My inbox is full of invitations to hotel openings, restaurant openings, festivals.
I have declined them all.
My social media is full of heavenly images of beaches, coffees on the water, swimming in the Adriatic, with accompanying captions such as Ko ovo more platit, which roughly translates as ‘priceless.’
I smile at them all, and I wish them well. I have posted thousands of similar posts over the years, many with the hashtag Why aren’t you here?
And I am not here – or rather there – this year, completely of my own free will. Lots of great nights and parties that will go unattended. Indeed, were it not for the opening of the Peljesac Bridge this week, I might not see the coast at all this summer.
For I am rather enjoying a different Croatia at the moment – a Croatia that has nothing to do with the coast or tourism in general. The world of the Croatian entrepreneur and startup.
It is a world that is fascinating, and having made the decision to ignore most of this tourist season, apart from client needs and special interest topics, I am seeing Croatia in an entirely new light. Yes, once again, as I approach my 20-year anniversary in Croatia next month.
Having written about Croatian tourism for over a decade, I realised that my passion for the subject is waning, and there are plenty of other fabulous things to explore in this beautiful country that have little or nothing to do with tourism.
Let’s face it, when you have a ‘strategy’ that relies on the sun and the sea each year, with very little innovation, there comes a time when there is very little to report on. One can almost predict the stories, as the cycle is the same year after year (assuming no pandemic) – record numbers, celebrity arrivals, employment crisis due to no staff, restaurant rip-off stories, motorway queues, heatwaves, storms, accommodation horror stories, more record numbers, hotel openings, cruise ships, overtourism, party tourism, inspections harassing peak season business, more record numbers. And suddenly, all is over, the end of another season in this jolly land. Not a word (or very little) about the environmental damage this approach to tourism is causing to the coast, and how unsustainable it all is in the long run.
What if – just for once – I ignored it all and focused my time and energy on a Croatia which had nothing to do with tourism whatsoever. After 13 years full-time on Hvar, as well as 7 years of reporting on tourism for TCN, it might feel strange not being on the coast with everyone else on the planet, but I have had more than my fair share of priceless coastal moments over the years. How would it feel to miss one entire summer?
In truth, it feels FANTASTIC.
Zagreb is truly a joy in the summer, particularly if you are busy with projects, as I am. The city is emptying (indeed many bars and restaurants will shut for the first half of August, as everyone heads to the coast. The ratio between tourist and local seems to go 1 to 1, and there is so much space.
Those locals who remain are usually there for a reason, as they may be working on projects too. It almost feels like we are keeping a guilty secret. Everyone is on the coast, but the real fun is happening here.
I am in the process of moving TCN’s strategic direction away from tourism into a much more interesting space – business and entrepreneurship. And there really is not enough time to keep up with the amazing stuff taking place all over this city.
In the last few days, for example, a sample of the meetings I have had (all of which will be featured on TCN in due course)
- the reopening of Croatia’s oldest coworking space in a fantastic new location, as Impact Hub Reopens in Famous Central Zagreb Film Location. A wonderful networking opportunity.
- great brainstorming over beer with a consultant who is offering kayak consultancies in an obscure river, starting from central Zagreb. How cool is that?
- a couple who responded to their teenage daughter’s desire to have a $700 pair of sneakers by working with the daughter to develop a fabulous financial literacy app for teenagers. The daughter got so good at financial planning that she is now the proud owner of those sneakers.
- and speaking of sneakers, a meeting and update with a very exciting Croatian startup, who officially have the most sustainable sneakers in the world, and who are on the verge of a major announcement.
- lunch with a leading light in the NFT space (already featured by Forbes), taking me on a journey to a place I was a little scared to enter – the Metaverse.
- lunch with the Indian ambassador, followed by a visit to the Chinese ambassador’s residence for an interview about the opening of the Peljesac Bridge.
And when work is done, an evening stroll through Zagreb’s parks before a little liquid refreshment to reflect on another perfect summer’s day.
I see lots of complaints about the hot weather, which has not been a problem for me so far (but suspect it will be with the Peljesac Bridge opening). There is a nice gentle breeze through the window, with the melodic sounds of the piano from the nearby music school providing the perfect backdrop.
Working with these entrepreneurs has been very stimulating, with not an uhljeb in sight. Croatia’s tourism revenues are in the region of 9 billion euro from memory. I wonder how long it will be before this new breed of entrepreneur (if they are allowed to breathe) will be generating that, and more.
Croatia is a fantastic tourism country, of that there is no doubt, and I heartily encourage you to explore the magic of the coast (and continental Croatia).
But Croatia is also a fantastic country if you take the tourism factor out of if. Arguably even more so.
You heard it here first…