Croatia is still feeling the effects of its World Cup success, according to minister for tourism Gari Capelli. UK arrivals in Croatia rose 8% year on year for the first ten months of 2018, hitting almost 850,000, and global arrivals jumped 5% to hit 14 million, in part boosted by the football fever sparked in the summer.
Capelli told Travel Weekly: “We believe the World Cup had a significant impact. We did a survey which showed that before the World Cup, only 35% of people globally knew about Croatia – afterwards that reached 70%.”
Visitors to the tourist board’s website rose 250% during the final match and its social media accounts felt the impact too, with 8.5 million Instagram visits.
It’s not the only publicity that’s given the country fuel – Capelli said UK arrivals and overnights in Vis grew 16% and 17% on the back of the release of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, which was filmed on the Dalmation island.
The UK is now the seventh biggest market for the country and the biggest in Dubrovnik. Last year British visitor numbers soared 25%, on top of an 80% increase from 2011 to 2016.
New flight routes launching next year are now set to give that a further boost, with UK arrivals set to grow by a further five to 10%, according to Capelli.
Jet2.com is increasing capacity to Dubrovnik by 15%, and new connections by the likes Aer Lingus – which is launching a flight from Cork to Dubrovnik in May – will add further fuel.
Hotels are opening to cater to the demand – 40 new openings are scheduled for the year ahead, including two new Hilton hotels currently being built in Zagreb. Construction of a Four Seasons in Hvar will begin soon, ready to be completed by summer 2020, and Aman Resorts are also planning on moving in with a boutique hotel just outside Dubrovnik.
“We can’t confirm the location yet, but we can confirm that they are interested, with works set to begin next year,” said Capelli.
“But we won’t be bringing in lots of all-inclusives. We’re focusing on areas like health tourism and gastronomy. We don’t have the resources of bigger destinations like Spain and we don’t want to be them – we want to focus on small, boutique hotels offering a five-star experience for travellers.
“The trade is key for spreading that message. This year, we organised 15 training sessions with the tour operators all around the UK as well as educational workshops for agents. We aim to reach ‘new heights’ by the end of this year with a Jet2 agent training in December to celebrate new milestones and achievements, and give Croatia the spotlight it deserves.”