In the highest peak of pandemic you launched a new project – Total Croatia portal, which represents tips&tricks welcome door to Croatia. Although it mainly refers to tourism offer, there are some information for people who want to live, work, study here. And it is not only ‘milk and honey’ (you mention corruption index and system flaws). Have you faced some disagreement with your objectiveness?
The new Total Croatia national tourism portal (www.total-croatia.com) is the culmination of 10 years of my experience writing about tourism in your country. I have tried many things in my time here, but what I feel is really lacking is a quality website written objectively based on personal experience of someone who has lived and travelled extensively in Croatia for 18 years.
The article about my experiences of living in Croatia (Croatian version here) is absolutely an extension of promoting tourism in this country. The future of work is changing, and there are MANY people who are considering Croatia as a new remote home, due to its safety, authentic experiences and lifestyle. What is missing – at least in my opinion – is detailed information and experiences about what living here is really like for a foreigner. Saying everything is perfect would be irresponsible. Pointing out the good, the bad, and the ugly, with a conclusion that it is a great place to be, despite its flaws, is an honest and positive message. Especially when you serve them the information in their own language.
It has certainly resonated. After our Croatian travel update, it is the most popular article on the Total Croatia website. The Polish version has already been viewed more than 10,000 times, for example. I think there is huge demand for this kind of information. If you give people great info, they will make a decision and come. If you give them nothing, then of course they will not come.
Is this the right time for tourism projects? How did you monetize your online publishing projects, how do you live from it and feed your employees?
It is absolutely the best time for such a tourism project. People are desperate to travel, and the hunger to travel is heightened. Feed them quality information and that interest may not manifest itself in travel next week, but the feeling and interest will remain.
Just look at the US market and Croatia. When we brought ABC News to Dubrovnik last year, which resulted in 6 feature stories including one on Good Morning America watched by 12.5 million people, people were skeptical about promoting international travel to the American market. My eye was always on 2021 and beyond. And look at the flight news recently. After almost no direct flights to Croatia from the USA, now suddenly we have United and Delta from New York to Dubrovnik, as well as Pragusa announcing direct flights from New York and LA.
Promoting tourism does not need to be solely aimed at results tomorrow. Sometimes a longer-term plan can also provide dividends.
And I have to say that I am hugely encouraged by the massive interest from some of the bigger names in the Croatian tourism private sector. We have confirmed destination partners already for many key destinations, such as Hilton for Zagreb, Sun Gardens for Dubrovnik, Falkensteiner Punta Skala for Zadar, and Suncani Hvar for Hvar Town. We will also announce several other big names in the coming days.
This portal is also about promoting authentic tourism and the little guy. If any Croatian tourism business run by your viewers wants to work with us, we will offer a discount off our rates for any interested registered by May 15. If interested, please contact us at [email protected] Subject Lider/Destination/Sector, eg Lider/Trogir/Restaurant
How much did you invest in your business in Croatia and have you brought some start capital from UK?
I started Total Hvar back in 2011 with 100 euro in my bank account. I invested no capital from the UK. My total investment in the new Total Croatia portal has been 5,000 euro.
How big is your global audience on both of your projects? Can you compare it with Croatia Tourist Board reach?
Google Analytics tells me that we have up to 620,000 unique visitors a month for TCN, with 78% international traffic. The main sources are USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, Poland, France, Italy, Austria and Norway. The new TC site is obviously must smaller, but in time it will be much more popular than TCN, as it is based on searches for the info that people are seeking. And we are already ranking very well on all keywords. Soon after we moved our Croatian Travel Update from TCN to TC, we were getting 1,200 Google searches a day for that page alone.
Croatians mainly recognize you through your battles with this institution. This battle recently brought your case in Croatian Parliament, where Marijana Puljak demanded that membership in CTB has to be voluntarily. Could you write more about some other par fiscal institutions such as HGK and HOK, so you could help speed up the same process?
I am very grateful to Marijana for raising my case, as well as Vanja Juric for helping with my legal defence against the SLAPP lawsuits from the Croatian National Tourist Board. Both are magnificent humans, and people like them give me hope for a better Croatia.
But, haha, no I don’t plan to write that much about other institutions. It seems to be an expensive hobby… And I said all I needed to say about HGK a few years ago in Welcome to Uhljebistan: the Croatian Chamber of Economy, Beyond Useless.
The lawsuits which led to finalising the Total Croatia project actually set me free. My intention is to focus mostly on TC, before taking the concept in other countries. We have already had offers to replicate it in the USA and Egypt. And we only launched a few days ago.
In which phase are currently your court cases with HTZ? Did you have to pay some slander fees already?
There are two court cases. In the first, I am being sued for 50,000 kuna for defamation. My alleged crime was being quoted in an article written by someone else on a portal that is not mine. There was no request to remove the article. Neither the author, nor the portal has been sued. The article is still online.
The first hearing should have been on May 3 at 09:40, but 3 days before, the HTZ law firm asked for it to be delayed, as their lawyer asked for a delay as he had another case at the same time. Even though there are apparently 50 lawyers in the firm, nobody else must have been available. We replied that we wanted to proceed, but the court ruled that the case would be delayed until May 31.
The second case was actually heard first, in early April. Another 50,000 for my satirical use of the HTZ logo, Croatia, Full of Life. The hearing lasted 3 minutes and was adjourned until July because their lawyer filed a last-minute motion which not even my lawyer saw prior to the hearing. Apparently, he had been in hospital for a week, hence the late deposition. All of the other alleged 49 lawyers in the firm must have been busy.
You wrote many articles about tourism system gaps. Could you point out three key weak links and how to strengthen them as soon as possible?
No strategy, poor information, little understanding of modern tourism trends and needs.
All three are easy to fix. Make a strategy, provide quality information, and engage people who understand modern tourism trends and needs.
Do you share the opinion that Croatia needs more big foreign investments and position in luxury tourism?
Croatia has almost no position in the luxury tourism market. Last month, the Croatian media picked up on a story I did on Charlize Theron saying the happiest time of her life was on holiday in Hvar and Dubrovnik.
I know one of the people who worked on her trip. She was looking for a hotel of Aman quality, and ended up going to one apparently. Not in Croatia, as Aman is one of many quality brands that are in places like Montenegro (and check out the number of top hotel names in Rwanda, for example), but not Croatia.
Yes, we do need to massively improve the luxury tourism offer to match the destination. Everyone talks about exclusive Hvar, for example. But it was only two years ago that it got its first 5-star hotel. Now compare how many 5-star hotels there are on Croatian islands versus Greek islands.
Can we take Hvar for example? There is a disorder in the mix of three totally different products – luxury yachting, party life and family tourism. Can those three products live in peace or should it be just one product to promote globally?
Actually, I think things on Hvar are changing finally, and very much for the better. Things are slowly being repivoted in Hvar Town away from the party and towards higher-quality tourism. Suncani Hvar Hotels and the Hvar Tourist Board have never worked better together in the last 10 years, and the merging of the island tourist boards into one marketing entity can only be a good thing.
But also, watch out for Stari Grad, which is quietly emerging as a really top quality and authentic destination. It has a huge future, and it will open up higher-class tourism to central Hvar. I am actually very optimistic about the future of tourism on my adopted island.
You know many foreign entrepreneurs living and investing in Croatia. Do they share your opinion that entrepreneurship is a ‘dirty’ word in Croatia, as you often say?
One of the best things I saw at a presentation was from an Australian-Croatian returnee, who showed the definition of an entrepreneur in Australia and Croatia. There were like chalk and cheese.
To be honest, I love hanging out with entrepreneurs. They tend to be very positive people who are more interested in doing things than complaining. Croatia needs more entrepreneurial mindset to move forward.
You obviously don’t have very nice experience in cooperation with Croatian institutions. How about private sector? How would you compare Croatian with western entrepreneurial mindset? (example)
Actually, I would like to correct you there a little if I may. I have a very poor experience with SOME Croatian institutions, but outstanding experiences with others. The cooperation with MUP last summer with our Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community (which won the International Grand Prix award for crisis communication from HUOJ) was outstanding. What they did to help the tourism season was unreal. Full respect to MUP and many thanks to Marina Mandic for an outstanding cooperation.
Just because I am critical of HTZ does not mean the same is true of every tourism board, some of whom I work with, some not. I have never worked with TZ Rogoznica, for example, but I think they do an excellent job. Our cooperation with Dubrovnik on the digital nomads projects has been the best I have experienced with any city or tourist board here. And I am very excited by the partnership with Zagreb Tourist Board for Zagreb Digital Nomad Week from June 21-27.
But there are also great tourist boards in smaller destinations. I am really enjoying working with Ludbreg on some innovative projects you will hear about soon, and TZ Stari Grad on Hvar is doing wonders on a small budget.
After so many people offered you donations for court defence, you came up with an idea of crowdfunding campaign for tourism promotion which would be much more effective than present. Do you thing this idea could be feasible in Croatia?
Perhaps, but you don’t need money always to promote tourism. You need passion.
ABC News and Good Morning America watched by 12.5 million people, delivered for zero kuna by Kresimir Macan, Nikolina Vicelic and our Viber commmunity.
Jan de Jong and the digital nomad permit. Zero kuna.
Mate Rimac and his fantastic living and working in Croatia video.
Nenad Bakic and his viral Twitter videos. Zero kuna.
And many thousands of others who promote Croatia. What do they all have in common? Passion, and an understanding of the methods required to communicate and share in the 21st century. The Croatian Ministry of Tourism was still advertising its fax machine number as the primary means of communication this time last year until I politely pointed out that we had moved on a generation.
You worked as a humanitarian aid worker in Somalia, Georgia, Rwanda, Siberia. How that experience changed you and how do you look at it from Hvar’s deep shade today?
It gave me a different perspective for sure. Although they are very different cases, it is hard for me sometimes not to compare Croatia with Rwanda, where I worked in 1994 in emergency relief 2 weeks after the genocide finished.
800,000, or 12% of the population, murdered in just 100 days, two tribes against each other, one of the poorest countries in the world. Today, plastic bags are illegal in the country, emergency blood gets delivered by drone anywhere in the country, and where luxury hotels such as One & Only opened (also in Montenegro, but not in Croatia).
A poor country which no history of football success, or any Rwandese national in the English Premier League, and yet they are the first tourism country to partner with a Premier League football club. You can read about their partnership with Arsenal here in Lessons from Rwanda: Promoting Tourism Through Football, African-Style.
And Croatia, the land of Modric? Ah, Hrvatska…
More and more foreigners buy real estate in Croatia and find it as a cozy place to live. Do you believe there can be a coexistence of Croatian and foreign mindset ten years from now?
Yes, I believe that very strongly. The Mighty State of Uhljebistan is starting to wobble, and the twin viruses of transparency and technology will be too strong, I think. I am always optimistic, but about this, I am very optimistic.