Sailing in Croatia, Declining Value: The View from Italy

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September 6, 2018. It is always wise to listen to feedback from guests in the tourism business, to learn what you are doing well and what you could do better. A contribution from Manuela, a long-time Italian lover of sailing in Croatia. But for how much longer?

A heated FB debate on the ever-increasing costs of sailing (and tourism, in general) in southern Croatia brought the voice of the Italian yachtsmen and campervan community, raising important issues on the topic.

The general feeling is that below Kornati, the focus is on luxury tourism, much to the detriment of those regular visitors who, over the years, have contributed to making the country one of the top travel destinations. (“They’re selling the islands to the Arabs” is one of the most recurring comments)

Examples abound.

Mooring in Veruda is no longer free as the transit bay of the Kvarner now hosts a hundred buoys so you can’t moor without paying. Mooring in Kornati? 1200 kuna.

National parks have exaggerated costs. Polače on Mljet was free until last year, now a half-hour swim will cost you 600 kune = € 85 and you will get a valid ticket for a 24-hour stopover. “The collectors will explain this is the national park and therefore to moor here just for 10 minutes without even visiting the park you have to pay. In previous years the weekly admission to the park was € 15 and you could moor for free for several days, now the benefit of staying here long is reserved only for luxury yachts or to charter fleets, surely not for ordinary families.” states the post.

That surprisingly kind and friendly guy who helped you with turning the ropes to the bollards? Nothing but a local mafioso (a sort of unauthorized valet) who will ask you for 100 kuna (15 €) for an unsolicited service. “Try not to pay, he will throw the ropes into the sea. And then Croatian bureaucracy with queues for police, for port authority, then again police to pay the entry tax and fee on the sail permission, tripled compared to last year.”

On Šolta, a group of yachtsmen reports having to sail 10 miles in the middle of a storm to find shelter in Stomorska, as in Šesula they were not allowed to moor due to the arrival of a charter fleet, which apparently was much more entitled to mooring than them despite the incoming storm.

In many marinas, priority is given to mega yachts and charter fleets while vessels less than 12 metres in some cases (Rovinj) are not even accepted. Luxury yachts mean more pollution, yet swollen pockets and richer tips.

Excursions and taxi boats? A quite annoyed boat owner in a bay near Vrboska asked us 800 kuna to go to Bol (400kn per person): well first of all sorry for asking, and hvala, I think I will rather swim to Brač.

Food and restaurants? Same tune.

9 euro for a watermelon half, 10 euro for 2 small water bottles and a sandwich on the ferry to Stari Grad, I personally paid 272 kune for 2 mini burger, 2 beers and 1 fries on the Jelsa riva: everything was excellent, I must admit, but c’mon: 272 kune is a real insult, ajde. As a consequence, tourists queued in the supermarkets for self-made meals, instead. (And yes, we all know prices double during the sezona.)

Now to accommodation: the standard of private apartments ranges from luxury to shanty, real Usher houses. Barely tolerated as a necessary evil, paying guests shared horror stories on Croatian private accommodation. In my more-than-40 years of experience in renting private apartments, I must say the worst experiences came through agencies. Sea view in Cavtat was an unfinished terrace in rough concrete and exposed reinforcing bars and to our complaints the grumpy agency clerk answered “Why don’t you enjoy the beach instead of bothering me with your whining? After all you’re here for the sea, not for the apartments, aren’t you?” Insults in Croatian followed.

While on Brač and on Vis we were literally adopted by the landlords who honored us with handmade presents and authentic hospitality, ending up going fishing and having regular dinners with them (and always for free), and in many more cases we were welcomed with smiles and we parted in tears, there were other times when even a “Hallo” was a mirage. Once, while the landlord with extraordinary bad grace was showing us the WC I bashfully dared to ask about the toilet paper roll (as there was none): “You can get it in any supermarket”, he spat. Oh, never mind, I guess fig leaves will do. As for the prices, I have seen them tripling in 15 years.

One explanation for the improvisation and unfamiliarity with tourist hospitality lies in the fact that flat owners lack the service-oriented “culture” of travelling, as they hardly ever travel themselves. It could be, yet ignorantia non excusat and today there are really no excuses for lack of kindness, friendliness, and common sense. The web allows to get all necessary info, and the reviews on social media are useful tools to learn and to improve. (Provided there’s a will and interest to learn and to improve, to be clear).

The FB discussion continues with high pitched tones, mentioning the long-standing grudge between Italy and Croatia, digging up outdated topics like Tito and Mussolini, the foibe massacres, WWI and back to the Roman and Venetian dominations: guys, are you for real? Centuries later, we should have long assimilated and overcome faults and merits. And although as an Italian I must apologize for the behavior of some of my compatriots (between the hubris of the luxury boat owners and the very bad manners of low-cost tourism there’s a wide choice of things to be ashamed of) and I can surely complain about the traditional impoliteness and annoyance typically reserved to us in particular, it would be wise to acknowledge that one size does not fit all shoes and that generalizations often lead to dangerous consequences.

Locals and natives reply “Ah, the good old Italians, always begging for discounts… you want Beauty? You must pay for that. Or else stay in your muddy waters on your coasts” Well, allow me to say the merit of your truly unique seascapes is none of yours, I sometimes even wonder if you are even aware of what you have, considering the building horrors I have seen on the coasts for the sake of pure greed: Supetar becoming a sort of family funfair, for one thing. Sea and nature are your luck, knowing how to manage tourism is a totally different kettle of fish. You can’t, simply can’t ask for “Monte Carlo” standard prices while offering sort of Third World services. Simple as that.

The significant decrease of arrivals in summer 2018, after last year’s boom, speaks for itself. A predictable crisis of growth due to the unsustainability of a model where the price increase does not correspond to an equal improvement in services and hospitality and where the only target seems to be “We want it all, and we want it now”. Tourists are seen as easy targets, rather than as a resource.

Greed, inaccuracy and improvisation: quite a weird customer retention policy, huh? Such a lethal mix will make the bubble burst in no time: for the next years, tourist can choose and will make their choice. (After all, Croatia might just be a passing trend that will be left for new itineraries where better services match increased demand and higher prices are coherent with an improved offer)

Whether in the next year’s sails will set to the beautiful, strange and contradictory Croatia or to other coasts where to feel more at home, it’s now up to the country.

It’s either truly welcome or… Adio, bella.

Read the original Facebook post from Irina Nazarova (in Italian).

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