Capital Zagreb
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 385
Mobile Codes 91,92,95,98,99
ccTLD .hr
Currency Kuna (1EUR = 7.26HRK)
Land Area 56,594 sq km
Population 4.5 million
Language Croatian
Major Religion Roman Catholicism

Croatia Builds on Tourism Success with New Ryanair Routes, Increased Visits

Croatia, the only former Yugoslav state so far to have made a major industry out of tourism, won another victory with recent announcements of new air routes to Pula on the northwestern coast. This, coupled with demonstrated increases in visits this summer, indicate that the Adriatic state is continuing to inspire the confidence of the European tourism industry.

On August 9, leading European budget airline Ryanair, based in Ireland, announced a Dublin-Pula route among 12 new routes from Dublin. The announcement came two weeks after the company announced a Stansted (London)-Pula route.

The route, which will begin on February 8, 2007, will operate three times a week. Ryanair predicts it can attract over 40,000 passengers during 2007 for the Pula-London route, constituting “a massive boost to tourism” for the region.

Although prices fluctuate constantly, current price inquiries for a Dublin-Pula ticket on the website return base results from 9.99 euros to 49.99 euros. Travelers are advised to check early and often to get the best price, as free or next to free sales are not uncommon from this extraordinary air carrier.

Ryanair, which has memorably mocked the slowness and expense of everyone from the British railways to competing airlines, has moved from strength to strength over the last few years. For the first three months of its financial year (ending June 30) it achieved record net profits of 115.7 million euros. Passenger numbers increased (by 25 percent, to 10.7 million) while revenues jumped a staggering 40 percent, to almost 567 million euros.

However, second quarter earnings are going to be hit by the British “terrorist plot” hysteria beginning August 10, which paralyzed all airlines operating in and out of the country. Outspoken Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary won praise for his principled stance against the British Airports Authority, lambasting its restrictions on carry-on baggage and accusing it of failing to provide enough workers to process passengers in order to fulfill the sudden and strict new security measures handed down by the “panic merchants” in Whitehall- which according to O’Leary are “insane.”

Ryanair and other leading budget airlines might have to deal with up to 10-12 million extra bags a year unless the British government comes to its senses. The company is now threatening to sue in light of its losses after being forced to cancel hundreds of flights. To keep the mood light, the airline is now running a 99-pence-per-ticket “Let’s Beat Terrorism- Keep Britain Flying!” campaign with an animated Churchill on its website.

Given its experience in public relations dating back to lobbying propaganda during the wars of the 1990’s, it’s no surprise that Zagreb learned quickly to draw in tourists. Of course, the thousands of islands that dot the jagged Adriatic coast don’t hurt, either. CNN commercials advertise Croatia as “the Mediterranean as it once was.”

Unlike most of its Balkan neighbors, Croatia keeps detailed statistics of tourist inflows and revenues generated from tourism. The latest numbers from the Croatian National Tourist Board (HTZ), covering July 2006, indicate a 2 percent rise over July 2005 in visitors to the Adriatic coast (a total of 2,505,840 tourists). In a sign that Croatia is successfully expanding the limits of the traditional July-August high season, year-on-year June returns registered a 10 percent increase.

According to the HTZ, “most of the registered foreign tourists arrived from Slovenia followed by Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy.” With the entry of Ryanair into the market, however, that is bound to change. The red-hot Adriatic property market too, which has seen wealthy Northern Europeans scarf up villas along the sea for attractive prices (though still much higher than in other Balkan states), is going to help sustain budget air flights, even during the off-season.

Indeed, in discussing the new Stansted-Pula route on July 26, a Ryanair spokeswoman stated that “a large percentage of these [40,000 new] passengers will be high spending British tourists.”

Pula itself is a 3,000-year-old city located on the southeastern end of the Istrian Peninsula and boasts the world’s sixth-largest Roman amphitheater. During the summer, musical, theatrical, dance and other performances are held almost daily. Distinctive architecture includes temples, churches, archways and castles from Roman to Austro-Hungarian times, numerous churches and even an aquarium set in a 118-year-old fortress.

Pula is also located not far from Trieste, Italy to the north (which has long been a part of the Ryanair network) and close to Rijeka, from where begins the long Dalmatian coast famous for its islands and beaches.

For more information on Pula and other destinations in Croatia, see the official websites of Pula and of the Croatian National Tourist Board.