With COVID-19 restrictions easing in many parts of the world, the tourism industry is eager to embrace the opportunity to start seeing some revenues return. This is especially true for the current northern hemisphere summer that is just getting underway.
Countries with a heavy dependency on tourism have been pretty quick on the uptake to open their borders to start the flow of people and cash. In Europe, Croatia has the third highest portion of its GDP being made up from tourism at 10.9% (falling just behind Malta and neighbouring Montenegro). Source: European Union Tourism Trends
After a lot of failed attempts to get into the country, it is here in Croatia that the Jolly Hobos currently find ourselves; the first destination we wanted to get to that would allow us in. In fact we were on the first direct flight from London to Split after the EU lockdown eased on June 15th. Because it seems quite novel for many, we have received a number of enquiries as to “how open” is Croatia really.
With that said, here is a look at what it's like travelling during the Coronavirus era, and how a tourism dependant economy like Croatia's is managing.
The first stage of any international journey is to the airport. Our taxi ride was where the mandatory mask wearing began. Because England was still mostly in a lockdown, the traffic was a breeze and we made it to the airport in no time.
At the airport, the carpark was empty with no taxis, buses, or crowds around - it was eerily vacant. Even in the terminal, there were no queues or throngs of people to fight and no security line tail back - it was like a private security screening. The only place that was full was the tarmac - full of parked EasyJet planes.
The downside was that nothing was open. No lounges, no cafes, no restaurants - so everyone just sat in the communal waiting areas.
The flight was about ⅓ full. Side note: we learned that Wizz Air are really stingy. Although we travelled on the same booking we didn’t cough up the extra for “choose your seat” - so they were assigned to us - Mr Jolly Hobo in 7A and Mrs Jolly Hobo in 11E sandwiched between two people on a flight that was ⅔ empty! They obviously didn't implement any social distancing policy on the plane.
Once we arrived in Split, it was like COVID-19 didn’t exist. Almost no one wore a mask at the airport or in a taxi, and especially none were worn in the city. As for social distancing - well with the lack of personal space that Croats are known for, the ability to social distance was a struggle to say the least! The only place we observed social distancing was at the pharmacy in Hvar Town, the scowling lady with the big face mask and gloves behind the 8 foot wall of perspex and the 3 bottles of sanitizer at the door gave the impression, even to locals, that here at least you must practice social distancing.
From the start Split was very quiet from a tourist perspective with many of the tourist focused restaurants and bars having few or no people in them. Daily local life was still going on with markets open and local cafes still enjoying great local patronage.
No tourists at Kasjuni Beach, Split Locals keep the Split fish Market humming
We did notice that the wearing of masks started to become more prevalent about a week into our stay, and we soon learned that the Coronavirus cases were starting to increase in Croatia and the government were putting in some further rules.
By the time we caught the ferry from Split to Hvar on June 29 it was mandatory to wear masks on all public transport.
On Hvar essentially no one wears a mask (unless they are getting on or off a ferry). For the first week there were very few tourists in town and many of the restaurants and bars remained closed or were very sad looking due to the lack of customers.
On the positive side for us was the fact that we were pretty much just living among the locals. We were swimming with no crowds in the popular bays, wandering the town and tourist sites without fighting the crowds - it has been serene!
Our own private Hvar beaches: Robinson Beach & Pokonji dol Beach
But that has changed from the weekend of July 4, when the numbers of tourists in town were noticeably higher and a range of bars and restaurants suddenly opened up giving the town a new sense of energy. I guess we will soon start to see Hvar living up to its reputation of the party town of Croatia.
With a reported 40,000 new arrivals per day into Croatia, it seems that the play from the Croatian government has paid off. By opening earlier than other countries, tourists were able to plan for a summer vacation with a bit of certainty. The Croatian tourism industry is now fully open for business and is aiming to capture as much opportunity as possible to make the most of the short European summer - and the Jolly Hobos will also be drinking in the glorious summer sun and bathing in the crystal clear Adriatic waters on Hvar and beyond.