NEW YORK -- Croatian tourism has not fully recovered from the slump
that was brought on by the conflicts among the former Yugoslav
republics in the past decade, but hope is on the horizon.
"We cannot repeat the numbers of the prewar period for another
two or three years," said Pave Zupan-Ruskovic, Croatia's minister
of tourism, referring to Croatia's war of independence from
Yugoslavia, which ended in 1995.
"Part of it is hotel capacity," which she said she hopes will
grow by 20% and thus return to its prewar size by 2003.
Eight million tourists are expected to visit Croatia this year,
of which U.S. arrivals are expected to be 80,000.
That would be an increase from the 50,000 Americans who visited
last year but only about 40% of what U.S. arrivals were in the
benchmark year of 1989, Zupan-Ruskovic said.
This was the year before the Croatian war of independence and
the conflicts that followed.
The privatization of Croatia's hotels began two years ago, and
boutique hotels are the dominant trend in hotel redevelopment,
Investors include Hilton International, which last year signed a
joint venture and management agreement to rebuild and operate
Dubrovnik's Grand Hotel Imperial, which was built in 1897 and
severely damaged during the war, as a five-star hotel with 150
rooms. It is expected to reopen in 2003.
The cost of the project is $20 million of which Hilton's
investment is $2 million.
The Imperial is "the oldest and most classical hotel in
Dubrovnik," said Nazli Weiss, vice president marketing, North
America with Atlas Travel Agency Croatia, Washington.
In addition, the investor group that owns the Four Seasons Hotel
in Istanbul, Turkey, bought the Hotel Dubravka in the heart of the
old walled city. That property will be converted into a five-star,
17-suite hotel by the summer of 2002.
Another recovering tourism segment is cruises. During the first
week of June, the three vessels ported in Dubrovnik brought some
4,500 people, the minister said.
The addition of Croatia by a number of operators should also
boost U.S. arrivals, she said.
Blue Heart Tours in Washington added guaranteed departures last
year, as did General Tours in Keene, N.H., this year.
Isram, IST Cultural Tours, Kutrubes Travel, Kollander World
Travel, Sunnyland Tours and Travcoa also will have Croatia tours in
2002, Weiss said, adding that Lindblad Expeditions' Endeavour will
start calling on Croatian ports.
Although U.S. visitors constitute less than 1% of the tourists
expected to visit Croatia this year, Zupan-Ruskovic said, "the U.S.
is a very important market for us."
Next year, the number of guaranteed departures on the
eight-night Dalmation Sunshine escorted tour from Kutrubes Travel
will increase from six to eight.
Michael Benz, president of Kollander World Travel, Cleveland,
which does about 5% of its business to Croatia, said he's excited
about the future of tourism there.
"You think of the attractions of Tuscany or Provence: wine, fine
cuisine and relaxation in the countryside, and Croatia has it all,
plus the Adriatic Coast. To me, it's just a matter of time before
that combination catches on," said Benz.