Croatia’s Foreign Entrepreneurs: Mara from Latvia via Caracas, Congress Centre Owner

Total Croatia News

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July 2, 2019 – Continuing our look at the foreign entrepreneurs trying to succeed in Croatia as so many are emigrating, meet Mara Vitols – Hrgetic, from Latvia via Venezuela.

1. First and foremost, why Croatia? 

Because my husband is a Croat and because we always wanted to live some years in his country and some in mine (Latvia). We were both born in Venezuela, but our families are originally from Croatia and Latvia.

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INTRO YOUR BUSINESS, what is it you do? 

Together with my husband, we run The FORUM Zagreb Congress Centre which is located in the economic and entrepreneur heart of Zagreb, the Green Gold business center. It has more than 1,560 m2 of modernly furnished space, with 9 multifunctional and dimensionally flexible conference rooms equipped with state-of-art technology, as well as with quality and customized support by our team.

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2. Tell us about some of the differences in your expectations of running a business in Croatia and the reality. 

a. In Latin America the ROI is much faster, everything is faster – your daily routine is a whirlpool… So we expected the ROI a little bit earlier, but in Europe things are a little bit slower. 

b. The laws and rules concerning some details of our business (for example, that we couldn’t have long cocktail tables in the same space with banket tables!) were a surprise for us, at the beginning (in Croatia). 

c. And, of course, the taxes and other services (for example, the utility charges  “komunalna naknada”)  were much higher than we expected.

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3. What (if any) bureaucratical issues have you encountered and how did you overcome them (i.e. any advice to the would-be entrepreneur?)

Congress or business centres are not categorized in Croatian laws, so we received the pleasant visit of an “inspector” and we were fined as soon as we opened. We had our lawyer and our accountant, who couldn’t help us avoiding the fine. So we just redefined our business and became a travel agency – because in Croatian laws only travel agencies appear as event organizers.

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4. How is your product or business perceived in the Croatian market?

It’s perceived as a quality service, executed by a quality staff : ) The event industry in Croatia has developed in a very professional way, specially business events. The offer is very large and good. We have loyal clients who have accompanied us from the very beginning, we really try to make them feel at home – that is, at office : )

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5. What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?

Yes. Why not? “Sounds good, we’ll visit you…”

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6. What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?

Adapting to another country and culture. We opened a congress (business) center in Zagreb, similar to the one we still have in Caracas (since 1996).  We thought that being successful in Venezuela meant by default that we would succeed in Croatia. But knowing “everything” in South America was a double-edged sword in Europe, because people aren’t the same. In Venezuela, for example, everybody preferred rooms without windows, for their events. In Croatia it is completely the other way. But I guess that’s because in Venezuela we have 365 sunny days each year : ) In Venezuela, for example, the price is the price. In Croatia, as I was later told by a colleague from a travel agency, the price list is a reference and you must give discounts on the price – at least in our segment.

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7. If you knew then, what you know now, would you have come?

Yes, I would do it again. 

8. What are 3 things you love about Croatia? 

a. Personal security – better than elsewhere : ) 

b. Healthy food and excellent wines! So many wine routes… 

c. The youngest generations, very innovative – just three examples: Rimac automobile, Mrvoš smart benches and Croatian IT-phoria !

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9. What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate in Croatia? 

a. Lower taxes and less regulations 

b. A real and positive nation branding policy, all Croats included with enthusiasm 

c. Government actions against seasonality – this is a real challenge. During 4+ months the coast needs a huge infrastructure and lots of people and, after that, it’s partially deserted. On the other hand, the capital is almost empty and sleeping during summer time (although that’s changing and improving every year).

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10. How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?

Our team is really special. Everybody likes the work we do, tries to do it as best as possible. Our colleagues are nice, hard workers, consider the company as their own and is always searching what could be improved. The only thing is the “sve znam” (I know everything) attitude : ) 

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11. Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?

Live in Croatia for a while. Work in a Croatian company for a while – before starting your own business. Don’t forget the due-diligence, including extensive market research (see Starbucks, for example). If your business is related to tourism, bingo – you’re on the right path!

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You can learn more about FORUM Zagreb on the official website.

To learn more about the foreign entrepreneurs trying to make it in The Beautiful Croatia, check out the heroes we have covered already

Are you a foreign entrepreneur trying to make it work in Croatia and would like to promote your story? Contact us on [email protected]



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