Hotels a hard sell in tourist magnet Croatia

Thu Nov 5, 2009 10:10pm EST
 
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By Adam Tanner

DUBROVNIK, Croatia (Reuters) - Pavle Radonic has worked as assistant manager for Hotel Belvedere, overlooking the medieval city of Dubrovnik, for 18 years. Except for the first few months on the job, he has never welcomed a guest.

How a five-star cliffside resort on the Adriatic has remained shuttered for so long -- or how other prime seaside hotels live in a socialist-era, state-owned time warp -- are among the enduring mysteries of Croatia's tourist industry.

"It is hard to believe that I have been here 18 years and nothing has happened," Radonic said as he toured the hotel's broken glass, shattered walls, and twisted metal -- damage from the war of independence that started soon after he took up his post in 1991. "I didn't think it would be 18 years. If I knew that before, I would never have come."

Offering crystal-clear Adriatic waters uncommon in many parts of rival destinations such as Italy and Spain, Croatia has enjoyed a tourist boom since the end of the Yugoslav wars.

Relatively affordable prices and the country's accessibility by car helped lift tourist arrivals and overnight stays by four percent in August -- despite economic crisis -- over the same period in 2008, according to the Croatian bureau of statistics.

The region has lured foreigners for many centuries. The Romans and Venetians made the Dalmatian Coast part of their empires. Today, Germans, Italians, Slovenes, Czechs and Austrians are prominent among the nine million who visited from January to August.

Yet fewer than half stayed in hotels, preferring self-catering private accommodation, campsites or other options.

The Belvedere earns about 3,500 euros ($5,200) a month renting its roof for cellphone towers and leasing its gutted lobby for boat repairs, Radonic said.   Continued...

 
<p>View of the Hotel Liburna in Korcula, October 15, 2009. Even though Croatia recently announced a new privatisation for a half-stake in the Korcula hotels, sold as a group, problems are already evident: the island's mayor says the timing during economic crisis is not right. Picture taken October 15, 2009. REUTERS/Adam Tanner</p>