Developing winter tourism in Split is going to be a complex – but achievable – process, and I am really looking forward to the TCN Split Winter Tourism Round Table at CHOPS Grill on December 13, with almost all of the key stakeholders (including Mayor Puljak) already confirmed. You can read more about the story so far here. TCN will b organising a drinks event in early December for those of you who would like to air your views and give suggestions for the round table. Details coming soon.
The key element in developing winter tourism is the availability of flights,of course. I am very grateful to Gojko Mavrinac of the Croatian Aviation portal for giving us some of his time to give us plenty to chew on in this email interview on questions surrounding flights and winter tourism to Split.
1. The subject of winter tourism and lack of flights to the coast is being discussed again. You have as intimate a knowledge of the airline industry as anyone. I am sure the topic is very complicated, but can you explain why there are almost no flights in winter to Split and Dubrovnik, when places such as Thessaloniki, Bari, Venice, and Alicante are so well served? And even ex-Yu destinations such as Tuzla, Banja Luka, and Nis connect to far more countries and routes.
Thank you Paul for the opportunity to talk about this extremely important topic of winter tourism in Croatia! First of all, I must say that many airlines have tried to connect Croatian coastal airports with destinations in Europe during the winter season before the outbreak of COVID-19, but, so far no luck. Demand was poor which resulted in route termination during the winter months. For example, Eurowings tried route from Dusseldorf to Pula during winter, a year later from Dusseldorf to Rijeka, LOT Polish Airlines tried with Warsaw – Dubrovnik route, Iberia with Madrid – Dubrovnik, but so far demand was not sufficient and routes are not operating during the winter season. There are many reasons why let me try to explain:
First of all, demand for Croatia during the winter is, of course, significantly lower than during the summer, I’m not sure if we have created enough programs to do in Dubrovnik or some other cities on the coast in January. Croatia is well-known as a summer destination, and I’m not sure that we are even trying to change that picture about our country and promote year-round tourism. A few weeks ago one charter airline asked me to help them to find a hotel in Dubrovnik. I was really surprised by how many hotels are closed! I mean, if there is no option for accommodation, when nothing is happening in the city, how we can expect that people will fly and stay in Croatia in January?
Second, airlines are sending aircraft somewhere where there is demand. As you mentioned, destinations such as Bari, Athens, Thessaloniki, still offer much more to the visitors even during the winter months which is not the case in Croatia. I believe that is the reason why airlines fly there, if there is no demand, there would be no flights for sure.
Thirdly, incentives and subsidiaries. Airports can make incentive programs (as Zagreb did and Ryanair came and opened a base) and offer discounts for landing and handling charges. Do Croatian airports do that? Yes, they do, but that is not enough! Discounts should be higher and more flexible and some airlines will definitely at least try to serve destinations for one year, to check demand. The Croatian Tourist Board offers subsidiaries that airlines use to fly to Croatia. In my opinion, it is ridiculous that we pay some low-cost airlines to fly to Croatia during the summer season since they will fly to Croatia even without subsidiaries due to heavy demand. But, on the other hand, we are not requesting from them to fly to Croatia during the winter! That’s crazy! I mean, if easyJet flies more than 40 times per week from London to Croatia during the summer, there should be at least 2 flights per week during the winter! The Croatian National Tourist Board should add that in the tender, and I’m quite sure that airlines will fly with minimum frequency to Croatia during the winter to earn crazy money during the summer months.
Don’t look at Banja Luka, Nis, and Tuzla projects, that’s directly financed by local authorities and will work until there is money. Once when there are no direct subsidiaries, airlines will stop flying and switch to another airport. Some of those routes to these cities are probably even profitable without subsidiaries, but only because of diaspora, not because of tourists.
2. If there was a concerted effort to improve the winter tourism scene, who would be the key stakeholders in that initiative, and which destination would you start with?
Airports, local tourist offices, hotels, restaurants, airlines, national tourist boards, ministry of tourism, and sports, I mean, all those mentioned stakeholders must sit and work on unique strategy and implement it. Right now there is no clear and unique vision and that’s problem number one.
3. Dalmatia had a vibrant winter tourism scene with lots of flights back in the 1980s (see this UK tour rep interview). Things have changed, but if we had winter tourism back then, do we have the potential to have it again?
To be honest, I was born in 1992. so I have not done any research about winter tourism on the coast in the 80s, and I’m not an expert in tourism. But what I do know is that airlines are here to monitor the market and to react on demand. If there is no demand, there are no flights, at least not without subsidiaries. In my opinion, the aforementioned stakeholders should create a winter program on the coast, invest money in marketing and pay airlines to fly to Croatia during the winter season. You know, for me it’s not important if the airport is not profitable, the main reason why airports exist is to enable passengers to travel to/from some destination. If the passenger arrives here, in our city, and leaves 100 euros per day at a local grocery store, market, museum, hotel, restaurant, etc., we did something good for the local community. That is way more important than her/his airline ticket which was cheap because we pay that airline to fly to Croatia. In my opinion, if we do something good regarding the winter program and we decide to give subsidiaries to airlines, I believe we can move from the zero point where we are standing right now.
4. Does Dalmatia have a credible winter tourism offer? If yes, what is it, and what are the quick wins to improve the current offer?
In my opinion, as I said, I’m not an expert on this topic, I don’t see too many reasons why someone should come and visit our coast during the winter season. The program is poor, hotels are closed, restaurants are as well. Go to Rovinj now, two restaurants are open, as well as two hotels. During the summer you can eat on every corner and you will not be able to find a bed week in advance. People from tourism would say that’s because tourists don’t have direct flights to Croatia, while airlines will say that’s because there is no demand to fly to Croatia during the winter, since there is no open restaurants, hotels, so we are just going round in circles.
5. Split is a much bigger city than most in former Yugoslavia and yet the Tuzlas and Banja Lukas are attracting the flights. Is it a question of price, concessions, or something else?
As I mentioned before, Tuzla and Banja Luka are paying huge amounts of money (millions) to airlines to fly there and that is something which will at some point end. Split does not do that and I’m glad they don’t. Split Airport is well connected with Frankfurt (daily), Munich (daily), Rome (daily) with Croatia Airlines, which tries to connect Split with the biggest European hubs to enable passengers to travel to Split during the winter season. Frankfurt and Munich are great for transfers since you can reach almost any city in the world via those two airports. In my opinion, for Split, it would be great to have a connection with London, at least two times per week, as well as with some Scandinavian destinations, for example, Copenhagen. They should also stimulate KLM to fly the whole winter to Split, not just during Christmas. I am hoping this will change soon. There are also routes to other cities in Germany by Eurowings. Split is the best-connected city on our coast during the winter (and summer) and I believe that incentive program would attract more airlines during the winter. I am not sure why they don’t offer additional discounts to airlines in the winter months, I tried to get an answer from airport management, but so far no luck.
6. While we have you, some other aviation questions if I may. Seaplanes are back in the news, with ACI Air planning to operate from ACI Marinas from May. What are your thoughts on the chances of this launching?
In my opinion, that can work. The question is how the business model is set up. So far I did not have the opportunity to see and read more in detail. But I hope they will materialize this project and start with operations from the next summer season, which, I have to say, sounds a bit optimistic but fingers crossed! I’m quite sure that during the summer months there is a huge demand for this kind of service. The last project (European Coastal Airlines) which failed had completely the wrong setup, but demand was there. II hope the guys in this project will do it now in the proper way.
7. Ryanair has shaken up the market in Zagreb. Do you see them expanding on the coast into Dalmatia beyond Zadar?
In my opinion, no. We can expect more in Zadar. They already announced 10 new routes for the S22 season, and I can tell you that they will announce almost 10 more by the spring. That is a crazy expansion that will bring Zadar back, numbers will go up, even above 2019. Ryanair will go to Split and Dubrovnik only if they have better terms which both these airports refused to offer before, I believe nothing has changed so far. Split has huge volume and enough traffic, and there is no need for an additional low-yield low-cost airline, while Dubrovnik is also well- connected with Europe (and the USA). Ryanair did open some routes to those two cities, but under the same terms and conditions as other airlines. I would say that new routes are always possible, but not a base like in Zadar or now in Zagreb. I would say that new routes are possible for Pula as well, but the local tourist board there is more focused on easyJet. Ryanair is coming back to Rijeka next summer season with two routes, from Charleroi and Stansted, as far as I know, they should announce one more until the end of the year if negotiations go well.
8. Will Croatia Airlines survive?
I’m quite sure it will. Next summer, we can expect some positive moves from their side as well, but negotiations are still ongoing. CTN/OU will soon go through huge changes, the new post-covid strategy should be approved by the Government soon, and the airline will change its entire fleet, work on the routes, etc. I mean, that’s the process of a few years and I hope we will have a national carrier after that process in much better shape. CTN/OU should and can be a game-changer for projects like winter tourism in this country, Croatia Airlines has bases in Dubrovnik, Split, technical support at Zadar and Pula, and can easily operate regular flights to/from our airports.
About Gojko Mavrinac:
Goran is a 29-year-old aviation geek who has been in love with this industry since childhood so I chose appropriate study and got a mag. ing. traffic title. After University, just a week later started working. For a few years, I worked for Korean Air Lines as Station Manager at Zagreb Airport, working directly with passengers and airport staff at Zagreb Airport on our route between Zagreb and Seoul Incheon which operated three times per week with wide-body aircraft. That was, btw, the longest non-stop route to/from Zagreb, with a flight time sometimes (depending on weather) of more than 11 hours! Due to the COVID-19 route being suspended and me losing my job, I founded the Croatian Aviation web portal which brings daily news from the aviation industry in Croatia. I was lucky so for over a year I now work for one private airline in Croatia, that’s possible because Croatian Aviation portal is not run only by me anymore, we are a nice team of people in love with aviation, but also with proper education and work experience which is, I believe, even more, important and give us additional credibility. You can follow Gojko Mavrinac on LinkedIn.
Are you a Split business with a winter tourism programme? TCN is offering a free promotional video, as well as an interview on your thoughts on how to develop Split winter tourism. Please contact [email protected] Subject Split Winter Tourism if you would like to be featured. Interviews in th series so far: