For those in the know, Croatia is a jewel in the crown of the Eastern Mediterranean, with an archipelago of over 1,000 islands lining a dramatic coastline renowned for its natural beauty as much as its colourful history and culture.
Appealing broadly to nature lovers and discerning visitors in search of more than just the latest designer shopping outlets, hip clubs and fancy restaurants, Croatia has now added another string to her bow thanks to her status as the Schengen Area’s newest recruit.
This signifies great news for the region’s yachting industry as Croatia becomes an even more attractive prospect thanks to increased ease of entry and departure.
Last year, the country welcomed in excess of 1,000 superyachts over 25m to its waters, according to the Minister of Maritime Affairs. “Overall it was a good season, even with Greece, Italy and France back open, and there was a healthy market development,” explains Maja Ban, founder of MYS Yachting.
“We have more yachts for charter based in Croatia now and have improved the quality of locally built boats, which are more of a luxury charter standard now.
“Generally the 45-55m sail boats are spacious and well booked because they are very good value for money and provide a quality service at a lower price range than motor yachts. We are definitely seeing a wake up in the local market as well.”
Welcome changes for both commercial and private yachts
Croatia’s membership of the Schengen Area, which started on 1 January 2023, effectively removes the need for formalities or documentation in terms of border crossings and customs and excise regulations for yachts entering from - or leaving for - the 26 other Schengen countries.
“Croatia joining the Schengen zone makes us attractive to other yachts coming from Schengen countries,” says Maja. “EU yachts of any size are able to charter, while non-EU flagged yachts above 24m must still obtain a charter license.”
Currency issues are also a thing of the past. As a member of the EU for the past 10 years, Croatia joined the eurozone at the beginning of this year, meaning that VAT – which is a highly competitive 13% on overnight charters and 25% on day charters – can also be paid for the first time in euros.
Another major attraction for commercial yachts over 45m is duty free fuel – with the proviso that they leave Croatia after fuelling.
For private vessels, Croatia is also a member of the Yacht Engaged in Trade Scheme (YET) - a programme allowing eligible non-EU flagged yachts that are commercially compliant to carry out charters. Croatia is the third country to join YET following the establishment of the scheme in France and Monaco.
“This means private yachts from the Marshall and Cayman Islands are able to operate charters in our waters, which is very convenient for the owners of these yachts," explains Maja.
“It’s too early to say what impact our Schengen status will have on this season. Our season usually starts full on after the Monaco Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival and while I don’t want to speculate too much, it looks like it could be a good one.
“Croatia is still fairly unknown to some owners and charter guests, who are more familiar with France, Greece and Italy, but when they come here, they are pleasantly surprised by our beautiful cruising grounds.”
Many charters start or end in Montenegro and while, unfortunately, duty free fuel is no longer available there, Montenegro’s appeal rests on the beauty of the country, strong state of the art infrastructure and well-appointed marinas like Porto Montenegro, Portonovi and Lustica Bay. “When boats enter or leave Montenegro, they have to continue with the same formalities as before, but this is done quickly,” adds Maja.
Adapting and growing the market
Acknowledging that there is still more to be done in terms of promoting the region and key destinations within it, Maja says: “Word of mouth is spreading. There is definitely more interest and the chartering and VAT rules have certainly helped.
“This area is being discovered and although there’s a lot still to be done, we believe the future's looking good for the yachting industry in this region. We hope for healthy growth where the quality of services won’t be jeopardised.”