Are Foreign Tourist Workers Being Counted at the Temple of Record Overnights?

Total Croatia News


August 4, 2019 – Are the official Croatian tourism numbers receiving an artificial boost – from the many illegal seasonal workers from neighbouring countries who are being registered as tourists? 

Rightly or wrongly, Croatian tourism chiefs seem to have embarked on a strategy of measuring success by two key factors, in addition to revenue collected – number of arrivals and number of overnight stays. 

The more tourist arrivals, and the more the foreign heads on pillows, the theory goes, the better the year. 

The actual quality of the tourism takes second place to the apparent goal – to get more numbers in.

And the growth has been impressive. In 1990, the last year before the war, according to official figures from the Croatian National Tourist Board, tourism was big business. But not as big as today. Last year there were 11.5 million more tourists and 54 million more overnight stays than in 1990. Private accommodation beds rose from 267,000 to 800,000, according to CNTB. And with Croatia’s footballing stars performing such heroics in Russia, the World Cup dividend was sure to boost those numbers further. 


Whether they will or not, we will find out presumably once the Ministry of Tourism decides to stop restricting access to the transparent, award-winning real-time statistical reporting system, eVisitor. 

But something does not quite feel right. All along the Croatian coast, locals are reporting smaller numbers of tourists and the roads in July were not that busy. The beloved official statistics should be available soon, but a snapshot of Jelsa on Hvar revealed some interesting points, and highlighted one of the major weaknesses of the policy of Statistics First, Tourism Second. 

For in Minister Cappelli’s Temple of Record Overnight Stays, one overnight stay of a Bosnian tourist on a half-board package on Hvar from just 166 kuna per night in July is the same as a guest renting a luxury villa and eating in Dubrovnik’s finest restaurants. 

Because when the measure of tourism is merely numbers and not quality, and All Overnight Stays are Equal in the Temple of Record Overnight Stays, the focus moves from filling up the beds at any cost (and if anyone is making money on 166 kuna a night half-board on Hvar in July – apart from the agency selling the package – I would like to meet them) rather than focusing on tourism. You can get a snapshot of analysis of the statistics within the statistics in this case study of Jelsa in Lies, Damned Lies and Croatian Statistics Said Mark Twain, Sort Of

But what if all those precious overnight numbers going into the hallowed spreadsheets contained other people who were not tourists?

What if it could be shown that the main thing to decide on the success of a Croatian tourist season – the statistics – were inaccurate and were being bloated (not intentionally) by including people who were not tourists at all?

Foreign workers, for example. 

As we have frequently documented on TCN, there is an ongoing crushing emigration in Croatia, as the nation’s youngest and brightest talent, tired of the nepotism and lack of economic opportunity, move elsewhere in search of a better life. This has had a devastating effect on seasonal employment on the coast, for example, as the reliance on the traditional hard-working workforce in Slavonia is no longer there. Last year’s waiter in Makarska now has a full-time job in Cork and is living much better. 

In order to meet the need, more foreign workers – usually from Bosnia and Hercegovina and Serbia, but also from further afield – have been hired to plug the gaps. If a foreign worker has a contract, they will be counted as a worker. If they do not have a contract and are working illegally, they have to register and will be classified as being tourists as they are not working officially. Serbs can come for up to 90 days on a visit to Croatia. They must register their stay and enter into the system. If they don’t, there will be problems at the border as they leave Croatia. 

Nobody knows how many, but there are probably thousands of illegal seasonal workers in Croatia each year. Come for 3 months, earn some nice cash in the pocket, return to Belgrade. And you didn’t even know you were being a tourist working that 12 hour shift.

With less Croatian workers available and more foreign workers arriving – many legally, many not – is there an additional rise in numbers at the Temple, because Croatia’s tourism chiefs are actually counting many of its foreign seasonal workers as tourists?

Could it be that the crushing emigration is actually good for Croatian tourism – or more precisely, the Temple of Record Overnight Stays – as many of those coming to the coast from abroad to fill those jobs are doing so illegally and therefore being counted as tourists and adding numbers to the Temple of Record Overnight Stays?

And if the answer to that question is yes, that means that the main thing that Croatia is using to measure its tourism success – the hallowed spreadsheet – is totally unreliable. 

And then what? 



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