The return of budget flights between Osijek and London promised

Written by
Marc Rowlands

Direct flights between Osijek and London look to be returning in summer 2020. The commitment to reopen the route, which closed in 2017, was today reaffirmed by Croatian Minister for Tourism Gari Cappelli as he visited the Slavonian capital on its birthday.

The news comes after the Ministry for Tourism said in November they had opened negotiations over the route with budget airline Ryanair. Reestablishing the route is considered a vital element in the promotion of tourism within the region of Slavonia, which lies in the far east of Croatia.

In recent years, Slavonia has suffered some of the worst population decline within Croatia as many young people leave its limited opportunities in search of higher wages in places like Ireland, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. However, Croatian authorities have planned a huge 18.5 billion kuna investment in the region, of which 575 million kuna has been promised to develop tourism.

The direct flights between the two cities were discontinued in 2017 when negotiations on landing fees broke down. Budget airlines regularly request a lowering of landing fees and such routes are subsidised as the money is made back from the tourism it enables. Such subsidies were considered not viable on the route as most passengers were not tourists, but largely they were Serbians for whom Osijek was the most convenient and cheapest airport from which to make the journey. But, without the line operating, any tourism drive within the region would be futile. It has been suggested that the subsidies required to reopen the line would be shared between five different counties within Slavonia who will be the beneficiaries of the tourism investment money.

Osijek old city walls

With a distinct gastronomy, excellent wines, warm, welcoming people and beautiful, untouched countryside, Slavonia is considered by many to be one of the great untapped resources of Croatian tourism. The city of Osijek alone has a rich tourist offer, with the largest collection of preserved baroque architecture in Croatia and many options of things to do.

Since the closure of the budget airline route, international travel to the region of Slavonia has been limited. But that was not always the case. One of the routes taken by the famous Oriental Express used to run through Slavonia on its way from western European capitals London and Paris to present-day Istanbul. In fact, one of the famous murders in Agatha Christie's 'Murder On the Orient Express' takes place just outside Slavonski Brod.

Osijek, a strategically important city for hundreds of years and the region's economic and administrative centre, was the second city in Croatia to have an international train route. That line connected the city to the heart of the Austro-Hungarian empire via Pécs and was reopened in late 2018 (Osijek was also the first city in Croatia to have a tram). The latest good news for Slavonian connectivity has been the Autoput A1, which will run through eastern Bosnia and will cut travelling times between Slavonia and Dalmatia on the Croatian coast from seven hours to under four. Alongside the reopening of the budget airline route, this could make Slavonia a viable stop off point for tourists on the way to the coast in the same way that Zagreb has become.

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