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Croatia welcomes tourists braving coronavirus crisis


KRILO-JESENICE, Croatia (Reuters) - A few intrepid European tourists have returned to Croatia's picturesque Adriatic coast, where the owners of yachts and campsites are hoping their relative isolation will bring the numbers up over the next six weeks.

In the Dalmatian port of Krilo-Jesenice, the Black Swan is among dozens of sailing cruisers still tied up. Six weeks of lockdown began to be eased late last month, two weeks after the season should have begun.

"Sadly, we're still stuck here waiting for the first guests, said owner Denis Grubisa, whose yacht can accommodate 38. "We hope guests will start pouring in from late June or early July."

Even a dozen at a time would make him very happy, he said.

Further up the coast near Split, an ancient port city packed with visitors throughout a normal summer, two couples from Germany have the run of the Stobrec camping facility, which can take up to 1,100 people.

"I don't think about coronavirus because we have enough distance," one of them, Rudi, said with a smile.

Tourism accounts for almost a fifth of Croatia's economic output, which the government expects to shrink by almost 10 percent this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it still hopes to earn four billion euros from the sector, a third of last year's income, after containing the spread of the disease. Reported COVID-19 deaths stand at just 101, with case numbers at 2,244.

"For the majority of our guests we're reachable by car," said Veljko Ostojic from the Croatian Tourist Association. "Safety standards are in line with recommendations by the experts."

DISTANCE AND DISINFECTION

Croatia has reopened its border with Slovenia and expects a rising number of guests from Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia from early June and from Germany or Poland later in the month, by which time hotels are also set to reopen.

The Simuni campsite, on the island of Pag, opened on May 15, one of the first to begin the most uncertain summer season since Croatia's war of independence from former Yugoslavia in 1990s.

"So far we've had some Croatian guests and a few from Slovenia," Tena Hoti, who is in charge of contact with clients, said, reporting a growing number of inquiries.

"Now we're strongly focused on making sure that our employees and guests feel safe."

The site, which normally also attracts Austrians, Germans and Italians, can accommodate around 4,000 people in their own vehicles or tents as well as in bungalows.

Employees wear masks, gloves and visors and buildings are often disinfected, with hand sanitizer available at entrances.

Guests are asked to keep at least 1.5 meters apart, including on the beach, where employees are supposed to monitor to prevent the overcrowding seen at many beauty spots worldwide when lockdowns end.

(Reporting by Antonio Bronic and Igor Ilic, writing by Igor Ilic, edited by Philippa Fletcher)

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