Croatia - a new and exciting holiday destination

Julia Berg

Croatian National Tourist Board

Croatia's natural resources for tourism include a 1,777 kilometre long Adriatic coastline and 1,185 islands, which is certainly an excellent starting point.

Tourism is vital to employment in the coastal regions and is consequently a valuable contributor to the economy.

Confusing press reports during the height of the conflict in neighbouring Bosnia led many people, both members of the general public and within the travel industry itself to believe that here lay a holiday destination completely shattered and with facilities beyond repair. This was not and is not the case. The fact is that very little of the Adriatic coastline and islands were affected in any way at all by the conflict. Croatia's Adriatic coastline has been welcoming millions of holidaymakers from all over Europe during recent years with 1996 achieving a record 3.5 million tourists.

From Istria, the heart shaped peninsula in the north of the country, down through the Kornati Archipelago, a chain of wilder islands and one of Croatia's seven national parks, to the Dalmatia region as far south as famous Dubrovnik, the sea is one of the least polluted in the region and was recently judged so by a team of international marine experts.

All the resorts are open and ready for business.

Many hotels have undergone complete refurbishment including new swimming pools, equipment and furniture with many still being upgraded and staff being retrained all the time. Most campsites are open and providing full facilities and private apartments together with private rooms are enjoying busy summer seasons as Croatia's fantastic coastline attracts more and more independently minded travellers keen to island-hop their way across the islands and coast using the regular efficient ferry service Jadrolinija (which has extended its service to Igoumenitsa, Greece, beginning 1997).

Croatia enjoys one of the lowest rates of street crime in Europe and it is normal for local residents of villages to leave doors unlocked. There is no contraindication to travel to Croatia by any European government, with the British Foreign Office Advice Unit clearing some regions as safe for British visitors as long ago as 1991. Everywhere is safe, peaceful and accessible, and normal travel insurance premiums apply. Holidaymakers pay the same for cover to Croatia as they would for Spain, Italy, Greece and so on.

There is still a lack of understanding from the British travel trade who give out incorrect information to customers telling them that they should carry only Deutschmarks or US dollars when this is not the case. Sterling is welcome everywhere and readily changed into kuna, the local currency. Legislation means that exchange rates at hotels, banks and bureaux de changes vary very little. Credit cards are accepted in larger restaurants, shops and hotels, there are a number of cash point machines in many resorts, and cash advances are available from banks displaying the relevant card sign.

Reports from British visitors returning from Croatia are positive and complimentary. The unspoilt coastline, quiet coves, historic cities, getaway islands and superb food and wine are attracting attention by the travel trade, with a further ten British tour operators planning to inspect the region with a view to including Croatia in their future product range.

Croatia is closer than many people think, and with direct flights from London to Pula (charter), Split (schedule) and Dubrovnik (charter), the longest flight is just two hours 45 minutes, with Pula often reached in under two hours from London Gatwick.

Zagreb, the country's capital, should not be forgotten. With British Airways and national carrier Croatia Airlines providing a daily service, the city looks set to follow in the successful footsteps of Budapest and Prague as a weekend or city break destination from London.

Clearly, during the years in which Croatia has been out of the tourist scene, the cost of living has increased all over the world and prices have gone up. Croatia remains good value for money at the moment with some facilities or services remaining remarkably inexpensive. In some places, daily boat hire costs just £25 and entrance to events at summer festivals start at just £4 per ticket.

Inclusive holidays from tour operators begin in early season at less than £200 for seven nights including flight and either half board or bed and breakfast basis, and independent visitors can still find local village rooms from about £10 with hotels costing around £25 per night depending on season.

Informed travellers are getting back to Croatia now before the crowds discover this unspoilt gem.

Further information on regions, tour operators and hotels, together with free maps are available from the Croatian National Tourist Board in London, telephone 0181-563-7979.