Operator: Croatia election could net tourism opportunities

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LAS VEGAS -- The presidential election in Croatia in the coming weeks is expected to help boost the country's image as a stable democracy and perhaps also encourage more travelers, said Pave Zupan Ruskovic, president of Dubrovnik-based Atlas Travel, Croatia's largest inbound tour operator. The election comes after the death of Croatia's president, Franjo Tudjman.

Croatia, with its continued economic suffering and disappointing 1999 tourism results, wants desperately to boost tourism, once one of its top industries.

Tourism officials had high hopes for 1999 at the start of the year, but they were dashed by the war in Yugoslavia, said Ruskovic during a press event at the USTOA conference here.

"Even though we are far away from Kosovo, many tour operators canceled," she said, and by the time the conflict concluded, it was too late in the year to stir travel interest for late summer or early fall.

It has been difficult to convince travelers that Croatia is "a very safe country," Ruskovic added.

However, the situation might be a bit rosier in 2000. The ministry of tourism has received a budget 20% higher than 1999, and bookings are running "much higher" for 2000 than at the same time last year, she said.

Thirteen million U.S. tourists are expected to visit Europe in 2000, and Croatia hopes to receive its share of that, said Nena Komarica, general manager of the Croatian National Tourist Office in New York.

As of October 1999, 32,600 U.S. travelers visited Croatia, 50% less than visited in 1998. "Our goal is to increase [the 1999 results] by 20% to 25% in 2000," Komarica said.

Among the positive developments in Croatia tourism cited by tourism officials at the USTOA conference were:

  • Most major U.S. cruise lines sailing in the Mediterranean have scheduled visits to Croatian ports on itineraries for 2000.
  • Thirteen U.S. tour operators have created tours and packages to Croatia in 2000.
  • The country now boasts three five-star hotels, the Hotel Excelsior in Dubrovnik, which reopened in August after a restoration; the renovated Croatian Hotel outside of the city, and the Hotel Argentina, Dubrovnik, which is undergoing a renovation and scheduled to open by summer.
  • The Croatian government sold its majority interest in Atlas Travel to Luksic, a Chilean conglomerate that owns hotels in Chile in addition to mining and industrial interests.
  • Air lift to Croatia is improving, with Croatian Airlines purchasing two Airbus aircraft and entering a code-share pact with Air France.
  • Many European airlines fly nonstop from major European cities to Zagreb and Dubrovnik, and many offer convenient connections to Croatia from U.S. gateways, said Komarica.

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