I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Zagreb Digital Nomad Week 2021, but I knew that it would be inspiring. Sometimes, when I write about an opportunity for Croatia from within Croatia, it is hard to have a global perspective. Local viewpoints are not necessarily transferred to the global viewpoint. And while a lot has been written by TCN about the digital nomad opportunity for more than 2 years now, what were the true feelings of significant names in the global nomad community?
I got my chance to find out last week with a range of keynote speeches, panel discussions, and lots of informal chats with various international nomads from all over the world who were in Zagreb. All of the feedback was extremely positive, and much of it very inspiring. Here are 6 of my takeaways from Zagreb Digital Nomad Week 2021.
1. The impact of the digital nomad permit is far greater than the number of applications
The Croatian Prime Minister’s decision to act on the LinkedIn open letter from Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong last year, meant that Croatia announced that it would be only the second country in Europe to offer such a visa. The ensuing 12-month permit came into effect on January 1 this year, and the whole story had global headlines – CNN, Washington Post, Euronews and many more. The timing coincided with several other factors. The most important of these was that Croatia remained open to non-EU/EEA citizens during last year’s pandemic, and it was also in the EU but not in the Schengen zone (thereby making it an attractive option for those on Schengen visas to wait out 90 days).
A combination of these factors I believe helped raise the profile of Croatia considerably. Many discovered Croatia for the first time, and more and more remote workers headed in Croatia’s direction. Although the number of applications for the permit is relatively low at the moment (147 in total), the number of digital nomads is growing. I must have met over 50 digital nomads in the last week, only 2 of whom had the permit. The point was made that nomads are by definition nomadic and not necessarily looking to live in one country for 12 months. But the number of people coming for a month, two, three is on the rise.
2. Croatia is a leader in public-private partnership for advancing digital nomad tourism opportunities
This was a surprising finding for me, as Croatia is not known for its public-private partnership initiatives. Talking to Dean Kuchel of Digital Nomad World was especially instructive. He had never come across a country with such engangement between the public and private sector, a partnership he described as groundbreaking.
The headline cooperation, of course, was between de Jong, the Prime Minister, 5 government ministries and numerous other parties to deliver the DN permit. But the engagement was far deeper than that. Dean was impressed at the involvement at Zagreb Digital Nomad Week 2021 of the banking section (Raiffeisen Bank Hrvatska), financial consulting (KPMG Croatia), and communications (Hrvatski Telekom), as well as SKIFT. Co-working spaces such as Impact Hub, HUB385 and BIZkosnica. Winebars such as Bornstein, Hotels such as Canopy by Hilton, Hostels such as Swanky Mint Hostel and private accommodation of Doma Zagreb. The formation of the Digital Nomad Association Croatia is an important bridge between the authorities and digital nomad community.
ZDNW was a great public-private partnership between Saltwater Nomads, Total Croatia News, and Zagreb Tourist Board (funded by the latter), with Zagreb County Tourist Board hosting the final day in Samobor and Zumberak Nature Park. ZDNW followed on from two other successful public-private partnerships in Dubrovnik, with the Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads conference last October, and the recent Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence program, both of which were a partnership between Saltwater Nomads, TCN, and the city and tourist board of Dubrovnik.
3. The seeds of collaboration not competition are already sown and bearing fruit among destinations.
Having written about tourism in Croatia for 10 years, one of the most positive aspects of this whole initiative has been the collaboration between different tourist boards and other official bodies. Croatia has a very fragmented tourist board structure, and there has been a tendency to treat another tourist board as competition.
Zagreb Tourist Board made a great contribution on a final day panel at the Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence progamme, and Dubrovnik Tourist Board director Ana Hrnic was a great panellist on ZDNW. The partnership of Zagreb city and county tourist boards is a great example of how to improve the quality of a destination by working together. At ZDNW, there were representatives from Zadar, Split, Osijek and Istria, all interested in taking this story forward… together. Zagreb as a digital nomad destination will be all the stronger if there are other communities in other destinations in Croatia. The concept of a Croatian digital nomad trail was discussed in Dubrovnik. By working together to develop that, the various stakeholders can produce an incredible end product.
What was especially encouraging to me was the number of local people who ended the week a lot more enlightened about the digital nomad movement. The concept of WiFi and a bed being all that is required was relatively widely held a year ago. That is changing quickly.
4. The development of community is key to success.
In an interview prior to ZDNW, keynote speaker and future of work explorer Albert Cañigueral talked about the importance of having a digital nomad community in place:
The sentence “content is king, context is queen” is widely used in marketing. In the DN universe I would translate as people (community) is king and location is queen. Our experience was just mind-blowing because of the community of DNs that were selected to participate, the partners of some DNs who decided to be part of the adventure, the local people who joined the workshops and other moments, the professional team that ran the whole programme and also the support from the city hall (in the middle of local elections!).
Dean Kuchel’s simple mantra perhaps explained it best. I travel solo, but I never travel alone.
The strength of the community is probably the key deciding factor for many in where to travel to next.
5. The positive mindsets of the digital nomad community will have a majorly positive effect on the mindsets of the next Croatian generation.
One could not help but be positive last week. So much great energy, so many inspiring people. People who care about community and the world around them. People will new ideas, a fresh look on life. As those communities grow and more digital nomads come to explore Croatia, the safe, authentic lifestyle destination, that energy will trickle into the mindset of the local population. After decades of emigration and no opportunity, an influx of new ideas and people coming into the country rather than running away will be a long-term positive.
6. Zagreb is a truly exciting destination for digital nomads, with most of the essentials already in place.
I was really curious what our visiting digital nomads would think of Zagreb. I think it has become a very cool city and think it has plenty to offer, but how does it compare internationally, and what is it missing? Dean Kuchel of Digital Nomad World gave his verdict:
“Zagreb is missing more digital nomads. It has perfect weather, great nightlife. Everybody speaks English, everybody is kind to you, and it is easy to get around. The Internet is fantastic, thank you. It has been very helpful with work. I don’t think it misses anything really. It checks all the boxes. It has good city life, nature, access to the sea. Just stay the same please.”
A great week, an important milestone for Croatia moving forward, and lots of exciting possibilities moving forward.
The keynote speakers at Zagreb Digital Nomad Week 2021:
Day 1 – Cybersecurity – Marko Rakar of MRAK Services
Day 2 – Online Presence – Mandy Fransz of Make the Leap Digital, and Taki Moore of Million Dollar Coach
Day 3 – Remote Careers – Kristie Sullivan and Ron Tardiff, followed by panel of Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence hosted by Michael Freer
Day 4 – Tax and Finance – Kathleen McPaul, followed by Kristina Grbavac from KPMG Croatia
Day 5 – Future of Work
You can see all the presentations for Day 5 above, with a guide to the speakers below.
For more information about the Zagreb Digital Nomad Week, check out Saltwater Nomads.
For the latest news and features on digital nomads in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section.