A Public Thanks to Sinj Director Jelena Bilic: Good Luck in Prague!

Total Croatia News

A couple of years ago, I was offered my first job since 2003, as a blogger for the Central Dalmatia Tourist Board. I was delighted to accept, and soon afterwards, an email was sent to the 37 tourist board directors of the region from the head office, offering my services for free.


Ten minutes later I received my first (and, as it happened, only) contact from one of the local tourist boards, a lady called Jelena Bilic from Sinj. After congratulating me on the job, Jelena invited me to visit her town, so that she could show me around, throwing in the offer of free transport from Split and lunch. How could a man refuse such a generous offer? 


The day was wonderful, and although I had lived in the region for ten years, this was the first time I had really spent any time in inland Dalmatia. I was hooked, and I wrote my first article about Sinj for Google News that very evening


It was hard not to be charmed by Jelena’s youthful energy and passion for her job and her clear love of her town, and I went home wondering what other beauties the region might behold for tourists. I did not have long to find out.


Having made that initial contact, Jelena impressed by the organised way she arranged information and contacts for me. Soon after, I was back in Sinj, once more her guest, overnight this time, as she wanted me to experience the Cetina Adventure race, part of the region’s strategy to highlight the potential of adventure tourism.


“There are two things I think I may have forgotten to mention,” she said with a twinkle in the eye. “The race starts at 06:00, so your photographer and guide will be here at 05:45. Oh, and there is a school leaving party which will finish at 05:30 in the hotel…”


It was a magical day, as the imperious Ilija Veselica gave me the most perfect introduction to the magic of the region, and along the way, we met a young man on his own by a lake. Domagoj Burica ran Dalmatia Explorer, and he was to be a key member of a new English-language website. By the time I had met Ivana Antisic at Lake Peruca for the Lake2Lake regatta, something was clear to me – here was a region full of passionate and dedicated young people who wanted nothing more than to tell the world about it. With a little help from Jelena, Ivana, Domagoj and Maja Zlokic, Total Inland Dalmatia was born, and it is no exaggeration to say that the project would not have started without Jelena’s determination and organisation. 


I have made several visits to Sinj over the last couple of years, and each time Jelena has steered me in a new direction, to discover the very best of the town and its surroundings. A guest at Alka, a visit to Ranc Mustang, the wonderful musical festival of Gljevstok, the mills of Grab, the list goes on. 


I have on occasion been critical of some tourist board directors for not doing their job, and perhaps it is because when one looks at the achievements of Jelena in Sinj over a short period of time, one realises the huge potential of Dalmatia as a destination if others followed her shining example. 


In just a few years, Sinj tourism has been transformed. It is one of the best information-rich destinations online, with an active website and own application, and I defy you to try and visit Sinj and escape without a brochure. Its events are well-organised and well-publicised, and the free walking tour each Thursday is the latest example of small initiatives which are making a small but crucial difference. The information signs and new information point are visible proofs of the raising of standards of tourist information in Sinj. 


But the job of a tourist director is also about promotion and the improvement of a destination. Who could have imagined that a Sinj tourist board director would be promoting Alka in Chicago or New York City, or would be accompanying the national tourist board on its tour of European capitals to promote Croatia365. And if the people of Sinj had just the smallest understanding of the enormous work this young lady has done chasing EU and other funds for the town’s tourism, they would be more impressed still. 


When Jelena wrote to tell me she had been promoted to run the national tourist board office in Prague, starting in September, I was both proud and surprised. Such appointments usually have a political element to them, but here was something different, a qualified and committed talent with the only agenda to follow being that of promoting tourism. 


While I am delighted for Jelena and wish her every success (she will need no luck), her departure of course leaves a huge hole in inland Dalmatia, but I hope that her legacy and energy will inspire whoever fills her rather large boots, and I am sure that many of the initiatives which she started – including this website – will continue and flourish.


Thank you, Jelena, for introducing me and many others to the amazing world of Inalnd Dalmatia. For your friendship, your high professional standards at every moment, and for showing me and others what IS possible to achieve on small budgets and with lots of dedication. 


From all the team at Total Inland Dalmatia, we wish you all the best in Prague, and we fully expect a Czech invasion of Sinj next summer… Cheers!


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