Few places in Croatia have been as badly affected by the pandemic economically as Dubrovnik, Croatia’s best-known and most iconic city, also known as the Pearl of the Adriatic. Heavily dependent on flights and cruise ships for the bulk of its tourism, COVID-19 wiped out those markets, leaving a city almost devoid of tourism and looking at ways to adjust to the new normal.
I first met Mayor Mato Frankovic in July last year, when I pitched the idea of reorientating part of the city’s tourism around lifestyle, catering to the growing number of remote workers around the world, who were looking to experience lifestyle when they leave their remote offices each day. After a hard day’s work, how better to relax than with a coffee on Stradun or a stroll around those magnificent old city walls?
The digital nomad story in Croatia was just starting to get some traction. Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong had just sent his open letter to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, asking him to introduce a digital nomad visa for Croatia. Some 44 days after that, Plenkovic tweeted a photo with Split’s favourite Dutchman announcing his intention to do just that. The tax code and Foreigner’s Act were amended, and from January 1, 2021, the legal framework was in place to welcome digital nomads for 12-month stays. Soon after, an American in Istria became the first bearer of the new visa. Meet Melissa Paul, Owner of Croatia’s First Digital Nomad Visa.
(Jan de Jong, the driving force behind Croatia’s digital nomad visa, Mayor Mato Frankovic, and TCN’s Paul Bradbury at the Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads conference in October 2020)
Dubrovnik’s engagement with the concept of developing a strategy for digital nomads led to the first dedicated conference in Croatia back in October. Organised by local remote work specialists, Saltwater Nomads, the Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads conference reached a global audience, including a citation in The Washington Post. Coupled with Croatia’s more accommodating approach to tourists durig the pandemic, the message was clear – Croatia’s lifestyle and natural beauty were very appealing. The perfect base for remote workers looking for a little extra.
Dubrovnik’s beauty and lifestyle got an extra boost in August, as ABC News spent a week covering the topic of Americans travelling during corona times, and the feature above on Good Morning America was watched by 12.5 million people.
Keen to build on the strong foundations of the October conference, the City of Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik Tourist Board have been working closely with Saltwater Nomads to develop a strategy to enable the city to better serve its remote working visitors, as well as better positioning Dubrovnik in the market.
As part of that strategy, Saltwater owner, Tanja Polegubic, a Croatian returnee from Australia who has been serving digital nomads since setting up Saltwater in 2017, has come up with what we believe is the world’s first digital nomad-in-residence contest, bringing digital nomads from all over the world for four weeks in Dubrovnik to work with the city to help it deliver a better understanding of the needs of its remote working guests, as well as using their know-how to help Dubrovnik build a better brand and presence in this rapidly expanding sector.
(Competition organiser and remote working pioneer in Croatia Tanja Polegubic also organised Croatia’s first digital nomad conference in Dubrovnik in October. Jan de Jong was a keynote speaker. Both are founding members of the Digital Nomad Association for Croatia).
The conference was one of my personal and Professional highlights of 2020,” Tanja told TCN. “It’s been really wonderful to see new businesses spring up – and mention the conference and the news of The permit. The DN-I-R residency program will be reaching out to these “early adopters” to be involved. Our approach is co-creation. We will pair the digital nomads to Match global Trends with the local community – I’m really excited about what we’re going to roll out!
The digital nomad-in-residence (DN-I-R) contest will give 10 lucky winners a complimentary 4-week stay as guests of the city, with various meals, tours, workshops and other activities also included. From the Saltwater contest information:
Using a co-creation model, the Saltwater program team will bring together residents and the 10 digital nomads selected as DN-I-Rs. Over a four-week period, the digital nomads will attend design thinking workshops to create a strategic direction for the city, especially as it adjusts to a more sustainable direction and manages the impact of COVID19.
The competition even allows companies to nominate a star employee – as long as they also agree to terms and conditions if selected. As many digital nomads are couples travelling in Croatia, if a winner has a partner – they can apply and if one is selected can share the free accommodation.
The project, which commences on April 23, will enable the 10 lucky winners to collaborate, upskill, and contribute to the development of Dubrovnik’s digital nomad strategy, with the aim of enhancing Dubrovnik’s standing in the digital nomad community. Dubrovnik has a reputation of being expensive, which it certainly can be, with a perception among some that there is little to do outside the city walls, which is certainly not true. The exchange of minds and experiences will help to dispel some of these myths.
DN-I-Rs will receive professional development training, participate in workshops and present their findings on shaping Dubrovnik as a Digital Nomad Friendly city. This will be presented at a finale event at the end of the programme. The Digital Nomad Association (DNA) Croatia will also be involved – with an event incorporated into the end of the programme.
Mayor of Dubrovnik Mato Frankovic is looking forward to working with the city new international digital ambassadors:
Dubrovnik really has everything one could wish for a comfortable life, but also excellent working conditions, and the City of Dubrovnik is constantly working to improve the quality of life and stay in this city. Digital nomads are very welcome. I believe that the conference we held in Dubrovnik last October clearly conveyed that message. With these further activities we want to emphasize this even more, and we see that in the international community Dubrovnik is already recognized as a desirable destination for digital nomads. The digital nomad story has the support of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, which is reflected in the fact that visas for nomads were introduced, as announced.
I wish all competitors the best of luck, and the winners of this competition will certainly gain wonderful experiences in Dubrovnik and, I am sure, be the ambassadors of Dubrovnik in the world.
An innovative approach to a new tourism strategy, so why not get involved? If you are a digital nomad and would like to be a guest of Dubrovnik and assist in shaping its digital nomad service for future guests, now is your once-in-a-lifetime chance!
Applications are open from midday today until March 31. More details on the programme and the application requirements and procedure can be found on the Saltwater website.
Learn more about the magic of Dubrovnik in our fully updated Total Croatia 2021 Dubrovnik in a Page guide.
For the latest news about digital nomads in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section.