When Croatia officially joined the European Union this July, the country celebrated what it hopes will be a richer era for tourism.
Croatia’s new membership in the Schengen Zone, the group of European countries that foregoes passport and immigration controls at their mutual borders, means the nation’s popular Dalmatian coast will be even more appealing to EU citizens looking to travel without restrictions.
Neighboring countries may also have reason to celebrate. While Croatia became easier for EU members to visit, new barriers now exist for tourists from everywhere else in the world. Previously, travelers from nearby countries like Turkey and Russia could enter the country with no preparation or documents, but now they must first apply and receive a Schengen visa before heading to the coast.
It is particularly difficult for Turkish citizens to obtain Schengen visas, said Ercan Abitagaoglu, who works for the Tatilbudur tourism agency in Istanbul.
“The list of documentation required is like the ingredients in a Indian meal,” he said, “it goes on and on.” And at $150, the visa’s price is also a deterrent.
For these reasons, Abitagaoglu said, “there has already been a 80 percent drop in the number of Turkish [tourists] visiting Croatia.”
Unfriendly borders aren’t the only baggage that comes with EU membership. Croatia will also have to raise certain taxes and wages, which could weigh on the tourism industry, especially at the very high and low ends, respectively.
Danilo Kalezic, the PR Manager at Porto Montenegro, a marina in the Bay of Kotor, said the marina was expecting to gain business from travelers priced out of Croatia.
“Taxes will be higher once they’re in the European Union, so obviously their yacht owners will want to find other harbors and marinas to accommodate,” Kalezic said.
With all of the new EU business it’s expecting, Croatia probably won’t miss these yacht owners and a few thousand Turkish tourists. But they could make a difference to the countries that replace Croatia in their travel plans. Abitagaoglu said many of his clients will instead vacation to Bosnia and Herzegovina or Montenegro, Croatia’s little brother in the family of Adriatic Coast tourism.
But Montenegro may not be prepared for the influx, as the tiny nation of around 650,000 has already blown up too much, too fast. Russian tycoons started to zero in on the business-friendly gray economy and government corruption there in the mid-2000s, grabbing hold of chunks of land and building them up so fast that the rumble of construction is now ubiquitous.
A new crop of Turkish, Ukrainian, and Serbian tourists looking for the only remaining friendly swathe of Adriatic coast may justify these years of overambitious development, or could further erode the charm of an already overbuilt landscape.