Croatia tourism survives

ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia seems likely to escape the drop in tourist income which appears to be hitting Turkey as a result of bird flu, because it has tackled the problem openly and professionally, officials said yesterday. They said tourism, Croatia’s main hard-currency provider, which accounts for some 20 percent of its gross domestic product, is expected to earn 3 to 5 percent more this year than in 2005. Both Turkey and Croatia have reported cases of the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu along with several other European countries. Official Turkish data earlier this week showed a 4.7 percent drop in the number of tourist visitors to the country in January over a year earlier. But Niko Bulic, who heads Croatia’s national tourist board, told reporters he was not worried that the country might experience a sudden drop in interest from foreign visitors. «We cannot dismiss the bird flu threat to tourism but it is essential that the world public knows Croatia did not hide anything but took all necessary measures in a professional and systematic manner, so nothing got out of control,» he said. «Therefore, I do not expect a drop in tourist bookings. We are a small country, much easier to control (than Turkey).» Zdenko Micic, state secretary for tourism, said tourism revenues in the first nine months of 2005 amounted to some 5.6 billion euros. «This year we expect an increase of financial revenues of about 3 to 5 percent, as well as a rise in the number of tourists and overnights,» Micic said. Croatia registered its second case of the H5N1 bird flu virus in a swan found dead on an Adriatic island this month. H5N1 was first found last October in a bevy of swans in central Croatia, and the authorities culled thousands of poultry there to prevent a possible spread of the virus. Bulic urged local media not to blow the bird flu scare out of proportion. «For example, we had unfounded media reports saying we should not eat shellfish, that are among our specialities, because of the bird flu. That really does not help. That’s scoring an own goal, and quite unnecessarily,» Bulic said. Micic said Croatia needed more and better hotels along the scenic Adriatic coast if the industry is to grow further. Croatia wants to renovate its bland socialist-era hotels and encourage private entrepreneurs to build small family establishments. «We plan to increase our 100,000 beds in hotels by another 30,000 in the next five years,» he said.

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