Is Split-Dalmatia County on Verge of Tourism Collapse? An Expert Opinion

Daniela Rogulj

Split is bursting at the seems of tourism due to the lack of infrastructure which does not meet the increasing demands of the sector. This was demonstrated by the “Study on the Capacity of Tourism in Split-Dalmatia County,” developed by the Institute of Tourism, reports Slobodna DalmacijaSlobodna Dalmacija on December 16, 2018. 

With the existing traffic and public infrastructure, Split should not increase the number of tourists in July and August, experts warn.

Given the state of the infrastructure, the study recommends that the entire coastline from Trogir to Makarska should not increase the number of tourists in the peak season. If the problems are not eliminated, there will be “unwanted consequences on the upcoming arrivals, quality of tourism products, and thus on tourism spending and tourism revenues.”

“Without the significant involvement of the local self-government in tackling traffic problems and solving workforce problems on the islands, further growth in the number of tourists could mean a collapse of the tourism system in certain places, which would have long-term consequences for the County’s economy, and thus the satisfaction of its citizens,” warns the study. 

Local authorities in the County are aware that tourism has reached capacities beyond which it should not be exaggerated with further growth in the peak season.

Almost all cities and islands, including Split, complained that they did not want to increase tourists in July and August. Trogir and Baška Voda would even reduce the number of arrivals. Only in Inland Dalmatia would the local self-government wish to double the number of tourists, as tourism is merely beginning there. 

The Tourist Board of Split-Dalmatia County commissioned the study. At the beginning of July, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and the County presented the project to media representatives: ”We are the first to have something like this.”

The summer heat was accompanied by unforgettable traffic jams around Split and its surroundings – and this season ended with a rise in tourist overnights. 

Dr. Zoran Klarić from the Zagreb Institute of Tourism commented on whether there is the possibility that Split sees a tourism collapse. 

“We were obliged to warn of critical points where problems might arise, but there is little chance that the system will break down. 

People are afraid that the system will collapse. But we shouldn’t panic. There will be no collapse, but traffic jams will become so unbearable that people will be dissatisfied and in the coming years, there might be fewer tourists. This is what is happening in cities like Prague or Paris, where you can’t practically pass through city centers,” Klarić believes.

The Institute considers there could be a problem with the water supply throughout the County, with the four largest cities supplied from the Jadro experiencing water losses. On Vis and in Makarska there is a “supply of potable water to the level of sufficiency in the season, and existing water supply capacities are at the margins of full utilization.”

“Split is too dependent on the Jadro river source. If something happens with that source, the city would be in big trouble. Like what happened in Slavonski Brod, they might be without water. The tourists won’t escape in masses because of this, but they will be dissatisfied,” says Klarić.

There are also problems with the sewage, with numerous septic tanks unloading into the sea without prior treatment.

“The city has to invest something, and the state automatically responds poorly if someone seeks money. Especially in an environment that makes a lot of money from tourism,” warns the head of the Study.

One of the problems is the electrical power system which is on the edge of wear in certain areas, so for example, the load of the power line in Split is almost over the thermal transmission limits. Additionally, the whole County system is not ready to receive electricity from renewable sources, and that resource is virtually unused.

“While there will be no collapse regarding electricity, there will be a reduction, as was the case on some islands, for example, Vis,” notes Dr. Klarić.

The garbage problem in the County is so severe that the authors of the Study warn that “not only should the number of tourists in the County not be increased, but that number should be reduced until the problem of waste disposal is resolved.”

“A lot of these things do not work – but they do not have to do with tourism. We accuse tourism of being guilty of everything, but for example, crowds only increase the existing problems. Here I am thinking primarily of the garbage problem, which is great in Split-Dalmatia County.”

A particular problem is the traffic infrastructure, for example, the roads, the massive lack of parking lots and the many crowds of traffic, which negatively affects tourists and even more so the residents of the County.

“As for parking and traffic, there is one trivial thing to talk about, and it is essential. Split has no ‘smart traffic lights.’ Zagreb is also not glamorous as far as traffic is concerned, and very little has been done, but a lot has been done by introducing ‘green waves’ and automatic traffic measurements. In Split, that is not the case at all, the traffic lights are uncoordinated,” Klarić added. 

“You have a tunnel leading from Kopilica to the port, and the parking problem can be easily solved at Kopilica. There is plenty of parking space there, and the railroad can serve as a metro.

When I go to a big tourist city, I never park in the city center. You cannot find a place, and it’s terribly expensive. In principle, people park in the outskirts and take public transport to the center,” explains Klarić.

The Institute of Tourism advises, however, that “long-term consideration should be given to the relocation of crucial traffic facilities in the area of the City Port, primarily the ferry port and the bus station.

“In Zadar, there was tremendous resistance to moving the ferry port to Gaženica, but now everyone is happy. We propose, according to the old urban idea, that we run the line going to Supetar to Stobreč. I know this idea is sensitive, but that’s the story. Half of the tourism traffic in the city harbor is on the Split-Supetar-Split line because it is by far the most frequent connection.

The bus station could easily be moved to Kopilica. This is not an integral part of the study, but detecting problems and pointing out what will happen and what should be done,” he adds. 

The study recommends that Žnjan, Marjan and Salona should be exploited more for tourism.

“Žnjan can be an area where tourists could spread out and moved away from the center. Everyone will go to Diocletian’s Palace, you cannot avoid it, but it is important that those who come to Split for two days are not in the palace all the time and can go elsewhere. This is the essence of it – to regulate pressure, disperse it and move it where it causes less damage.”

One thousand five hundred respondents were surveyed for the Study. It turns out that tourists have only 1.3 square meters of space on the beaches in Split, but there are fewer crowds on the beaches than tourists on the Makarska Riviera, who have a little more space – three square meters per bather.

Also, tourists are much more satisfied with Split, which is the opposite on the Makarska Riviera, where only 58 percent of tourists are satisfied, giving it the worst result in the County. 

“When you come to Split, you do not expect a big city to have large beach spaces. Barcelona or Venice practically have no beaches, and if you go there, you will not go swimming. For tourists, it is enough to have Bačvice. And if Split people are not satisfied with Bačvice, they will probably swim somewhere else, on Šolta or the Marjan beaches.

It is also clear that Split has shown less tolerance towards tourism, as the percentage of people who do not live from tourism is much higher than in Makarska,” Klarić says.

The positive attitude toward tourism is highest on the Makarska Riviera and the Split Riviera (the area from Trogir to Omiš), as most people there benefit from tourism.

On the Split Riviera, 62 percent of residents have direct or indirect benefits, and on the Makarska Riviera, as much as 89 percent of them have some benefit from tourism. On the other hand, in Split, 52 percent of respondents said they did not have any benefits from tourism.

Despite some differences, local authorities in the County estimated that the capacity of tourism in July and August has reached its limit.

In Split, the “local self-government is of the opinion that the number of tourists in the peak season should be kept at the existing level and the number of one-day visitors should be reduced”, according to the study. On the Split Riviera, there are divided opinions, as some would increase the number of tourists, and some would keep it the same, while Trogir would reduce the number of tourists in the peak season.

On the Makarska Riviera, the local self-government is mostly against increasing the number of tourists, except for Gradac (10%). Baška Voda would cut them by as much as 30 percent.

Although the Institute for Tourism sees opportunities to increase tourism on the Central Dalmatian islands, the local self-government on Hvar is not for increasing the number of tourists in the season. Only Postira and Pučišća on Brač are for it, while Selca would reduce tourists in the peak season by 10 percent.

The local government would retain the existing number on Vis, while Komiža is for a minimum increase. Inland Dalmatia wants to double the number of tourists in the peak season. All local authorities in the County are hoping for a more significant amount of tourists in the pre and postseason, except for Trogir, which would keep their numbers in June and September at the current level.

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