Vir Municipality Plans to Transform from "Chaos" to Top Destination
As Novac/Jozo Vrdoljak/Privredni.hr writes on the 25th of February, 2020, Kristijan Kapovic believes that the Vir Municipality will be able to rank next to the likes of Biograd, Vodice, Novalja and Pag in about fifteen years, in terms of infrastructure and utilities. According to him, the team he has been leading since 2003 has already managed to change the general Croatian perception of the Vir Municipality as a place of chaos.
He claims that the Vir Municipality has made the most progress in all of the Republic of Croatia. In the following interview, he explains why they have had a large population increase, who is settling there and the reasons for this island’s progress. Vir is otherwise the destination with the highest tourist growth in the whole of Croatia and is ranked eighth.
What has happened in Vir in the last fifteen years?
”We’re the place that has made the most progress, but we’re not yet at the level of the destinations we want to reach. We’ll be pleased if in the next fifteen years we manage to reach the level of the communal services of Novalja, Pag, Biograd and Vodice. During this period, we have to solve all of our communal problems, tidy up the public areas and get a nice visual ”stamp” on it from the outside. In the last twenty years, the Vir Municipality has invested around 300 million kuna in its own large infrastructure: roads, the water supply and the sewerage.
Vir was seen as a symbol of chaos. Why is that?
”Vir was seen as a symbol of chaos, but it was never a place where chaos reigned. Most of the influential people who claimed and/or wrote that there was chaos on Vir had never even been to Vir. There was even talk from a person in a position of power that Vir was best off being destroyed. For decades, the islands of Vir, Pag, Ciovo and Rogoznica were perceived as symbols of illegal construction. It was difficult to prove that this was not really the case. The perception was the way it was because the concept of illegal construction in Croatia was perceived as chaos.
It’s true that the facilities were illegally constructed and that no communal infrastructure was provided, but on the other hand, it was also true that these houses were built by people who had surplus money. All of these houses had projection plans and weren’t just constructed without a plan. All of the illegally constructed structures were able to get all the connections needed, meaning that the state had in some way encouraged illegal construction.”
What have you done to make it different now?
”We’ve solved the problem of illegal construction, which is perceived as devastation in public. To change that perception, we first had to build the infrastructure. We had 10,000 illegal facilities, no sewage and water supply and no paved streets. With major investments in municipal infrastructure back in 2014, we made a connection to the water and sewage system. From 2015 to 2020, we have a situation in which half of people outside of Vir no longer speak ill of Vir. About fifteen years ago, there were less than 200 renters on Vir.
Vir had 30,000 arrivals and less than 300,000 nights, 90 percent of which were Croatian guests. Today, we have about 160,000 arrivals, of which 120,000 are foreign visitors from 77 countries who make up 2.65 million overnight stays. It is the eighth in [terms of tourism] in Croatia and by far the best in Zadar County. About 98 percent of this comes from private accommodation. We have grown from 2500 to 15,000 beds.”
Is there a possibility of building a larger hotel on Vir?
”Neither the municipal administration nor the Vir tourism company, which was founded back in 2007, will bring large tourist resorts to the Vir Municipality, but we’ll try to improve our offer. The aim is to have a five star hotel in the next three years, for which we’ve secured a location in the very centre of Vir. In addition to the hotel, we’re developing a project to build marinas and campsites which will also be of a high category.”
Besides tourism, what are the other economic activities on Vir?
”Tourism is the biggest magnet, not as an industry but as a phenomenon. Because of tourism, people bought land and built facilities. Vir has been developing construction, real estate and crafts. All major Croatian trading houses are on Vir. From the devastated communal system, we created a brand new one that employs 250 people on a permanent basis. We have four other public companies that employ a further 250 people.”
What’s the reason for your population increase?
”Back in 1991, Vir had 860 inhabitants. Back then, there were more people from Vir living in Rijeka than there were on Vir. Previously, it lost about 30 percent of its population over a 30-year period. During the war, many people from the area of central Bosnia, Posavina, Slavonia, Sisak and Karlovac moved to Vir. In 2001, Vir had about 1600 inhabitants. Migration continued in two more waves. In the second wave, we had immigrants of young people with families from Zadar, Rijeka, Zagreb, Sisak and the Karlovac area whose origins are from Vir, and young people who have homes on Vir and who believe that they have a better quality of life there.
The third wave of immigration is retirees who have homes on Vir. In addition to Croatia, there are more and more returnees from Austria, Switzerland, Germany and foreigners from all countries of Central and Northern Europe. According to the 2011 census report, Vir had 3032 permanent residents. In 2019, the Zadar Police Department recorded 4780 inhabitants. It’s estimated that an official census of 2021 could see more than 5,000 residents.”
In the summer, the population increases significantly. How do you service them?
”When my colleagues and I took over the management of the Vir Municipality, we decided to put people first. In summer, more than 50,000 people live on Vir. For the last fifteen years, homeowners have been coming almost every weekend. To service them, you must have city-level communal services.”
It’s often claimed that we have too many municipalities and cities. Do you agree with this statement?
”In Croatia, the administrative structure is excellent. It’s often claimed that we have too many municipalities, but there are many more per capita in Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. What these countries have, but no Croatia, is the powers of the mayor and mayor. By all indicators, all municipalities in Croatia have justified their existence, including the poorest municipalities in the Knin area. Everything our municipalities have done, they have done in the most centralised country in Europe.”
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