July 5, 2020 – After the City of Novalja prohibited music festivals from Croatia’s most well-known party beach, Zrce is vacant, with only 30 beachgoers counted on July 1.
It was the first day of July. The temperature was above 30, the sun was scorching, and the sea crystal clear. An endless row of deckchairs were neatly arranged with a carefully measured distance, and club music could be heard in the background from one of the bars. It is a perfect backdrop for a good time.
Only there are no people.
Jutarnji List reports that Zrce beach in Novalja, a paradise for partygoers from all over the world, an entertainment industry and money factory, is empty. In letters and numbers, on the 25 thousand square meters of the most famous beach in Croatia, on the first day of July, a total of 30 people were counted.
Half of them were the staff that is there for the few guests who do not want to give up on Zrce even after the City of Novalja officially banned all festivals, after-parties and other mass gatherings on the beach. For club owners and those who live indirectly from Zrce, and there are quite a few of them in Novalja, this was the last nail in the coffin of an already lost season.
And Zrce really looks sad. In the huge parking lot, which was once inaccessible due to the crowds, there is currently an empty concrete field with only a few cars with Zagreb license plates. Boards were nailed to the openings of countless small bars selling food and drinks on the beach, and a “no money” notice was posted on a dozen ATMs and closed exchange offices.
Of the five big clubs, only Calypso, which works in part as a cafe, opened its doors on the Novalja side. On the Kolan side, because the beach is administratively divided between the two municipalities, Noa opened seven days ago, though it might as well be closed, as only twenty or so people fill the space that can accommodate a few thousand of them.
On the terrace of one of the only two open beach bars, Sime Ostaric, the beach concessionaire for the last four years, the director of the company “Naša ideja”, which holds all the entertainment facilities on Zrce, sat alone.
“The Hideout festival started on this day last year. More than 15,000 foreigners from all over the world were partying in this desolation that you see now. How am I now watching this? It’s painful. If I may be frank, it’s f*cking painful,” Ostaric says openly.
Last year it employed 250 people, now it employs a total of 12. Not even five percent. His managers work as waiters; there is no choice or election; everyone is aware of the problem.
And at the beginning of the year, everything smelled like records. Bookings for festivals, which bring thousands of partygoers to Zrce every weekend, was 30 percent better than the year before, and three entirely new events were planned. And then at the beginning of March, the cancellations started, they slowly dropped out one by one until finally, by the decision of the City, they were not banned from all gatherings.
“This year, we were supposed to break records. Instead, we live on gasoline money, on loans that are terribly hard to get no matter how much is said otherwise. I first opened eight days ago and only because of the destination, although I know we won’t even be at zero. In fact, we will be far below zero. There are no people, that is the beginning and the end of the story. This is an entertainment industry that works on the principle of large numbers.
In Novalja, in fact, on the whole of Pag, you have countless apartments, villas, apartments that are filled only by Zrce. Not only did the corona attract partiers but also family people, other tourists, who came here because of what we have created here. Not the state, not local self-government, but private initiative. In the last three years, we have invested 21 million kuna in this beach. Zrce is the driver of all tourism on the island; I would dare say that there is no brand in Croatian tourism like this. But, it seems to me more and more that no one cares about that,” says Ostaric.
His words would probably be signed by the owners of the other five big clubs who tried in all possible ways to save what was left of the season. And by day, not by night.
When a new wave of corona started, they tried to organize smaller programs that would allow the gathering of 20 to 30 people, with all possible epidemiological measures such as temperature checks, protective masks at the entrance, places for isolation … they were already warming up, inquiries began, and then a rude awakening. The Civil Protection Headquarters of the City of Novalja, after a session at which they analyzed the events that are planned to be organized in nightclubs on Zrce, prohibited the organization of all festivals.
“I am aware that this decision does not suit everyone. We are only guided by the interests of the city and the intention to preserve and not endanger this 50 percent of tourist traffic from last year. With irresponsible behavior, especially party tourism, which is certainly inappropriate for anti-epidemic measures, we will endanger what we have,” the mayor of Novalja, Ivan Dabo, said in response to the objections from Zrce.
Out of 1.7 million overnight stays last year in Novalja, as many as 900 thousand were realized in private accommodation. By far, the largest number, over 800 thousand, falls on young party members who come here primarily because of Zrce. Contrary to the typical Croatian prejudices that this is the youth who sleeps among the pine trees with a backpack on their back and no kuna in their pocket, lives on sandwiches from the store and drinks water from the tap, the truth is somewhat different. They are excellent consumers, and statistics show that their personal consumption is much higher than that of the average tourist in Croatia and far exceeds, for example, the amount spent on holidays by family members who come as tourists.
In Novalja, they calculated that each of their party members spends a minimum of 120 euro a day on accommodation, food, going out and all other services. When this amount is multiplied by the number of at least eight hundred thousand overnight stays, as many as the guests from Zrce, we come to the figure of an incredible one hundred million euro that turn in just one season. Perhaps it is now clearer why an empty beach hurts so badly, and how much the law of large numbers in mass tourism can be fickle.
The private renters who are most connected to the guests from Zrce know this best. As many as 20,000 beds in private accommodation were difficult to fill even in normal seasons, let alone in this tourist apocalypse.
“I’m afraid this is not the worst thing that could happen to us. Because the next season, which will be entered at the end of August, when contracts are being made and sales for the summer of 2021, will start to become questionable. If it continues like this, it will not be good at all. And then we will all kneel together,” Ostaric concludes.