Russia, Egypt and Turkey: A Golden Opportunity for Croatian Tourism?

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With 5.9 million Russian tourists no longer looking at the beaches of Turkey and Egypt, is there an opportunity for Croatia?

As Russia’s war of words with Turkey after the recent downing of a Russian miliary aricraft continues, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced on November 27, 2015 that it was suspending the visa-free agreement with Turkey. The incident has heightened tensions between the two countries and comes in the wake of the recent downing of a Russian commercial plane by Islamic terrorists in Egypt, which killed 224 people. 

The consequences for Russian tourists going abroad have been significant. All flights to Sharm El Sheikh have been cancelled, and Russians advised against travel there. Last year, some 2.6 million Russians visited Egypt. The events in Turkey could have an even greater effect. Russians’ second-favourite destination, 3.3 million visited Turkey last year, a number that is bound to be reduced drastically as visas are introduced, tours cancelled, and potentially even flights halted. 

With almost 6 million Russian tourists looking for a safer alternative, is there an opportunity for Croatia? The Israeli Tourist Board has been quick off the blocks, investing $2.7 million in a campaign to attract Russians looking for a beach holiday, but Croatia too has plenty to offer, in addition to its safeness, endless Adriatic coast and more than 1000 islands. 

The relationship between Croatia and Russian tourists has always struck me as strange, as for me it was a natural fit. Stunning beaches that one cannot find back home, excellent food, a relaxed lifestyle and all just a short flight from Moscow and St. Petersburg. But Russians were almost conspicuous by their absence on Dalmatia’s beaches, especially if one had visited Montenegro during the summer. 

Resorts such as Budva has become known as Little Russia, with newspapers reporting that up to half of the country’s coastal real estate had been bought by Russians. By contrast, neighbouring Dalmatia had relatively few Russian guests by comparison. At the time I put it down to cultural connections, as both Montenegro and Russia are Orthodox, but then on a visit to Pula, I was amazed to learn that 40% of arrivals at Pula Airport were from Russia. 

At least they used to be. With the arrival of the EU came visa restrictions for Russian tourists to Croatia. The effect on Pula was devastating, with Russian arrivals dropping 40%. Indeed, official statistics show that Russian arrivals before the EU were 196,000, compared to 133,000 last year. 

Does the current crisis in both Egypt and Turkey present a long-term opportunity for Croatian tourism? While nobody would advocate swimming in the Adriatic in January for pleasure, Croatia offers a wealth of year-round options, as well as world-class beaches from May to October, in a country which is safe, close and welcoming. 

I hope someone is already on the plane to Moscow and working on a visa compromise. This is a golden opportunity for Croatia to capitalise on the uncertainties elsewhere. 


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