Croatian authorities force thrifty Czech holiday makers to hide their salami

03-06-2008

The favoured Czech holiday destination par excellence is Croatia – with its miles of sandy beaches, beautiful coastal towns and exquisite Mediterranean cuisine. Well, actually, not many Czechs go for the cuisine - in fact a huge number of Czech tourists bring their own food with them. That obsessive self-catering seems to have irritated the Croatian authorities to such an extent that they’ve now banned tourists from bringing in meat and dairy products, to the fury of thrifty Czech visitors.

Each summer, usually a few days after the end of the school year, a good proportion of the Czech nation loads up the Skoda and heads for the beaches of Hvar and the cobbled streets of Dubrovnik and Split. But alongside the sun block and the swimming trunks and the insect repellent, many Czech families also load up the family car with food.

They take kilos of salami, strings of sausages and Tupperware boxes full of fried pork cutlets. Some bring jumbo tubs of yoghurt and margarine, even crates of beer and loaves of bread. Tomio Okamura, spokesman of the Czech Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents, tried to explain to me the magnitude of this annual migration:

“800,000 Czech citizens visit Croatia every year. Two-thirds of them – around 500,000 Czechs - spend their vacation in Croatia in apartments with kitchens where they cook. So this new rule very drastically affects most Czech citizens this year. Croatia is the number one destination for Czech people, and about 25 percent of all Czech vacations are spent in Croatia.”

But that age-old tradition of visiting Croatia and bringing the contents of your fridge with you is now under threat. Croatian restaurant owners and supermarkets have long complained about Czech tourists coming for the sun and sea but not spending a penny on the local produce.

On June 1st the Croatian government introduced new rules banning the import of meat and dairy products for citizens of all EU countries. Officially no-one is saying the measure is aimed at Czech visitors, but tour operators have their doubts. Earlier in the week there were rumours that the ban might be withdrawn as soon as it was introduced, but they seem to have been premature. Czech Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova had this to say to Czech Television:

“The Croatian Ministry of Agriculture informed us by telephone that the Croatian authorities might consider withdrawing the ban on bringing meat and dairy products into the country. However at present I have no official information on this matter.”

The question on many people’s minds is why Czech tourists take vast quantities of food with them when they could buy the same food for not much more in the local supermarkets. But Tomio Okamura says it’s not just about money:

“It’s not only a problem of price, it’s also a problem of taste. Because Czechs like the taste of Czech sausages, Czech yoghurt and so on - a lot of them prefer their lovely taste. And of course they want also to save money.”

Tomio Okumura says the meat and dairy ban comes on the back of two other measures which have made Czech holiday-makers’ lives more difficult – a new Croatian rule creating inconvenient paperwork for children travelling without their parents, and higher motorway tolls in Slovenia, through which Czech tourists must pass on their way to the Adriatic coast.

As a result tour operators and travel agents across the country are reporting hundreds of cancellations, with many people choosing to go to Italy or Greece instead.

03-06-2008