Thanks to the Pelješac Bridge, Croatia gained a new tourist attraction, investment, and a faster link between its mainland and southern islands. And against apocalyptic predictions, Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to have come out on top as well.
Croatians have long envisioned linking the southern part of their country and the mainland, with those driving from the south of Croatia possibly having to go through customs in Bosnia and Herzegovina to access services such as health and education located on Croatia’s mainland.
The country’s citizens finally got their wish with the opening of the Pelješac Bridge this July, which has drastically changed travel in both Croatia and Bosnia. Not only has it reduced travel times in Croatia, but the bridge connecting the same-named peninsula to the Croatian mainland has boosted tourism.
“Pelješac has seen near pre-pandemic tourism traffic, and a 25 percent growth in overnight (visits) to date compared to 2021,” said a representative from the Croatia National Tourism Board.
Ston, a destination renowned for the Walls of Ston, Europe’s longest complete fortress system, has also gotten a tourism boost from the Pelješac Bridge. The number of visitors to the Walls have doubled from last year and the town has already recorded more overnight stays than in 2021, said a representative from the town’s tourism board. The national tourism board has reported that Ston, as well as the entire Pelješac peninsula, has seen an increase in visitors from Poland and Slovenia, in particular.
Prior to the bridge’s opening, motorists traveling across Croatia would have had to go through the Neum corridor in Bosnia. A 1998 agreement between the two countries stated that drivers could skip customs at Neum only if they didn’t get out of their vehicles at any point in the 5.6 mile stretch. Although most motorists taking the crossing choose not to stop, businesses in Neum had worried the reduction of traffic through the corridor would hurt their bottom line.
While the Croatian Ministry of the Interior estimates the number of vehicles crossing the Neum corridor between July 19 and September 30 was 75 percent below 2019 levels, the new bridge hasn’t hurt Bosnia’s ongoing tourism recovery despite it attracting more motorists than the corridor. Bosnian officials report the country recorded 56 and 46 percent increases in tourist arrivals and overnight stays respectively through the first eight months of 2022, compared to the same period last year.
However, the Pelješac Bridge has significantly impacted for business for Croatian shipping company Jadrolinjia, a major player in the country’s travel industry. Jadrolinjia, Croatia’s largest ferry operator, has seen a significant drop in passenger numbers on its most popular route, the Ploče-Trpanj line. That decline drove the company to place a smaller ship on that route which, along with Neum corridor, was one of the main ways to travel around Croatia prior to the Pelješac Bridge.
“The traffic on the Ploče-Trpanj line dropped as expected,” a spokesperson from Jadrolinjia said. “This was especially felt right after the opening of the bridge because people were drawn by curiosity.”
Hrvatske Ceste, Croatia’s state-owned road transportation company, has also noted the Pelješac Bridge has caused a change in travel patterns, including reduced traffic on both sides of the Neum corridor. Croatian tourism authorities believe that shift will open up more popular tourist destinations in the country to international visitors. Drivers using the crossing to travel between Split and Dubrovnik often encountered massive traffic jams.
“Croatia is a very well-positioned car destination,” a representative from the agency said. “The bridge allows (us) to further promote land access to traditionally flight destinations, like Dubrovnik, and will be included in (our) visual promotional strategy.”
Meanwhile, the Pelješac Bridge will facilitate Croatia’s entry into the European Union’s Schengen zone, an area of 26 countries that have abolished border controls. The European Commission invested $349 million (357 million euros) in its construction, roughly 85 percent of the project.
“The Pelješac Bridge has improved the everyday life of citizens in nearby areas by reducing travel time,” said Ognian Zlatev, the European Commission’s head of representation in Croatia.
“A smooth flow of goods and people has also facilitated access to public services such as healthcare. This seamless connection will certainly also benefit tourism, trade and (strengthen) territorial cohesion.”
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Photo credit: The Peljesac Bridge will enable Croatian citizens travel to the extreme south of the country without passing through Bosnia and Herzegovina. European Commission