The view of Croatian relations with the US from the Croatian Embassy in Washington. TCN is very grateful to His Excellency Croatian Ambassador Josip Paro for taking part in a joint email interview with Croatian diaspora leader in Washington Dr. Steven Zivko Pavletic on January 29, 2016. Dr. Pavletic’s questions and answers will feature on TCN next week.
Q: Nenad Bach was featured in an article in the Croatian media this week about tourism from America and how Serbia is set to benefit from Croatia’s appeal as a tourist destination due to Air Serbia and direct flights. What is the situation with potential flights from US to Croatia?
Over the last decade there have been several attempts to establish direct flights with no sustainable success mostly due to hard to ascertain passenger load/interest on both legs of the route, as well as some resistance from established global carriers and their hub based structures. The Embassy helped establish a task force of interested people with this purpose and we were also in discussion with Croatia Airlines last year about that, but there was no sufficient interest and capacity to take this initiative forward.
The Embassy has this month again re-started discussions with various players in order to again explore realistic possibility to establish direct flights to Croatia. However, this will require, among others, a conclusion of a serious independent market study in the US that can verify the passenger interest and establish a credible passenger load for the aircraft that is essential to properly calculate the economics of these direct flights. We will do all we can to spearhead and facilitate this effort, and achieve direct flights as soon as it is economically possible.
Q: Tell us a little about American business interests investing in Croatia.
The US is a huge economy with great potential for Croatia, but its sheer size and amount of competition also presents a serious challenge of branding and positioning Croatian investment opportunities, companies and products here. Many US companies and consumers know too little about the potential Croatia offers for their business, except for to some extent in tourism. Brand recognition of Croatia and our products is limited, and the awareness of broad American business public about what Croatia has to offer is unsatisfactory and fragmented at best. We have been working hard to change that. With very limited means though. Croatia has a keen interest to develop deeper a broader economic cooperation with the US, and attracting more and broader US investment is our top priority, especially because most FDI so far are from Europe and the Middle East. That is something which we of course welcome, but wish at the same time to diversify and broaden our investor base.
The US direct investment at the moment is relatively small in comparison to the potential and is concentrated in a big US multinationals and in only several areas like energy, IT, consulting, pharmaceuticals etc. As we have an unique geographic position at the crossroads of Europe and Middle East Croatia offers much bigger opportunitiesy. E,g., it offers great logistics opportunities, as we have a very developed modern infrastructure and any city in Croatia is within 2-3 hours flight to anywhere in wider Europe and the Middle East. Croatia is a member of the European Union and also has deep cultural and commercial ties with the wider Europe and Mediterranean region. We have educated workforce and stable political and legal environment. Croatia can be a great regional hub for American investments targeting wider regional markets. Energy exploration and production, tourism, electro engineering, food processing, textiles, metal industry, medical tourism and logistics offer rich opportunities for US business.
Q: From Cliff Rames of Wines of Croatia in New York to Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube in California, the passion for Croatian wine spans America. As the home of original Zinfandel, the potential for Croatian wine in America is huge. What concrete steps are being taken to promote and expand the Croatian wine story, and what support is being offered to pioneers such as Cliff and Frank?
You are right, there is a huge potential for the Croatian wines at the U.S. market. The sheer size of the market in the U.S., however, is at the same time one of the biggest obstacles. From our experience, many Croatian producers are discouraged from investing time and money, as the quantities which are needed here often surpass their capabilities. That said, there has been a rising awareness about the Croatian wines and their quality. The Embassy has been involved in many ways in promoting the Croatian wines: from contacts with local distributors and Croatian communities, to showcasing the wines at the Embassy events and augmenting the work being done by private entrepreneurs. There has not been an Embassy event after which my staff was not asked for the information about where to acquire the wines we served. The Zinfandel connection carries a great marketing potential, and we include it in all our presentations about Croatia to the American audiences. Great work has been done by some members of the Croatian diaspora who have even started a business of importing the Croatian wines. Our collective efforts have raised the visibility of Croatian wine production, but the potential for further growth is immense.
On a more concrete note, we helped organize visits by US distributors to Croatia and also wine tasting events in New York. Currently we are working with a California based firm Dillen Associates, to organize a major professionals focused, wine tasting and commercial networking event for select Croatian wine producers in San Francisco later this year, which will last several days.
Q: Anthony Bourdain’s gourmet tour of Croatia set the bar, and Game of Thrones increased awareness. The potential for American visits to Croatia if flights (see question 1) can be resolved is enormous, and yet the actual presence of official representatives and marketing is relatively weak. What is your feeling on this, and what can be done to improve the situation?
Bourdain’s program was bliss. Great commercial on what our autochthonous gastronomic really is. There can hardly be a more direct insight into any country’s culture than the one going through ones palate. And he showed how we live, and how good we are at sharing the joy of living with the willing others. The effect which the Games of Thrones series in particular has produced for Croatian tourism in the US has been incredibly positive. This was in part due to the fact that all of us who are in business of promoting Croatia in the US as one of the leading world and European destinations have actively worked on seizing and multiplying the media opportunities and “the buzz” which was created about Croatia in the U.S. media environment.
The best commercial you can wish for is the independent positive review about the country. If I tell you Croatia is great, you can consider that to be part of my job, but if an American who traveled to Croatia sends a letter to the Embassy along with the article in the community magazine about their holiday of a lifetime, that is a completely independent assessment, and the most positive of commercials one can wish for the country. This has been our mission here – to provide more space for people who are genuinely in love with Croatia, and are willing to share their positive experiences. My team and I strongly believe that even the smallest step we can make can have multiplying effects – giving a presentation to high school students or seniors, replying to each and every letter from all corners of the U.S. asking us to provide brochures about Croatia for various school projects, supporting every cultural event in Washington area where we can showcase Croatia, and just opening the Embassy to groups and individuals. With that in mind, we have opened the doors of the Embassy for the events by various professional groups in Washington D.C., and the response and the result have been amazing. We know for a fact that these “small” steps matter, and along with the wider promotion being done by the Croatian National Tourist Board in New York the official statistics speak of a very positive trend – in the last four years the number of American tourists to Croatia has doubled, from 151,000 in 2012 to more than 300,000 in 2015, which saw a 20% increase year-to-year alone.
I think that the strategy of using positive experiences of people who travelled to the country as a marketing tool instead of costly, face-lifted commercials is the way to go. This has already proved to be a good way of promoting Croatia as a unique tourist destination. The online presence is incredibly important, it does not cost money, but it offers huge potentials for spreading the word. Croatia has in many ways, and by the very fact it made a lot of people wanting to go back, successfully promoted itself in the U.S. That said, having more institutionalized presence is also needed, especially on the West coast. And of course, the direct airline connection is a must if we want to see a progressive rise in numbers of American tourists. Where we can also do a better job is streamlining and synergizing our collective efforts and investing more funds in organizing larger and more ambitious cultural diplomacy projects rather than financing dozens of smaller ones. Finally, we have had an incredible response and demand for Croatian souvenirs in Washington – be it smaller lavender bags or Licitar Hearts, but it has been increasingly difficult to acquire these lately for various reasons. The Embassy has done what it could to replace these, but our funds are a fraction of what is needed. This is one area where, in cooperation with the Tourist Board, we have to find a way to do better in the future.
Q: Mate Rimac was lecturing at Stanford this week, one of Croatia’s brightest talents. Croatian innovation is booming, following in the footsteps of Tesla. Tell us a little about Croatian innovation/IT penetration in the US market.
We are trying to help Mr. Rimac talk to Tesla Motors and other appropriate parties. Croatian innovative pharmaceutical industry led by Pliva is very well known globally. For instance the best pulmonary infections antibiotic known in the US as Zitormax/Azitromicyn is Pliva’s invention and patent. Regarding overall IT and innovation, Croatia has a very promising IT sector and is doing relatively well in an area of number of innovative ideas and the scientific base is relatively strong. Problem is how to commercialize these innovations and find the capital and marketing tools to support it. This is largely because the incubator and venture capital financing is not sufficiently developed in Croatia and that is the case to some extent for Europe as a whole in comparison to the US. However, some Croatian IT firms have managed to establish themselves and penetrate global market mostly in the area of specialty software, like medical, educational and administrative management software and related technologies, and many US and global institutions and companies are using their products. Last year the embassy also helped organize an extensive high profile visit of Croatian IT delegation led by Prime Minister Milanovic to top US IT firms, Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and HP, and to Stanford University to discuss an increase in business and scientific cooperation. We feel that Croatia has to focus on supporting and growing the “knowledge” industry, a high knowledge content products and services, and to be open to the world in science and business development.
One of the ways how to connect Croatian diaspora professionals in high-knowledge industries in the US is exactly the type of project brought forward by the Association of Croatian American Professionals, a network and platform which we are inaugurating through the first in-person conference this April. The fundamental idea of the initiative is that we use the globalization momentum, a phenomenon that makes the world shrunk, for turning something so far considered almost as a national tragedy, and that is our Croatian national dispersion (diaspora) into our national advantage. That’s why we like to talk about a Global Croatia, one that exceeding the nation state boundaries, one that brings together in synergy of interest the creative potentials of all Croats living in the world. The ACAP will start first working as an informal network of people of good will and creativity from all walks of professional life in North America and Croatia, and hopefully much wider. I want to believe that, although unrelated with our initiative, part of the globalizing momentum I am talking about is also the appointment of a Canadian Croatian, Mr. Tim Oreskovic, a businessman of global business scope of action and success as the Prime Minister of the new Croatian Government.