Ryanair Set for Croatia Expansion, Zagreb Mentioned, Says ExYuAviation

Total Croatia News

June 23, 2019 – Ryanair was the budget airline pioneer in Croatia back in 2007 before others took bigger slices of the market. Is that about to change, a change that will include Zagreb?

I am not an airline expert by any means, and one thing which has always confused me about the flight market in Croatia is the position of Ryanair. 

Having lived in Croatia full-time since 2003, I fondly remember the collective expat joy when the Irish airline started operations from London to Zadar back in 2007, offering a much more convenient connection for UK travellers. It is interesting to listen to people today complaining at the lack of winter flights to Split and other such destinations – compared to what was on offer a decade ago, the change has been incredible. 

But having entered the market and transformed Zadar, things did not expand as one might have expected, and other budget airlines, most notably easyJet and Eurowings, quickly overtook Ryanair. In an interesting article today on ExYuAviation about Ryanair being set for expansion in Croatia, the percentages of market share show this quite clearly. 

The low-cost airline has the fifth largest market share in the country this summer, standing at 4.4%. It is behind Croatia Airlines on 31%, easyJet on 9.9%, Eurowings on 8.6% and Lufthansa with a 4.8% market share.

But are things changing, and are we set for a rapid expansion of Ryanair flights to Split, Dubrovnik and Zagreb, to name but three?

It took 12 years after that Zadar launch for Ryanair to commence flights to both Split and Dubrovnik, with flights from Dublin only starting this summer. According to the ExYuAviation report, both routes have already been extended into the first week of winter, an encouraging sign for a new route. Ryanair is not the type of airline which services an airport with just one route, so I would expect more Ryanair routes for 2020. Getting into Split and Dubrovnik is the hard part, and now that they have managed that and extended their inaugural schedules, expect more to follow. 

The report also highlights cooperation with the Croatian National Tourist Board, which has resulted in a 50% increase in the airline’s passenger numbers to Zadar, a successful strategy which one would expect to continue. The airline expects to handle 550,000 passengers this year in the Croatian market. 

The most intriguing part of the report, however, is this:

“Ryanair has held positive discussions with the Croatian Minister for Tourism regarding longer-term traffic growth and route development at its existing Croatian airports as well as potential new airports like Zagreb”, the company said recently. For its part, Zagreb Airport noted it was seeking models which would allow low-cost carriers to increase their presence in the Croatian capital. 

The quote itself is not new, it was cited by the website mentioning Split as well back in November, but it comes at a time when industry insiders are suggesting that there are talks underway to reopen the old Zagreb terminal and run it as a parallel low-cost hub. As I wrote recently, the two airlines supposedly in discussions are Eurowings and Lauda. You can read the article here

And other major budget airlines have confirmed their interest, should Zagreb be able to provide a solution for low-cost airlines:

Commenting on its absence in Zagreb, Wizz Air’s CEO, Jozsef Varadi, said recently, “It is a high-priced airport environment with fluctuating demand. Should the costs come down, I think they would attract us”.

Such a move would be bad news for Croatia Airlines, of course, but one only has to look a few hundred kilometres north to Budapest to see how an airport can flourish with the passing of a national airline. Jost Lammers, CEO of Budapest Airport, was kind enough to explain to TCN how things changed in Hungary when Malev went bankrupt in 2012

If Zagreb had short-haul connectivity anywhere close to what Budapest has, the economic benefits to the Croatian economy would be considerable. The medical tourism industry would be much more competitive, for example, a lucrative industry which experts agree Croatia has the potential to be in the top ten in the world within ten years. And with the explosive growth of the digital nomad market looking to spend their money in countries which offer great connectivity and lifestyle, a budget hub in Zagreb would be one more important step to develop Croatia’s place in this equally lucrative market.

And while the official word from Zagreb Airport did not confirm that any of this was happening, it was also not ruled out. 

Lidia Capkovic Martinek, Advisor to the Director of International Airport Jsc. was kind enough to promptly reply to my questions about Eurowings and the use of the old terminal for low-cost carriers. 

“Eurowings currently operates 18 weekly flights to ZAG from 5 different destinations in Germany. As the concessionaire of Zagreb Airport, we are continuously in contact with our existing partners and other carriers, in order to improve air connectivity at Zagreb Airport.

“Currently there is no official plan to use old terminal building for low-cost carriers. But as a private company we would like to utilize our resources at maximum efficiency, therefore we always brainstorm about new ideas and projects.”

For the latest flight news from Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section.



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