Hvar, the cradle of Croatian tourism, is celebrating this year 150th anniversary of tourism. Hvar geographic position, its favourable climate, clear sea and rich culture heritage favoured the development of the organized tourism in the distant 1868, when the «Health Society»was founded. The society was stimulating and going in step with tourism development. It was opening the gate to make it the most important branch of the town economy and bringing Hvar to the fame of a world wide known tourist destination visited by most demanding and famous visitors from all over the world.
As all the long and glorious histories have their mythical beginnings, so does the history of touristic development of Hvar. A Hellenic poet, Apollonius of Rhodes, in his famous epic „The Voyage of Argo“, narrates of the first visitors to the island. According to him, at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC mythical Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece, travelling around the Mediterranean, disembarked on the coasts of Hvar. From that event on, follows the chronicle of changes, the rising and falling of touristic development of the island.
The characteristic of tourism in the period of Antiquity, especially during Roman dominion, were country resorts, the so called villae rusticae that could be found all around the island, and were very popular among the wealthy roman inhabitants.
However, the history of European tourism can be said to originate with the medieval pilgrimage. As an important naval port of the time, Hvar was an inevitable stop on the route from Venice to the Holy Land. Although undertaken primarily for religious reasons, the pilgrimage was also seen as a kind of holiday. Pilgrims left the first written testimonies describing life on the island during the 15th, the 16th and the 17th century.
Revival of the country resorts is typical for the period of Renaissance and Baroque, i.e. from the 16th to the 18th century. The greatest part of Hvar’s most famous country houses dates from this period.
The end of the 18th century, throughout Europe, was marked by the intensive growth of interest in the natural, ethnographic, archeological, cultural and scientific particularities of the less known regions of the continent. One of the targets of that period’s inquisitive voyagers was Dalmatia – an exotic and unexplored garden of the southern Europe. Particularly attractive was the island of Hvar, which became the destination of investigative travels to many scientists and nature lovers. Therefore, the period from the 18th to the end of the 19th century is known as the period of scientific tourism on Hvar. The most important research works, regarding the future development of tourism on the island, involved climate researches, which proved that the climate on the island favored the prevention as well as the medical treatment of lung diseases.
The idea of founding a medical and touristic institution dates back to the 60s of the 19th century, to the first arrival of Franz Unger M.D., from Graz, Austria. Health tourism has always existed, but May 15th, 1868, the inauguration day of the Hygienic society of Hvar, marked the beginning of the modern era in the development of tourism on the island and in Croatia in general. The Manifesto of the Hygienic society, published also in German and in French language, is the first written document, which concisely defines main goals of the Society. It not only establishes Hvar as the ideal destination for lung patients coming from Austria and Germany, but also equals its importance and beauties to those of Venice and Pisa in Italy, and Nice in France. One of the main goals of the Society was to make all the necessary arrangements and provisions, and to ensure enough comfortable accommodation units, which would render the foreign visitors’ stay on the island even more pleasant.
With its Manifesto, the Hygienic society clearly outlined the vision of modern catering based on organized public care and supervision. Thus, May 15th, 1868 can be considered the beginning of organized tourism in general, since the Hygienic society was the first and the only one of its kind at that time in Europe.
Hvar, unlike other European countries, was developing health tourism, and the first and the most important task of the Hygienic society was to build a modern health hotel. Since the project required significant funds, in October 1868 the Society temporarily arranged a smaller hotel in the home of Samohod-Duboković family. The second step was a request for financial help and patronage addressed directly to the empress Elisabeth in Vienna, offering to give her name to the future hotel. The empress accepted the offer, and gave her first donation in 1869. The first part of the hotel, located in the former duke’s palace, was finished in 1898, but the construction works would be completed and the hotel inaugurated only in 1903. It was named The Empress Elisabeth Health Hotel, had 26 rooms, i.e. 35 beds. At the beginning the hotel was a great business success, which encouraged the Society to start developing new hotel building projects. Numerous guests coming from Austria, Germany, Bohemia (now Czech Republic), Hungary and from Croatian countries, helped Hvar become an important tourist destination on the Austrian Riviera, and the catch phrase «Austrian Madeira» dates from this period.
The Hygienic society was engaged also in touristic advertising of the health hotel and of the island of Hvar. Among many leaflets, in 1899, in Trieste, Italy they published the first tourist guidebook in German language, and in 1903 it was revised, illustrated and printed with the front page in color. The guidebook emphasized the curative properties of Hvar’s climate and the advantages of winter tourism. Among entertaining and cultural activities it offered night fishing, shooting gallery, bowling, concerts of the town brass band, dancing nights on the hotel terrace or visits to the art collection of the Franciscan monastery.
The Kovačić hotel, with 30 beds, was opened in 1914 and was the property of Kovačić-Ragužel family, while the Meneghellos opened a fashionable summer resort on Plamižana Island, called the Palmižana castle.
Activities of the Hygienic society, besides touristic development of the island, contributed greatly to its general cultural growth throughout the second half of the 19th century.
Notwithstanding its initial success, the hotel business had to face a period of crisis, which began in the early 20s of the 20th century. The First World War and debts, forced the Hygienic society to sell the business with all the acquired immovables and movables. The deal was settled in 1918, when Mr. Milan Čanko, proprietor of the Royal hotel in Zagreb, bought the hotel in Hvar for 250.000 Krunas. A couple of years later the Hygienic society ceased to exist, and that was the end of the first phase in modern touristic development of Hvar.
The second phase covers the period between two World Wars, from 1921 to 1941.
Those were the years of accelerated development of the island. The tourism industry expanded, and besides health and winter tourism, started developing summer, recreational and bathing tourism. That was the period of construction of new, and adaptation of the old hotel facilities, of significant investments in expanding of catering services and tourist activities such as sports, cultural events and entertainment, of exterior landscaping and decoration of public areas, coast, beaches, parks, promenades, and as a significant accomplishment the construction of stone bathing facility, in 1927 should not be forgotten to mention.
Tourism industry was under the authority of the municipal office, at first called Health committee, then Bathing committee and finally Municipal Tourism Committee.
The offer of accommodation facilities was very rich. Hotels from that period are the Palace (ex The Empress Elisabeth Health Hotel), the Park, the Overland, the Slavija, the Kovačić, board and lodging at the Palmižana castle and Dorotka, a great number of inns, coffee-houses and many privately owned rental houses. Guests were coming from Yugoslavia, Austria, Bohemia and Germany. In 1930 Hvar recorded 3065 visitors, and 26911 nights. Side by side with the town of Hvar, Jelsa, Stari Grad and Vrboska, were also experiencing considerable progress in touristic development.
After the end of the World War II, in 1945, various historical circumstances influenced the development of tourism on the island of Hvar, and in Croatia in general.
The year 1945 was the beginning of a tumultuous forty-five years period of the communist Yugoslavia (1945-1990), marked by significant social and economical reforms, followed by a short, but nonetheless difficult period of the War of Independence (also called the Homeland War, from 1991-1995), and finally sovereign state of the Republic of Croatia.
Tourism industry experienced radical changes in the year 1945. Hotels became state owned and started developing a non-profitable type of tourism designed mainly for the working class or labor unions. Foreign visitors at that period were mainly Czech.
The second half of the 50s brought significant changes. All the hotels were joined under the management of Hvar Hotel Company: the Palace, the Park, the Dalmacija, the Slavija, the Istra (ex hotel Kovačić) and the Mornar (ex hotel Overland). The slogan: Come to Hvar this winter – the sunniest island of the Adriatic sea, of the promotional leaflet, that was published that same year announced a whole new era in the history of Hvar’s tourism.
The 60s were an era of important investments in tourism industry – construction of another hotel, the Pharos, and among winter and summer tourism, nude and health tourism were going upscale and tourist statistics recorded an increased number of visitors coming from the Nordic countries.
Tourism was developing rapidly and it needed a correspondent development of the supporting infrastructure, which led to increased construction of roads on the island as well as significant investments in the sea transportation connection between the island and the land.
The growth of family or individual initiative resulted in new products on the tourist market: private restaurants, coffee shops, boarding houses. Thanks to the rich offer and good quality of tourist and catering services, Hvar became a very interesting destination to the West European visitors, thus creating the image of an exclusive summer resort on the Adriatic.
The initial success of tourism in the early 60s, encouraged the growth and expansion of that industry, which resulted in intensified works on adaptation of the existing accommodation facilities, building of new holiday resorts and hotels (the Adriatik, the Delfin, the Bodul, the Amfora), camps, marinas, sport courts, bathing resorts, restaurants, inns and coffee shops. New types of tourism appeared: nautical, hunting, sport and congress tourism, and were developing rapidly along with the already existing summer, bathing and nude tourism. Private accommodation units were expanding: the number of boarding houses and rooms for rent was growing rapidly. Particular attention was paid to education of the personnel. Tourism industry on Hvar was assuming new shapes: mainly those of mass and seasonal, typically summer and recreational tourism. It was penetrating the core of the island’s being, thus becoming the central supporting pillar of the economic and social development of Hvar.
The growing number of inhabitants called for the modernization of basic municipal infrastructure: a new submarine electrical cable was laid, potable water brought from the land.
In the 70s and in the first half of the 80s tourism reached its peak, in all its positive and negative aspects. The second half of the 80s is a period of stagnation and decadence of tourism industry in Hvar, because at that period of time it was primarily depending on visitors with considerably limited paying capacities, which led to a decreased offer quality and finally to a decreased profit. Burdened by bank credits, the Hotel company had no funds to invest neither in the maintenance of the existing hotels nor in the improvement of the tourist offer.
In order to neutralize the crisis, all the hotel companies from towns Hvar, Jelsa and Stari Grad, in 1986 decided to found a joint company under the name of Sunčani Hvar (Sunny Hvar). However, they did not succeed in reanimating the tourist and catering industry. Instead, they kept distancing themselves from the more demanding contemporary European market.
The most critical period was that of the War of Independence (1991-1995), when tourism literary died, not only in Hvar, but on the entire Croatian territory as well.
1993, is another year of establishment changes. The main goal of the emerging independent Tourist offices is to promote tourism. New economic reforms brought significant structural changes regarding ownership and management. In 1994 the hotel company “Sunčani Hvar” became a stock company, and from the year 2005 the majority stockholder is the “Orco” company.
Hvar is now living a period of significant investments aimed to improve the quality of its accommodation facilities, tourist offer and to win back its position of the exclusive tourist resort.
Based on the book “Hvar, a tourist diary”, by Marinko Petrić, Hvar, 2001