Monday, April 25, 2011

A History of Tourism on Hvar

For an island that has been receiving visitors since the Ancient Greeks settled in 389 BC, the inhabitants of Hvar are used to receiving tourists. Known today as Croatia’s premier island and a must-see on the Adriatic coast, the origins of the island’s tourism have little to do with the sun, beach and party image. Click here for a detailed overview of the history of tourism on Hvar from its humble beginnings to the founding of the Hvar Health Society in 1868, the oldest organised tourism in Europe.

Royal Investment in Europe’s Oldest Organised Tourism

With the founding of the Hvar Health Society on May 15, 1868, the first organised tourism in Europe came into being, tourism based on health and recuperation, rather than historical sites. While individual travel had a long tradition among the upper classes, the first organised tourist association in France only came into existence in Cannes in 1907 (Syndicat d’Initiative). The birth of organised tourism in Europe was announced as follows:

Having surrendered Venice, in all its vast dominions Austria does not have a single place on the coast suitable for people with chest illnesses to stay during the winter season, despite the fact that there are several such places in Istria and Dalmatia.

After due consideration, and with the approval of the most capable doctors and excellent naturalists, it has been established that nowhere is better than Hvar for those with chest illnesses. With its location, the particular nature of the town and the special features of its climate, it can not only rival Venice, Pisa, Nice and so on, but can often outshine them.

Guided by these reasons, and inspired by patriotism and humanity, in the belief that we can offer people from Austria and Northern Germany a superior and more accessible resort, we are establishing in Hvar, Dalmatia, a joint stock company called the Health Society in Hvar.

The aim of the Health Society is to provide everything needed for visitors to have a pleasant stay in this town, so that their sufferings are eased and their diseased lungs can benefit from our mild climate and health-giving air.

For this purpose, the Society will have at its disposal comfortable accommodation for visitors, providing all services, and sparing no effort to fulfil all their desires.

By October several houses will be ready and equipped for this purpose.

Hvar, 15th May 1868.

The first hotel for the new society was a private house on the main square in Hvar Town, owned by the Samohod-Duboković family, which opened for business on October 15 1868 after a full renovation. The new hotel had 13 single rooms with heating and a restaurant, and was staffed by a cook, two waiters and a chambermaid from Trieste.

Funds for a more expansive hotel were sought but progress was slow and the temporary hotel was moved to the former military building on the Fabrika in 1872, with private accommodation fulfilling any shortfall in beds.

The Hvar Health Society petitioned the Court in Vienna for financial support to build a proper hotel, asking that the Empress Elizabeth become patron of the new hotel, allowing it to bear her name. She agreed and the first royal donation was made in 1869 with this reply:

To the honourable Management of the Health Society in Hvar, Dalmatia

Her Majesty the Empress and Queen has very generously decided to accept patronage of your Health Society, based in Hvar, and to allow the Clinic built by this Society to bear the name “Stabilimento igienico imperatrice Elisabetta” (The Empress Elizabeth Institution of Health). As a mark of her most gracious acknowledgement of the worthy aim of the aforementioned Institution, it is her pleasure to grant a gift for it of 200 florins from her Royal Highness’ personal funds.

As it is my honour to inform the honourable Management of the Health Society in Hvar of the glad news of Her Majesty’s decision relating to the request of the 20th of last month, and to pass on the above-mentioned generously approved sum, I ask you kindly to sign and return the enclosed confirmation of receipt of the same.
Gödöllö, 10th November 1869
B. Napcsa, on behalf of Her Majesty

Construction of the new hotel, where the ruins of the former Ducal Palace once stood, was slow, from plans drawn up in 1880 to completion of the first part of the building in 1898 and formally opened on April 1 1899.

The fully completed Kur Hotel Kaiserin Elizabeth opened in 1903, furnished from Trieste and boasting 35 beds, bathrooms, a reading room, restaurant and coffee-house in the old loggia.

Some of the hotel’s rules, included in the 1905 rule book (printed in Croatian, Italian and German), required guests to be clean and tidy, not to smoke at lunch, play dangerous games inside the hotel, bring in animals or hang washing outside.

Expansion of Tourism on Hvar

The Society’s early efforts were both impressive and successful, with Hvar becoming known as the Austrian Madeira. The majority of guests were German, Austrian, Czech, Hungarian and Croatian, enticed to Dalmatia by some excellent tourism promotion by the Hvar Health Society.

In addition to the various leaflets, notices and reviews in Austrian journals, the first guide to Hvar, in German, was printed in Trieste in 1899, followed by a second with photographs in 1903. Things to do on Hvar included night fishing, bowling, the shooting range, concerts and music on the hotel’s terrace, and the art collection at the Franciscan Monastery.

The tourism boom inspired others to jump on the bandwagon and the privately-owned Hotel Kovacic opened in 1914 on the waterfront, as did the Palmizana Manor House on the Pakleni Islands in 1906.

The financial dividends of successful tourism were somewhat reinvested in the town, and there were major improvements in this period, including fixing the promenades to the Franciscan Monastery and Majerovia Bay. Improvements were also made to the town’s bathing beach, changing huts and tennis courts, trees were planted and ferry connections improved.

The most high profile visitor to Hvar in the early years was Emperor Franz Joseph I himself, who sailed in for a night in 1875, to be greeted with a spectacular reception, including fireworks, leading him to address the people of the town:

Thank you for the heartfelt welcome organized by this historic town. I have always believed in the sincere and patriotic feelings of these people, and I guarantee them my Imperial mercy and benevolence.’

After a successful start, the Society’s fortunes changed after 1910 and a combination of constant debts and the First World War led to the sale of the hotel to the owner of Hotel Royal in Zagreb in 1918.

Tourism on Hvar Between the Wars: 1921 - 1941

The Hvar Health Society was dissolved shortly afterwards, and the period of 1921-1941 was one of great change, both politically and from a tourism perspective, as Hvar’s rulers changed from Italian occupiers to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, then to Yugoslavia and into the Second World War.

A new breed of tourism entrepreneur emerged, expanding the offer from traditional health tourism into more recreational and bathing holidays, and with the expansion, so tourism was opened up to different social classes. The Hvar Council Tourist Board came into being in the late 1930s.

A driving force in this expansion was the director of the Palace Hotel (as the Empress Elizabeth had been renamed) and leader of the town council, Dr. Josip Avelini, whose energy and enthusiasm led to the construction of new hotels and improved public services.

Work began on the large Madeira Hotel in 1929, the Palace was extended in 1935, and construction of the Dr. Jopip Avelini Health Centre finally opened at Hotel Dalamacija in 1948. Palm trees were planted along the promenade in 1924 and a new stone bathing station unveiled in 1927.

A small electric plant in 1925 lit up the town each night, while the water supply grid from the springs near the town was introduced in 1923. A road connecting Hvar with the northern coastal towns of Jelsa and Stari Grad was finished in 1939. Others followed suit, and Hotels Park, Overland and Slavija were built at this time.

The boost in tourism was gratefully received by the local population, suffering as they were from poor wine yields, which had led to large-scale emigration. Records show that there were 3,065 visitors in 1930, for example, totaling 26,911 overnight stays.

As for Hvar’s original hotel, the Empress Elizabeth was renamed the Grand Palace by the new owner, who himself fell into debt, and ownership transferred to a Serbian bank, who sold it to the Honorary Yugoslav Consul in Prague. He remained the owner until the break-up of the first Yugoslavia.

The most ambitious project was the spa Hotel Madeira, a 160-bed hotel where the present Hotel Adriana is located, with central heating and even a lift. Due to a scandal with one of the main investors, a government minister, the hotel was never built, and the site lay empty for forty years until the Hotel Adriatic was built.

Hvar under Communism: Mass Tourism and the Rise of Naturism

Emerging from the Second World War under Communist Yugoslav rule, Hvar’s tourism suffered on two fronts: firstly, many of the traditional guests from Austria and West Germany could not easily visit; and secondly, the new authorities nationalised all the hotels and decided to focus tourism based on workers’ trade unions, so that the majority of visitors were children, invalids and workers, with the only sizable foreign contingent being the Czechs.

In order to attract more quality tourism, the Hvar Hotel Company was established in 1959, an independent company managed by a young Hvar citizen, Tonko Domancic. A new leaflet produced in the same year, entitled “Come to Hvar this winter – the sunniest island on the Adriatic” marked a shift in emphasis in the Hvar tourism offer.

At the same time, several municipal projects, including the 364-bed Hotel Pharos and night-time restaurant on the island of Galesnik, opposite Hvar Town, increased the tourism offer, which also now projected Hvar as an ideal naturist resort, as well as a health resort.

It worked. Hvar became a very popular place to visit from Western Europe and Scandinavia, as tourists took advantage of the cheaper prices in Yugoslavia and the hospitable welcome and improved facilities, and the island once more regained its quality tourism image. Famous guests at the time included Orson Welles (who filmed The Deep on Hvar), actress Jeanne Moreau, actor George Hamilton, designer Pierre Cardin and underwater explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau.

Naturism was an especially effective tourism strategy and Western naturists, particularly from Germany flocked to the island from the 1960s. While the naturist tradition was at odds with Hvar’s conservative society, the island of Jerolim on the Pakleni Islands was made available to naturists discreetly, the first such offer on the Adriatic coast. Hvar has been a haven for naturists ever since.

With the growth of mass tourism in the 1970s came the even stronger growth of the private accommodation offer, which is the backbone of much private income on the island, and has resulted in some lifelong friendships, as tourists return each year to the same families and apartments. In 1930, there were only 44 private rooms for rent in Hvar Town, a number that had increased to 700 by 1990.

War in Yugoslavia and the Arrival of ORCO Group

War, this time a more localised affair, decimated the tourist industry in the early 1990s, at a time when Yugoslavia was the second most popular destination for British tourists after Spain. Not only were foreign guests not coming, but the hotels were filled with refugees and the displaced from mainland Croatia. The effects on the island’s economy and the livelihoods of the many dependent on tourism was severe.

Recovery was initially slow in a newly independent Croatia, as many tourists stayed away, confused as to whether or not Croatia was still a war zone. A highly effective marketing campaign by the Croatian National Tourist Board, under the banner The Mediterranean as it Once Was, helped to dispel some of the myths and tourists are once more flocking to the island.

Hvar Town itself has undergone a major upgrade, both in terms of branding and renovation, with the arrival of Orco Group in 2005, who bought a majority share in Suncani Hvar, the Hvar Town hotel group. Since purchasing, millions have been invested into revamping the hotels and improving the town’s image, so that it is now known as the new St. Tropez.

Now known as one of the premier spots on the Adriatic, the history of tourism on Hvar has been turbulent, but the fundamentals remain the same – it is the sunniest island with stunning scenery and pristine beaches, as well as an extremely healthy climate, leading Conde Nast readers to vote it among the top ten most beautiful islands in the world.

1 comment:

  1. I think Hvar is a beautiful place that deserves to be included in the top ten most beautiful islands in the world! There is still room for more improvement by I believe they can pull this off.

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