Pleasure for everybody
In the new era, tension between two competing visions of tourism – one of total exclusivity and one of total accessibility – is of current interest and defines the struggle for the future Croatian tourism.
What is an optimal solution?
Croatia has so big and jagged climatically so favorable coast line, that it can and must develop both types of tourism.
The London-based World Travel and Tourism Council calls Croatia’s tourism market the fifth fastest-growing market in the world. To stay on track, Croatia must continue its balancing act, accommodating both high-end and low-end holidaymakers. For years, the former have holed up in grand hotels around Dubrovnik, while the latter make do in campsites and rooms-for-rent. But critics add that the country must also plug an important hole in its market – the very-high end.
With its vast shoreline and more than 1,000 islands, Croatia possess ample space to provide super-rich guests – stars of business, sport and Hollywood – the privacy they require. But the country’s existing high-end hotels, mostly massive resorts and self-catering villas, cannot always do the job.
Such shortcomings drive the country’s wealthiest visitors on to the water, where they spend catered holidays on private holiday yachts, landing only occasionally in secluded harbors to stretch legs. Some of these, like the aspiring Russian buyer, later seek ways to buy their own exclusive properties.
Spotting a business opportunity, a small but growing number of entrepreneurs aim fill this gap.
Among those tipped for success are Mr Martinko, with his Villa Astra and other properties near Lovren, and the Turkish proprietors of the Pucic Palace, the first luxury boutique hotel to open within Dubrovnik’s old walled city.
Benefiting from exclusivity and privacy, both options offer delights found at none of Croatia’s luxury mega-hotels, including the newly refurbished 139-room Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, the Hilton Group’s first step into the market.
At the Pucic Palace, guests sip cocktails on a exquisite stone porch overlooking Dubrovnik’s famous tiled rooftops. Rather than inducing claustrophobia, as the sometimes-crowded walled city can do, the location provides a soothing escape even in the heart of the city. Soundproofed walls block out the noise of the walking streets below.
By contrast, Villa Astra, in the northern region of Istria, capitalises on a quiet location directly on the shore and exploits synergies with Mr Martinko ‘s other retreats, including a nearby hilltop farm. By a serene pool, guests eat sumptuous meals made of locally harvested ingredients – scampi, mussels, wild asparagus, strawberries and nettles.
“This is the future of tourism in Croatia,” Mr Martinko says. He blasts both old-style mass tourism in Croatia and the tendency of today’s top-end guests to hide themselves away on hired yachts. Such tourism is “an industry with no human element. “There is so much capital floating around in the world, targeting Croatia. We must focus it on what is sustainable.”
Some of the world’s most exclusive boutique hoteliers aim to enter the market, among them Singapore-based Amanresorts International, whose only other effort in Europe to date operates in Courchevel, France.
With new entrants like these, Croatia’s image could soon change for the better.