Why Don’t We Know How the 2023 Season Is Going?

Total Croatia News

August 13, 2023 – We are delighted to welcome Elisha Szczerbiński to TCN. Based on the island of Hvar, some thoughts from Elisha on transparency of information in the 2023 season.

The summer of 2023 has been a record-breaker for tourism in Europe. According to official reports, Croatia has never seen a better season either. But on Hvar things don’t look so sunny. From budget travellers to the luxury crowd, this season has been lacklustre on Croatia’s best-known island. 

Throughout June and July, tables stood empty at restaurants, pleasure boats idled in port, and not a quad was to be seen on the roads. For some, it has been a welcome continuation of the off-season atmosphere, but for those who work in tourism, these are all reminders of a bleak economic reality: fewer guests and tighter fists have hit incomes on Croatia’s tourism-dependent coast, adding to the pressure of eye-watering price inflation and lingering pandemic debts on household budgets. 

Now in August, the customary tourist influx has finally started to materialise, but why so late? Are prices too high? Has capacity exceeded demand? Has the quality of Croatia’s offering slipped? Have competitors stepped up their game? 

The region will have a lot to reflect on this winter, but official tourism bureaus seemed to have little to report about these issues: “Not sure where you got the information from?” questioned the Korčula Tourist Board, about reports of a weak season. “eVisitor, as the only relevant tool for ‘counting’ tourists, clearly shows that the arrivals and overnight stays are mostly the same and/or higher than in 2022 in Korčula Town. The other places on the island have similar trends.” 

The Hvar Tourist Board added: “In 2023 we have had 94,817 arrivals and 339,640 overnight stays. For the same period, in 2022 there were 84,919 arrivals and 329,864 overnight stays. So we are actually having a positive trend of both arrivals and overnights.”

Petra Bartulović of Visit Omiš offered a more nuanced picture, via a link to the county’s data portal. For the greater Omiš region, visits and stay are up over 2022 and 2019, but with losses in tourism to the city of Omiš, mostly made up for by a large increase in visits to Lokva Rogoznica.

In Milna, the story is more straightforward and seems more in tune with reality: 2.81% fewer arrivals and 4.34% fewer overnight stays than in 2022, despite an ambitious program of appealing events, such as the Mrduja Tug of War held last month.

We were unable to obtain a response from the cities of Jelsa and Stari Grad on island Hvar and Orebić on Pelješac.

As business owners and members of a community reliant on tourism, we depend on the public bodies, who also share in the benefits of tourism, to work to provide further insights which they alone can commission or produce. 

For example, with so much conversation around over-tourism, the industry would benefit from a quantitative analysis of ROI per visitor across audience groups, factoring in environmental and social costs. The World Wildlife Fund has developed one such assessment in partnership with the Government of Australia. 

In Croatia, by contrast, it is difficult to find data even on straightforward questions such as tourism revenue by region, category, or demographic, although euros spent is a much more powerful tourism performance indicator than overnight stays. The Croatian National Tourist Board simply aggregates visitor spend into a single, national number in its annual report (p. 43). Since the government of Croatia levies tax on all registered tourism income, it must have a more in-depth breakdown of this data.

Likewise, with concerns about Croatia outstripping the prices of similar destinations, small businesses need pricing guidance, a core strategy exercise for international hotel chains, which Croatia’s vacation lodging sector cannot perform due to its fragmented nature (owner-managed rentals represent a far larger percentage of Croatia’s holiday housing stock than any peer market for historical and tax reasons, and correspondingly the country has far fewer hotel chains). Regarding inflation, the picture is by no means clear, in fact. Tourism prices in Rome have risen by 63% and in Madrid by 41% this summer, for example. Croatia may well be in step with other holiday hot spots, and cutting prices might be premature. More information is sorely needed.

On a similar note, why not conduct exit surveys at departure points such as airports? Or hire a market intelligence firm to crawl review sites for sentiment analysis? Such studies would powerfully improve upon the current practice of speculation and word of mouth on which many in the Croatian tourism industry must rely.

Finally, as entrepreneurs in Dalmatia seek to equal the gastronomic and cultural offerings of France, Greece, and other nations in the Mediterranean, they would be greatly aided by some exposure to the competition, i.e., subsidised educational and travel opportunities, which are currently out of reach for many Croatians due to financial pressure or family circumstances.

Tourism is a volatile and hypercompetitive industry; it is also the nation’s lifeline. Through knowledge-sharing, Croatia’s tourism boards can powerfully support Croatians to compete on the European stage and ensure the sector’s long-term sustainability. Let 2023’s “mystery season” in Dalmatia be a moment for learning, rather than a sign of things to come.

Elisha Szczerbiński Bio

Elisha Szczerbiński is the co-owner of Hvar Away, a villa rental and property management agency serving Croatia’s sunniest island. A fugitive from the pre-med pipeline at Oxford, Elisha spent her twenties long-distance biking through Asia before falling in love with Hvar during the COVID pandemic. She and her husband Matt have now relocated to Croatia permanently, and serve a growing community of foreign homeowners and holiday-makers visiting Hvar. Browse their portfolio of premium villas


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