Croatia bets on vaccines for hotel staff, testing to lure tourists back

POREC, Croatia, April 23 (Reuters) - The streets of Porec are almost deserted for now, but the picture-postcard Croatian resort is gearing up for what it hopes will be a busy summer tourist season, thanks to efforts to keep visitors and staff as COVID-free as possible.

Launched on Friday down the Adriatic coast in Dubrovnik, a multi-million-euro government campaign aims to get around 80,000 tourism workers vaccinated against the coronavirus in coming weeks, while offering guest subsidised tests.

Porec’s hoteliers expect its current trickle of visitors to turn into something more like the usual flood from mid-May as travel restrictions are gradually eased around Europe, and they are making sure they are well prepared.

“We are strongly investing in a safe stay for our guests, from disinfection to glass protection at the reception desk, more staff for serving food and digitalised registration and payments,” said Eva De Zan Prusina, PR manager for the Plava Laguna group, which runs Porec’s Hotel Parentium.

Tourism usually accounts for almost a fifth of Croatia’s economic output, but the pandemic more than halved revenues in 2020 to around 4.8 billion euros ($5.79 billion).

In view of the government campaign, Croatia’s central bank expects that to rise to around 70% of normal this year - an optimism shared by Tourism Minister Nikolina Brnjac.

“We set aside some 20 million kuna ($3.18 million) for buying the (antigen) tests for which the tourists will pay only a symbolic price,” she said. Visitors will get their results before they return home.

Plava Laguna, which owns 20 hotels in three locations, already offers COVID-19 tests in its three hotels that are open at the moment, but at a cost of between 17 and 63 euros per person.

“We welcome the ministry’s decision to subsidise testing,” De Zan Prusina added.

($1 = 6.2843 kuna)

$1 = 0.8300 euros Reporting by Antonio Bronic and Igor Ilic; editing by John Stonestreet