The loungers are outside, the beach bars are open, and the rave music is blasting. Hotels and restaurants are greeting visitors in hopes of kicking off the summer after more than a year of coronavirus lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Croatia has widely reopened its stunning Adriatic coastline for foreign tourists, becoming one of the first European countries to abandon most of its pandemic measures. Now, the ability of people to go there depends on the travel rules of each country.
The atmosphere is laid-back in the Istria region, the northernmost part of the Croatian coast famous for its pebble beaches, thick pine forests, wine and delicacies like truffles, olive oil, goat cheese and prosciutto.
Hardly anyone wears masks on the streets or in restaurants in the picturesque town of Rovinj. Existing limits on indoor dining and rules requiring a certain distance between tables are rarely observed.
“People are fed up with the confinements,” said Nikola Sandic, a waiter at a seafood restaurant located in a small boat harbor. “They have a glass of wine, they look at the sea, and that’s all they need.”
Virus cases are declining in Croatia, and after a slow start of the vaccine launch in the country, vaccines are on the rise. Authorities predict that around 50% of the population of 4 million will be fully vaccinated by mid-summer .
Croatia, a member of the European Union and a popular vacation destination on the continent, is allowing the entry of tourists from the United States, most of Europe and beyond who have a vaccination certificate, proof of a negative test or who have recovered from COVID-19. Health officials put those measures in place weeks before the EU moved Wednesday to soon allow fully vaccinated foreign travelers from countries considered safe in the 27-nation bloc.
Croatian tourism officials expect large numbers of American visitors, who will save themselves the hassle of airport transfers when direct New York-Dubrovnik flights begin, scheduled for July.
Tourism Minister Nikolina Brnjac said her country is applying strict health measures to prevent a repeat of what happened last year, when visitors ignored social distancing on beaches and in bars, and the tourist season ended. abruptly with Croatia facing an increase in coronavirus cases.
The country’s nearly 80,000 tourism workers are given priority to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and several PCR test stations will be installed to make it easier for travelers to obtain the results they might need to provide when they return home.
“It is our duty to provide all the prerequisites for safe and comfortable travel as well as predictable vacation planning,” he said during a recent travel safety webinar, “In that regard, Croatia is among the first, if not the first, a European destination that already applies broader criteria for tourist visits, the same ones that should soon be applied in the EU ”.
Croatia is highly dependent on tourism; about 20% of its income comes from foreign visitors during the summer. Adriatic resorts like the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik and Rovinj, with their narrow cobbled streets and small squares, are almost entirely dependent on tourists.
Goran Pavlovic, manager of the tourism office in the coastal town of Opatija, said Croatia is ready, but the success of its summer season will largely depend on the regulations of other countries, especially if travelers must quarantine themselves a time they return home.
“It will definitely be a challenging year in front of us due to the pandemic situation,” Pavlovic said.
Croatian tourism workers are optimistic.
“We finally want to see the guests smile without their masks,” said Maja Segon, receptionist at the Hotel Savoy in Opatija.