Extending the Nautical Tourism Season in Croatia

Extending the Nautical Tourism Season in Croatia

Written by Ivana on April 27th 2020

By now it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many industries hard and fast. The tourism industry in Croatia, and in particular, the nautical sector, are suffering due to border closures, the halt of international flights, a lack of tourism and of course the spread of this global virus.

We met with Grant Seuren, co-owner of Sail Croatia and co-founder of the Green Sail organization, to discuss the challenges this situation presents and how we can move forward as an industry.

Q: Considering these challenging times, what is your opinion on the best way forward?

A: Croatia’s key strength in tourism is undoubtedly the nautical tourism industry and as such, this industry should be working harder to keep Croatia competitive and working longer, particularly in the pre- and post-seasons.

Currently when you look at the makeup of this industry, it is largely made up of small businesses that have a similar offering; yachts that offer accommodation to tourists in the high season. Why are these not being used more effectively in the pre- and post-season?

In my opinion these businesses should be working closer as an industry to innovate and improve our facilities to cater for an extended season. We also need to promote the sailing experience and not just sunshine which is what everyone else is selling. Croatia is unique and offers so much more than sunshine and swimming in bays.

Q: Do you think there is an opportunity for sailing guests to travel later in the season?

A: The majority of customers making up tourism demand prefer to travel in the warmer months where they can swim and enjoy the summer season. However, there is still a large part of Europe that owns boats, and in their own home countries, are likely to be out sailing on the sea longer than just the summer season. Why is it that in locations such as Britain and Scandinavia, people can enjoy boating whilst enduring harsh weather conditions than what they would endure if they visited Croatia later in the season?

Living in the UK and speaking from my own personal experience where I have endured and enjoyed sailing in the cooler months, I believe that some of the key differences are the facilities that surround the experience and the way in which these facilities make up part of the culture of sailing in the UK.

Q: What do you think it would take for the season in Croatia to be extended?

A: Think about how you would summarise a British pub. It has a cozy atmosphere, it's warm, offers good food, small spaces, and of course, it is culturally British. In the context of the sailing industry, coastal pubs around the British Isles have always welcomed sailors and offered a warm respite for freezing fingers and toes. In the Croatian context, there are not a lot of places open in the winter time, this is true, and for many places that is understandable. However, as someone who is often in Croatia at all times of the year, I know that there is always a place open where the locals will gather. So for me, the equivalent of a British Pub has got to be the local ‘konoba’ or cafe.

These are culturally the same as a British Pub, however the main issue I see is Croatians telling everyone that everything is closed later in the year, whilst at the same time they are meeting up with their friends for a beer or coffee at the only place in town that is open. Think about it - these are the places you need to be directing your guests to go to. It is the cultural experience that guests want during that time of year. Authentic and each one is unique.

Q: Can life on a boat during the cooler months be as appealing as sailing during summer months?

A: So, what do we need to keep warm in the pre- and post- season on our flashy yachts? I'm not sure if Croatians recognise that they have some of the best pieces of hardware available on the seas compared to the average British boats and yachts. Boats in Croatia are nice but I wouldn't describe them as cozy.

In the UK, owners are super proud of the heritage of their boats as every one of them tells a story about the memories it has made over the many years they have been in ownership. British boats are not expensive boats, meaning that they don’t cost a lot to buy. However, they are really expensive to maintain and Brits invest huge amounts of time and effort looking after their special vessels.

In doing so, they spend time on their boats also in the pre- and post-season and to make this fun it needs to be cozy and homely. We wear warm clothes, jackets, gloves, hats, but the boat needs to at least feel warm. Some fancy folks even have heating onboard! You will often find carpets around the boats to keep the feet warm as it's tough to roll out of bed in the middle of the night to go to the loo and have to put your feet on the cold floor.

However as I mentioned, Croatians have a big advantage here. There are plenty of really nice boats with teams of maintenance staff that can easily adjust to accommodate during the cooler months and make the vessels more comfortable for guests. Many yachts are advertised online with air-conditioning for example. How many marketing managers know that some of these systems actually function with heating options as well? How many organisations actually promote this online or even offer postseason departures?

Did I mention carpets? What if in October we took the steps to roll out a few rugs or carpet in the cabins of the yachts to make them cosier for guests? Some slippers like at your nice hotels would be a great addition. Maybe size them up for yachties as they tend to have big feet… There is nothing worse than trying to get size 12 feet in those little white slippers at the hotel!

Another huge factor of boating in the UK winter is warm clothes. One of the best things about having boats is being able to show off all those really cool jackets and waterproof gear that has been invested in over the years. There is fantastic equipment out there and I’m pretty sure that in Croatia it is barely even used as most of the sailing currently done is during the summer. Just keep in mind that most Brits on the sea have lots of this stuff and can bring it with them. Otherwise, they can always visit the Musto store in Split which is well-known.

Q: Can Croatian marinas adjust to welcoming sailing guests later in the season?

A: Where to start here? One of the worst things about travelling in Croatia in the pre- and post- season has got to be the marina facilities. Actually, it is also the worst thing in the high season when they are not cleaned properly, but there is nothing worse than having a push-button shower that has cold tiles and barely warm water in the cooler months. Marina facilities in Croatia can be bad. Really bad - both in the pre- and post- season.

Let’s put this into context with regards to some of the marinas in the UK and how they deal with these issues really well. Some highlights for sailing in the UK during cooler months is visiting the marina showers. Imagine this, walking into a marina shower with heated tiled floors, double glazed windows, extractors that take out humidity and not heat, seating, piped music in the ceiling, cubicles for families with separate basins, toilet, more seating and lots of towel hooks. Now that is heaven for a weary sailor after a day out enjoying the elements!

For the price they are charging charter companies, surely marinas in Croatia should be looking at how they can make the season longer and encourage guests to stay and enjoy highlights in Croatia. Guests should not be worried about being stuck in bad weather if there are right facilities in place in the marinas. One way marinas can help is taking a good hard look at what guests need, not just in the high season but also in the pre- and post-season, and make some necessary upgrades. They should be innovating as much as everyone else and not just waiting for guests to come back.

We hope you’ll find this thought provoking and inspiring, with some ideas on how to keep the nautical industry economically sustainable in Croatia this year. If you’d like to share your ideas with our community of charter partners, marinas and tourism organisations, please email us.