August 15, 2020 – Two visits to luxury Rixos Dubrovnik in a fortnight highlight the new realities in the luxury tourism market in the Pearl of the Adriatic.
Tourism is such a fragile thing. A lesson so many have learned in this most extraordinary year.
Croatia’s huge fortune in this most unfortunate of times is that it has tourism markets on its doorstep which has little alternative if they are looking for a fortnight on a beach. With corona scares, limited or cancelled flights, the safest option is to get in the car and drive virus-free to the end destination. Tourists from Slovenia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechia and Slovakia might have chosen Croatia, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Montenegro or Tunisia in a normal year, with the plethora of flights on offer, but this year it is about the beach you can reach.
And that means Croatia.
There is a huge Croatian exception to this approach – arguably Croatia’s top destination and certainly its most famous – Dubrovnik, Kings Landing, the Pearl of the Adriatic, call it what you will.
A destination which is disconnected from the rest of Croatia by the Bosnian Neum Corridor, at least until the Peljesac Bridge is completed in 2022.
A destination which has more in common with Egypt, Greece and Turkey than the rest of Croatia.
For it is a destination which is dependent on air traffic for its tourism. Driving from any Croatian border from Western or Eastern Europe is at least 8 hours in the car.
And with no flights, and with none of its famous cruise ships, tourism was very much at the mercy of corona.
I visited the city at the end of July, initially as a guest of Rixos Dubrovnik, an unforgettable stay which you can read about here.
The hotel is incredibly spacious, the perfect social distancing hotel in these uncertain times, but it was clearly not that busy. An estimated 25% occupancy in late July – unheard of in Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik Mayor Mato Frankovic confirmed as much in our meeting – from January 1 to June 30, Dubrovnik’s tourism numbers where just 12% of 2019. In a city whose economy is 80% tourism, this was a catastrophe.
And then, something changed…
The Brits were allowed to travel without the need to self-isolate for 14 days on their return.
I returned to Rixos Dubrovnik on August 9 with my family. It was not my preferred date, but the hotel was fully booked on that date, and they could only accommodate me on the 9th with rooms without a full sea view (although the view was excellent). the hotel was still spacious, but infinitely busier. Not only busier, but totally full.
The makeup of the guests was very interesting, and a little different to years gone by. A sign of the corona times, but also perhaps a hint for the marketing departments for the future.
Traditionally, Dubrovnik’s big luxury spenders come from the USA, UK and Russia.
Not this year, at least until the last couple of weeks when flights resumed in earnest from the UK.
The increase of flights from the UK has transformed Dubrovnik’s season from a total disaster to something much more acceptable, albeit well down on previous years. The arrival of the Brits in huge numbers has helped mask the absence of the other major players in the luxury market – the Americans and the Russians.
There were more than 720,000 American tourists in Croatia last year. They had the highest daily spend of all countries, while the Russians (who stay longer) have the highest average total spend.
Neither have come in large numbers this year. The Russians have visa issues, as Croatian embassies are currently not issuing visas, while American travel to Europe has been severely reduced. The much-lauded American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik – the first direct connection in 28 years – is also no more. The recent ABC News special (see the video above), including a slot on Good Morning America and seen by 12.5 million people, is a terrific advert for Dubrovnik 2021 (see video above).
So in the absence of the Americans and Russians, who is coming?
The data is interesting. Absolute number one (and confirmed with other leading luxury hotels in Dubrovnik) is the UK market. Second is – surprisingly – Croatia, followed by Germany, Ukraine and Poland, a country whose tourists have arrived in greater numbers to Croatia this year by car, but also by plane to Dubrovnik from Warsaw. Ukraine is an increasingly interesting market, and one which is growing under the radar and worthy of some marketing attention this winter.
Who knows what the next month will bring, but for now it would seem that the luxury Dubrovnik market is finally doing well for season 2020, and there are plenty of seeds sown for season 2021.