Croatian Tourism: Foreign River Cruise Ships Want to Enter But They Can't

Dunav, Croatia
Dunav, Croatia Copyright Romulic and Stojcic

When one thinks of Croatian tourism, they likely think of the coast, but as the limelight is finally being shone on continental Croatia, what about cruises along the country's inland rivers? As Novac writes on the 11th of July, 2020, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) River Tourism Association has demanded that "river cruising", ie passenger ships carrying more than forty passengers, be allowed to dock in Croatia's inland ports, which is currently prohibited.

Namely, due to the coronavirus pandemic, at the end of May this year, a Decision was passed on the necessary measure of banning the entry of passenger ships on international cruises to Croatian seaports and inland ports. This decision introduced a ban on the entry of passenger ships carrying more than forty passengers to Croatian inland ports and thus directly prevented the return of river cruise tourism, given that river cruisers have a capacity of up to 220 passengers.

"It isn't profitable for companies to operate with less than twenty percent of their usual capacity. I'd like to emphasise that the companies, in accordance with the measures adopted, have already made sure to secure five percent of their passenger capacity for accommodation in case one of their passengers becomes infected with coronavirus, and therefore I urge that the decision be changed as soon as possible,'' said Bozana Matos, president of the HGK River Tourism Association which sent a letter on behalf of the assotiation, ie a request to amend the Decision to the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure, the Ministry of Tourism and the Croatian Institute of Public Health.

Croatian tourism still focuses primarily on the sea, but the country is actually very well recognised as a river cruise destination. Last year, 61,000 passengers visited Eastern Slavonia and Baranja by river, and passenger ports on the Danube and Drava recorded 560 docks with continuous annual positive growth trends. In June, some river cruise programmes began, in compliance with all of the epidemiological recommendations of the time, organised by the German company Nicko Cruises, and announcements of the return of river cruises continue, organised by A-Rosa, European Waterways and Croisi Europe.

"Some of these cruise companies have cruise programmes in Croatia, and the current Decision doesn't allow them to dock in one of the passenger ports along the Danube and the Drava, so we need to urgently change the Decision, which wouldn't limit the number of passengers on river cruises," explained Matos, noting that this should be re-visited with a special emphasis placed on the context of the latest data on the decline in the number of foreign cruise ships in Croatian seaports.

According to the CBS, in the first five months of 2020, foreign cruise ships recorded a decrease in the number of voyages of 91.2 percent and the number of days spent on the Croatian Adriatic declined by 87.8 percent when compared to the same period back in 2019. The number of passengers on these ships recorded an enormous and concerning decrease of 98.5 percent when compared to the same period in 2019.

"Unfortunately, these are very bad numbers and Croatia will need a long time to recover from this situation, but at the same time, this is an opportunity to strengthen the river cruise sector, provided that the decision is changed in time," said Matos.

The recommendations introduced measures to protect passengers on vessels in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, such as daily temperature measurements, mandatory social distancing, wearing masks, special epidemiological measures during boarding and disembarking and so forth.

For more on Croatian tourism in the coronavirus era, follow our travel page.