February 25, 2018 – Hvar’s 150 Years of Organised Tourism celebrations reach the Serbian capital, as the Croatian Tourist Board Fails to show at the biggest regional tourism fair where Croatia was the main partner just seven years ago.
A tale of two types of Croatian tourism in Belgrade this weekend, both of which are quite fascinating.
As previously reported, TCN visited the largest tourism fair in the region this week, as the 40th Belgrade Tourism Fair kicked off on Thursday with an impressive array of international exhibitors from South Africa to India, whose partner country was Greece, and whose biggest stand was taken by Montenegro. We will come to this topic in a while, but I was rather surprised, given the total lack of official Croatian presence, to bump into the mayors of Hvar Town and Jelsa, as well as seemingly half of Vrboska. Just what were they doing in Belgrade? The Jelsa mayor told me he was on a private visit, but the more I walked around, the more I saw people from Hvar. It was quite bizarre.
All became clear as a Serbian journalist recognised me and asked if I was going to the ‘event’. As I had just finished my seventh meeting in an hour with the efficient regional tourist boards of Slovenia, I replied that I thought I was at the event already.
“No,” he replied. “The Hvar 150 celebration tonight.”
Quite spectacular! As the region’s largest tourism event was completely devoid of any official Croatian tourism presence, across the road, there was a rather lavish event with about 200 people celebrating 150 years of organised tourism in Hvar Town, the birthplace of organised tourism in Europe after the founding of the Hvar Health Society back in 1868.
My first thought was Bravo Hvar! – a great initiative. It would have been nice to receive an invitation of course – and now I understood why some Dalmatian tourism journalists were wandering around the Belgrade fair – but just like I am waiting for my invitation to play for England in the World Cup, it was not meant to be. It was, by all accounts, a rather splendid night, and kudos to Hvar Town and its tourism-driven new mayor for pushing Hvar’s tourism in traditional markets – the historic tourism bond between Hvar and Belgrade is extremely strong.
And, as I sat with a beer and my laptop after a supremely successful day, I reflected on the rather bizarre notion that Croatia could totally ignore a traditionally important market, while Hvar was going above and beyond the call of duty to promote its destination in the Serbian market.
Another beer and a little Internet research, and the story became all the more absorbing, and a lesson in how the approaches to Belgrade tourists from Hvar and Croatia have changed exponentially in the last seven years – in diametrically opposed directions.
Let’s start with Hvar, an island with extremely strong Belgrade links in the past. The Beogradsko Odmaraliste, a now derelict former hotel of 400 rooms east of Jelsa, was one of the most popular destinations for Belgrade tourists before the war, just one place on Hvar the thousands of Belgrade visitors used to head to. Relationships between Hvar restaurateurs and their wealthy Belgrade guests were strong, relationships which were largely interrupted by the regional conflict in the 1990s.
But some bonds remained, and in one of my favourite early stories on Total Hvar back in 2011, I learned how one Hvar Town restaurateur – Jurica Tomicic from Kod Kapetana – took his relationship with a Belgrade restaurateur – Jasmina Vekic from Restoran Saran in Zemun – to a new level in 2002, by arranging a Days of Hvar Cuisine event in the Belgrade restaurant, with all ingredients, wines and recipes from Hvar. This, just seven years after the war had finished. It was both a brave move and a smashing success, and Days of Hvar Cuisine is now an absolute hit and an essential part of the Belgrade gourmet calendar – the large billboard outside the tourism fair that Croatia had decided not to attend was testament to that.
It was a fascinating story, and one that I wrote about for Google News in January, 2012. As happens with many of TCN stories which appear on Google News, the story got picked up by local media and suddenly Croatian media were writing about this unique event. Jurica Tomicic contacted me through a mutual friend to meet and thank me for the media exposure – finally people were beginning to notice in Croatia what he was doing in Belgrade. He invited me to come along and it was a fabulous experience. I enjoyed interviewing Restaurant Saran’s owner, Jasmina Vekic, one of several reports I did from the Serbian capital six years ago.
When I got home from Belgrade back in February 2012, I had a drink with the Hvar Tourist Board, and explained what a fantastic Hvar promotion opportunity had been created by this private initiative, and surely some Hvar tourist board presence would have great results.
But I am pleased to see that, some six years later, not only has Days of Hvar Cuisine gone from strength to strength, but so too has the interest of the town of Hvar in building on the platform started by those two innovative restaurants.
I didn’t know it at the time, but just as the Hvar Tourist Board was taking zero interest in what was happening at Days of Hvar Cuisine several years ago, the Croatian National Tourist Board was investing its resources in Serbia on a great charm offensive.
Reaction to my article about the lack of official Croatian tourism presence in Belgrade was predictable. Reaction was perhaps best exemplified by the delightful Ljeka Lela Potusek Jozic, ably assisted by Josip Kvesic, in the comments on TCN FB, above. No, Ljerka, I didn’t as I wasn’t aware that this region was ever a key market for the countries you mention, although I did see Germany and India having stands, for example. And with the national and all regional tourist boards of Slovenia and Montenegro there, Josip, perhaps you could explain which kind of tourist region Croatia belongs to?
Because back in 2011, around the time Hvar had little official interest in Belgrade, things were VERY different at the Croatia National Tourist Board. Just seven years ago, not only was Croatia officially represented at the Belgrade Tourist Fair, but it was actually the MAIN SPONSOR! 2018 partner country – Greece, 2011 partner country – Croatia. This is what the Croatian stand looked like back then.
(Croatia was the official partner country of the Belgrade Tourism Fair in 2011 – Photo credit Croatian Ministry of Tourism)
More interesting than that was the verbal body language. Under an article entitled, Croats Helping Serbian Tourism, and Serbs Croats, here is the official Croatian position on a tourism market seemingly completely abandoned today:
The International Tourism Fair (ITTFA) held in Belgrade, in which Croatia participates as a partner country, was opened today in the Serbian capital, and by February 27th, on 32,000 square meters [of space], around 900 exhibitors from 43 countries will be present.
At the 33rd Belgrade Tourism Fair, Croatia will be specially presented as a tourist destination. The State Secretary of the Croatian Ministry of Tourism, Ivo Mujo, stated that Croatia’s arrival [presentation] in Belgrade, after accepting the invitation to become a partner country of the Belgrade Fair this year, was a new dimension of cooperation.
Serbian guests are important to us in Croatia, but this isn’t a one-way process because more and more Croatian tourists are going to Serbia – said Mujo at the opening of this fair. He stressed that he believes that this year’s presentation of Croatia in Belgrade will bring Croatia and Serbia closer in the tourist(ic) sense.
It is quite a turnaround in seven years from being the main sponsor of the biggest regional fair in the capital city of your next-door neighbour, with the ministry talking up closer tourism ties between the two countries, to an absolute no show. I called the Belgrade Tourism Fair today, and they confirmed that the Croatia National Tourist Board was there last year as well.
Those of you who subscribe to the view that Croatia is the King of Accidental Tourism, you have no idea what you are talking about.