March 28, 2020 – The second installment of popular former TCN writer Ivica Profaca’s diary of the new reality as a tour guide in waiting in an era of no tourism.
If you read the first part of this series, you might remember it finished with the word “survival”. And it had been proven as a keyword for something we still like to call the “season”.
Between that first article and this second installment, new cancelations have arrived, plus a few postponements to later months, usually September and October. Actually, what puzzles me the most is this kind of optimism some of my guests are showing by still not cancelling. At this very moment, I still have some 20 dates booked in May and June. Those numbers are just a joke compared to the almost daily tours I had in those two months last year, but it’s amazing that there are still people expecting to be able to travel in less than two months from what most of us see as the Apocalypse. To make the picture even less bright, some of those dates are for cruisers which means they will be dropped off knowing that most cruise companies have put operations on hold for an indefinite time.
Contrary to some optimism drawn from those dates which were still not cancelled, but “only” postponed, there are no new bookings. It would be pretty insane to expect any these days (and a sign of insanity of those wishing to travel right now), but when I get the first one it will be well worthy of opening the finest bottle of wine I have at home. By the way, recently I heard probably the craziest question ever arriving from some tourist. Someone I know rents a villa close to Dubrovnik, and they pretty much gave up with most of the season, like most of us in the business. However, some ten days ago they got an e-mail from a potential guest, who said they plan to arrive in late April, so they wanted to know if the pool has heated water. Because it’s the biggest problem.
All this is just for some personal encouragement, for the struggle for survival is much more bitter.
Many were relying on desperately expected government aid measures to help the economy recover. When they finally came, most of the business world wasn’t very enthusiastic. “Wasn’t very enthusiastic” is, of course, an understatement, for the general opinion was trashing those measures as insufficient. I’m not an economist, so I can only talk about those measures I hope I can count on. Tourism was immediately declared as an industry which will need a big injection. However, officials were mostly talking about hotels, restaurants, companies with employees, etc. They all have huge problems, and the unemployment rate will go sky high very soon. On the other hand, a whole army of independent, freelance tourism workers were almost ignored. I’m talking about all those accommodation owners, guides, drivers, skippers, all those self-employed sole traders, whose only source of income are the assignments they do. If I don’t have a tour any given day, or week, or month, there is no salary like in smaller or bigger companies with employees having a (good, or not so good) contract. In normal times, it’s usually a blessing not to depend on anyone. In times like this, which remind me of the plot of the Walking Dead, it’s a curse.
The government measures triggered zillions of questions in the guiding community, with one big super-question floating above our heads: where are we in this? Going through the rules was like passing a bar exam, and trying to get some answers from any institution involved wasn’t much easier. Initially, there was not a single mention of self-employed people, not even by the tourism ministry. There were some traces of our category carefully hidden behind bureaucratic phrases, but only for more careful readers. The Croatian Tourist Guides Association made an effort to make it easier to understand, and by pressuring institutions in charge, along with Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts, so we were given more clarity. The biggest help came through personal experiences and ideas shared on social networks, some on the Association of Tourist Guides Split Facebook group, but mostly through a Messenger group a bunch of us created in Split. That one was, and still is, real community and the one we need when in trouble. With some official clarification coming from the Croatian Employment Service, which is in charge for all measures, it was finally possible to apply. So I did, for both things I’m eligible for; monthly payments of the minimum wage for three months, and a three-month delay of tax and insurance payments. I’m still waiting for a reply, which will hopefuly be positive. I’m one of over a quarter of million workers who have applied, and it will take time to solve it. I hope I will start part three of this series with some good news.
Will it help? Not completely, especially that we will need to pay our duties later from income which won’t come. However, it will at least delay, or soften the disaster. My advice to fellow guides (and others in a similar situation): apply. If you don’t know how, ask those who did it, exchange everything you know, and look for explanations from colleagues who are maybe more literate in legal matters. Ask institutions, they have to reply, and read all the documents as carefully as possible.
In the meantime, what lies ahead? The number of positive cases from Coronavirus is still growing, and talking about tourism, or business in general, sounds like a fantasy. Or, if you want, complaining about it in the world where people die in thousands is like spoiled whining. Still, read this excellent account on 2020 tourism possibilities written by Paul Bradbury here on Total Croatia News. It offers some directions about the near future.
(To be continued)
We will be following Ivica Profaca’s journey through the rocky weeks ahead.
If you find yourself in Split, or are planning a post-corona visit, check out his range of tours on his website – families, look out for the kids tour of Diocletian Palace. It will not only entertain your kids while allowing you to absorb this unique UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it will bring out the inner child in you too. Learn more about it here.