Gari Cappelli, Croatian Tourism Minister: We Are Yet To Break Records

Last year, Croatia generated about 9,5 billion EUR in tourism revenue. Apart from now traditional guests from the EU countries, we have been getting more and more tourists from remote parts of the world which are attracted not only to sun and sea, but also to a growing health, culture, nautical and conference tourist offer

Although, most tourists that come to Croatia are from Europe, there is an increasing number of tourists from Asia and South America that have visited both the Croatian coast and inland that has a lot to offer too.Tourists from Serbia contributed to the record number of visits last year – says Croatian Tourism Minister, Gari Cappelli, while announcing development plans and investments which aim is for Croatia to generate15 billion EUR in tourism revenue.

Croatia had a record number of tourists in 2016. Which factors contributed to such a good result?

− Year 2016 was fantastic both in the generated revenue and the number of tourists. We had record-breaking 16.3 million tourist visits and 91.5 million overnight stays both in traditional accomodation and nautical charter which is a 10% and 14% hike respectively, or 11 million more tourists than in 2015. Apart from the number of tourists, last year was excellent revenue-wise which is yet another important indicator of the competitiveness and success of the Croatian tourism. According to the official and currently available data, in the first nine months of last year, we generated 7.9 billion EUR in revenue from foreign tourists, which is an annual hike of 8.3%, while the revenue generated by foreign and domestic tourists combined was around 9.5billion EUR, during the whole year. Such exceptionally good results are due to the successful cooperation between the private and public sector, and continuous investments in tourism. Last year, 670 million EUR was invested in the tourism sector, and 40 or so hotels and other types of accommodation were either open or reconstructed while, this year, we expect the investments to grow to 800 million EUR.

Croatia has been recording an increasing number of tourists outside the summer season too. Which additional activities and attractions do you offer to the tourists who come to Croatia off-season?

− Extending the tourist season, or having tourist activities all year round, is certainly our goal because that is the only way to survive and boost the competitiveness of our national tourism. The results in this segments are already quite visible, but this is a long-term job. The fact that, from September to December last year, we had up to 30% more foreign guests in Croatia speaks in favour of tourist season becoming longer. This growth is also the result of us developing special kinds of tourism, increasing the quality of our products and promoting tourist destinations that have different tourist events off season too. Inland Croatia plays a great role in this because of its great tourist potential, and offering tourists activities like cultural tours, cycling tours, gastronomic events, visits to protected natural areas and numerous castles, wellness services etc. We have been focusing on providing more for tourists by having the aforementioned tourist activities all over Croatia, not only the coastline.

How much does Croatia use its potential in terms of health, conference, cultural and nautical tourism, and what will your ministry and the Croatian government do next in this respect?

− Croatia has been utilizing its tourist potential well, but there is always room for improvement, and that is something that we are going to work on. In the following period, we are certainly going to focus more on specialty tourist products, i.e. on health, conference, cultural and gastronomic tourism, especially in inland Croatia which has all the  prerequisites and activities to have tourists coming all year round. My priority is developing health tourism, because I witnessed firsthand just how powerful and useful is this health tourism for destination development. Before I became a minister, I was a mayor of the town called Mali Lošinj for 11 years which, today, is the synonym for wellness and health tourism, and has the reputation among tourists as „the island of vitality“. We base the importance and potential of this type of tourism on the fact that, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), this is the fastest growing branch of tourism with a global annual growth of between 15% and 20%. The revenue from health tourism is today around 450 million EUR with a potential to grow to 1 billion EUR, according to some estimates. This information clearly shows just how much potential this segment has. We have adapted our legislation to facilitate the growth of health tourism, and we have been doing some other steps towards year, for the first time ever, we have a direct promotion plan for health tourism, and, in cooperation with the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and the Croatian Tourist Board, we are going to launch a special website where we are going to promote the best representatives of health tourism under the slogan „Croatia – Full of Health“. The project entails appearances at specialized fairs and conferences which is a big step forward in developing and promoting health tourism. The projects is supposed to be launched in February. Also, there will be a large-scale health tourism industry conference taking place in Rovinj in March this year, which took place in Vienna last year. There will be a Hosted Buyers workshop at the conference with many users of health tourism services and hotel representatives invited. This year we also created a financial framework for promotion of nautical tourism, and developing this segment is certainly one of our priorities. Furthermore, we have presented a conference tourism action plan, and we are going to open a conference office in the seat of the Croatian Tourist Board which we consider very important.

How many foreign tourists has Croatia managed to attract that are not considered regulars, and don’t come from European countries?

− I think that we have been very successful at that. In the last few year, Croatia has become a much more appealing destination even among tourists from remote countries who have never been here. Although, most of the tourists in Croatia are from Europe (close to 80%), we have more and more tourists from Asia or South America. In terms of overnight stays, for instance, last year we had an over million tourists from the US (+12%), 880,000 from Russia (+2%), 560,000 from Australia (+43%), 460,000 from South Korea (+20%), 340,000 from Canada (+26%), and 160,000 from China (+22%). Opening of new markets is our absolute priority. Also, we will go on an official visit to China in May where, together with Slovenia, we are going to hold workshops and present our tourist destinations. Also, we are thinking about opening of a Croatian Tourist Board office in Shanghai, together with our chamber of commerce.

The growth in the number of tourist does not correspond to the growth of tourism revenue. What can be done to rectify that in the following period?

− Although, tourism revenue does grow slower than the number of tourists, I do believe that with continuing to invest in tourism and exercising the right tourist policy Croatia will manage to real the goal of between 14 and 15 billion EUR in tourism revenue. I base my optimism on the fact that we are going to focus more on expanding tourist offer like having new cycling paths, theme parks, and cultural and gastronomic events all over Croatia because only in this way can a destination become appealing to tourists all year round. There is a lot of room for development in inland Croatia which has a great tourist potential and a lot to offer. Of course, the growing tourist offer should be accompanied by quality services and this where investments in the tourism sector this year will help. This year we also plan to open 50 new hotels, all four- and five-star. Last year we opened 40 new hotels, also luxury. We are going to generate more revenue when these investments follow investments in public infrastructure, quality of restaurants, shopping facilities and other attractions.

Could you tell us about the biggest investments planned for 2017?

− This year, we expect to make 800-mln-EUR worth of investments in tourism, which is 130 million EUR more than last year. Just like in 2016, most of the investments will be made in the private sector, namely in increasing the quality of our accommodation, tourist offer, and in construction of new and reconstruction of existing facilities. For now, there is a plan to open 50 hotels, as well as the first conference centre in the Solaris Hotel in Šibenik, several family resorts, new camps, interpretation centres, visitor centres and other. Valamar from Rabac will be the biggest individual investor this year, but investments will be made all over Croatia, including inland.

How many tourists from Serbia did you have, and how good of an indicator that is that the cooperation between our two countries is developing?

− Croatia is a popular destination for Serbian tourists, and we consider them our traditional guests. I would like to use this opportunity to thank them for coming here. Last year, there were 140,000 Serbian tourists in Croatia who had 880,000 overnight stays which is an annual growth of 18% in visits, and 26% in overnight stays.

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