When Insight Vacations president Marc Kazlauskas went looking
for a new and exotic itinerary in Europe, he found what he was
looking for in Croatia.
This year, Insight Vacations added a 15-day tour of the
“Adriatic Riviera” to the “Country Roads of Europe” collection of
premium escorted tours. The trip, said Kazlauskas, has already
And Insight Vacations, which has offices in Anaheim, Calif., and
New York, isn’t the only tour operator to rediscover the “land of
Just as Odysseus was held captive in the nymph Calypso’s cave
the setting of which is believed to be on the Croatian island of
Mljet American tour operators are being captivated by Croatia,
where a number of new tours have been launched this year.
Many Americans may still think of Croatia as the setting for a
hard-fought war for independence from the former Yugoslavia, and
the battle for Serb-controlled territory. But the fighting ended in
1995, and other than the continuing effort to remove remaining land
mines from former conflict zones Croatia’s major cities and coastal
areas favored by tourists are considered very safe.
European tourists have been returning to Croatia in droves
particularly Germans. In the first nine months of 2002, there were
43 million overnight stays, of which 39 million were foreigners, a
3 percent increase over the previous year.
Americans accounted for an estimated 113,428 overnight stays in
that period, up from 103,917 the previous year.
“Now our problem is getting hotel rooms and seats on the plane,”
said tour operator Niko Hazdovac, president and owner of Adriatic
Tours in San Pedro, Calif.
For Croatia, the past few years have been a period of
privatization, reconstruction and refurbishment of tourism
facilities, and there is more to be done.
But, said Hazdovac, unless you look for the damage, “you’d never
realize.” Currently hotel capacity is still about 25 percent below
pre-war (1990) levels, and the tourism industry is relying heavily
on rooms and apartments offered by locals a lodging segment that is
growing with the help of state incentives for the restoration of
historic buildings to promote tourism.
But this year several new and refurbished hotels are expected to
open, including Zagreb’s luxurious Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925,
which is being restored to its original art nouveau style and is
scheduled to reopen Sept. 1.
And Croatia is becoming increasingly popular as a destination
for cruise lines.
In fact, Croatia is seen as a potential gold mine for nautical
tourism, with its sparkling clean water, gorgeous islands, and
1,778 kilometers of coastline. Hazdovac said his company, which
offers a variety of group and FIT tours, has been seeing a lot of
interest in yachting vacations.
“A lot of people think and I am one of them that Croatia has one
of the nicest coasts in the world,” said Hazdovac, who is
originally from Dubrovnik. He has operated Adriatic Tours in San
Pedro home to one of the largest Croatian communities in the U.S.
for nearly 30 years.
A popular vacation, said Hazdovac, are his week-long cruises on
air-conditioned schooners for groups of 20 to 25. Clients can
choose their itinerary. The package starts at $1,000 per person,
This year Abercrombie & Kent has included a new cruise along
the Dalmatian Coast in its Sailing Ancient Shores program. Guests
stay on the 34-passenger yacht, the Callisto, and are joined by a
Highlights on the Croatian leg include the ancient walled city
of Dubrovnik; Korcula, the birthplace of Marco Polo; and the
Imperial Palace in Split. Eight-days start at $5,950, double
Sunny Land Tours, based in Hackensack, N.J., has offered
programs in Croatia for some time, but this is the first year the
company is promoting Croatia with a full brochure of escorted group
tours, said Tanya Ostojic, Sunny Land vice president.
The Treasures of Croatia program, for example, brings clients
into Zagreb on Lufthansa German Airlines for a seven-night tour
through the Dalmatia region yes, that’s where the dogs are from to
the port city of Split, then on to Dubrovnik, and the Plitvice
Lakes National Park with its cascading waterfalls. Prices start at
$1,525, double occupancy, including air.
The region is also very popular as a destination for Catholic
pilgrimages Croatia is largely a Catholic country. And some
pilgrimage tours take travelers into neighboring
Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the village of Medjugorje is located.
Many believe the Virgin Mary has appeared regularly to residents
here since 1981 and visitors come to pray and seek spiritual
Bosnia, however, is not as stable as Croatia. The U.S. State
Department warnings for Americans traveling in Bosnia not only
include land mines, but the potential of localized political
violence. United Nations troops are expected to remain in Bosnia
for some time.
With good food the Istria region is known for white truffles and
wine, eight national parks, and enough islands to give just about
every visitor their own private (pebble) beach, Croatia is ready to
be discovered by Americans, say tourism officials.
The fact that the country’s tourism infrastructure is still in
development adds to Croatia’s old-world charm, said Pamela Lassers,
A&K director of media relations. “People are very interested in
that part of the Mediterranean because it’s so undeveloped.”
The Croatian National Tourist Office in New York has an updated
list of U.S.-based tour operators offering programs in Croatia this
Here are a few examples:
Insight Vacations Inc., Anaheim, Calif., 800-582-8380.
Sunny Land Tours, Hackensack, N.J., 800-783-7839.
www.sunnylandtours.com Abercrombie & Kent, with a U.S. office
outside Chicago, 800-323-7308. www.abercrombiekent.com
Adriatic Tours, San Pedro, Calif., 888-CROATIA.
Regina Tours, a Far & Wide company, specializes in Catholic
pilgrimage tours, 800-465-9248, ext. 130. www.reginatours.com