Sometimes (actually quite often when it comes to Croatian tourism) things happen completely by chance.
Sometimes some good comes from a terrible situation, the proverbial every cloud has a silver lining.
And through the disastrous tourism year of 2020, I noted a recurring theme of hope for Croatian tourism – the most high-profile penetration of Croatian tourism promo into the important USA market.
When ABC News contacted TCN in July wanting to explore filming a feature on Americans travelling to Croatia during the pandemic, I was initially a little hesitant. Promoting travel in July, 2020, particularly from the USA as COVID-19 raged, was bound to upset a few people. My position on corona throughout has been that my opinion doesn’t matter, and the more transparent the facts are, the more people can make better decisions.
And while ABC News might have people some people hopping on a plane to Dubrovnik, the bigger impact was likely to be the longer term. A message of welcome to Americans that there is a gorgeous country in Europe waiting to welcome you as soon as they are willing and able to travel.
I decided to get involved and connected ABC News with the best Dubrovnik fixer I know. Kreso Macan once again went above and beyond the call of duty. Ably assisted by Mayor Mato Frankovic and Dubrovnik Tourist Board director Ana Hrnic, the ABC News crew had an unforgettable few days.
And Americans saw and wondered. An estimated 12.5 million viewers tuned in to the feature on Good Morning America, one of six stories featured by ABC News as a result of their visit.
Mayor Frankovic posted on social media to thank ABC for its ‘priceless’ promotion. The Croatian tourism promo was one thing, but the bigger psychological impact was the message of a welcoming country with pristine beaches and historic towns waiting with open arms. At a time when the world was closed to American travellers, here was a beautiful ray of European sun.
Croatia. Bucket List 2021.
News spread in the Washington Post, not only of Croatia’s open approach to Americans, but a new lifestyle tourism opening up in Croatia. Following an open letter from Split-based Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, the Croatian PM granted the Dutchman’s request just 44 days later – a digital nomad visa for Croatia.
At the time of the announcement, there were only 4 other countries offering such a visa, with only Estonia in Europe. Legislation passed in Parliament, and the new law came into effect on January 1, 2021. The first digital nomad to be approved with the new permit, an American in Istria, gave her first interview to TCN – Meet Melissa Paul, Owner of Croatia’s First Digital Nomad Visa.
Here was a country which not only welcomed Americans, but also was opening up for remote worker longterm options.
A country with lifestyle.
A country popular with American celebrities, reported Forbes.
And definitely a rising star in the luxury world of superyachts, reported Bloomberg.
All this during a team when no money was spent on tourism promotion, and a time when a captive audience desperate to travel was being fed glorious Croatian tourism promo material, mostly quite by chance.
As tourism was collapsing elsewhere, Croatia was seemingly pushing ahead with its luxury tourism, according to Forbes, one of many international publications to report on the opening of Maslina Resort on Hvar.
5-star island luxury hotel openings on Hvar or Lopud – take your pick as Robb Report.reported on the outstanding luxury heritage conversion that is Lopud 1483.
Forbes was not the only one to notice Maslina on Hvar – here is Luxe Review.
And that message of 5-star luxury welcome for Americans made it once more to Forbes, this time from Dubrovnik.
And the latest fabulous free Croatian tourism promo to the USA market, as CNN combined all of the above into a great piece focusing on the new digital nomad opportunity, including chats with Melissa Paul, as well as Mexican and Singaporean nomads currently in Croatia.
All this, in a year when people were dreaming of travel, rather than travelling. And the dreams about future travel have been growing as a result.
And there were other pandemic benefits for Croatian tourism promo. With a more muted presidential inauguration on January 20, lesser stories assumed a greater prominence. This included a fantastic promotion of Croatian wine, a story which first appeared online in English on TCN on January 9.
The New York Times got in on the act, this time looking at the luxury real estate opportunities in Croatia. There seemed to be two clear messages emanating from all this promotion – luxury and lifestyle.
Perfect for the American market.
I spoke with Ina Rodin, Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board in New York, asking her for her thoughts:
The past year has been a challenging one for the travel and tourism industry. Croatia, no stranger to hardship, in addition to an unprecedented global pandemic experienced a series of devastating earthquakes. Despite these challenges, the country deftly navigated these crises. The government made bold decisions to keep borders open, a strong and strategic move which kept the country on the radar of US travelers, a move that US-based media such as Forbes, Afar, and ABC News to name a few, covered positively.
As a result, despite travel restrictions and reduced air accessibility, Croatia had a respectable number of visitors from the States. Furthermore, the recent introduction of the digital nomad visa program was timely and contributed to the country’s positive perception from people abroad. The effort to ease requirements to work and travel is a fail-safe plan for long-term tourism growth and should create more progressive and inspiring environment for both locals and visitors. We hope these new programs will provide a fresh perspective to our tourism strategy.
While most of the above promotion happened organically, one of the bigger challenges of the 2020 season lay with the Zagreb Tourism Board – what to do with their globally popular December event, Advent in Zagreb? With fluctuating restrictions and travel shelved by many, any event would be markedly different to its predecessors, but it was also important to keep the story and the brand going. Which it succeeded in doing, being featured once more as one of the best Christmas markets in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler.
I asked Martina Bienenfeld, Director of the Zagreb Tourist Board, how it went:
Last year was the most challenging for everyone and especially for us in the travel industry. Zagreb Tourist Board transformed challenges into opportunities that resulted with new projects. By adapting to the situation, we created new virtual and hybrid contents.
Having that in mind while preparing Advent Zagreb 2020, we created an interactive augmented reality exhibition called Virtual Christmas Windows which brought a whiff of holiday spirit using the animated motifs of Advent. The other novelty was a project and a campaign called The Light of Advent where we initiated festive decoration of windows of 10 public institutions in the Upper Town. We also invited our citizens to send us their Christmas photos and, as a result of the campaign, we had a reach of more than 230,000 people, 240,000 impressions and we received over 300 photos which can be seen in #ZagrebLoop video on www.adventzagreb.hr .
The other new feature was the Zagreb Manger, a virtual exhibition of photographs of Nativity Scenes in churches, taken from 2007 to 2019. Furthermore, during December we organized hybrid activities with live streaming of advent concerts on our online channels. The implementation of digital innovations helped us create unique virtual and interactive content throughout the whole year 2020. Pandemic showed us that now, more than ever, we need cooperative efforts, support and mutual trust of all the stakeholders in the tourism industry. Tourism brings people together and in spite difficulties that came upon us, I’m sure that we will build new memories together again
2020 was a year to forget for tourism in general, but a year to remember for Croatian tourism promo to the USA.
Let’s hope 2021 can be the year when Croatian tourism and Croatian tourism promo shine in tandem. In order to remind our American readers, luxury tour operator Secret Dalmatia just released the first in a series of great videos promoting the magic of Croatia that awaits you when travel returns to normal.
For more on travel in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section.