Beaches along Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coastline are observing a massive footfall. Guided tours are fully booked, restaurants are swarming with them and sailboats were chartered well in advance. Summer tourism has exceeded expectations in Croatia this year.

Once fearful that the coronavirus pandemic would discourage people from traveling, Croatia’s tourism industry was caught by surprise.

“It’s much better — it’s almost like 2020 never happened,” Josip Crncevic, a tour guide in Dubrovnik, told AP.

The success of the summer season carries strong implications for Croatia’s economy, which is among the weakest in the European Union. Tourism accounts for up to 20% of gross domestic product, and visitor spending is essential to the incomes of locals who rent lodging or run other tourism-linked businesses. 

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“As of August 10, overnight stays were at 69% of the record number seen in the 2019 season,” tourism minister Nikolina Brnjac said.

The Balkan country experienced four years of war in the 1990s, but before the pandemic had become a top vacation spot for European and American visitors

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As for the pandemic management in the Balkan country, health officials organized vaccination drives for people with jobs in tourism and kept some crowd limits in place. About 40% of the adult population in the country of 4.2 million has been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Daily reported cases reached 600 earlier this week. Croatia has reported about 370,000 cases and more than 8,000 virus-related deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

Visitors have been renting sailboats to ensure safety on vacation. “Everybody is looking to have a boat!” exclaimed Marin Katicin, the CEO of charter company Pitter Yachting. “We have no boats anymore!”

Kate Redder, a visitor from Germany, said, “I think it is just safer than going to a hotel where you meet different people all the time..So you are safe. We are only here as a family and with our skipper.”