Adria Trips: Life as a New York-Based Croatian Tour Specialist

Total Croatia News

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March 12, 2020 – Life in the tourism industry is challenging with the current situation, even more so if you run a specialist Croatian tour agency in New York. TCN meets Srdana Pokrajac of Adria Trips on the perception of Croatia in the US market, and the realities of the current situation. 

1. Let’s start with the positives – interest in Croatia has risen considerably in recent years. Tell us a little about the reasons why, both world events and marketing. 

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When I first moved to the US in 2010, I would occasionally bump into people who would be pleasantly surprised to hear I was from Croatia, and the first thing they would tell me was, ”I hear it’s beautiful over there, I want to go!” In the last two or three years, it seems many more people know where Croatia is and that it’s a great place to visit. Now it’s much more common to hear, “OMG, you’re from Croatia – we just came back from Croatia! We had a great time!”I think several factors have put Croatia on the map for travelers, including soccer, wine and Game of Thrones. In travel industry circles, interest for Croatia in the US has been growing, especially over the past decade. Many of my fellow travel advisors are offering Croatia, and I see it in almost every travel magazine, which makes me very excited. I occasionally stumble upon Croatian wine at restaurants, which makes me happy and I am even happier when people rave about it.  

2. What is the perception of Croatia as a tourist destination in the States?

I believe that to some extent people are still not sure if it’s safe to travel to Croatia because they remember the civil war. I have had minimal encounters with people who are worried about safety, and I would say that the positive attitude and curiosity prevail. I would also add that for first time travelers to Europe, Croatia is a secondary destination to Italy, Spain, France, Greece and the UK. Curiosity is definitely there, and people taking longer trips definitely try to include at least some highlights of Croatia in their itineraries. 

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3. What are the niche advantages that Croatia has to offer, and how can we build on these to increase the market share of the important American market?

I think focusing on the natural beauty such as secluded and pristine beaches, National Parks, islands, and overall an abundance of places for outdoors activities could be something that distinguishes us from a “mass tourism” approach that could ruin our environment and annihilate our uniqueness. There are more and more tourists who demand content over sunbathing, and who try to avoid at all cost the “classic” tour approach. They would rather travel on their own and explore the destination at their own pace, than be part of a group and listen to a tour guide telling them what they can read in a book. On the other hand, if the tour guide can make the tour slightly more unique, it will attract their interest. I believe this approach is now widely known as storytelling, and there are a few folks taking a different approach to traditional sightseeing, making it a more personable experience. 

I also think that we have an immense and still fairly untapped potential when it comes to food and wine. Wining and dining have become a form of art, an attraction on their own, so to speak, and we have so many creative chefs and young people who are motivated to express themselves. It  also goes well with our natural inclination towards being good hosts. I think Croatians genuinely love showing off their motherland to tourists, which is understandable, since it’s such a beautiful country. 

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4. What are the top 5 things of interest for Americans coming to Croatia?

When it comes to destinations, I think Dubrovnik and Plitvice Lakes top the list. I was surprised that for clients from the USA, beaches and sunbathing are not that important. They are more interested in sightseeing. Some like to maximize their time and see as many destinations as they can, but that oftentimes makes a vacation feel more like a chore, and it’s not uncommon to find clients who prefer to take it slowly. I think that clients from the USA are also increasingly interested in local food and wine. There are plenty of US based companies that are organizing specialized tours that explore the different wine regions of Croatia, and they do an excellent job. They have a great passion for what they do, and are being great ambassadors for Croatia. Croatia is also a destination a lot of travelers see while cruising the Mediterranean, and not to mention sailing – which is quite niche, but there are many repeat travelers that choose the Adriatic for their summer vacations. 

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5. You started your own niche business dealing with the Croatian market. Tell us how you started and what you focus on.

I started in 2017 when interest for Croatia was growing. I actually took over an existing agency that in some shape or form has been in business for over two decades now. I sell a lot of airfare and custom-made tours. Earlier this year we launched a culinary tour focused on Istria, prioritizing authentic cuisine. I am from Istria and have always taken pride in showing people around. I think people appreciate if you can treat them as your friends, and give them a glimpse into what locals do. Generic “mass tourism” and catering to tourists takes away character. People are tired of that. My interest going into this business was finding a way to bring people closer to our culture, as opposed to selling them a prepackaged vacation. I think food speaks a lot about a culture, and you can learn a lot about a people’s norms and traditions from the way food is prepared, served and consumed. I think our meals can be quite hedonistic experiences, whereas in the United States people eat very quickly, and even restaurants thrive on speed and efficiency. So, I think oftentimes even just sitting down for a meal in Croatia can be quite a different experience for travelers from abroad. 

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6. Now let’s talk about the current situation which is devastating for the travel industry. How badly have you been affected?

The majority of my transactions these days involve either cancellations or rescheduling. I feel terrible for clients whose travels have been affected by the current situation. I sell a lot of airfare and some clients are able to exchange their tickets for travel at a future date, but some tickets are nonrefundable or refundable with very high cancellation penalties. The morale is very low and discouraging, even more so when I think that Croatia is overly dependent on tourism, so there will be a ripple effect on the economy that we can’t even begin to quantify at the moment. I am confident that we will eventually recover. However, the current measures and precautions are worrying a lot of people, and travel advisors really are in no position to tell anyone what they should do about their travel plans. We try to keep calm and advise holding back from making cancellations until it gets closer to their travels – when possible. Many suppliers have accommodated their cancellation and rescheduling policies, so we are working towards avoiding or minimizing losses for our clients. 

7. Italy is obviously the epicentre of the Europan coronavirus problems. Do Americans equate Italy and Croatia together in this or separately?

I would say that even Croatians equate Italy to Croatia right now. The fear is real. Clients are quite concerned. I think many are waiting to understand if they need to postpone or cancel their trips. It’s an “in limbo” situation. The US travel ban going into effect tomorrow hasn’t been received well by the already hurt travel industry. 

8. None of us has a crystal ball for this unique situation. What are your fears and concerns for your business if a resolution is not found soon?

I used to be fairly optimistic but I think we are going to have a very bad season, if we are going to have any season at all. I am not sure people are excited about traveling right now. At some point (6 months, 1 year?) the situation will recover, but I am worried for the immediate future and especially small business owners.  

For more information about Adria Trips, check out the official website

For the latest in Croatian tourism, follow the dedicated TCN section


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