Croatia the New Ibiza Says UK Media: Bol the Reluctant Symbol

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The London Evening Standard confirms Croatia’s standing as the new festival king of Europe on June 27, 2016. 

Hedonism. It is coming… 

Of all the sectors which have grown rapidly in Croatian tourism in recent years, festival tourism has certainly been one of the most high profile and rapidly expanding, introducing a new generation of tourist to the spectacular Adriatic coast. Ever since the pioneering The Garden Festival 11 years ago, more and more festival organisers have looked at Croatia as a possible location, with its young and hip image combining with spectacular coastal settings and improving infrastructure to give the stereotypical sun and sea destination another dimension. As far back as 2013, The Guardian was asking if Croatia was Europe’s top festival destination.

Miles of column inches about Croatia as a festival destination have been written since then, and festival tourism has played an important part in generating increasing tourism revenues, and the opening of the party island of Obonjan this summer will further enhance that trend. Like it or loathe it, festival tourism is here to stay.

And such is the power and influence of festival tourism that it is now strong enough to dictate the brand of the destination (indeed Ultra Europe’s Joe Basic famously said at the first Ultra Europe press conference in April 2013 that ‘We have single-handedly changed the profile of the destination).

And for better or for worse, Basic was absolutely right. Looking at the lead photo in the article in the London Evening Standard, Croatia’s iconic beach of Zlatni Rat is the poster child of party tourism, and indeed it is the opening focus for the excellent Ultra Europe 2015 Aftermovie, one of the best videos ever made about Croatia. 

The problem is that Bol has nothing to do with party tourism, and it was indeed the first destination to refuse the overtures of Ultra Europe to have a festival on the beach in peak season. Having once been knows as the top party destination on the Adriatic over a decade ago, Bol made a consious decision to move away from the party and towards adventure and family tourism, with the result that in 2014, some 40% of visitors were young families. A great promotional campaign, SymBOL of the Adriatic, followed, and the destination developed a very strong brand. 

But not strong enough. 

I spoke to Markito Marinkovic, Director of the Bol Tourist Board this morning, to ask about the Ultra Europe party in his destination this summer. He knows nothing about it, as there has been no contact between the festival and the Bol Tourist Board, just as there was not last year. There will be no party on Croatia’s most famous beach, merely a boat party somewhere off it. 

Does it matter? Perhaps not, but it is a reminder that destinations are no longer in charge of their branding. Social media is power (the Ultra video has had almost 2 million views), and the London Evening Standard article will firmly imprint this family and adventure destination as a party place for all its young readers (British visitors to Central Dalmatia were up 38% last year). A reality of the modern world. 

But let’s finish with the positives of festival tourism in Croatia, for there are many highlighted in the article itself:

“For years, Ibiza monopolised a certain type of hedonism. After sunset, temporary islanders would strap on their gold sandals and head towards the music. They would meander home long after dawn, rising mid-afternoon for a languid afternoon of nothing much at all before tipping off for more of the same.” Read the rest of the article here.


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