Paul Bradbury: How I Would Fix Croatia’s Broken Tourist System

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One of my favourite gaffes from the Croatian National Tourist Board
One of my favourite gaffes from the Croatian National Tourist Board

With the exception of my time as a humanitarian aid worker running an emergency food distribution programme in post-genocidal Rwanda in 1994, I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a job as much as I have in the last few days with TCN/TC. The huge public support for me in response to the two lawsuits from the Croatian National Tourist Board has been humbling, and completely unexpected. Thank you. The gift of priceless PR far in excess of the damages sought in the ridiculous lawsuits far outweighs the 100,000 kuna in damages that the tourist board is seeking. So big thank you to the Croatian National Tourist Board as well. Not even Macan could have generated such PR.

I have learned a LOT about Croatia and the media in the last few days, and I feel a little bit emboldened by all the publicity to put forward a few thoughts and suggestions. Now that I have everyone’s attention and my 15 minutes of fame, there are two topics I would like to address – how to fix Croatia’s broken tourist system in this article, followed by the new anti-SLAPP legislation initiative from Centar MP, Marijana Puljak, who kindly raised my case in the Croatian Parliament. My article will directly address Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who famously once promised not to sue me.

We are shocked by the bizarre news about the lawsuits of the Croatian National Tourist Board against Paul Bradbury, journalist and owner of the Total Croatia News portal. It is a classic way of intimidating and stifling freedom of speech, in order to silence criticism of the dysfunctional system of the Croatian Tourist Board, which spends a lot of taxpayers’ money. We demand the immediate withdrawal of the lawsuits and the removal of director Kristjan Staničić.

The CNTB should see a partner in Paul Bradbury. He is a man who has undoubtedly indebted Croatian tourism with his actions, and instead they are trying to intimidate and destroy him. This is just another proof of the justification of our request for the introduction of voluntary membership in the CNTB. If taxpayers were given the opportunity to choose who to finance, many would certainly prefer to invest money in tourism promotion in the knowledge and work of experts like Bradbury, rather than in any of the 300 or so directors of tourist boards.

The Center Party will always vehemently oppose any form of intimidation and attacks on journalists, activists and citizens. Any attempt to restrict freedom of speech, and we witness them in Croatia almost every day, we consider unacceptable, so we will send to the procedure legal changes that would prevent such lawsuits from occurring at all.

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any democratic society and the first line of defense of all other freedoms. In addition to believing that an open public debate on any topic has no alternative, history teaches us that persecuting and silencing dissidents throughout it makes society intellectually but also economically poorer. Only an open exchange of ideas, but also criticism, is the guarantor of intellectual and economic progress.


Now that I have a bigger audience than usual for a little while, perhaps it is time to widen the discussion beyond the lawsuit and look instead at how dysfunctional the organisation of Croatian tourism is. And, as always when I criticise, I offer a very simple solution to fix the problem.

There are three main bodies related to Croatian tourism (four, if you include the Institute of Tourism, about whom I know very little) – the Croatian National Tourism Board, the Ministry of Tourism, and the tourism department of the Croatian Chamber of Economy. I have really no idea what the tourism section of the Chamber of Economy actually does, but you can learn more about the wonderful ways of another massively pointless institution in my 2017 article Welcome to Uhljebistan: the Croatian Chamber of Economy, Beyond Useless

It is no big secret that there is friction between the ministry and the tourist board. The fact that the media reported that Minister of Tourism Nikolina Brnjac is demanding an explanation about my lawsuits from CNTB director Kristjan Stanicic speaks volumes for the relationship between the two institutions. One would have thought that could have been conducted by a phone call without the media. 

So even before we start thinking about tourism, we have a lack of unity. 

As I understand things, the tourist board system works something like this. There is a national tourist board which has 70-80 employees. There are 20 regional tourist boards, and there are 319 regional tourist boards, pretty much one for every town, whether there is tourism there or not. Lots of nice jobs, with safe salaries from the State. Nice little gifts for supporting the party. Allegedly.

This being Croatia, the 319 local tourist boards don’t report to the national tourist board, but they are controlled by the local mayor of the town who is also the President of the local tourist board. The mayor, along with the local tourist council, choose the tourist board director. This often has nothing to do with ability, but to secure votes for future elections. Some mayors like to see their girlfriends as tourist board directors, as happened recently on a Dalmatian island (let me throw in the word allegedly there, just for fun).

What do Croatian local tourist boards actually do?

When I moved to Croatia, local tourist boards had four main functions as far as I could see.

1. Register the guests – this is now done online via eVisitor, so this is no longer an important part of the job.

2. Help local renters with all the legislation and registration for renting. My experience is that some local tourist board directors don’t actually understand the regulations, and they often cause more confusion. There is a simple way to fix this and make it much more efficient. Open an office somewhere that badly needs employment, such as Vukovar. Hire and train a team of 4-5 people to be a call and help centre for all renter issues. Conduct webinars, so that everyone can see the same message. It is called efficiency. This is the 21st century. 

3. Giving out tourist information. Now we have the Internet, and people can find all the info they need online, even more so with the launch of our new information website, There is a case for having a summer worker there, more in bigger destinations. But a full-time director through the winter months with no sign of a tourist makes no sense. There is even precedent for this – Sucuraj Mayor Removes Director Position: Tourist Board Reform IS Possible.  

4. Events. This is sometimes used to secure election votes. I will support your project if we have the votes of you and your family, that kind of thing. As the tourist board director is hand-picked by the mayor, this is how the status quo is maintained. I would take the events decision-making out of the local tourist board to a more independent body working with the community. There would be the need for tourist board help to facilitate things, but that is generally a summer job. 

The world has changed, and technology is making things easier. eVisitor and the Vukovar call centre would remove the need for 319 directors for that part of the job, the Internet provides most of the information, and some independent events system would work much better. 

What to do about the Croatian National Tourism Board?

I could write a book about the Croatian National Tourist Board (and maybe one day I will), but how to fix this expensive and totally ineffective institution? I get so many emails from wonderful, ordinary Croatians working in tourism. I have yet to hear of them talking about a positive experience with CNTB. Many approach with great projects and get nowhere.

One example from my own experience will suffice. During the first lockdown, I realised we had a great opportunity to promote tourism that was unique. Everyone was desperate to travel, but they were all locked up in their homes. But the one thing that they did have was time.

What if, I reasoned, we created a Virtual Croatia website, then did a great page for each destination, embedding videos for all the sights and things to do? People had time to watch and desire to travel. Let’s get them hooked for the future. 

I pitched the idea to CNTB that we do it together. They had the network and the promo power, I had the concept and would do the work. CNTB liked the project but could not participate due to budget freezes, which was disappointing but understandable.

I decided to test the concept on TCN. I posted on Facebook, offering a free article to any local tourist board who wanted the article. There was no money around, and I figured it would be good PR and would build some bridges for the future. And if the tourist boards sent the videos, then it would not be much work.

After I did a few, I contacted CNTB again (they were very complimentary about the articles – you can see them all here) and asked them to send my free offer to all the local tourist boards. They replied that they couldn’t send, as we were a commercial business (I think that was the reason). They did, however, say that I was welcome to send myself, and they kindly sent me the latest database. And we all know how that one ended… 

Could they at least share them on Facebook to their 1.7 million fans, especially as I had done the whole thing for free? Again no. 

I was left scratching my head. They love an idea, but they can’t finance, promote and inform other tourist boards about it. So what is the actual point of their existence?

The simple fix for Croatia’s broken tourist system

Efforts to reform the system are pointless. It is too dysfunctional, and there is too much self-interest. The VERY simple solution might sound crazy, but think about it. 

I would pass an Act of Parliament to temporarily abolish the Ministry of Tourism, all tourist boards, and the tourism sector of the Chamber of Economy. A second act would then reinstate the Ministry of Tourism, but with a much more streamlined and focused look. I would have the Vukovar call centre, the Events coordination section, marketing and PR department, and a Council of Ideas, which consists of the right talent from the Croatian private sector. Fresh ideas with a global perspective. 

Some of the bigger destinations such as Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik should have permanent offices, but the small town ones should have summer representation only. 

The savings would be huge, the end product much better, and the only people who would object are those who are sitting in their comfortable offices doing nothing. Rather than the current situation where money that Croatia does not have is being spent on pointless things. Such as lawsuits.  


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