Veljko Ostojic: Croatia Sending Confusing Messages, Strengthening Competition

Lauren Simmonds

Copyright Romulic and Stojcic
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia

As Novac/Dora Koretic writes on the 6th of July, 2020, although in much smaller volumes than in previous years, tourists have been arriving in Croatia for weeks, unfortunately, just at the moment when the epidemiological picture began to go downhill again. How can we find the balance between the tourism we need to live on and the safety of Croatia’s residents? These are just a couple of the topics Novac discussed with the director of the Croatian Tourism Association, Veljko Ostojic.

Have we started to promote Croatia aggressively enough as an ideal destination during the pandemic? In recent days, criticism has been heard that Greece and its competitors have a much better campaign and promotion than we have. Have we lagged behind too much?

”The campaign is well timed because it didn’t make sense for us to start earlier until tourism or people going on holiday were in focus. Every campaign is largely determined by financial capabilities and here we are, to be honest, with limited compared to those bigger/stronger than us. Of course, we can always discuss the effectiveness of the promotional messages we do send, as well as how we can create a synergy of funds invested by the public sector with funds invested in promotion by private companies in our key markets. Maybe we could have done better there. But with the classic promotion this year, we have an extraordinary opportunity to send messages that directly affect the decision of tourists to come to our country and, due to the great interest of the media, practically for free, too.

These are messages about the epidemiological situation, the openness of our borders and the level of security within the country, which is something that is of great interest to every tourist this season. In Croatia, we have the best epidemiological situation among our competition in Europe and across the Mediterranean, we were the first to open our borders and we’re the only ones with serious tourist traffic, and all that without any tourists infected during their stay in Croatian commercial tourist facilities. No one can dispute that and in that way one must communicate clearly and constantly, from all positions of power. Although Austria is currently investing 40 million euros in its promotion on the German market, Croatia can compensate for this to a good extent only by sending clear messages that we’re the closest and safest Mediterranean country for our most important emitting markets.

Are you saying that our messages on this issue were a little confusing?

There’s a lot of cacophony about the epidemiological situation and about the possibility of travelling, crossing borders and so on. You have new information practically every half an hour, which is accompanied by different interpretations, and that’s confusing to people. Therefore, all those who present data or communicate in any other way should be clear and precise when thinking about the consequences of making their statements. Additionally, due to the crisis this year, all EU countries are trying to keep their people and encourage them to holiday in their own countries and attract additional tourists from other countries, and they’re waiting for us to make mistakes so they can use those mistakes to their own advantage.

TUI announced in late June that it would try to reach half of last year’s turnover in Greece. And we’re on the map of countries where this operator is doing business, but it seems like they’re still sticking to the idea that it’s more cost-effective to step up their efforts elsewhere?

Given the business logic of large global tour operators, their greater focus on large markets in which airline tickets and a package holiday come together, that’s understandable. Croatia has always been predominantly a destination that is reached by car, and this year that will be even more pronounced. That’s the reality and we must use it.

In addition, large tour operators are the owners or partners in a number of hotels in the destination you mention, so this is certainly a reason for increased interest.

How much will Slovenia’s decision to put Croatia on the list of “yellow” countries harm us?

The largest number of Slovenes come to Croatia for tourism in coastal areas where the epidemiological picture, viewed by the daily number of newly infected people, is in the single digits, that’s equal or even better than in Slovenia itself. So, as far as tourism is concerned, this problem is easily solved in the case of a real desire to solve it on both sides. Let’s not forget that a large number of Croats spend the winter in Slovenia, so the interest in cooperation is mutual.

From your statements so far, it’s been easy to get the impression that you’re on guard when it comes to British tourists, primarily because of the rather bad epidemiological picture in the UK. Does that mean we’re going to calculate with the British this year?

The decision on border regimes is made by the Government in cooperation with the competent services. Given that they’ve managed the situation well so far, we have no reason to doubt their assessment. But in some cases one should be careful. As for us in tourism, we’re fighting for every guest without any calculation. We’re ready to provide a safe environment for everyone, our security standards in all facilities are high and all protocols are implemented. Everyone must be aware that safety is the foundation of success this tourist season and none of the tourism workers can afford to take risks with it.

Should the arrival of tourists be conditioned by a negative coronavirus test?

That’s a question for the epidemiologists. We should all always remind ourselves that the result of their excellent work is the fact that we’re now in a situation where, among the few in Europe, we have foreign tourist traffic at all. I’d also like to stress that, despite fears that the number of infected people will increase with the opening of the country to tourists, this hasn’t actually happened. The increased number of infected people we have at the moment is not due to tourists but exclusively due to irresponsible behaviour and non-compliance with the measures of some of our own residents, and the foci of infection are on the continent, not on the coast, where we have more than 300 thousand tourists every single day.

There was a lot of criticism at the expense of Croatian hoteliers because some of them took money from the state to pay salaries, and then decided not to open their facilities. What’s your comment on that?

Any criticism in that direction is unfounded. We currently have 677 hotels and 358 campsites open, and more facilities are opening daily. With the arrival of more guests in July, this trend will intensify and I believe that at the end of the month, almost all of our facilities will be open. After all, as far as the measure you mention is concerned, the aim was to retain jobs and economic operators. All of the criteria, at least as far as HUT members are concerned, has been met.

Do hoteliers have information on what will happen next regarding the Government measures? That is, will you be able to use the option of a 4,000 kuna salary subsidy or will you only have the option of a shortened working week?

There’s no doubt that the Government’s measures have helped to preserve jobs in the tourism sector. The measures were adopted for a period of 3 + 3 months and we believe that they will be implemented in this way. The main criterion for using the measures is that the income/revenue in the month for which you’re applying is 50 percent or lower compared to the same month of the previous year. Who can survive without the help of the state with incomes that are at the level of 20-30 percent compared to last year and still keep all of their employees? In addition, the measure of part-time work isn’t suitable for activities that have a distinct seasonality. Given the current announcements from companies in the northern and central Adriatic, there’s now a need for new employment in the sector, so we’re counting on this measure from September the 1st to April the 1st, 2021, which is necessary for survival until the beginning of the next tourist year.

What is your solution for the survival of the sector?

It’s actually quite simple and we’ve communicated it many times to the media and the Government. Given that the disadvantages in tourism are of such intensity that they endanger the existence of a large number of companies, and thus jobs in the sector, we should focus on two types of measures. The first are measures that maintain the liquidity of companies, and the others are focused on preserving jobs. In terms of liquidity, we need stronger ”pressure” on domestic sources of financing and lending and a ”fight” at the EU level, and to preserve jobs we’re counting on the aforementioned measure of part-time work, which will be supported by the EU. It is crucial, due to the pronounced seasonality of tourism in Croatia, to ensure these measures until April the 1st next year.

For more from Veljko Ostojic and Croatian tourism in the coronavirus era, follow our travel page.


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