TOUR operators have criticised the Croatia National Tourist Office for failing to provide adequate promotional support to kick-start the UK tourism market in the aftermath of the Kosovocrisis.

Minister of tourism Ivan Herak was in London last week to announce a £2m UK marketing drive this year and a further £1m for 2000.The money will be used to finance joint initiatives with tour operators such as educationals, trade fairs and marketing campaigns.

However, the tourist office has ruled out running its own consumer advertising campaign until 2001 – prompting criticism from operators.

Transun director John Healey said: “We have spent £750,000 on promoting Croatia to customers over the past two-and-a-half years without a single penny from the tourist board. On our own it is an uphill struggle,” said Healey.

Holiday Options managing director Hamish Manson said:”I didn’t like what Iwas hearing.I wanted to see evidence of more consumer support. We feel more direct promotion is needed.

“There is currently a late-booking market that Croatia could be capitalising on. For a relatively small outlay, the tourist board could get a return on that.”

Herak said the war in Kosovo had had a severe impact on visitor numbers. “We are aware that we are suffering from a negative image in the UK that Croatia is a war zone.

“Realistically we are expecting 50,000 visitors from the UK this year compared with 68,000 last year and 450,000 in 1991,” he said.

But he defended the lack of short-term promotional activity arguing that it is too late in the season to be of real benefit to operators. “In view of the current UK market, we don’t believe an advertising campaign at this stage would produce sufficient results.”

The tourist office has increased airline subsidies by £5 per passenger from £30 to £35 on flights to Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik.

It is also about to carry out market research to establish how best to promote the country in future.