July 25, 2020 – Continuing our look as successful returnees from the Croatian diaspora, meet Daniel Cavka, who swapped life in Australia for Split.
So many Croatians abroad dream of moving back to the Homeland, but concerns about corruption, low wages, job availability and a host of other concerns deter many. But more and more are taking the plunge, and succeeding. In the latest in our series of successful returnees, meet Daniel Cavka.
Born in Australia, returned to Croatia, something that many diaspora dream of doing. Tell us briefly about your journey.
I was born on the East Coast of Australia in a regional city called Gold Coast. It’s where I lived most of my life with the exception of a couple of years in Sydney. I never really found myself comfortable in the city and after living there for about two years I decided it wasn’t for me so I moved back to the Gold Coast where I worked alongside my dad on a rendering business we own. After being back home for about 12 months I came to the conclusion I needed something more and was hungry for a new challenge. This all happened around the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, after Croatia beat Russia I decided to head over and watch the games in person. After the grand final loss to France I decided to head over to Split and visit family for a week. A few days before I was due to head back to Australia, two friends visited Croatia. They were heading over to Hvar and asked if I’d fancy coming along for the trip to which I couldn’t say no. I started making my way to Split Ferry Port, only to be told that I in fact had to meet at the airport because the boat was leaving from the beach below Zračna Luka. I made my way over there and met them where I was then guided to a speedboat, I said what’s this to which my friends told me was our mode of transport to Hvar. The rest is history, my brain started working overtime thinking about the possibilities of starting my own transfer service, and here I am….
Looking back, what were your hopes, expectations and fears about moving to Croatia?
I knew what I wanted, a Nautical Tourism business operating out of Split and servicing the entire Croatian coast through both company-owned and partner vessels. I love Croatia, the old towns and crystal clear waters had me jumping at the idea of knowing I could actually live in such an incredible part of the world, so my expectations had already been realised through my desire to be here. I’m now 26 but the decision to start the business came to me at 23, so my fear was focused more on what if I don’t go and what could have come from it had I moved to Croatia. I would be left wondering and when I played that scenario in my head I didn’t like it one bit. So as far as I was concerned I had no real fear, I was just ready to embrace the risk of moving to Croatia and hungry to see my goal become a reality.
How supportive was your Croatian community back home at the time?
The people I knew in the Croatian community were not so supportive of the idea. However, I couldn’t have asked for a more encouraging family, they threw all of their support behind me.
What were the main differences in what you expected to find in Croatia and the reality of living in Croatia?
I used to visit my family who live close to Split yearly, hence I was quite aware of the living conditions so from that aspect there were no major shocks for me. There were definitely major shocks when it came to starting a business, which I don’t want to comment on too much as every country has its own sovereignty and therefore right to operate how they wish. All I will say on this point is that there is a need for reform and action to make starting a business in Croatia a simpler and more efficient process. So that more and more Croatians take it upon themselves to get out there and really give life a go rather than live with the perceptions that they have no opportunity to succeed if they stay in Croatia.
Many diaspora think of returning but few do. In truth, there is little information out there about real-life stories and help/info about the process. What advice do you have for those who are thinking about making the move?
There was close to no relevant information available online for diaspora wanting to start a business in Croatia. The information that was out there was basic and not relevant to the issues faced when trying to get up and running. I’m in the process of working on a very visually descriptive site for diaspora wanting to start a business in Croatia, to help them through the hurdles. All in all, my view was and still is just do it! For me as I’ve mentioned it was only a case of what if I don’t do it, what could have come from it! Yes, it’s been incredibly challenging when you throw the coronavirus pandemic in the mix, but it’s testing me and building me up to be a better version of myself every day.
How were you perceived in Split as foreigners/diaspora moving back – was the welcome warm?
Are you crazy? You’ve lost the plot? Why did you decide to work here for a few months, oh wait what you opened a business here? How did you manage that, it’s impossible to do that? – These were the main questions I received from people who were simply shocked out of their minds that I would lift my life up in Australia and open a business in Croatia. Yes, the quality of life from a work perspective is different, and the typical relaxed Dalmatian response to anything that happens takes some getting used to. However, the quality of life in Croatia isn’t as bad as Croatians make it out to be! It all comes back to how motivated you are to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Croatia is the best playground for Nautical tourism in the world, nobody can deny that, and if they do they’ve clearly never been to the Croatian Coast and experienced it for themself. So for me the question was more like… why would you not start a business in Croatia?
What are the keys to success in doing business in Croatia in your opinion?
Well, for me it was quite simple – I love to embrace risk and know how to keep focus on the original goal I set for myself. So to get there I quickly found out I had to remind myself that if it’s attainable through persistence and resilience I can’t settle for a mundane reality. This is a motto you have to stick to through the whole process, because no day and sometimes even no minute is the same. Quite literally blood, sweat, and tears will be a part of your day when trying to set up a business in Croatia, especially the Dalmatian coast. I can’t offer any other way to get through the issues you’ll face in starting a business in Croatia other than embracing the challenges and making it your mission to be able to say I did it.
What is the diaspora community like in Split and how integrated is it with locals?
Since arriving, I’ve been head down and focused on getting Nautical Croatia & Nautical Adriatic up and running. So I haven’t actually taken the time to reach out to the diaspora community. I’ll definitely be making an effort to integrate myself more with the community.
The struggles of Coronavirus?
Well, where do I start? The business is now at a standstill and because of such a high drop in tourist numbers, the risk of border closure, and the risk of contracting Coronavirus from tourists and infecting my family I made the extremely difficult and gut-wrenching decision to not operate in 2020 and rather resume in mid-May of 2021. So I’m using this year to update everything from my website(which has just gone live!) right through to altering the specifications on the boat so that in 2021 I can bounce back stronger than ever and provide the best experience out of any other Nautical tourism business operating on the Adriatic Coast.
To learn more about Daniel’s services and to contact him, check out his Nautical Croatia website.
For more on the Croatian diaspora, check out the TCN dedicated section.
Are you a returnee who has moved back to Croatia and would like to be featured in this series? Please contact us on [email protected] Subject Successful Returnee