Croatia Airlines: Putting Croatia firmly on the tourist map

By Kerry Ezard

Croatia Airlines chief executive Ivan Misetic has one key mission for 2009: maintain the traffic levels recorded by the carrier in 2008 by working closely with the Croatian tourism board to promote the country as a holiday destination.

"The main goal for 2009 is to protect the levels of 2008," says Misetic, who has led the airline as chief executive since 1997. "Tourism represents a quarter of GDP in Croatia, so with the tourism board we will do our utmost to protect the figures from last year." He adds that Croatia Airlines "does not feel the impact at the moment" of the global economic slowdown, although he does point out that forward bookings are "less attractive" than they were this time last year.

Croatia Airlines operates a fleet of four Airbus A320s, four Airbus A319s and two Bombardier Q400 turboprops, although it has also ordered an additional four A319s and two Q400s. Misetic says the carrier will use the extra capacity to add more frequencies to its existing network. Croatia Airlines is hoping to solidify its position as a key operator in its region. "We are pursuing our plan to become the most important regional player in southeast Europe," says Misetic. "We want to turn Zagreb into a regional hub for travel to Bosnia, Kosovo and destinations further south."

Misetic also hopes to boost off-season flights to Croatia, something that could be helped along by upcoming changes to the laws governing foreign ownership of property in the country. "We suffer high differences in seasonality in Croatia - no one can count the number of carriers going to the Croatian coast in the summer. I believe scheduled services year-round can have a serious impact on tourism," he points out, adding: "From 1 February, foreign ownership regulations will seriously change. Anyone will be able to buy real estate, which will lead to more demand for flights."

Misetic will also have another priority this year he has been appointed as chairman of the Association of European Airlines for 2009. He says the three main challenges facing the AEA this year are: pushing ahead with plans for a Single European Sky the European Union's plan to include aviation in its emissions trading system from 2012 and putting together and presenting the association's agenda for 2010-2014.

"We are more than keen to finalise ETS and see how the final solution impacts the industry. We want to see if the downturn has an impact on emissions trading," he says. "Another challenge is the changing of the guards in the European Parliament and Commission. We have to create our agenda for 2010-2014 and present the document to the Commission in the second half of 2009."

Misetic is also planning to use his new position to highlight the concerns of countries outside the EU. "On a personal level, I would love to bring forward the concerns of non-EU countries, such as the Ukraine, Turkey and Montenegro," he says.

© Reed Business Information 2009

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