I live in a country so sure of its
appeal that it cant be bothered to found and fund a national
tourism board. It can be hard for Americans to appreciate how
important travel and tourism are for less developed destinations.
While it may be an
industry cliche to say that tourism brings people together --
literally and figuratively -- its rare that it moves geopolitical
mountains, either in the U.S. or abroad.
More often, it is
the travel trade that is jolted by the tremors of nature, politics
and unrest, as in Bali, Sharm el-Sheik, Taba and, most
dramatically, lower Manhattan.
But tourism cachet
may well prove to be the trump card in the geopolitical hand now
being played by scenic, coastal Croatia, former Yugoslav republic
and now candidate for European Union membership.
The EU is currently
nursing an enlargement hangover, after absorbing 10 new member
states last year. It is nonetheless debating a hair of the dog that
bit it -- Croatias pending membership bid, along with those of
Bulgaria, Romania and darkhorse Turkey.
None is considered
a sure thing. All four countries might well find their applications
delayed or denied. But pundits make persuasive arguments that
Croatia has more of the right stuff than the other three --
democratic credentials, a solidly Western heritage, a vibrant
economy and, perhaps most important, great tourism
Croatias EU bid has
been dogged by the alleged reluctance in Zagreb to turn over
suspected war criminal Ante Gotovina to the Balkan war-crimes
tribunal in the Hague. Accession talks have been stalled since
March, despite Croat claims that Gotovina is not in the country and
is thus out of their jurisdiction.
criminals aside, the smart bet in Brussels is that Croatia may well
sneak in under the wire simply because so many Europeans love to
vacation on its gorgeous Dalmatian coast. It may sound implausible,
even laughable, in certain parts of western Europe, but its music
to Croatian ears.
director of the Croatian National Tourist Office in New York, is of
the opinion that tourism will play a crucial role in Croatias EU
Croatia has always
been an integral part of Europe, but the EU member countries just
dont have beaches like ours yet, she said. The rest of the
Mediterranean is beautiful, but the east coast of the Adriatic Sea
is really something special.
numbers of Germans, Britons and Italians
snapping up vacation homes along the coast from Dubrovnik to Pula,
the notion of bringing Croatia into the visa-free, tariff-free E.U.
family makes sense. Others, such as U.S. tour operator Predrag
Krivokapic, president of Fort Lauderdale-based Kompas Tours, arent
Even though his
companys Croatia bookings jumped 400% this year, Krivokapic said,
The people who are voting on [expansion] probably know Croatia is a
nice area for vacations, but I dont know whether that will affect
their decisions or help Croatias bid.
And what of Turkey?
Shouldnt its tourism prowess usher it to the head of the line, too?
Turkey may be even more popular than Croatia among European
travelers -- with 15 times the population, it attracted eight times
as many EU visitors last year -- but Croatias a bit closer and
Its also Christian
and central European, with a tidy Hapsburg heritage, both of which
matter to an ever more jittery EU The same exotic eastern flavor
that makes largely Muslim Turkey a huge tourism draw will likely
work against its EU bid.
chairman of General Tours in New York, has long championed Croatia.
He is among a growing number of travel industry seers who predict
it might move to the top of the EU candidate list. Its very
acceptable politically to both Europe and U.S. for Croatia to join
the EU, Harris said, describing the coastal country as a candy box
full of travel goodies.
Also, Harris states
flatly that theres not a country in Europe whose traveling
population hasnt visited Croatia in large numbers. All of this is
good news in Zagreb, where it is hoped that European vacationers
will do the work of Croatias EU accession team for them -- or at
least will grease the skids.