Developing Tourism in Croatia: How to Make 365 Full of Life

Total Croatia News

A busy day for TCN meeting the movers and shakers of the tourism industry in Zagreb on February 20, 2016.

A busy day in Zagreb yesterday, with tourism the main theme of the day, and major topic of discussion being the Croatian National Tourist Board project to extend the season, Croatia 365. 

TCN was delighted to be invited for a meeting a the Ministry of Tourism, as well as for a coffee with national tourist board director Ratomir Ivicic to discuss aspects of Croatian tourism and its promotion. 

First stop was the Ministry of Tourism, where new minister Anton Kliman’s door was open, and we will be publishing a comprehensive interview on a wide range of tourism issues, as well as some of the minister’s plans, next week. 

The meeting with Director Ivicic lasted an hour, with the main topic of discussion to explore initiatives to help prolong the season outside the peak months. While the Croatia 365 initiative may have raised the profile of the concept of 12-month tourism, there has been so far little impact, at least in my opinion. 

And, again in my opinion, it would be very simple to create a much more dynamic product with a tangible range of activities and events which would attract a different kind of tourist than the stereotypical sun worshipper in peak season. Of course the obvious starters are more flights and more quality hotels, but assuming these are out of the current budget, can anything be done? Here are several things worthy of closer attention, and I publish this article and some of the discussions yesterday in the home that we can start a wider debate to make some progress to effect positive change. 

Embrace and engage the people doing 365 tourism privately, and with great success.

There are so many private individuals doing incredible things and bringing tourists in. Form a committee with some of them and their ideas, give it money and official backing, and the results will be spectacular. Let me name some of them from Central Dalmatia, the region I know best, in case anyone wants to take the idea forward.

Zoran Pejovic from Paradox Hospitality invented wine bar tourism in Split and is leading the gourmet scene with Restaurant Paradigma. Engage his brain to see how to turn Dalmatia into a 365 gourmet destination. Veselka Huljic from – truly innovative adventure tourism for the region. She travelled at her own cost to the big Adventure Tourism summit in Chile last year to learn, interact, network. Domagoj Burica from Dalmatia Explorer, opening the hinterland with his Jeep safaris. The team from Secret Dalmatia who are in my opinion the national leaders when it comes to quality tourism, much of it out of season. Ante Lacman from Intours is bringing more than 700 people to Hvar in May for an incentive trip, just one of dozens his agency is organising for 2016. Fabulous photograhers Mario Romulic and Drazen Stojcic and their incredible private work which often goes viral, Hvar Storm being the latest example. None of these people have any official role, and nobody has asked for their advice.

And let’s not forget the chap in Makarska who organises the handball goalkeeper training camp – 80 people a year from 57 countries with little or no support. These people are the true heroes of Croatian tourism. They are also the future and should be celebrated, supported and engaged.

If you can’t afford to bring in off-season flights, support the airline which will do it for free.

Support those lovely seaplanes. People moan about lack of flights out of season, and here is a company that will do flights twelve months a year. For free! The case of Dubrovnik sums it up for me. If they can have a concession for a seaport at Gruz, they will fly 12 months a year to Bari, Brindisi, Ancona and Pescara, and that is just for starters. Split has proved that the argument of having sea planes in busy ports are non-starters. The simple question for me is – Does Dubrovnik want year-round connections or not? And if it does, why are we making no progress in making that happen? And Dubrovnik would have not only those intenational connections, but direct routes to Korucla, Lastovo, Split and Hvar to name but a few.

Scheduled routes apart, the potential of the seaplanes to improve luxury tourism opens up a whole new world. At the press conference at Pescara Airport after the first flight recently, I asked about Italian interest in religious tourism. With a waiting transfer to Medjugorje from Split, this should be a popular route, but would there be any interest in pilgrims wanting to take part in Jelsa’s famous UNESCO Za Krizen Easter Procession? Indeed there was. A conversation with the seaplane bosses and the new progressive Jelsa Tourist Board Director, and the suggest of a direct charter for this Easter, with Italian press and tourist agents to witness a weekend of Hvar hospitality – wine tours, off-road – and a visit to the new religious routes initiative on Brac, and some great publicity for Jelsa, which could even bring tourists this summer, but should also increase awareness for pilgrims in Italy. The cost is minimal. 

Support local businesses with tax incentives to be open.

A few years ago there was a restaurant open all year in Jelsa where I live. With all the taxes, he could not afford to be open the following winter, and he asked the local authorities if he could have some tax breaks. They refused. He didn’t open, later closed his restaurant and is now a waiter in Germany. Jelsa has not had a restaurant open all year since. Imagine what might be possible with a little imagination. A few years ago, the Mayor of Hvar agreed to give later licences in season to businesses which stayed open all winter. While they could not have made enough money off season, Carpe Diem took him up on the offer, and a pleasant waterfront experience was available all year, with the trade-off that the business made their extra money in the season. Creative and intelligent solutions to improve destinations do not have to cost money. 

Celebrate and embrace that great media arm – the bloggers promoting Croatia.

As I told director Ivcic yesterday, it used to really bother me that official tourism bodies never shared a single article of mine, not even the ones praised in the media. After writing 20,000 overwhelmingly positive articles about Croatia in the last five years, it would have been nice to have felt the social media love of the 1.4 million fans of the national tourist board on Facebook. Now I just think it is funny, but it turns out I am not alone. Fantastic blogging sites such as Chasing the Donkey and Taste of Croatia to name but two routinely churn out outstanding articles about the positives of Croatian tourism, great free promotion that only takes a second to share with those 1.4 million. It would be nice if some of these bloggers were financially compensated for their work, but an occasional Facebook share is not only free, it gives great encouragement to a writer to do more.

Turn Croatia into the next foodie gourmet destination.

We are constantly hearing about how great Croatian food and wine are with very good reason, but is Croatia doing anything more than patting itself on the back? We regularly receive emails from international agencies who run gourmet tours to Spain, France and Italy who are looking for something new. They have heard Croatian food and wine is exciting, and that the country is beautiful, and could they have some introductions? Who to refer them to – of course, those private entrepreneurs who do everything themselves without official support. Let’s build a wine road for Dalmatia finally, for example, and put some substance to the story. Foodies have money, travel out of season, and are not so weather dependent. With all the outstanding culture on offer – gourmet cultural tours could be huge business.

Employ people on ability not privilege.

I don’t think I am breaking any state secrets when I say that there is a culture of patronage in all sectors of society, where people are often employed based on family connections or political allegiance, rather than actual ability. There is even a word for these people in Croatia – uhljeb. Maintaining these people in positions is often much more important that the damage their appointments cause, and the very sad decline of tourism in my adopted home of Jelsa (although things are now finally starting to improve) over the last 15 years is perhaps the poster child of this culture. Change the culture, change the country, but it might be easier to get direct flights from New York than achieve that lofty goal.

Croatia is a fantastic destination, with great year-round potential, and all the expertise to make it happen is right here in Croatia. To conclude, I asked Ante Lacman from Intours for his thoughts on what needs to be done and what opportunities are being lost. It is a very informative read, and I hope the powers that be will take note and perhaps contact some of the people above. Why not form a committee of the best private enterprises, and have a taskforce to come up with a concrete and achievable plan, and then maybe Croatia 365 can be transformed into a viable and successful project that the country can be proud of?

Lost groups yesterday:
1) Scandinavian group of 55 person for Hvar, May 6th-9th
Going to Dubai because flight connections more frequent and affordable!!! Hey, affordable!!!

2) 3 back to back French groups. Each group 110 persons. Reason: Hotel doesn’t have available required contingent of 55 twins. Other hotel alternatives do not exist. 330 people and 300.000 Eur go to Ibiza. The agent from France was literally crying because of that. She wants to bring them to Hvar sooo badly!!!

For more Incentives crucial moves:
1) More direct and frequent flights – daily basis – from major EU cities/hubs: Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Munich, Berlin, Vienna, entire Scandinavia (lot of requests from here).

2) Flights starting earlier end of March, April.
Support financial companies that are willing to start with the flights earlier.

3) financial support on the MICE fairs, Serbia and Slovenia are supporting their exibitors. Serbian exibitors pay nothing, Slovenian 2.000-.3000 EUR. Me/Intours as 8.000 EUR. Flights, hotel, food, daily fee not included.

4) financial support in promotional and sales activities: sales calls, fees to the representative, fam trips. Paper brochures are a thing of the past. Meaning the HTZ doesn’t understand and is not in the pace with latest trends on helping agencies to promote their services and above all destination (forget FB and their social media)
– establishing again the congress/MICE buro in the HTZ

5) more, more hotels. 1 step, for the people that invest and owners creating environment of smooth burocracy process of renovating and upgrading of those hotel facilities that already exists: Sirena Hvar, Helios St. Grad, Kupari, Hilton Split etc…

6) Creating and developing different types of tourism destination products: bike, wine, leisure, wellness, 3rd age etc. providing right information where to consume them, how to reach local DMC that provide these experiences. Make it alive, real. 

For more people on Hvar it all comes to:

1) more high speed ferries to Hvar especially April, May period as apparently for Jadrolinija tourism season starts at June!? Which is ridiculous as for example I have 1.000% more people and incentive projects in May than in June, not to mention other peak season months…

The multiple effect comes out it: more people will come and reconsider to come for more days or at least day trip. Locals will open their facilities earlier,starting with tours earlier,all of that will extend the season,

2) setting the Jadrolinija summer/peak season schedule to start at least May 1st or around that dates.

3) when step 1 and 2 are completed/accomplished, start creating a policy on the local levels, by encouraging locals to continue working through the winter. For example if the restaurant stays open during the winter, that restaurant will pay 3, or 4 times less for using a public space to put his tables out during the summer season.


Subscribe to our newsletter

the fields marked with * are required
Email: *
First name:
Last name:
Gender: Male Female
Please don't insert text in the box below!

Leave a Comment