Filming in Croatia: The Good, the Bad and the Totally Stupid

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Croatia is growing in popularity as a filming destination, great publicity and promotion for the country’s tourism industry, surely? Not in every case… TCN takes a closer look on August 16, 2017. 

My favourite Croatian tourism promotion story involves South Korea. As the story goes, the tourist board turned up at a tourism fair in Seoul a few years ago and were inundated by young Korean women.

“You are from Croatia? Really? Tell me more about your country.”

The unlikely, but very welcome, fascination with Croatia stemmed from a reality TV show called The Romantic, which (as I understand) had five attractive single guys and five attractive single girls heading off to a romantic European country called Croatia, in search of love and adventure. The narrator was one of Korea’s top male pop stars, an icon himself. And the rest is history. Not only did Korean tourists start coming in their hundreds of thousands (the fastest growing country for inbound Croatian tourism in the last few years), but more reality shows followed to continue the trend. A great success story, and one which could be used as a model for successful promotion to new markets. As you can see from the episode below, the presentation of Croatia, the destination is magnificent.

Croatia has, of course, been in the global spotlight because of filming in recent years. Game of Thrones in particular, but also Star Wars and Robin Hood: Origins, have all played their part, and there are quite a few tourists who visit Kings Landing who – according to tourist guide friends in Dubrovnik – do not realise Dubrovnik is actually a city and existed long before HBO came to town. While one can argue about what that is doing for the perception of Dubrovnik’s great heritage, it cannot be denied that Game of Thrones has had a significant effect on tourism numbers both to Dubrovnik and Croatia as a whole. 

The Game of Thrones effect has transformed the fortunes of filming locations such as Klis Fortress, and the HBO gift has the potential for Croatia to generate similar (hell, given the proximity of Croatia to the rest of the world, more) revenue that New Zealand has managed from its hosting of Lord of the Rings. I wrote an article a couple of years ago with some interesting statistics on Kiwi revenues. Is Croatia fully exploiting its Game of Thrones potential? That is a discussion for another time. 

So far, so good, and this is where the discussion gets interesting. Both the examples above would have happened with official approval. Presumably someone in an office with a stamp somewhere had come to the conclusion that both these projects would be positive things for Croatia – improving the country’s image and attracting tourism revenue. And they were right. In the modern social media world, however, destinations are no longer in total control of their branding and way they are presented in the modern world. Let’s take Hvar and Bol as two examples. 

Do you know which is the most popular YouTube video of all time about the island of Hvar, with more than 4.3 million views and counting? I feel a little responsible, although I take no credit for it, as the main thing in the video was my idea but its popularity was due to the person making it. I will confess that I had never heard of a YouTuber two years ago when two young Brits called Joe Sugg and Oli White came to Dalmatia, but once I saw the effect their names had on the 14 year-old granddaughter of visiting friends from Munich, I knew I had to take her to interview them. They were fun guys, a little obsessed with their cameras trained on themselves (part of the job), but it was a fun time, and when I casually mentioned that the restaurant where we met had an underfloor aquarium with baby shark, and that it would make great reality television for them to go for a swim with the shark and other sea life contained therein, that was exactly what they did.

With 4.3 million views, that video has far more reach than any video coming out of Hvar. Ever. And the amount of control the destination had over its content. Zero. (As an aside – later that summer, I was a little amused at several requests from desperate parents for more information on how to find the places featured in the ‘Joe Sugg Tour’.)

The Joe Sugg vlog was even more popular than the superbly produced Ultra Europe aftermovies, but it was the 2015 version which showed us just how impotent destinations are to control their branding. The popular resort of Bol, best known for its iconic Zlatni Rat beach, used to be one of the top party destinations on the Adriatic, but took a decision over a decade ago to rebrand itself as a family and adventure tourism destination, with stunning results. And so when Ultra Europe approached the town to host their music festival on the famous beach, Bol said no. Bol did not want to become a party destination. 


You would certainly not get the impression what Bol was not a party destination from the official Ultra Europe aftermovie above, which starts with drone shots over Zlatni Rat and a beautiful girl emerging from the Adriatic and walking the length of the beach. There was no festival on the beach, but Ultra did heavily market and stage a boat party just off Bol and the beach. No permission was sought or obtained, and Bol was branded in a way it was desperately trying to avoid. 

While destinations may no longer be 100% in control of their brand and marketing, then can of course influence it heavily. Two recent announcements about filming on Croatian islands are of particular interest. On the surface of it, the announcement of filming of the sequel to Mamma Mia on Vis, with a star cast including Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan, sounds like a fantastic coup for the island, and a great tourism draw in the future, quite apart from the money that will be generated from the invasion of an invasion of a reported 700 people connected to the filming – this on an island with just 4,000 tourism beds. The discussion on whether or not this will be good or bad for the island in the long run has already begun. I don’t have enough knowledge or experience to answer that question, but my fear is that the people making the decisions do not either. It is great promo, it will bring lots of PR, lots more tourists, it is great for Croatia – those are the justifications I can imagine hearing.


Is there a strategy? Is there a plan? Where is the great Game of Thrones strategy which could put Croatia on the level of New Zealand and Lord of the Rings? What criteria are considered when granted permission for films set in Croatia or about Croatia? I would love to think that there was some hard-working chap in the ministry who was coordinating the plan, but as the ministers spouts on about record numbers, the reality is more like Stalin’s Five Year Plan. Numbers are all, forget the quality. It is a grave mistake which is taking place up and down the coast this summer, and as some fat Brit wrote a few weeks ago, 2017 could be a defining year for Croatian tourism.  

It is not just about the numbers… 

And then yesterday’s great announcement, one of the finest own goals in the history of global tourism. And the people who gave permission for this latest absurd filming on the island of Pag have lost the right to complain about the British partygoers who are causing such problems. Their decision was akin to an alcohol rehabilitation clinic full of adverts for booze and stocked with minibars, and then the director complaining that nobody was following the non-alcoholic programme. 

The behaviour of boozy British tourists has been one of the hot topics of the summer. Two destinations in particular – Hvar Town and Novalja (home to Zrce beach) on Pag – have hit the headlines the most. In Hvar Town, new mayor Riki Novak introduced signs threatening fines for those who did not dress appropriately or were eating and drinking in the street. It was an action that which made global headlines, and yet within weeks, both Venice and Florence had followed suit. Hvar still has plenty of problems to solve with its party tourism, but with that one act, Hvar is already being portrayed in a different way internationally, in the same way as Rome, Venice and Florence

Hvar’s mayor’s actions were timely. There has been a strong reaction to mass tourism in many places in Europe this summer (it has largely been limited to cruise tourism in Croatia) – Venice, Barcelona and many destinations in Spain. Even notorious Magaluf introduced 64 rules, including such gems as not having sex in the street, this in the heart of British trash tourism. As the Daily Star reported on the Hvar signs, the full effect of Mayor Novak’s approach, and the service he has done to his town, was captured in this sentence from the British tabloid:

“As a result of the crackdown in Maga, Brits are flocking to other European resorts in search of looser rules.”

If those complaining about the Brits this summer think it is bad, the arrival of the Magaluf brigade would take things to a new level of debauchery. Promoting the PERCEPTION that Croatia is not that kind of destination is perhaps the most important thing right now. The Mayor of Novalja has also been dealing with his own issues with the British party crowd, and he was quoted as follows in the British media just 7 weeks ago:

“I have mixed feelings of sadness, bitterness and responsibility as a mayor of this town who is deceived and humiliated by barbarism and the unskilled portion of the young English guests.

“The fact that the English tourists have extremely high-paying powers for our conditions, doesn’t give them right to behave this way which leaves the locals helpless in front of the primitive behaviour, nudity, and drunkenness.

“Therefore, as the Mayor, I apologise to all of my fellow citizens who are insulted by this behaviour and who are indignant by all that we have seen these past days on our streets.”


(Filming in Croatia as It Once Was: Orson Welles filming The Deep in Hvar Town in 1967)

Wonderful words. But then, just seven weeks later…

BBC Three to launch ‘new TV show like Love Island’ with reality series set in sunny Croatia

The series will apparently be called The Brits are Coming, and British tabloid media says “it will focus on the debauched antics of youngsters in Europe’s hottest new party resort.”

Presumably the same mayor who was so busy apologising seven weeks ago not only knows something about this, but also had a hand in the decision making and permission giving?

So here we are in The Beautiful Croatia, complaining about the British drunken tourist trash, then happily signing up to attract much more of the same in the name of ‘promotion’. 

To give you an idea of how British reality TV shows focusing on the ‘debauched antics of youngsters’, take the time to watch the first episode of the legendary What Happens in Kavos programme in 2013. I had never watched it until this morning, and I enjoy watching the tour reps drink their own urine on screen (the penalty if a tour rep sleeps with the same girl three times) and the simulated sex games which take place within the first couple of hours of the holiday. Welcome to Novalja 2018 – but a great promotion of Croatia, surely? The saddest thing about the video for me was the assertion that ’30 years ago, Kavos was a sleepy fishing village in Greece.’

How did the Greeks like the show? Not that much it seems:

Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni, in a letter to the English Ambassador, expressed great discontent both from the Ministry and the Greek public toward that reality show. “This is a highly offensive show for both our country and its inhabitants. Greece, Corfu and the tourist product that we offer, is far beyond that ugly picture shown.Instead, our country is a world tourist attraction, because apart from its natural beauty, it embodies universal values and symbols that this show ignores in a provocative kind of way,” she stated.

She also added that, “I have requested as well from the Secretary General of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) Panos Livadas to get in contact with the corresponding office in Great Britain, so as all necessary measures are taken in order to restore Greece’s image abroad.”

Do these reality shows actually affect tourism arrivals though? Oh yes…

Not only has the series showcased some of the island’s most beautiful attractions, according to some travel agents in the UK, it has boosted summer holiday bookings to the island with couples fancying their own Love Island experience. New figures have revealed that flights to Majorca , which has been on TV screens for weeks now, have skyrocketed, and it’s all thanks to Love Island.

According to, bookings to the island have seen an increase in 43 per cent between May and June – exactly the time the show started making headlines across the country.

Be careful what you wish for, Novalja.

It is time for Croatia to move forward from its Stalin-like Five Year Plans, where numbers, numbers, numbers are all that matter. Record overnights and records arrivals will mean nothing in a few years if this unregulated mess continues. Filming in Croatia is a mirror of opportunities for Croatian tourism as a whole. A proper strategy, working with the Koreans and promoting Game of Thrones effectively, could do wonders for tourism here, but the banning of trash reality shows is a much more urgent priority. 



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