Zagreb Beyond the City: County Tourist Board Director Ivana Alilovic Interview

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Photo credits Zagreb County Tourist Board
Photo credits Zagreb County Tourist Board

1.One of the most interesting new tourism initiatives in 2020 was the launch of the, which brought the tourism offer of the city and the county together for the first time. Tell us a little about the project, how it started and the results so far. 

The promotion of Zagreb and its surroundings is a project that was planned over 10 months before its release, and we successfully implemented the campaign. This is the first time that our two tourist boards are cooperating in partnership and we are happy that we have created a real destination campaign and that we are working together to promote our capital and its surroundings. The joint cooperation was created as a result of mutual trust and partnership, and with our first cooperation and complementarity we show that even in these extraordinary conditions there is always the possibility to create great projects, because tourism knows no borders.

The friendship between Zagreb and Zagreb County is expressed in these extraordinary circumstances, mutually confirming mutual trust and partnership, which resulted in the destination campaign “Close to the city, close to the heart”. In preparation, we followed the trends in the travel market and then we launched a joint campaign in three foreign languages: English, German, Slovenian and, of course, Croatian.

At a time when the health situation is under the magnifying glass everywhere in the world, when it is important to adhere to new rules of social behavior, when we want to return to the basics – family, friends, nature and closest business partners, business and tourist travel trends are changing. This is exactly how the new offer of Zagreb and its surroundings began, which focuses on staying in nature, green city oases and staying outdoors in general, with an emphasis on health, safety and sustainability.


(Photo credit Robert Klaric)

Around Zagreb” brings numerous ideas for inspiring trips, creative examples of how to spend, for example, three days in Zagreb and its surroundings, the most interesting gastronomic recommendations and a list of cultural and entertainment events to truly get to know the Croatian capital and the beautiful green ring that surrounds it.

The platform is continuously updated with new materials and suggestions and for now the feedback is excellent.


2. You have not been in the job that long, but one can already notice a lot more energy in the Zagreb county promotion, including some rather surprising tourism products not promoted before. Truffle hunting close to Zagreb Airport? Really?!? Tell us more. 

Yes, that is true. We started to work actively to promote gastro branding ‘Turopolje and Zagreb County’, although Istria is synonymous for truffles, black truffles can be found in Turopolje and Žumberak area. It is important to point out that in May 2020 we started promoting a new attraction ‘black truffle hunting’ in ‘Turopoljski lug’ and offered visitors a new and innovative tourist product, for which there is a growing interest and interest of tourists. We have also established a value chain of the catering offer in a short period of time, we have started with the promotion and innovative approach to the development of the gastronomic offer with truffles in combination with the autochthonous cuisine of the Zagreb County.


The fact that there are black truffles in Turopolje is a great potential for our destination. We made a promo video about truffle hunting and you can also taste them in local restaurants.

It is necessary to connect value chains, to create new tourist products in the destination, only in these new times we can be an attractive destination for all of us.

The emphasis is on sustainable, green and above all safe tourism in the green ring of Zagreb. First of all, discover the undiscovered from today, take home the unforgettable memory of truffle hunting.

Croatian Forests’ and the Zagreb County Tourist Board signed an Agreement on Business Cooperation for the Purpose of Promoting truffle and truffle-related tourism.

The agreement was signed with the aim of joint cooperation in promoting truffle growing, research and development of the Center for Mushroom Research, as well as publishing and branding truffle growing in the forest area of Zagreb County.

It is necessary to develop the awareness of the local population and partners, and cooperation with ‘Croatian Forests’ gives us a flywheel because it is necessary to define the market and have support in the use of the forest area of Zagreb County, which is managed by ‘Croatian Forests’ for the purpose of developing the project “truffle hunting” and similar projects or events for the purpose of promoting truffle farming. I believe that we are on the right path for truffles to become a brand and a motive for coming to Zagreb County.


(Photo credit Sveta Nedjelja Tourist Board)

3. How hard is it to attract tourists in the city to come and discover the county, and what are your main strategies to entice them?

Since the beginning of the crisis, I emphasize that special focus and demand will be on continental and rural tourism. But just as continental destinations, despite all the challenges, need to impose and position themselves. This is exactly what we did with the platform and the “Odmor nikad bliže” campaign. The goal is, of course, to position the entire Zagreb green ring towards Zagreb as much as possible as an ideal weekend destination close to the city bustle. Judging by all the market research and data from the eVisitor system, it can be seen that we have hit the niche well with our campaign. We wanted to position ourselves and send a message that guests in our county can stay in a green, rural and protected environment. And all just half an hour from Zagreb. At the moment when everything stopped, it was necessary to react and position ourselves, so we decided to start the campaign and we did not hesitate in that segment, it turned out to be a complete success. We need to keep up with innovative trends such as the digital revolution, ever-higher environmental standards and the sustainable development of local communities. It is necessary the development of eno-gastronomy, cultural tourism which is promoted as one of the motives for coming to the destination. I emphasize that authenticity, security and nature are the key trends in tourism.


(Zagreb County Tourist Board Director Ivana Alilovic, left, has been tirelessly promoting the authentic local products on offer in the region)

4. I was certainly surprised at the wealth of tourism options just outside the city, all of which can be enjoyed during a day trip. Give us a little flavour of what awaits with five of your most recommended things to see and do. 

I would definitely first suggest a visit to our web platform “Odmor nikad bliže”/Vacation in Zagreb County “which aims to inform readers about tourist products of Zagreb County such as wine roads, holiday homes, gastronomic offers and micro destinations that are located in the county and tell the reader that the holiday was never closer.

I always recommend going to Samobor, with its preserved old town and numerous cultural sights, is a lure for excursionists not only because of its charm but also because of the beautiful green surroundings. Mountains and hills, vineyards, forests, streams, picturesque villages, old forts, caves, irresistible local food and a fine drop – all this awaits you in a geographically small, but crowded area near Zagreb, which is our flagship of tourism.

Between Samobor and Zagreb is Sveta Nedelja, which is deservedly on the list of the most visited destinations. We suggest a tour of the lakes Rakitje, Orešje, Kerestinec and Strmec. It is your choice whether to indulge in fishing, recreation or just enjoying the preserved nature, in the company of many birds that like to gather here. Along Lake Kerestinec, the view will surely attract you to the neglected medieval castle of Erdödy, the scene of a turbulent history. A return to the 21st century offers a tourist tour of the world-famous electric car factory Rimac Automobili, which sends its innovations to the world from the Holy Sunday plant.


Among the most visited destinations in Zagreb County is Ivanić-Grad, known for the gastronomic festival Bučijada or wine festival Škrletovo, a pleasure for the taste buds, and not far from the center is the unique Naftalan, a spa built on the only European source of medicinal oil, which also offers excellent wellness services.

Traditionally, the most visited destination is located in Turopolje, a quiet, mostly lowland rural area with an abundance of untouched nature, rich cultural heritage and an interesting past. Its center is Velika Gorica, the largest city in Zagreb County, and the best starting point for research.

At the foot of Plešivica is the town of Jastrebarsko, and on the Plešivica hills you will often see hawks in the air, which were bred for hunting in the Middle Ages and the town was named after them. A place with a long history for hundreds of years, it is the natural center of this area and the starting point for excursions around the area and one of our most visited destinations.


(Photo credit Tibor Grujic Marivo)

5. You also ran a great campaign before Christmas on buying local authentic products. Tell us a little about that, and which products were a hit?

We had a campaign called “Christmas magic in your home” with which we wanted to raise awareness of the importance of buying local products at this time of pandemic. Each destination has its own authentic story and its own local products and souvenirs. Zagreb County is rich in craftsmen. It is full of hardworking people who turn the natural resources of their homeland into unique, local products. One of the goals of the Zagreb County Tourist Board is to raise the world about the importance of buying from local producers and helping producers in branding and promoting products that we can be proud of.

The dedicated work of small craftsmen, artists and manufactories from our area should be especially emphasized because these products deserve all the attention. Combining traditional and modern, their creativity refreshes the heritage and enriches the entire offer of their region. I think this year hit were fabulous ‘strukli with truffles’ and the Zagreb County truffle praline.

We are very proud of the intangible cultural heritage of Zagreb County. The most popular dessert, ‘Samoborska kremšnita’, is now legally protected as an autochthonous Samobor – Croatian brand.

Also, autochthonous gastronomic product of the Zagreb County ‘Rudarska greblica’ has been approved a protected designation of geographical origin at the European level. With this label, ‘Rudarska greblica’ becomes the 29th Croatian product with a protected name in the European Union and the first protected gastronomic product in the Zagreb County.

This is a great compliment to the originality and preservation of our tradition, especially when today we have the first recognition for the ‘Rudarska greblica’ to which the European Union has established intellectual property rights. The Zagreb area has contributed to the Croatian and, as of today, European list of protected geographical indications, which emphasizes the relationship between a particular geographical region and product name, where the special quality, reputation or other characteristics of the product can mainly be attributed to its geographical origin.


6. The pandemic is hanging over everything. How do you even prepare for a tourist season with such uncertainty? What kind of season are you expecting?

In these difficult, uncertain and challenging times it is hard to anticipate results and expectations but what we know for sure is that the main criteria will be the epidemiological situation. So, the success of the tourist season and tourist results is subordinated to the epidemiological situation.

The trend of staying in nature and turning to rural areas will continue this year as well. People’s habits have changed and staying in nature, excursions and escape from mass tourism will surely mark this year as well. We can say that the results of surveys conducted by some sales platforms in tourism are now the most relevant for assessing and planning activities in the tourism sector. According to indicators, from 60 to almost 80% of guests are ready to go on vacation this year as soon as the epidemiological situation with Covid-19 allows. So, there is still an unquenchable hunger for travel. A stronger opening is to be expected only in the 2nd quarter of 2021, which strengthens our assessment of the reorientation of our activities to domestic tourism. The trend is to stay in nature, excursions and escapes will surely mark this year as well. Zagreb County will remain the most attractive weekend destination and I am sure that this year we will record increased interest in our destinations in the ‘Zagreb Green Ring’. The emphasis will be on safety and hygiene, new markets, and purpose travel and going to near destinations. Zagreb County will remain the most attractive weekend destination and we will certainly record increased interest in all destinations of the ‘Zagreb Green Ring’ this year as well.

In March 2021 Zagreb County announced a million-worthy competition for grant support to entrepreneurs in tourism. Grants are awarded for the renovation and equipping of accommodation units and the development and improvement of additional facilities such as swimming pools, wellness and other recreational, sports and entertainment facilities. The pandemic will pass, tourists will come again and that is why we support entrepreneurs to add value to their accommodation facilities.


(Photo credit Ivanic Grad Tourist Board)

7. Where do you see the potential for tourism growth for Zagreb county?

This ‘new time’ requires a personalized, honest and thorough approach to the guest, who wants to experience the local community in an authentic way based on experience. The focus is on a new meaning in sustainable coexistence with local communities, nature, culture and history of these areas. Since our destinations abound in many additional facilities from wine roads, cultural routes, untouched nature of Žumberak which offers you detoxification from the hustle and bustle of the capital, intangible cultural heritage with the stamp of Europe you can taste, truffle hunting, castles, promenades, educational trails… We are yet a year-round and attractive destination. The trend of interest in holiday homes on the continent is constantly growing. We definitely need to raise the quality of accommodation because there is a great demand for holiday homes in rural accommodation and that is why this tender is a complete success because we will raise the quality and strengthen the content and very soon, we will have concrete progress.

We are aware of the potential that our destination has. For example, we have a strong scene with domestic distilleries engaged in the artisanal production of gin, which is in a big positive trend with craft breweries. Also, special attention is needed to health tourism as one of the fastest growing tourist products, given that in Ivanić-Grad there is a “Special Hospital Naftalan” where work was done on the reconstruction and extension. With cycling and bike trails, a green story and all of the above, we can conclude that we have great potential, which we must turn into quality resources.

It is of great importance to us to unite Zagreb County tourist boards for the purpose of networking, intensive cooperation and joint action of Zagreb County tourist boards and relevant stakeholders with the aim of intensive promotion of the ‘Zagreb Green Ring’ region and existing tourist products and programs. Our goal is certainly integrated quality management of the Zagreb County tourist destination product, which will reduce the gap between the level of quality that tourists expect and the level of quality that the destination is able to provide and deliver, improving the quality and content of Zagreb County tourism product, increasing tourist satisfaction and tourist spending in Zagreb County and the benefits for entrepreneurship in tourism. 

Also, Zagreb County Tourist Board is the organizer of the photo competition for the selection of the most beautiful photographs of the Zagreb County, called “Photo Zagreb County”. The purpose of the competition is to show the cultural and historical sights and traditions of Zagreb County, a story or experience from one of the events, active vacation in nature or rural areas, which will further promote the visit and research of Zagreb County.

Our vision is to create the identity of the destination, and in order to realize that vision, the process must be alive for all visitors and tourists who come to the destination. With our photo competition we want to see a unique experience, based on the feeling and experience of the destination, and through the lens of each of us to highlight the unique attributes of a particular destination with what makes it different from the others, authentic. In this way, we want to influence the preservation and promotion of identity and tradition and the image of the destination in general.

8. And finally, tell us about your favorite place and favorite thing to do in Zagreb county? 

The whole county is attractive as a tourist destination, each part of it has its own peculiarities and similaritie. Since we are located in the wine-growing region of ‘Bregovita Hrvatska’, it is certainly a great pleasure to visit our valuable winemakers. Check-out coopers collection Golub family, which is designed as a permanent exhibition at the ground floor of the old house.

Feel the spirit of old times and visit Mlinareva Iža, the original miller’s house where the miller’s family once lived. The sacral heritage consists of numerous churches and chapels of the Jaska region that attract the attention of every passer-by. Jastrebarsko is an ideal destination for lovers of active tourism and nature. Explore every corner by bike, on foot or by air because there are many opportunities: bike trails and routes (Jaska Bike), hiking, horseback riding, orienteering, motocross, and for those looking for adrenaline – paragliding from Japetić or Plešivica.

I would definitely recommend tasting local products in Zagreb County.

In a relatively short period of time, three good news came from Samobor, after the ‘Rudarska greblica’, Samobor kremšnita’ and the ‘Samobor češnofka’ became a protected product. Protection at national level is an important first step towards gaining the status it deserves on the European gastronomic map. The diligent hands of the people of this region write the history of taste, and it is up to us to taste them and experience this original story with all our senses.

To learn more about the magic of Zagreb beyond the city, visit the Zagreb County Tourist Board website


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