Paradise in the heart of Europe
Croatia is a unique blend of Central European, Mediterranean and Balkan influences, positioned on the crossroads of East and West Europe, where many ancient civilizations and empires left an indelible mark on the turbulent history, including the Romans, Greeks, Ottoman Empire, Habsburg monarchy and even Napoleon. In recent years, a combination of low-cost air routes, a burgeoning dance festival culture, plus lots of sunshine, has turned Croatia into one of Europe’s most attractive youth destinations. The Mediterranean country is recognizable worldwide for its indented 2000 km long coastline and more than one thousand islands. Thank to these natural assets, nautical tourism is an especially valuable and successful segment of Croatian tourism as the county is one of the best sailing spots in the Mediterranean. There are no fewer than 500 harbors and 50 fully serviced marinas, each with restaurants, hot showers, mini-marts and weather charts. Most importantly, the region has several international airports and is well connected to major European hubs.
Undiscovered destination for GCC tourists
Despite being one of Europe’s most fashionable places to visit, Croatia is still not widely popular among tourist from the GCC countries. The recently published survey “Preparing for Tomorrow: Analyzing Tourism Demand from GCC countries to Croatia”, first of its kind in South Eastern Europe, can provide us with some answers. The survey was conducted in Qatar and the UAE last year by Zagreb’s Tourism Institute, covering 280 respondents from Qatar University and Zayed University (students, staff and faculty of the universities) of whom more than 95 per cent have never been to Croatia. Although survey findings cannot be taken as representative, it gives us a general picture about Croatia’s image among GCC residents.
According to the study only 2700 tourists from GCC visited Croatia last year, jointly spending 8000 nights, with 83% staying in four or five star hotels. Tourists from the Gulf, thus, represent an insignificant share of Croatia’s 11.8 million tourist arrivals and 62.7 million tourist overnights.
The highest share of tourists came from Kuwait (49%), followed by United Arab Emirates (26%), Qatar (15%) and Oman (10%). The average length of stay for all GCC nationals was 3 days, whereby the longest average length of stay was recorded for tourists from Qatar (5.4 days) and the shortest average length of stay was recorded for tourists from Kuwait (2.1 days).
Traditionally, the most important markets for Croatian tourism have been Western European countries. Germany is the single most important country for Croatian tourism, accounting for almost one quarter of all inbound tourism in Croatia.
The number of tourist arrivals and overnights from the long haul markets, including the GCC countries, has so far been insignificant, although according to the reports published by Croatian national tourism statistics, the number of tourists from GCC countries has been increasing in the past few years. “Since 2011, Croatian Bureau of Statistics started collecting and publishing official data about tourism inflows for four out of six GCC countries (Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and UAE) on a monthly basis which is reliable, although unofficial indicator, that inbound tourism demand from GCC countries to Croatia is gaining more importance” according to the survey.
Still an unrecognizable brand within GCC
The survey reveals how unrecognizable the national brand of Croatia is, as it is commonly mistaken with countries like Russia, Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania, or even with entire continents like Africa or Europe. On the other hand, respondents were better informed about touristic offer of Turkey (31%) followed by Italy (30%) and Spain (23%) while less than 1% of respondents were informed about the tourism offer of Croatia.
Besides the lack of information about Croatia due to insufficient promotion activities, data collected through primary research showed that Croatia still does not meets specific needs and preferences of the visitors from GCC countries. The primary motive for GCC citizens who were traveling overseas was entertainment (31%), followed by new experiences (14%) and visiting friends and relatives (12%), while traditional European tourists in Croatia are primarily looking for rest and relaxation at the sea side- almost 75% of them, according to the study.
One of the most important causes for rather modest visitor numbers to Croatia can also be found in the fact that GCC nationals need visas for Croatia, as the country recently became the youngest member of the European Union. While citizens of Qatar and Oman can obtain them in Doha, nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE can obtain visas for Croatia only in faraway Egypt.
Croatia needs more visibility within GCC
Croatia is offering a wide scope of accommodation and activities, from low budget backpacker adventures, to fancy spots and resorts for ultra high-end VIPs. Let us not forget to mention numerous Hollywood celebrities and members of European royal families who are regular summer guests at the Croatian coast. Since Arab tourists spend about USD 13,000 in ten days of holidaying on average, the GCC region is becoming ever more important for Croatian tourism, according to the lead survey researcher from Croatian Institute for Tourism- Mrs. Katarina Miličević. “But in order to attract more tourist from GCC countries, Croatia still has a long way to go“, she commented for bqdoha.
A stronger promotion of Croatia and simplifying of visa requirements is crucial in order to increase these numbers. It is necessary to increase promotional efforts and appropriately respond to the specific demands of Gulf tourists. ”Introduction of Halal certificate to greater number of bars and restaurants is certainly one of the first steps in becoming a more GCC friendly destination” she noted. In addition, Croatian Parliament adopted the new Tourism Development Strategy last year with the guidelines for distant markets, although GCC countries are not explicitly mentioned.
Preparing for tomorrow – an ever greater importance of the GCC markets
Although there is no concrete strategy which would explicitly target GCC countries, “there is a clear awareness of the importance of the Gulf market as expressed through the participation of Croatian representatives at the recent tourism fair ATM in Dubai”, said Mrs Miličević. Meanwhile, the Croatian tourist agencies are also opening their offices in the Gulf. Adriatic Concierge is among the first, which opened a branch office in Doha. It services the entire GCC region and is a joint-venture with Blooming Heights, presided by Mr. Mujeeb ur Rehman Khan, who is also an owner of leading manufacturer of precast and glassfibre reinforced concrete in Qatar. Iris Domazet Malobabić, Managing Director of Adriatic Concierge told bqdoha that “ GCC tourist markets represent a great potential ever since Qatar Airways set up direct flight between Doha and the Croatian capital city of Zagreb and after the two countries opened their Embassies in Zagreb and Doha”.
An upcoming official promotion of Croatia’s touristic offer will be taking place on May 29th in Katara Village Cultural Foundation, building no. 15. The event is called “Stunning Croatia” and is organized in cooperation with the Croatian Embassy.