Croatia is pulling out all the stops to showcase its extensive tourism potential at WTM London 2017 – the leading global event for the travel industry – as it looks to build on a hugely successful year in terms of visitors and new developments.
With the recent addition of three new UNESCO World Heritage sites, an impressive 50 new upmarket hotels opening within a year; 21 new flights from the UK added for 2017 and Zagreb’s Christmas market being voted the best in Europe for the second year running, Croatia has much to talk about.
Added to that, Croatia’s landscape and heritage is being showcased around the world on TV and cinema screens as production companies line up to film their latest blockbusters in the country.
A total of 16.3 million arrivals (+10%) was achieved in Croatia last year and during the first eight months this year 14.8 million arrivals (+14%) was achieved, with Germany its biggest source market, followed by Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic making up the rest of the top six.
In the same period of first eight months, the UK is number seven, but the delights of Croatia are starting to attract more British travellers. In fact, Croatia is celebrating a 26% increase in arrivals and overnight stays of travellers from the UK due to 21 new flights into the country.
Scheduled carriers, low-cost airlines and charters have all added capacity from the UK to Croatia for 2017, with 21 new flights being added overall.
Among new scheduled services, British Airways launched a twice-weekly service from Heathrow to Pula for summer 2017 while Croatia Airlines added flights from Heathrow and Gatwick to Zagreb and Split.
EasyJet added a twice-weekly service from Luton to Zadar; Bristol to Pula for summer 2017 and a twice-weekly Manchester-Dubrovnik and a Belfast-Dubrovnik service, while Ryanair added a twice-weekly Bristol-Zadar flight and a twice-weekly Glasgow-Zadar flight for the summer.
From Stansted, Thomson introduced flights to Pula, Split and Dubrovnik, plus a weekly East Midlands-Split service.
Jet2.com added Glasgow-Dubrovnik as well as Gatwick and Manchester services to Zagreb, while Monarch added a twice-weekly Birmingham to Split service, Flybe added Southend-Zadar and Dubrovnik and Aer Lingus added Dublin-Split.
Some services have been expanded to the end of October, as Croatia capitalises on demand for shoulder-season travel. Most airlines already flying to Croatia plan to expand their program for the years to come: Thomas Cook is set to introduce new charter flights to Dubrovnik, Jet2Com aims to launch flights to Zadar in 2019, while Aer Lingus intends to bring up more than 130,000 new seats from UK & Ireland in 2018.
Europe’s no-1 Christmas market
Zagreb’s Christmas market has been voted the best in Europe for two years running, beating better-known markets in Germany, Austria, France and the Czech Republic.
The accolade came from European Best Destinations’ annual Best Christmas Markets in Europe ranking; voted by the general public. Zagreb scored a sizeable lead over its closest rival, taking 33,600 votes compared to Strasbourg’s 19,242 votes.
The Christmas market, known as Advent in Zagreb, includes a multi-media experience that transforms a tunnel into a Christmas wonderland with video projections, musical performances, and 3D installations, along with a pop-up winter garden serving craft beer and winter cocktails. While all the European destinations on the list can muster a certain Christmas spirit, few have anything to match Zagreb’s revamped Advent programme.
A staggering 24 hotels already opened around the country and are expected to double within a year– all four- and five-star properties, signifying Croatia’s positioning as a top-end destination.
Split-Dalmatia region witnessed a luxury hospitality boom with eight boutique hotels opened this year, including the 4-star Hotel Salona Palace in the ancient town of Solin voted No.1 on The Sunday Times list of the 30 Coolest Hotels in Croatia.
At Split, Marriott will open The West Gate Split by Easter 2018 – a 110-metre-high tower housing a hotel with 189 rooms, four suites, conference centre, restaurant and bars. The tower will be the tallest building in Croatia.
Meanwhile, the first Four Season Resort on the Adriatic Coast is scheduled to build in the bay of Brizenica on the island of Hvar, and scheduled to open in 2019. The project worth nearly 1 billion Croatian Kuna will take tourism and investment on Hvar to a whole new level and expect to increase high-end visitors even further. Another gargantuan project brings Hollywood glitter near Sibenik, with Brad Pitt putting $1,5 billion investment in motion and transforming Zablace into a modern ecologically-responsible planned community of 2,500 residents containing a luxury hotel, villas, shops, restaurants, golf course, and a clinic.
Another key feature of Croatia’s focus at WTM London 2017 is gastronomy.
Because of Croatia’s geographical location, its cuisine is a fusion of southern and central European palates, with specialities ranging from northern hearty fare such as stews, marinated, roasted meats and cheese to lighter, Mediterranean-inspired dishes of fresh fish and seafood, pasta, salad and even pizza. Istria, homeland of the Guinness world record truffle, and a first Michelin-starred restaurant, on top of being the Best Olive Oil Region in the World, is the only terrain where truffle season never ends. Ten-week peak season, where white “gastronomical gold” reaches even £1,759 per gram starts at mid-September and is expected to attract over 35,000 visitors from around the world, which is another proof of Istria’s rising gastronomical status.
New UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Three historic sites have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list this summer, bringing the total number of UNESCO sites in the country to 10.
St Nicholas Fortress in Sibenik, Zadar’s fortified city walls and gates and the beech tree forests in Northern Velebit and Paklenica National Parks have all been named as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Ivona Grgan, director of the UK Croatia National Tourist Office said: “According to e-visitor information from January to 20th September this year, Zadar witnessed record numbers of overnight stays from the UK, amounting to 82.17 % rise, while Sibenik continues to attract tourists and marks over 29.66% increase in comparison to the same period last year.
“The numbers of UK visitors for 10 days in July speak for themselves: Sibenik peaked with 93% of overnight stays, while Zadar surpassed 98 % in comparison to the last year’s period.”
WTM London, Senior Director, Simon Press said: “With new flights, a host of upmarket hotel builds, the recent addition of three more UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Zagreb’s Christmas market being voted the number-one in Europe, there is so much going on Croatia.
“The new developments show this wonderful country has so much to offer – not just in the peak summer season, but year-round and with something for every type of clientele.”