The Croatian National Tourist Board and flydubai, along with the Zagreb Tourist Board has highlighted an increase in the number of routes to the Croatian capital and a dedicated marketing campaign aimed at Middle East tourists will both contribute towards a record-breaking number of overall tourists and associated revenue.
Speaking at a press conference at Arabian Travel Market today, Croatian National Tourist Board representative, Jelena Slavujevic commented: “Income from foreign visitors to Croatia totaled US$7.8 billion in 2014, growth of 2.8% over 2013. However we have already witnessed a 24% increase in the number of arrivals during the first quarter of 2015, so we are confident our tourism receipts this year will eclipse our 2014 earnings.”
Slavujevic justified part of this increase to the new and direct routes between Dubai and Zagreb operated by flydubai which offers direct flights three times a week. Qatar Airways has also announced it will introduce two additional flights in July to the Croatian capital taking its tally to seven weekly direct flights from Doha.
Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa already operate seven flights weekly to Zagreb from Dubai via Istanbul and Germany.
Despite being a popular destination with European travellers, GCC tourists have only recently began to explore the possibility of a leisure break in Zagreb and indeed Croatia as a whole.
“The GCC market holds great potential for us, notwithstanding Croatia’s stunning natural beauty, our heritage and our cultural similarities, the real game-changer now is the increased number of direct flights to Zagreb, most notably those operated by flydubai and Qatar Airways. Many people may not realise that we are little more than five hours away from Dubai,” added Slavujevic.
According to the recently published survey by Zagreb’s Institute for Tourism “Preparing for Tomorrow: Analyzing Tourism Demand from GCC countries to Croatia” Kuwait represented the highest share of tourists to Croatia followed by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. The average length of stay was three days with the vast majority of GCC visitors, 83%, staying in four or five star hotels.
During the press conference, the CEO of Zagreb Tourist Board, Ms. Martina Bienenfeld, highlighted the work the capital has undertaken to meet the demands of the Middle East market: “Zagreb is witnessing a growth in demand from the GCC visitors and was one of the first cities in Croatia to identify the opportunities of halal tourism. We’re now home to 30% of Croatia’s 15 halal quality certified hotels. This in turn is having a positive impact on the number of travel agents, hoteliers and restaurateurs in the city willing to adjust their offer to capitalize on the increasing number of Middle East visitors.”
Traditionally, tourism in Croatia and Zagreb, has relied upon Western Europe, with Germany accounting for around 20% of all inbound tourism in Croatia, however diversification into new markets will see tourism revenues increase significantly.
“We are always looking for new opportunities to grow our network of more than 85 destinations,” said Jeyhun Efendi, Senior Vice President Commercial (UAE, EU, ME, CIS) for flydubai.
“Central and Eastern Europe has always been an important market for us and last year we launched 5 new routes from this region to Dubai. With one of the most comprehensive networks in the GCC and with direct flights from Dubai three times a week, we are glad to offer passengers more possibilities to travel to Zagreb, whether for business or leisure,” he added
In order to attract a greater number of tourists from GCC countries the Croatian government has introduced a raft of measures to meet the specific demands of Gulf tourists. The opening of the Centre of Halal Quality Certification in Zagreb in 2010 has positively impacted on the number of Halal certifications and accredited cafes and restaurants.
The recently opened Islamic Centre and Mosque in the city of Rijeka, the first mosque to be built on the shores of the Adriatic in more than five centuries, will be one of the focal points in 2016 when Croatia celebrates the 100 year anniversary of the issue of the “Law of recognition of Islam as the equal religion to all other religions” by the Croatian Government.
As part of the celebrations Croatia will host the Halal Tourism & Trade congress in March and as a nation celebrate World Halal Day in November next year.
Croatia will also capitalize on the country’s health and wellbeing credentials by targeting the highly lucrative medical tourism market, a growth market for outbound tourism throughout the GCC.
With many cities in Croatia over a thousand years old, the country has a wealth of history, heritage and culture. The Medieval Istrian cities, situated on naturally protected hilltops, play an important part in cultural heritage. From the outside they appear as fortresses, but inside their walls they nurture medieval towns full of life and intersected with narrow, curvy streets. Pivotal to city life is the church and the central square.
The Croatian food and beverage offering is extremely diverse, and influenced by a mixture of cuisines form different regions. The coastal region is characterised by Turkish, Roman, Illyrian, Italian – culture and cuisines. It features a large number of seafood specialities prepared in various ways, with olive oil and various vegetables.
“Zagreb is a very trendy destination and is being rediscovered once again. The standards in our hotels throughout Croatia have improved remarkably and the quality of our food and beverage can compete with the best in the world, but it is our rustic beauty and charm that sets us apart,” added Ms Bienenfeld.
Further underscoring the growing popularity of Croatia with the UAE market, Dubai destination management company, Family World Travel & Tourism, will be the only tour operator in Dubai offering group packages to Croatia through an exclusive agreement with Zagreb’s Nerida Oasis Travel.
The Zagreb Tourist Board will be exhibiting at Arabian Travel Market from 4-7 May and can be found in Hall 5 Stand EU5040.