My lawyer thinks I am a little strange, but I am really excited about next week.
For, more than 2.5 years after I got the first lawsuit of my life for an article I did not write, on a portal I do not own, which quoted me (nobody else got sued, there was no request for retraction, and the article is still live in its original format – you can read it here) – and after quite the journey, which you can read about in my mini-blog series, Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, the judge has announced that there will be a verdict next week in the case.
On Friday the 13th, that luckiest of dates.
What could possibly go wrong?
I actually don’t even mind if I lose at this point. It has been a lot of fun so far, and even if I do lose in Croatia, where justice has a more arbitrary feel, I am 200% confident that the European Courts in Strasbourg will be able to smell a SLAPP lawsuit from some distance. That will probably occur in the year 2063, if any of us are still alive, and if the Croatian National Tourist Board wants to continue until then, then so be it.
I will confess that I have been impressed by the amount of paperwork the case has produced, and what level of lengths the prosecution legal team has gone to, in order to press their case, including impressive screenshots of my Facebook page to prove to whomever it mattered how unpopular I was. One folder with my name on it had so much paper in it that I wondered how many trees in the Amazon had been sacrificed for it.
But one thing was clear – they were taking a LOT of interest in my words, which some might find intimidating, but I am actually encouraged. For it seems that by reading some of my thoughts, they are actually starting to implement some of my ideas, while at the same time suing me. Quite special
And then I came across this quite extraordinary interview of self-congatulation by the Director of the national tourist board the other day, the man whose organisation is suing me, and a man I have never met (this despite us both giving evidence in a courtoom for over 2 hours with only 6 people in the room). Lots of new initiatives, some of them very familiar.
It is also an interview with some quite astonishing assertions, which goes some way, perhaps, to show why the national tourist board is so disconnected from the realities of tourism today. Let’s put in the word ‘allegedly’ and ‘at least in my opinion’, just in case someone wants to take exception to my sentence and send me another blue letter.
Back in June 2019, less than a year after the 2018 World Cup, I wrote an editorial called Branding Croatia for the Future: 5 Gifts and Trends to Focus On, which provoked a lot of discussion. Looking at Croatia through my foreign non-tourist-expert eyes, it seemed that Croatia was missing a trick or five. The article began:
It is seven years since the late Anthony Bourdain told the world about Croatia and its ‘world-class food, world-class wine, world-class cheese.’ Seven years later, Dalmatia still has no wine road, and gourmet tourism – despite its huge potential – is bringing in peanuts compared to destinations with much less to offer.
And it is almost a year since probably the greatest gift of all time, much more even than Game of Thrones, as the tiny country which dared to dream won tens of millions of hearts during the World Cup and its aftermath. It was left to a small country with no football pedigree whatsoever that has never even been to the World Cup, to take advantage. Visit Rwanda’s innovative partnership with Premier League giants Arsenal will include, among other things, exposure on the Arsenal shirt more than 35 million times a day.
The fact that tiny Rwanda, a country I used to live in and know well, managed to take advantage of the football opportunity at a time when Croatia’s footballing status was at an all-time high after the heroics in Russia, was particularly galling. If ever there was an opportunity to build on sporting success, this was it. And yet, it was Rwanda who made the moves, as you can read about in Lessons from Rwanda: Promoting Tourism Through Football, African-Style.
Looking at Google Trends for information about interest in Croatia, especially with the hindsight of data from the 2022 World Cup and, to a lesser extent, the 2021 Euro Championships, it does not take a genius to see where the main interest and promotion opportunity for Croatia came from, as I wrote in November, 2018 in Where is Croatia? Why Football and Tourism Should Be Branded Together.
Interest in Croatia was insane, with Mediatoolkit reporting at the time of more than 60 BILLION mentions of the tiny country that dared to dream. And, as you can see from the Google Trends chart above, then everything died until the footballers came back to play in another tournament, as I wrote in Remember the World Cup? Google Trends on How Croatia Took Advantage (Not) in July, 2019.
Time passed, as it does in Croatia. The footballing heroics were once again repeated, with Croatia once again coming home with a World Cup medal, this time from Qatar. More than 4 years after this – and after missing the golden opportunity of 2018 and Moscow, this week’s interview in Novi List went like this:
How much did this World Cup do for tourism?
We will see the first results when we complete some more analyses. However, the fact is that this World Cup contributed a lot to increasing the visibility of Croatia again. I will remind you that when we won silver in Russia in 2018, Croatia jumped from 32nd to 27th place within a month or two.
We stopped measuring the showing of our famous video with Luka Modrić and other athletes, there were over 80 million views. Football is the most watched, the most important secondary thing in the world, it has a huge impact on recognition, visibility, strengthening the strength of the tourist country’s brand.
So, to be clear – Croatia jumped from 32 to 27 based on the success of the football team. If the team had gone out in the first round, then presumably that would not have happened. Would that success have happened without the tourist board, who had nothing to do with it? Absolutely.
Secondly, it is interesting to note that the tourist board is waiting to complete analysis on this year’s World Cup. Did they do any analysis in 2018? If yes, were there any conclusions, and then any concrete actions?
The promotional video mentioned I know very well (I am the author of The Tiny Country that Dared to Dream text) and I interviewed the agency who made it in The Story Behind Croatia’s Award-Winning World Cup Promo Video by BBDO.
Although the video has only had 1.1 million views on YouTube, it has been watched, according to the director, more than 80 million times – you can see it below. Interestingly, as with almost all national tourist board videos, comments are turned off so there is no opportunity for would-be tourists to engage. And with no link to any website, nowhere for viewers to go if they want to know more. Basic stuff.
But it is great to see the esteemed director talking about strengthening the brand through sport. Is there something concrete to this, or does it just mean applauding the sports stars who do the tourist board’s work pro bono?
One of the other five gifts I mentioned in that 2019 editorial was medical tourism, where Croatia competes on the global stage in several areas, including St Catherine’s Specialty Hospital, one of the Leading Hospitals of the World, and the first in Europe to offer pharmacogenetic testing, in partnership with Mayo Clinic. On the subject of health tourism:
As far as health tourism is concerned, Opatija is number 1 in that tradition and in everything that has been done. The Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster is doing a very good job and when we connect all these destinations we can seriously talk about year-round tourism.
It is great that the esteemed director recognises the work of the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, he is not alone.
At the 2019 International Medical Travel Journal Awads conference in Berlin, where Ognjen Bagatin was named owner of the best international cosmetic surgery clinic in the world, a conference that was attended by the national tourist boards of most attending countries. Croatia was represented by just 5 people, two from Bagatin, two from the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, and one fat blogger with two lawsuits hanging over him. That Kvarner has a bigger brand than Croatia for medical tourism in the industry is beyond question. Here is what branding expert Iland Geva said in a TCN interview at the recent Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference – organised by Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster.
You are a global branding expert. Tell us about the branding of Croatia as a medical tourism destination. It almost seems that the organizers of CIHT, the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster, has a bigger brand in the industry than Croatia itself.
Shall I be politically correct, or truthful? Yes, the Kvarner cluster is doing a better job than the rest of the country. Enough said.
So while it is great to cheer Modric and Kvarner, as well as finally recognise the opportunity, are there any concrete steps apart from cheering?
Digital Nomads is a topic I have been writing on since May 2019, and one which made my life of 5 in that Branding Croatia editorial. My last ever meeting with the national tourist board, in March 2020, including a proposal to turn Trogir into Croatia’s first nomad-friendly town. While they liked the idea, the national tourist board declined, stating that there was a tax issue with nomads which meant that they could not support the proposal.
After I then introduced the concept to Jan de Jong and worked with him to make the nomad visa a reality, and after co-organising the first digital nomad in conference in Croatia in October, 2020, Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads, followed by the Dubrovnik Digital Nomads in Residence Program and Zagreb Digital Nomad Week, it was great (and I mean that sincerely) to see the Croatian National Tourist Board announce a partnership with the fabulous Digital Nomad Association Croatia. The lawsuits were the elephant in the room, particularly at the last nomad conference I was involved in organising – Work. Place. Culture. in Dubrovnik. There was a wonderful situation where CNTB sponsored the opening evening, which resulted in the Head of CNTB Global PR greeting me and others as the evening’s host, before flying back to Zagreb the next morrning to testify against me in court.
I wish both parties a successful partnership in this exciting opportunity for Croatia – the latest gift.
But this is the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism (applauding the likes of Modric and co is a case in point), and two parts of this epic interview really made me smile.
In fact, this had me falling out of my chair:
One of those contents that we may already be a little bored with, but it is certainly golf. In no way to break the deadlock, we are aware that, for example, the south of Portugal and Spain are working on golf during the winter season. Climatically, we are very similar.
We are similar, but with the difference that there are very mild winters, which means that you can play golf all year round. We can use it in some southern destinations, islands, even Istria. But nothing happens overnight. There is a lot of talk about golf, it has been worked on for many years.
There is a lot of talk about golf, it has been worked on for many years!?! Long-time followers of TCN may be familiar with the quite exceptional efforts from our tourism gurus in promoting golf. Who else remembers the legendary Jack Nicklaus and the 200 million euro signature course in Istria in 2006, complete with personal welcome from the then Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader (Whatever Happened to Jack Nicklaus’ Croatian Golf Course, Approved by PM Sanader?)? Hopefully the first permit will be coming soon.
There is a lot of talk about golf, it has been worked on for many years. If memory serves me well, golf became a cornerstone of the strategic tourist direction as far back as 1998. What I do know is that in the 7-year strategic plan from 2013-2020 for Croatian tourism, the plan was to build no less than THIRTY golf courses in Croatia. Number of golf courses started in that time (or since) – zero. Indeed, the only developments in the golf scene during the last decade that I can see are a lawsuit of half a billion dollars against the Republic of Croatia from an Israeli investor over a golf course which will not be above Dubrovnik, and the Croatian National Tourist Board somehow promoting an 18-hole golf course located in central Zagreb, until I politely pointed it out in Tourism Quiz of the Summer: How Many Golf Courses Will Croatia Have Next Week?
(Screenshot from www.croatia.hr promotion of the Dolina Kardinala gold course… in Central Zagreb!)
The golf course in question is actually a short drive out of the capital.
No longer in function, it seems to me to be something of a symbol of the Croatian golf initiative which ‘has been worked on for many years.’ Take a look at the ghost town of one of the few (four) golf courses in the country, despite a quarter of a century of official efforts to bring all these wondrous golf courses to Croatia.
And while we are on the subject of the 2013-2020 strategic plan for Croatian tourism which delivered only a fraction of what was promised, has anyone seen the plan for 2021-2027?
Not yet, as it is not yet finalised. And so the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism has been floating without a strategy for three years now.
Has anyone noticed?
My other favourite part of the interview was the self-congatulations on the success of a tourism initiative which has been panned by many in the industry, who refuse to take part in it – Croatian Tourism Month. According to the esteemed Director:
Are there any packages being prepared that would facilitate the arrival of our tourists to the Adriatic?
We expanded the Croatian Tourism Week to the Croatian Tourism Month and I must say that we have had excellent results in the past two years. We are already thinking about changing the dates, of course we will do an analysis and survey in the tourism sector itself. We see that our summer season is moving more and more into autumn and that our capacities are well filled in October as well. I don’t want to prejudge some new terms, we will of course communicate that in time, but this action showed good potential and the result we achieved.
Another thing we tried to do through our promotional activities is to relativize rural areas. For two years, we had the campaign “Experience locals, discover rural Croatia” and I must say that even today we have calls in HTZ of thanks from small renters, OPGs, people whom our tourists and visitors have discovered in the past two years and who now and return.
I am not sure if he really meant relativise rural areas, or revitalise, but the thing that made me snort with this answer – and I have seen it a lot – is how a project is deemed successful just because the esteemed Director declares it so.
Croatian Tourism Week and Croatian Tourism Month were great ideas, so poorly executed and at completely the wrong time of year for continental tourism that very few tourism businesses signed up.
This is the same project, remember, where the only food to buy in several counties was popcorn at a 35% discount last year – Gourmet Croatia: 35% Off Popcorn the Only Offer in Kingdom of Accidental Tourism.
They must have sold a lot of popcorn, as this ‘successful’ project was back in 2022, but with even less on offer – Ajme Meni! Shocking Truth of Amazing Official ‘Croatian Tourism Month’ Project.
And don’t get me started on the promo video which included a Norwegian train…
So yes, quite a success and lots to look forward to. Let’s hope the sportsmen continue to overachieve, the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster to fly the medical tourism flag, and for SLAPP lawsuits to silence curious writers who have the audacity to question the official narrative.
At least the digital nomad initiative seems to be moving in the right direction finally.
Friday the 13th, The Verdict, a new chapter in my Croatian journey. Vindication of free speech or the start of the long journey to Strasbourg. Whichever it is to be, you will hear about it on TCN first.
If you want to get up to speed with the cases of the only blogger/journalist to be sued by the Croatian National Tourism Board in 2020, scroll down to the bottom for Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit, now in its fourth calendar year.
You can read the full interview with the Croatian National Tourist Board Director in Novi List here.
What is it like to live in Croatia? An expat for 20 years, you can follow my series, 20 Ways Croatia Changed Me in 20 Years, starting at the beginning – Business and Dalmatia.
Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.
Subscribe to the Paul Bradbury Croatia & Balkan Expert YouTube channel.
Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners is now available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.