The Croatian National Tourist Board unveiled a high profile new initiative called Croatia 365 in August 2014, an attempt to expand the pre- and post-season. The project turned 18 months old on February 12, 2016. TCN takes a closer look at what is – or perhaps more aptly – what is not on offer.
The rather unusual marketing strategy of the Croatian National Tourist Board has been making waves in the Croatian media in recent days, most recently after it posted some rather unusual advice to its almost 1.5 million Facebook fans on February 15, 2016 – ‘Croatia will waste your time‘.
The Facebook post follows the release of an official video on February 8, which caused a lot of anger from the vibrant continental region of Slavonia. Despite having an official slogan ‘Croatia – Full of Life’ covering a video in a region famed for its traditions and hospitality, the tourist board managed to produce a 72-second promotional video which not only had not a single human being in the video at all, but seemed to focus on aerial drone shots of a well-known Croatian businessmen, leaving local residents asking what the video had to do with tourism promotion at all. Even more disappointingly, the tourist board has been active in deleting any negative comments from its social media networks, with the only thing they are unable to hide being the fact that the video currently has more dislikes than likes, more than a little embarrassing for an official national promotion.
The official response to the ‘waste your time’ phrase after some pointed criticism in the media was that it was designed to attract attention, and it seemed to have done the trick, which is as likely as the video being devoid of people so that tourists would not have to think they might have to queue for something.
With all this going on, TCN decided to take a look at another high-profile national tourist board initiative, which was launched 18 months ago with great fanfare, promising to extend the season, by focusing on six key activities – adventure, cycling, culture, wellness, meetings and incentives (which became business) and food and drink. Media at the time reported on the launch:
“The Ministry of Tourism will focus on improving facilities and activities in those areas to make Croatia an all year round destination, and it will also be backed up with an intensive marketing plan. In September marketing campaigns will start in all of Croatia’s main markets in Europe. The 22 destinations which are included in the pilot project have guaranteed that at least 50% of all tourism and restaurant facilities remain open outside of the main season.”
So how is the project going? TCN started its investigation by typing in what we assumed might be the URL for the project, www.croatia365.com, only to discover that this particular domain was actually for sale. A little further research brought us to a dedicated section on the main official website.
As a keen cyclist, I was interested to see how much progress these initial 22 destinations had made in 18 months, and was surprised to see that there were just 8 options for cycling, just over a third of the initial regions. I pressed on and, keen to improve my knowledge of the cycling options of Croatia, I clicked on one of the eight, something called the Aurea Pannonia, which promised ‘Exciting routes on two wheels.’ Here is the description:
“Riding on the bike routes of the area is a special experience. Shut yourself out of the busy everyday life and run away on two wheels into the unpredictable and wonderful nature, where the chirp of birds and the murmur of water will follow you along the village routes and flowery meadows. Discover the routes through numerous fields and vineyards, while plains, orchards, hidden castles and churches can be your resting points.
“The bravest can set out to the surrounding wooded hills, where your senses will come alive on many bike routes around Pakrac or Posavina valley alongside Lake Petnja. You can also try paragliding in the Nature Park Papuk. Do not be afraid of getting lost in nature – you can explore hiking and bike routes by means of an interactive mobile application “Panonia Tour”.”
Apart from feeling like an extra in ‘The Sound of Music’, I had learned precisely nothing about the Aurea Pannonia, apart from the fact that there was an app, but with no link to it. But all was not lost, there were three useful tourist board websites below for more information.
Hmmm. Not a lot of help from the Pakrac Tourist Board.
And for non-Croatian speakers, Velika is not the best source of Aurea Pannonia goodness.
All hopes rested on the third website, which did have a helpful English section. Or so we thought until we clicked on the cycling page, to be met with a text only in Croatian.
And there ended my curiosity about the Aurean Pannonia. I had no idea where it actually was in Croatia, which was ok, because the official website had made it hard enough for me to not want to find out.
So much for cycling tourism. Next, business and incentives, a huge potential for Croatia with its temperate climate, improving hotels and facilities and gradual increasing of flights. 18 months, 22 initial destinations. It was something of a shock to discover that there were just TWO business entries for the entire country for this flagship project. Here is one of them:
“Dubrovnik and the Riviera
“Modern business opportunities veiled by a historic ambience
“It is not difficult to combine business with pleasure and achieve successful business cooperation in the magnificent surroundings of Dubrovnik walls with a view of the sea. Inspiring historical locations and rooms are an excellent choice for holding large conferences, formal dinners and business meetings.
“Dubrovnik congress halls, the largest of which can accommodate 1,200 participants, are equipped with the latest audio-visual equipment, which will meet the expectations of the most complex congresses, while the atmosphere of this unique city will enrich every business meeting.”
That is it! 50% of Croatia’s entire 365 business offer after 18 months and 22 destinations taking part. These few sentences were accompanied to links to the five tourist boards in the region, some of which do not offer business tourism options. Job done.
Wellness was next. Croatia has great potential as a spa centre. Indeed, organised tourism in Europe began in Hvar Town in 1868 with the founding of the Hvar Health Society to enable the wealthy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to recuperate in Hvar’s fabled healthy climate. And almost 150 years later, after 22 destinations had worked for 18 months on this flagship national project, how many wellness offers does Croatia officially have? Just seven.
For adventure, 22, for culture 23 and for food and drink 17 – which means our post season guests will go hungry in five of those destinations which have been working for 18 months to extend the season, but even these less embarrassing numbers hide an even greater embarrassment, which is best explained in the official promotional words.
Consider Hvar, the only island in the world with four UNESCO heritages, one of the oldest towns in Croatia which turns 2400 this year and the oldest public theatre in Europe. Not initially included in the project, it joined later with Vis. This is what we learn about culture on Hvar:
Islands Hvar and Vis
“A touch of Antiquity in the heart of the Mediterranean
“The cultures of Hvar and Vis were greatly shaped by the past, which goes back to Antiquity and the period of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Take a walk through the towns and you will come across the remains of the past at every step, reminding you of the glorious days of these Dalmatian islands. You will also be attracted by the military history of the island Vis, the military bases, tunnels, airport and Tito’s cave. Visit the numerous museums and learn about the tradition and the life of the population, who still live a relaxed and simple life. See how Hvar and Vis developed from ancient days to today and how, just like today, they were one of the centres of the Mediterranean.
“Besides the many events celebrating the history of the islands, you can visit many museums, which hold the artistic, literary and musical works that have marked the development of the area. You can enjoy the mentioned works at artistic events, held every day on Hvar and Vis.”
Lots of hot air in the text and a mention of the military history on Vis and its attractions. Clearly written for both islands by someone from Vis, there is not a single mention of anything concrete in the rich cultural heritage of Hvar. That is how Croatia 365 is being promoted, where it is being promoted at all.
The biggest failing of the entire project has been that promise of 50% of restaurants being open. Nothing even close to that is happening, and the most farcical moment of the whole shambles that is Croatia 365 in my opinion was when then Minister of Tourism Darko Lorencin appeared in Hvar Town in February last year to talk about 365 tourism on national television in the location where organised tourism in Europe began, with winter tourism its attraction, to tell people about the potential of year-round tourism when not a single hotel or restaurant was open, and Korean tourists had to go to the supermarket to find something to eat. Read more about that here. Fast forward a year to last week, and progress of sorts – one restaurant in a hotel is open. 50% of restaurants as promised – there are more than 70 in the town alone, 70 of which are shut.
Of course there has been something fishy about the whole Croatia 365 project from the start. Launched with such fanfare in August 2014, it did not take long for it to come to light that the whole concept had been lifted from a UNWTO prototype in Punta del Este just three months earlier:
Croatia 365 – gastronomy, meetings and incentives, wellness, biking, outdoor and culture. (August 2014)
Punta del Este 365 – gastronomy, meetings and incentives, wellness, sports and technology. (May 2014)
All of this begs the question of accountability. Does it matter that so much has been invested into something which has shocking results, truly shocking, with no sense of ownership or purpose? Probably not, as this is Croatia, which is run by the Kings of Accidental Tourism. The project is not even the most successful 365 project, that title belongs to these three young lads, who achieved more with their song 365 than this sorry project is ever likely to. Which is a huge shame, as Croatia has phenomenal potential as a 12-month destination if the project was run property, it is just harder to find people coming accidentally in winter in the way they do to the beach in summer.