June 21, 2020 – Balancing the needs of tourism and corona is impossible to get right. A look at the approaches of Croatia and Montenegro (a non-EU member).
I have been writing about corona for months now. So many things are becoming a blur.
Doing the daily live updates for weeks reporting constantly on the numbers of deaths and new infections was really draining, and I can safely say that I have not seen the bigger picture for a while, which is why certain things which are widely known by everyone else come as a surprise to me. Two conversations today are a case in point.
In the first conversation with my nephew back in the UK, I was asking what the daily reality was where he is. He told me that the pubs will finally reopen in a couple of weeks, and he will be able to get a haircut on July 4, and that currently he can only gather with one other household at a given time.
But he can come to Croatia on holiday, now with direct flights (if they are not cancelled) with hos pre-paid accommodation, sink a few beers, mingle with everyone in the bar, and get his hair cut on the way home. Things he is not legally allowed to do in the UK at the moment.
The price he would pay for such a holiday would be 14-days self-isolation on his return.
There has been a lot of (deliberate) confusion as to whether Brits and others can enter Croatia on holiday. As Croatia is in the EU, it cannot make unilateral decisions, and so its tourism chiefs came up with a very Balkan solution – to classify paid accommodation in a hotel or private accommodation as an ‘economic activity’, thereby allowing anyone who could get to a Croatian border with proof of paid accommodation to enter the country.
No test required, no quarantine. Croatia breathes tourism, said Minister Cappelli – anyone who can get to the border will be allowed in.
And has been allowed in.
It is not for me to judge the health v economy and tourism argument, I am just reporting on things as I see them. And as I have seen both sides of the border in recent weeks, and very close up and behind the scenes, it is ever clearer to me that politics is taking precedence over everything else. Croatia goes to the polls on July 5, and while the domestic audience is being served messages of Croatia being one of the only countries enjoying tourism in Europe, as well as reports of full national parks, and those beloved statistics, outside the borders, there is information chaos. The Ministry of Tourism declined to join our Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community, which is the only place where questions are being asked in real time. (You can join here, but will need to download the app).
My suggestion that perhaps the Ministry of Tourism, national tourist board and police create their own Viber community was met with a smile and a nod. And the usual inaction.
My second conversation was with one of my writers for Total Montenegro News down in Tivat. She has been reporting on corona since March, when Montenegro was the last coronavirus-free country in Europe. And then the first to be corona-free after the infections.
Equally desperate to get the season going, Montenegro had some tough choices to make. Its main markets – Serbia, Russia and UK all have terrible corona records. To allow them in would surely see a spike in cases, to keep them out would be disastrous for tourism. A really tough choice.
Montenegro has come up with a three-colour system, depending on the epidemiological situation in the host country. Most have green – free entry – some have yellow, where a recent negative test is required.
And then there is red – including Montenegrin tourism’s top three tourism markets – Serbia, Russia and the UK. Yes people in the red countries can come, but they will be subject to 14-days institutional quarantine. So tourists will not come.
A huge loss to the economy, but a decision which seems to have put health first. With so many people dependent on tourism and Montenegrins also going to the polls on August 30, it will be interesting to see how this develops. A spike in cases partially caused by Serbs going through the BiH border has led to BiH being given a yellow sticker, which means even less tourism.
Montenegro is not in the EU, of course, and so it has more freedom to act unilaterally.
But Greece is, and it has put the UK on hold for now, for example.
After a sustained period of zero or one cases a day in Croatia, there has been an increase to 18 or 19 a day. Still very small numbers in the global picture, but enough to start the discussion of stricter measures, a second wave, and more.
It is 14 days until the Croatian general election. I wonder what is foremost in the decision-makers minds tonight – health, tourism, the economy… or reelection.