities that do not have any professionally done strategic document for tourism, be it a strategic development plan, strategic investment plan, strategic management plan or strategic marketing plan, nor any operational plans that should follow previously defined strategies.
Some documents are done but with limited scope, poor quality, and by persons without the required know-how to do them. The current tourism situation of Split is the result of a lack of the above-mentioned documents and responsibilities to perform the tasks stemming from them.
In conclusion, nobody has ever done anything serious, nor were there people responsible for any kind of execution.
The areas of development and investments (preparation of investments) should primarily be the responsibility of the city government while the areas of management and marketing the responsibility of the tourist board… with strong cooperation between the two and some more parties involved.
No mayor has done anything related to the development and investments, and even if he wanted to, he was soon out of office (constantly changing mayors). The tourist board has been doing more or less standard activities inherited from the 1990s with some modifications, yet tourism has been exploding, but not due to their efforts.
So how is that? It is quite simple. The 2000s were marked by the following factors on the European market: low-cost airlines, interest in visiting city seaside destinations, and interest in discovering Croatia by visiting several destinations relatively quickly. So, in addition to Dubrovnik and Hvar, Split was the one that was filling this hole: it is on the sea, it had some heritage, and it had its airport. So it was a logical choice, and that this how this “golden triangle” was formed (Dubrovnik – Hvar – Split).
More or less the same airlines were flying to both Dubrovnik and Split, thus allowing customers to organize their trips easily; three destinations were a great choice for 5 / 7 / 10 days, usually including Mostar / Krka / Plitvice… And it all started exploding, first with European markets and then with overseas markets. This was Croatia’s playcard for the world… Zagreb later benefitted from this as well.. all the same as already experienced in other Mediterranean countries.
And then local entrepreneurs started understanding what was going on and started investing in boutique hotels, hostels, restaurants… this trend then spread to rooms, apartments, clubs… big events started, and the market principles of supply and demand were in overdrive.
And all these with only two big hotels in place (Le Meridien and Radisson)
So there was a tourism explosion without strategic documents and without a critical mass of big hotels. It is actually an interesting phenomenon, but the lack of strategies and hotels have led us to where we are now. More than 80% of beds are in relatively affordable rooms and apartments, while less than 20% in relatively expensive hotels and similar establishments. And that is why we have two very different markets creating a bipolar destination… those who want to have cheap accommodation and eat cheap (fast foods, buying in markets over restaurants) and those who stay in hotels and eat in relatively expensive restaurants.
And the first market segment is dominating the market, especially in July and August when, of course, young people can travel.
And naturally they choose Split… regardless of the music prohibition after 11pm (since 2019) and regardless of the early closing of the bars (since recently), which is actually amazing… Not to mention that these prohibitions do not make any sense… as evidenced by the fact that now we have even more young people creating chaos despite the prohibitions. If they by any chance prohibit alcohol consumption in bars (which will never happen of course) I think we will have even more young tourists as they always find ways to get drunk. Anyway, the youth are not the problem… they are the way they are, but the question is why Split has allowed itself to come to this situation, especially with the cultural heritage that it has.
Ultra Europe is a great event, and it is not the one responsible for this. Ultra contributes a really tiny percentage of guest nights, and it has loyal followers, but is just one of numerous big party organizers.
You have the same parties elsewhere in Europe as well, but they do not necessarily position a certain destination in one direction.
And a few more things I would like to add which I think are important.
Similar things are also happening in other cities in the Mediterranean, even though not to this extent, but with the same market (young people, which is generation Z, i.e. those born after 1996, drinking heavily, behaving without any manners, so some things are actually even generation specific).
Second, here in Croatia, you can easily categorize apartments in residential buildings for tourism purposes, which, for example, in Spain is legally not possible!!! So for example, in Croatia, if we want, we can legally convert the whole of Split into a holiday resort, which, in my opinion is insane.
Give me 5 quick wins for Split tourism.
Quick win 1. Get involved in the 2023 Split Tourist Board budget to clean it up as much as possible.
Quick win 2. Get the financing for airlines for Spring 2023 and November 2023 (at least one airline for 2 or 3 destinations with minimum 3 to 5 flights weekly for each).
Quick win 3. Get the financing for global events for Spring and November (at least one for now).
Quick win 4. Embrace the advice of expats and digital nomads on what should be done.
Quick win 5. Announce the preparation of big investments (for new tourism offerings) and strict yet just regulations (for managing the destination, from stimulating the entrepreneurs, setting up the max number of tourist beds in the city, etc.).
I emailed the Split Tourist Board with some questions on the subject.
Dear TZ Split team,
TCN has received dozens of complaints, mostly from residents of Split, about the decline in quality of tourism in the city, particularly in peak season.
We are currently researching for an article which we plan to publish on Wednesday called
Is Split Tourism ‘Strategy’ Killing the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs?
Rather than publish it without your knowledge, I would prefer to get your input. I have the following requests/questions – if you could please send by Tuesday evening, so that I can include?
1. Could you please send the breakdown of beds by year from 2010 – 2022 for private accomm, hotels and hostels, similar to the one attached that you kindly sent me a few years ago?
2. Could you please define what is the strategy of Split tourism in a sentence/paragraph?
3. How would you describe the season so far? Are you happy with the results?
4. Residents are telling us that there has been an explosion of party tourism, with lots more drunkenness, pub crawls through the palace. Is this something that you have noticed?
5. Several residents and expats have told us that they have to leave the city this peak season (unlike previous ones) as it has become unbearable. What message do you have for them?
6. Locals also tell us that they rarely go to the palace these days, as it has become a tourism zoo in the season, and a ghost town out of season, with little local life. Have you noticed anything similar, and what strategies do you have to reinvigorate local life?
7. Marmonotova used to be a prestigious address in the city, and now it is slowly being turned into a bar and club area, with the accompanying debauched behaviour. Do you support this new direction?
8. Recently, new signs have appeared around the centre, see attached – urging people, among other things, not to urinate in the street. Why is this necessary? Surely the type of tourists you are targeting know how to behave and not to urinate in the street?
9. The same signs talk about proper dress and no drinking alcohol in public, or there will be fines. There are many cases of inappropriate dress and people drinking in public. How much are the fines, and how many people have been fined so far?
I will publish your answers in full and would be happy to include a statement from the Split Tourist Board director.
I look forward to your response.
The Split Tourist Board was kind enough to respond within the deadline. The response in full:
thank you for your queries. Attached you can find the requested data, and below in this message are answers to your questions, by Tourist Board director Alijana Vukšić.
Regarding your claim that the number of beds dropped from 2010 to 2022, the data that we sent you before shows the annual rise in the number of beds before 2020. In 2020, due to insecurity caused by the pandemic some rentals were cancelled.
(How accommodation units have increased in Split from 2010 to 2022 – the rise of hotel beds, already under representative for a balanced destination, has not kept pace with the explosion in private accommodation. Read more in How Croatia’s Tourism ‘Strategy’ Created Tax-Free Paradise for Private Renters).
All accommodations and permits have to be approved by the County Tourism office. We can say that number of beds declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year brought a large number of newly registered accommodations.
As you know, most of the questions you asked are the responsibility of the City of Split, and its departments, and not of the Tourist Board. We in the Tourist Board neither have legal possibilities, nor authority to make a difference with the issues you mentioned. However, as an important part of the tourism market, we will use all our knowledge to meet those problems and to assist in regulating the local situation for the benefit of the citizens of Split, and to the satisfaction of our guests.
Tourism brings negative impacts, and many famed destinations in Europe and the world have that experience. We are all aware of it, especially with the fact that with returning to pre-pandemic numbers we have to deal with increased problems of public order violations.
There is a global trend of mass travel among young adults (18 to 24 years of age). However, they are just one of the segments of the tourism market, mostly members of Generation Z who grow up in times of big global changes. They have their patterns of behaviour which don’t include the violation of public order. On the other hand, there are always individuals who can create a false image of young tourists. This age group is only one of the guest populations in Split, but they are important visitors who are extremely satisfied with Split, and who will probably return to Split with their families.
During this week, the City of Split will have several meetings with all relevant players about the issue of public order violations in Split. Every single service or organization will have to undertake their share of activities to find a solution for the problem. We hope that the City will bring its Public order rules as soon as possible, to make sanctions against offenders possible.
Regarding this year’s season, the satisfaction of our visitors and Split citizens is way more important than the number of arrivals and bed nights. That includes both those who are pleased with the season, as well as those who express dissatisfaction.
Nevertheless, here are some numbers. Split recorded 1.4 million bed nights this year. That is 93 per cent of bed nights in 2019 as the record year.
Since you write an investigative piece, it would be good if you include the City’s institutions. We all live off tourism, and everyone intends to make it sustainable and responsible and blended into a local community.
All institutions in charge are aware of those problems, and we all work together to decrease the negative side effects of tourism, and emphasize those positive ones. It’s our goal to direct all activities in one direction, to create Split as a desirable host to its citizens and visitors, 365 days a year.
Our many activities are directed toward sustainable tourism. This is why we emphasise support and development of events and tourism products dislocated from the historical centre. Further, we continue to encourage and launch events taking place in different seasons. For example, this autumn we will promote Split gastronomy with several activities.
All our marketing activities are also directed toward sustainability. A good example is our Respect & Enjoy campaign, but we also prepare a campaign that will promote a closer connection between tourists and Split as their destination. That includes learning about the traditional habits of the local population, and the rise of awareness that they visited a city with exquisite cultural, historical and natural beauty.
We think that only the cooperation of all local shareholders, led by the City and its departments will bring “better tourism”, responsible for the local population, and the rich natural and cultural heritage of Split.
In the end, you commented that “Surely the type of tourists you are targeting know how to behave and not urinate in the street?“. We take that remark as benevolent since we believe that you should realize that nobody has “urinating tourists” as a target.
TZ Split team
Not all my questions were answered.
Dear TZ Team,
Many thanks for your response, appreciated, I know how busy you are in the season. Your answers, while comprehensive, do not answer some of my questions. Perhaps I was not clear enough. Some comments on the unanswered questions to maybe help below:
1. Could you please send the breakdown of beds by year from 2010 – 2022 for private accomm, hotels and hostels, similar to the one attached that you kindly sent me a few years ago? ALL I AM LOOKING FOR IS THE SAME SPREADSHEET OF DATA YOU SENT LAST TIME, BUT UPDATED TO 2022 (OR 2021 IF YOU DONT HAVE THIS YEAR). I WILL DO MY OWN ANALYSIS.
2. Could you please define what is the strategy of Split tourism in a sentence/paragraph? A SIMPLE STANDALONE SENTENCE OR PARAGRAPH PLEASE
7. Marmonotova used to be a prestigious address in the city, and now it is slowly being turned into a bar and club area, with the accompanying debauched behaviour. Do you support this new direction? IS IT PART OF YOUR STRATEGY TO HAVE NIGHTCLUBS IN AND AROUND MARMONTOVA? DO YOU SUPPORT THIS CHANGE?
9. The same signs talk about proper dress and no drinking alcohol in public, or there will be fines. There are many cases of inappropriate dress and people drinking in public. How much are the fines, and how many people have been fined so far?
VERY SIMPLE QUESTIONS
1. HOW MUCH ARE THE FINES?
2. HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN FINED SO FAR?
3. IS THE LEGISLATION ACTUALLY IN PLACE TO IMPOSE FINES?
Thanks for your anticipated quick response. If you were able at least to send the spreadsheet in Question 1 this evening, it would allow me time to analyse. And if you could get the answers to the rest by midday tomorrow, that would be very helpful.
And a very typical response, which says nothing, apart from sending the data. Would it have been too much to expect a tourism board to be able to say what its tourism strategy was in a sentence?
Thank you for your queries.
1. Attached you can find the requested data.
2. The values of the further development of tourism in the city of Split are defined by the Strategic Marketing Plan – which includes year-round tourism, a significant multiplier effect and responsibility towards heritage – as well as total resources and the local population.
Other issues are the responsibility of the administration of the City of Split, so please contact them directly.
I reached out to the Mayor of Split, Ivica Puljak.
Reelected a few weeks ago with a much stronger showing in the town council after calling a snap election earlier this year, Mayor Ivica Puljak, an eminent scientist, is new to the political scene, and tourism is not his strongest area of expertise. Having said that, he has shown his willingness to engage in the issues, and to take action. I have personal experience of this, due to his enthusiastic support and engagement in the ongoing TCN Split Winter Tourism initiative, which is moving forward steadily.
(TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable: State Secretary for Tourism, Tonci Glavina, Former Central Dalmatia Tourist Board Director Josko Stella, Split Tourist Board Director Alijana Vuksic, and Mayor of Split Ivica Puljak)
In the last ten years, Split has experienced a large increase in the number of tourists. From a transit city, it became a tourist destination. Today, a large number of citizens of Split live from tourism, which has become an important part of our economy and everyday life. Such a sudden increase in tourism brought with it many challenges, from overstretched infrastructure to problems with maintaining public order and peace. I think that Split is now entering a new phase, in which tourism should be seen as an opportunity for further development, connect it with the modern economy and use its full potential. Therefore, it is necessary to make a comprehensive tourism development strategy and harmonize it with the city development strategy. It is a very important process, which will define the future of the city in the long term.
This year, a special challenge is the fact that the structure of the guests is dominated by young people who want to have fun. Part of the tourist offer, which developed somewhat spontaneously, includes the widely and easily available consumption of alcohol, which produces frequent violations of public order and peace. Due to inherited rules and procedures, which do not foresee punishments for many forms of indecent behavior, the introduction of public order and peace is difficult. Therefore, we have prepared short-term and long-term measures to improve the situation in tourism.
Short-term measures include increased controls of the most frequented locations, along with synchronized actions of city, county and state authorities, police and inspectorates, as well as increased cleaning and beautification of the city.
Long-term measures are based on creating a tourism development strategy, changing the structure of guests, making a new decision on communal order, which will incorporate all the observed shortcomings and take over the best practices of cities that have encountered similar problems, then increasing the number and scope of operations of the order services, the inspectorate and the police, limiting and demotivating the sale and consumption of alcohol, up to incentive measures for the development of cultural, scientific, health, sports and congress tourism.
In the end, our view of tourism and its role in the development of the city is positive. Tourism can be an engine for the development of a modern economy, and as an instrument for the modernization of society and integration into world social and economic trends. On the other hand, in the development of the city, we will always put the interests of the citizens of Split first. When a city is good for its citizens, it will also be good for its guests.
Encouraging words. Let’s hope they will soon be backed up with actions.
Rather than add my own thoughts to all this (which had been the original intention), I will stop here, as you don’t need me to interpret the direct words of some of the major stakeholders.
But TCN will be exploring this topic in more detail, and we are reaching out to other key stakeholders for their points of view. I am very grateful to the founder of Ultra Europe, Joe Basic, for agreeing to an interview on this topic and the Ultra factor, as well as Zoran Pejovic, a renowned, Split-based luxury tourism consultant, whose many achievements include introducing the first wine bar, Paradox Wine and Cheese Bar, to Split a decade ago (when Split was a different city), as well as delivering the excellent 5-star Maslina Resort on Hvar.
If you have some expertise to contribute to the debate, please contact me on [email protected] Subject Split Tourism.
Discussions like these are always painful, but often necessary. I am confident that with the right approach, we can fix a lot of these problems relatively quickly and get Split back to being the world-class destination that it fundamentally is.
ULTRA Europe Festival founder Joe Basic was kind enough to give me an interview on the subject, and he had some GREAT analysis and suggestions. ULTRA Europe Festival’s Joe Basic Talks Split Tourism .
20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years: the Insider Guide to Surviving Croatia will be out by Christmas. If you would like to reserve a copy, email [email protected] Subject 20 Years Book