The evolution of Adriatic Hotels: from Societal Hubs to Spaces in Transition



Nera Jelaska

60s and 70s – emergence of modern hotels on Croatian Adriatic coast (then part of Yugoslavia)
During the 1960s and 1970s, Croatian hotels stood as epitomes of social convergence. Factors like economic reform, gradual opening of borders and the construction of the Adriatic Highway in 1959. expedited the development and expansion of tourism, transforming it into a crucial element in the international promotion of the country and contributing to the economic growth.
These establishments were not mere transient spaces for tourists but integral components of the local social fabric, aimed to signal Yugoslavia’s alignment with modern European and international standards while also being integrated in the natural landscape. Hotels featured amenities such as public beaches, casinos, discos, and other recreational facilities, catering to both domestic and international visitors. These hotels had a focus on common spaces as meeting places, reflecting the socialist ideals of the time. Common spaces were carefully designed and decorated and, according to the aspirations of those times, aimed towards synthesis of art, architecture and interior design. The hotel’s equipment was modern and appropriate to contemporary international standards, not only to satisfy the taste of international tourists and position Yugoslavia as a modern country that follows modern trends, but also because minimalist design was economically acceptable for all items that could be made in domestic factories, thus stimulating domestic production. Intricately woven tapestries, sculptures, and paintings from regional artists adorned the walls, telling stories of heritage, identity, and shared history. It was a deliberate effort to foster a sense of pride and ownership among the local populace, as artists from various regions were given a platform to showcase their talent, but served also to educate the local population about art. This infusion of local art not only enriched the aesthetic appeal of the hotels but also served as a cultural bridge, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the diverse narratives that defined Yugoslavia.
Hotel restaurants featured terraces hosting live music, attracting both tourists and locals seeking a taste of the cultural heartbeat of their city. This symbiotic relationship fostered a unique atmosphere, turning hotels and their beaches into vibrant hubs where communities mingled.

War and Transformation: Hotels as Refugee Sanctuaries
The outbreak of war in the early 1990s brought with it a stark change in the role of (still state-owned) hotels. These establishments found themselves repurposed as shelters for refugees fleeing the conflict. In some hotel complexes, refugees and tourists stayed at the same time. The grand common areas and spacious terraces now served as temporary places of gathering for the displaced. The metamorphosis of hotels from symbols of leisure to sanctuaries of survival highlights the resilience of spaces, adapting to the needs of the time.
Hotel transformed from a symbol of luxury to a symbol of solidarity, a shared space for strangers bound by the common experience of displacement. These personal narratives illuminate the adaptive nature of hotels during times of crisis, demonstrating how these spaces transcended their traditional roles to become shelters, community centers, and symbols of hope. The juxtaposition of wartime stories against the backdrop of these once-grand hotels serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience embedded in both the physical spaces and the human spirit during challenging times.

Modern Trends: Beige Uniformity and Individualism:
In the present era, hotels have experienced a shift in their design philosophy. The once-prominent art adorned common spaces have given way to a more uniform and minimalist aesthetic. Neutral tones provide a neutral backdrop for a broader range of guest preferences. The emphasis on larger individual rooms reflects changing preferences in hospitality, with an increasing focus on privacy and personal space. While contemporary hotels still offer comfort and luxury, the communal vibrancy of the 60’s and 70’s era and mixing of tourists and locals has given way to a more subdued and individualistic approach. Art was replaced with state-of-the art technology.
Sometimes, concessions allow hotels to offer their guests exclusive access to the designated beach area. This exclusivity is often a selling point for hotels, as it enhances the overall guest experience. The emphasis has shifted from communal engagement to individualized experiences.