More international column inches for Croatia’s premier island on June 10, 2017, as Hvar Town is branded the ‘Croatian Magaluf’ by Britain’s biggest tabloid.
Sunny Hvar Town featured in two popular British media publications this week, publications with a totally different readership and two totally opposite appreciations of the town which is home to the oldest public theatre in Europe, the birthplace of organised tourism in Europe in 1868 (150 next year) and on the island with the most sun in Europe and the most UNESCO island heritage in the world.
Let’s start with the good news. Upmarket Town and Country magazine was full of the positives about Hvar Town’s glamorous makeover. I was amused to read the byline – it reminded me of Hvar Town a decade ago, soon after the ORCO makeover of Suncani Hvar Hotels.
“Once a genteel but stuffy resort of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Hvar has got its glamour back.”
Meanwhile, at Britain’s most popular newspaper, The Sun, glamour was not a word that appeared often in its damning report on what was once (and very recently) one of Croatia’s prime tourist spots. I read somewhere once that The Sun limits itself to just 800 words to bring the news to the masses, and while ‘glamour’ is probably not in that exclusive list, there was nothing glamorous about their report on a night in Hvar Town. It was a portrayal which is all but familiar to everyone working in tourism in the town, but addressing the problems and preserving the unique quality of Hvar Town was not as important as making the short term money.
Those who warned about the long-term damage that party tourism could do to an elite destination were ridiculed as being anti-tourist. There were several passionate locals who could see where things were going who spoke out and tried to change things, but the lure of easy money drowned out their voices, and their objections were dismissed. As the biggest English-language website about Hvar, it was imperative of course that we said nothing, for tourists read our blog, and they might not book a holiday in Hvar Town if they knew what it was really like. One of my most memorable reactions from a local was to an article I wrote for a Canadian news site, Digital Journal, almost three years ago to the day, entitled ‘The Yacht Week: Sodom and Gomorrah Returns to Hvar’.
The reaction was from a friend in Hvar Town, a faithful follower and sharer of all things Total Hvar. How could I possibly publish such an anti-Hvar article? Please delete it immediately! My argument that if something was not done very quickly, she would not have a quality tourist business in five years, never mind anything to leave to her kids, fell on deaf ears. We have not spoken since, and all Total Hvar love and sharing died that day.
And here we are, not five years later, but three. Britain’s most popular newspaper, read by millions daily, introduces Croatia’s premier island thus:
HVAR IT LARGE More drugs, more drink, more sex… why the Croatian island of Hvar is becoming new Magaluf for boozed-up Brits
Once a middle-class holiday destination, the island is now the party capital of Europe – with fed-up locals complaining of ‘Brit youths having sex all over town’
You can read the article here, and no peak season visitor to Hvar Town will be unfamiliar with the contents of the article, which was surprisingly in depth for The Sun. I did laugh at one of the comments, which suggested that this was an article sponsored by the Hvar Town Tourist Board. But then again, the genius which exists in that office quite probably could have financed an article like this. After all, they did manage to brand this elite destination as Genuine Hedonism. Good job chaps, I think you deserve a pay rise!
The damage is done. Once The Sun brands a destination as the Croatian Magaluf, it is hard to recover. Rightly or wrongly, The Sun has more than twice as many readers as this website, and that article will help define Hvar Town as the sex, drugs and rock and roll destination to head to in Croatia. Of course, this being Croatia, the natural response from several locals is our favourite reaction – the Policy of Deflection.
This is all the fault of those young drunk British arseholes, not our local tourism chiefs. If they didn’t come, all would be fine. Yes of course. And the Australians who climb the cathedral roof and cause damage to it at 3am. Such tourists were not coming to Hvar Town ten years ago, at least not in significant numbers, so why now? An elite destination which had no hostels in 2008 has over 30 now; an elite destination which once had art galleries on the waterfront in line with its rich cultural heritage – cocktail bars with happy hours today; an elite destination where nightclubs are replacing popular restaurants, and where the biggest club once had an A-list celebrity VIP section, which has today been replaced by anyone with a pulse who can crawl into position after a day’s boozing.
Money is money, and who cares about tomorrow?
Hvar Town accounts for about 70% of the island’s tourism in my opinion. The only connection most tourists have with the surrounding area is a visit to the Pakleni Islands, or perhaps a ferry connection to Stari Grad. When promoting Jelsa, Vrboska or Stari Grad, I always found the fact that Hvar Island and Hvar Town shared the same name was a bonus – these delightful but lesser discovered destinations could benefit from the Hvar Town hype. How quickly that changes. Jelsa, Vrboska and Stari Grad are three outstanding – and supremely relaxing examples of ‘the Mediterranean as It Once Was’ – that are so far removed from the Hvar Town party, despite being half an hour away. All are stunning, all but one are peaceful. Now tarnished by the Croatian Magaluf tag, when they are anything but.
Hvar Town is at a crossroads. Perhaps this damning expose from Britain’s biggest daily will be the catalyst that is needed to effect change. The town has a new mayor as of Sunday, a very decent man who has dedicated his life to building a quality and successful tourism business in Hvar Town. I have no doubt that his heart is in the right place, I just fear that he is not the one who can make the decisions to change things. Party tourism is big business, its decision makers bigger than the will of the town’s elected leader. At the first press conference for Ultra Europe at Poljud Stadium in 2013, event organiser Joe Basic – a very nice and capable professional – uttered some very chilling (and, as it turned out, prophetic) words when talking about bringing Ultra to Hvar Town in peak season.
“We are changing the profile of the destination.”
Mission accomplished. Very impressive effort.
A few days ago, I wrote a blog asking which way to turn from the ferry for quality tourism – towards the party in Hvar or the more relaxed gems in Central Hvar. I got my answer at the Queen’s Birthday at the British Embassy the other night, as Four Seasons Hotels presented their luxury resort in Stari Grad, an event sponsored by MACE, an idyllic luxury 5-star hotel and 60 villa complex in its own bay, just one of the initiatives that are happening in the island’s former capital and home to UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stari Grad Plain. 25 kilometres from the Croatian Magaluf, but as far apart as China to California in ambiance.
Left or right at the ferry for quality tourism on Hvar? I REALLY hope Hvar Town gets back on track, but until they do, program your GPS for a very sharp left.