Dealing with COVID-19: Small Tourist Business Stories from Split

Total Croatia News

April 13, 2020 – How are small tourism businesses dealing with COVID-19 in Croatia? TCN’s UNESCO correspondent on the changing realities in the two tourism businesses in Split which feed her.  

It’s hard to say anything that’s not already all over the news about this unprecedented situation happening worldwide. In essence, we all follow the daily press conferences and updates on numbers of COVID-19. One thing is for sure, this Spring did not start the way any of us planned. We are all mostly working from home if we are working at all, limiting our social interactions, and avoiding leaving the house if not necessary.

This piece will look at the changes happening for two small businesses working in tourism in Split. Maybe not all similar companies are going through the same issues, but it might speak for most of them as we all face sadly the same problems. I work as a hotel manager of a small city centre hotel, and I’m the owner of a small tourist agency focusing mostly on food and wine tours. I need to admit my daily business motivation is changing almost daily in the last few weeks, and most of my work is dealing with cancellations and guests saying they can’t go on their long-planned vacation.

At the end of February, which seems like ages ago, I think most of Croatia, including me, didn’t take COVID-19 as seriously as we should have. In terms of work in tourism, I had isolated cases of canceled bookings, which were mostly for March. I even had hotel guests from Asia who were supposed to come to Split mid-March, and they asked if they would experience any racism in Split – I assured them this wouldn’t be the case. If they are ready to travel to Croatia, the hotel will be more than happy to welcome them. As you might assume, in the meantime, they needed to cancel cause all of their flights were canceled.

In the first week of March, when it comes to bookings and reservations, nothing seemed to indicate that things would escalate, or at least it seemed to be something happening far away from Split. Also, just a few cancellations, nothing more than usual. The second week of March brought a more serious approach on global and local levels. COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and there was mandatory self-isolation proclaimed for numerous countries. From the side of the hotel business, we mostly had cancellations for the whole of March and several for April. The tourist agency had cancellations for the entire April and May – literally the entire preseason was down the drain.

The third and fourth week was just something that we all expected – almost the whole of April canceled; 30 % of May reservations withdrew, with more and more clients canceling summer dates. Luckily there were some rebookings, and that’s a small light of optimism in a sea of canceled reservations and mails starting with “We are sorry to inform you but due to the COVID-19 situation we need to cancel our reservation…” All tourism and hospitality businesses have experienced this situation in the past month.

After the first state of shock and fear due to health reasons, shock and fear transferred to the fact we are facing losing not only preseason but potentially the whole summer season, not to mention all the economic impacts on tourism and other industries. Tourism businesses are already suffering from the economic effects of COVID-19 on our lives. With pandemic dynamics and the fact there is no vaccine or cure, this is something that only logical to happen. In this situation, not many would want to travel, and if they would go somewhere, they can’t do it due to travel restrictions – I had a case of few optimistic clients, but this got canceled too. If we assume, we flatten the curve, some restrictions will be milder or removed, but people will still be cautious. At this moment, the majority of clients who had reservations till the end of June are rebooking their accommodation and tours for autumn or next year.

All this doesn’t sound like the summer we are used to having here in Split, and any other tourist destination has the same issues. Also, it’s not something we can influence or know when it will be over. As a business in this situation, we can’t do a lot, but a few things a small tourist business can do are the following:

  • • Adapt your business to a new situation – work with all precautions and safety measures
  • • Offer clients a flexible cancellation policy or rebooking
  • • Prepare the prices and promotions for summer months and postseason – by some predictions this could be the time when we could expect fewer travel restrictions
  • • Be ready to offer discounts and change price strategy
  • • Be present but not aggressive with marketing as this is not the time to sell vacation
  • • Be kind and understand clients and answer quickly to inquiries
  • • Be in touch with partners agents and hotels – they are going through the same stressful situation
  • • Analyse your current business situation and project your future cash flow and income
  • • Keep your staff if you can and be honest with them about the situation
  • • Apply for state-supported or other measures that could help your business

When this is over, inevitably, there will be people willing to go on vacation, and with some preparation now, we could attract them first to the destination and then to our business. Tourism, although it is the first to be affected by negative impacts it will be the first back on its feet – now we need to deal with preserving our health as well as the health of our families. As everything this will be over at some point – we need to keep sane, safe, and follow the instructions we have from health officials.

If you would like to dream a little about your next Split holiday, here is what Filipa’s agency specialises in

For more on being prepared for the post-corona reality, Zoran Pejovic of Paradox Hospitality has written an excellent series for TCN.


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