What do Croatian Tourism Seasons 1980, 2010 & 2020 Have in Common? They Were the Same

Total Croatia News

November 29, 2020 – As the global tourism industry is forced into a rethink due to the pandemic, some interesting comparisons and contrasts between Croatian tourism seasons from 1980 to 2020. 

If there has been anything positive about this disastrous year, it is perhaps that the chaos unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to take a closer look at our lives, and to reassess where things could perhaps be done differently in order to adapt to new realities. 

Nowhere is that more true than in tourism. Who remembers that buzzword of the 2019 season – overtourism? Is it a word which will ever be used again, or will it go down in Wikipedia as a unique tourism phenomenon in the 2018-9 era to describe a strange human obsession to pack themselves into confined spaces like sardines in the name of tourism?

The Kingdom of Accidental Tourism had a better season than many – including me – predicted. While it has been amusing to see our official tourism heroes claim all the credit for this relative success, small factors such as Croatia having essentially the only open driveable coastline for the markets of Central and Eastern Europe perhaps played a small role. Just ask Dubrovnik, not quite a driving destination, which registered just 12% of its 2019 tourism traffic for the first six months of the year until UK flights started in earnest. And the 110,000 Slovenian owners of holiday homes in Croatia presumably were able to find their way to their pads on the Adriatic after weeks of lockdown without the need for persuasion. 

I digress. 

The Croatian National Tourist Board seems to have unveiled a new strategy (actually, perhaps rather than saying ‘a new strategy’, that should read ‘a strategy’) for the 2021 season, and I am heartened that at least part of it appears to be based on a slogan I have been suggesting for a while – Croatia, Your Safe, Authentic, Lifestyle Destination. Director Stanicic in the Croatian media this week:

At this point, it is certain that the issue of the coronavirus pandemic will mark next year as well, with the safety factor being one of the basic preconditions in making the final decision on travel. We will focus our future activities even more strongly on digital promotion channels and social networks with a focus on the nearest European markets where Croatian destinations are easily accessible by road, such as Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, etc. that in the future we expect the growth of domestic tourism in the overall result, we plan a stronger promotion of tourism and special tourism projects intended for domestic guests 

The focus on regional tourists certainly makes sense, as this is one of Croatia’s key (and accidental) competitive advantages – with flights so uncertain in general, tourists from these markets have few other reliable options. It is a good job we have a national tourist board, 20 regional tourist boards, 319 local tourist boards, a Ministry of Tourism, as well as those tourism chaps from the Chamber of Economy (whatever they do) to take credit for all this. 

But for all this talk of regional markets, no mention at all about some of the closest and most loyal markets to Croatia – the countries of former Yugoslavia, with the notable exception of Slovenia. 

In the 2020 spirit of having a fresh look at all aspects of life, I decided to look back at previous tourism trends and numbers to see if there was anything we could learn. And what I found REALLY surprised me. 

Was 2020 really a disaster for Croatian tourism? Actually, if you judge it by the only currency the Kingdom’s tourism gurus recognise – numbers, numbers, numbers – it was not a disaster at all. Thanks to those drive-in tourists. 

Here are the tourism numbers for 2020 so far after 10 months (I think we can all agree that they will not be changing too much now with the recent measures introduced:


(Source: Croatian National Tourist Board)

Total number of tourists so far in 2020 – 7,596,097 (official national tourist board numbers)

Total number of overnight stays so far in 2020 – 53,623,053

Now let’s compare that to 1980, when tourism was booming on the Adriatic coast in particular:

Total number of tourists in 1980 – 7,929,000

Total number of overnight stays in 1980 – 53,600,000

Fast forward 30 years, to just 10 years ago, and the numbers are also very similar, although a little higher.

Total number of tourists in 2010 – 10,604,000

Total number of overnight stays in 2010 – 56,414,000. 

Was the 2010 Croatian tourist season a disaster? It was at the start of my writing career, and I remember the Croatian media writing about its success. 

So if the 2010 and 2020 seasons were very similar, why were this year’s numbers so low in comparison to last year? 

The answer has something to do with what happened after 2010 – number of tourism arrivals per year on the left, number of overnights in the middle, increase in overnights on the right.


(Source Wikipedia)

So with similar numbers from 1980, 2010 and 2020, is there anything we can learn from looking at the official statistics? 


(Source: Croatian National Tourist Board)

Despite the number of overnight stays almost doubling from 1980-2019, the increase in hotel beds during that time was less than 15%, according to official figures above. 

Now take a look at the change in private rooms. Less than 200,000 back in 1980, more than 800,000 in 2018, a fourfold increase in 40 years, and about double in the last decade.  

So if Croatia had not embarked on its crazy expansion of private accommodation in the last decade, the 2020 numbers might well have been judged as successful with 2010 capacity.  It is no secret that Croatia has way too many private beds, which is a direct result of official policy to make it much more affordable with a crazy tax incentive. (Read more in How Croatia’s Tourism ‘Strategy’ Created Tax-Free Paradise for Private Renters). Quite how and when these 800,000 rooms will be filled again is an interesting discussion, and I am sure that the banks financing many of them will be running out of patience. 


One other statistic caught my eye looking at those older statistics – the number of domestic tourists. Domestic back then of course meant the whole of former Yugoslavia, as it was before the 1991 independence. Interestingly, in 1980, this accounted for 43.7% of all tourism that year – a huge number compared to recent years. 

A captive market, with many cultural connections and familiarities due to the enforced coexistence within former Yugoslavia, what was a captive market back in 1980 could easily be in 2021, especially with the current focus on destinations which are accessible by car. And yet, of the former Yugoslav republics, only Slovenia is on the radar of current tourism promotion. 


A year ago, I did some analysis on data on the 2017 tourism season, as provided to be by the Institute of Tourism. I was surprised to see that when one combines the average length of stay and average daily spend, Serbian tourists are the fourth biggest spenders on holiday in Croatia. And that Bosnians at 69.61 euro a day outspend Slovenians at 61.72 euro – I guess that has something to do with those 110,000 Slovenian holiday homes. 

When I went to the Belgrade Tourism Fair a couple of years ago – the largest in the region – I was surprised that the Croatian National Tourist Board was not there. It was nothing to do with the war, as back in 2011, Croatia had been the headline sponsor of the very same trade fair. When I enquired, the national tourist board informed me that Serbia was not a strategic market.  I wonder if it will/should be with the new realities. 

The potential of the regional market and 2020 realities was brought home to me on a recent trip to Montenegro, where I was reporting on a complete change in strategy by the 5-star Chedi in Lustica Bay. Having been deprived not only of flights in a flight-only destination, but also with its three main markets of Germany, Russia and the UK banned from entering, the hotel had no option but to try and reinvent itself. The results have been spectacular off an admittedly much smaller base. In 2019, regional tourism accounted for just 9% of revenues for the luxury hotel, something which increased to a massive 80% this year. Most interesting is that the projections for regional revenue for 2021 are 60%. So reinvention is possible, and this is how they did it. Some lessons in there somewhere, for those who want to learn. 

It is unlikely that tourism in Croatia will return to the recent past in the short term, and that is perhaps not a bad thing.  But perhaps it is worth looking at tourism a bit longer ago to seeing if there are elements there that can help build a more sustainable tourism future with regional neighbours based on safety, lifestyle and authentic experiences. Perhaps some of the money we could save by reducing such a hopelessly bloated official tourism apparatus and using the funds to promote such a vision would be a greater benefit for all. 

For the latest travel info, bookmark our main travel info article, which is updated daily

Read the Croatian Travel Update in your language – now available in 24 languages.

Join the Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community.


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment