Tourism boosts Zagreb and Ostend’s post-covid recovery

May 5, 2022

For many cities, tourism is one, if not the main economic sector that creates jobs and promotes development. More than 700 million tourists travel across Europe every year, representing 38 million jobs in 2019 alone and just over 5.6% of the region’s GDP, making Europe the leader world of international tourism.

With the pandemic, lockdowns, travel bans or restrictions, however, many European countries and cities have ended up seeing a major economic source dry up and have had to adapt to ‘new times’ to try to save businesses. and avoid the high loss of jobs and income. In 2020, 35 million people had jobs related to the tourism sector, a notable decrease.

It has not been easy to survive the past two years, and many cities are still suffering from the consequences of the pandemic (which is not over but seems to be under control), while others are using tourism precisely to reactivate and revive their savings. .

Zagreb has been hit hard, but plans for the future

In Croatia, where tourism accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP, the city of Zagreb needed to find new and innovative ways to help such an important sector.

“After experiencing strong and robust annual growth for nearly a decade, suffered a major blow in 2020, with tourist arrivals down 76% and overnight stays down 70% compared to the exceptionally successful 2019, Explain Mladen Kovačević, Expert Advisor at the City of Zagreb Tourism Department.

He goes on to say that “in 2021 we have seen some upward trajectory, but still at an easy pre-pandemic level of arrivals and overnight stays which, compared to 2019, is down 56%”.

The city of Zagreb.  Photo by mtomicphotography, Pixabay
The city of Zagreb. Photo by mtomicphotography, Pixabay

To put the data into perspective and show the difficult road ahead, Kovačević points out that “between 2014 and 2019, tourist arrivals in Zagreb and overnight stays have seen a steady increase of almost 11% per year on average” .

Prior to Covid, Zagreb was booming in tourism, with strong hotel development and a thriving events industry, but both have taken a hit. In addition to the pandemic, Zagreb was hit by a devastating earthquake in March 2020 which, according to Kovačević, “damaged many buildings in the historic center, including hotels, apartments, bars, restaurants, theaters, museums and public buildings that have had a significant impact. for the tourism industry, as it is mainly concentrated in the city center.

However, Kovačević is optimistic. “We have reason to be positive about the near future, as it appears the worst effects of the pandemic are behind us.”

However, the city is not just waiting for better times and the full reopening of the service sector.

During the pandemic, with air travel being very limited, the Zagreb Tourist Board, in cooperation with the Zagreb County Tourist Board and the Krapina-Zagorje Tourist Board, ‘launched the campaign’Close to town, close to the heart‘ (“Around Zagreb”) with the aim of encouraging visitors from neighboring countries, who are only a car drive away, to discover and appreciate the beauties of Zagreb and the wider region”, explains he.

In January 2022, the Zagreb City Administration launched the “Smart City Zagreb platform” which, he explains, “serves as a hub for projects, city news and apps. Some of the projects currently under development aim to improve public transport, traffic management, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and the construction of new charging points for electric cars which are recognized by most tourists as the main weak points during of their stay in Zagreb.

In addition to the city’s plans, there has been a strong push from local businesses and the hospitality industry to adapt to the health measures put in place to limit the effects of the pandemic and to find adequate solutions in order to continue to do business in the new circumstances.

In addition to the Europe-wide easing of measures that led to the resumption of air travel, the events industry is currently experiencing a period of rejuvenation with an ever-increasing number of events scheduled for 2022 and 2023 such as major exhibitions, numerous concerts, exhibitions, festivals and fairs.

Ostend has never stopped investing in tourism

The seaside of Ostend.  Image by Photo by Peter Heymans on Unsplash
The seaside of Ostend. Image by Photo by Peter Heymans on Unsplash

In Belgium, the coastal city of Ostend is also recovering from the pandemic. Even though tourism accounts for just over 1.9% of Belgian GDP, for Ostend tourism is of utmost importance.

“We are a city by the sea, it is our biggest attraction, so tourism is quite important. We have a lot of hotels and restaurants, so a lot of people live directly or indirectly from tourism. Is one of the largest economic players in the city, a non-removable player, is stable. We are not a big city, so we really need tourists to be economically relevant,” explains Pieter Hens, marketing manager at Toerisme Oostende, a department of the city of Ostend.

Like many cities across Europe, during the pandemic there were periods of lockdown, “when hotels and restaurants closed and the numbers weren’t good,” says Hens, adding that, however, “We had the advantage that when people could travel, it was in Belgium and many came here.

He notes that “70-80% of our tourists already come from Belgium, so it was easier for us to attract these people because our market is focused on Belgium”.

During the pandemic, the city has offered support to local businesses. During confinement, “restaurants that had to travel for take-out sales were supported by campaigns aimed at the public – videos, content, chefs cooking at home, etc.

When restaurants were able to open, we did a big campaign to welcome people back with restaurants and hotels sharing videos with welcome messages,” says Hens.

He notes that the city “never completely shut down, we kept talking to people online, doing social media and once people were able to come back, everything was fine. We worked a lot during covid on how people could travel safely with beach alerts so they know when they won’t be too crowded We brought delivery companies to Ostend during covid to help restaurants.

We had a reservation system to reserve a place on the beach and each area had a maximum capacity (for free), other people could enter up to the capacity of the beach by sharing the burden between several beaches. Dividing people, spreading all over the city (beaches). Via the city’s website. We have created walking routes for people to also go to places outside the city, to know new places.

Now, he explains, “we’re not doing any additional big campaigns, but rather picking up where we left off before.”

Cities across Europe have been doing their best to cope with the many restrictions imposed on tourism during the pandemic and with the sector fully reopening, they now expect their economies to grow again.


This article is part of a series outlining local recovery efforts by cities across Europe – cities want #MoreThanRecovery

A renaissance of digital mobility in Milan

In Bologna, a booming recovery

Cities want more than recovery

Recovery, Zagreb’s chance to catch up

Boost and restart Espoo

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