New York Times and Hvar Town Mayor Discuss Signs and Party

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Hvar Town Mayor Riki Novak’s decision to install signs with fines for inappropriate behaviour and dress in the town caused plenty of international media attention. TCN joined the New York Times on July 12, 2017, to discuss his plans in more detail. 

It has certainly been a baptism of fire for new Hvar Town Mayor Riki Novak. Since taking office after the second round elections on June 4, Novak – in this, his first experience of politics after a successful career building up and running his own tourist agency – has seen his photo appear in several influential international media, as he vowed to do something to bring more order to the tourist town which is home to Europe’s oldest public theatre. Hvar next year has a significant birthday – 150 years since the birth of organised tourism in Europe after the founding of the Hvar Health Society in 1868. 

Here at TCN, we have experienced an upsurge in interest in our website in the wake of the mayor’s decision to install signs at the entrance to the town, depicting fines of up to 500-700 euro for inappropriate dress and eating and drinking alcohol in the town’s streets, a move which has been broadly welcomed locally. Having written about Hvar for more than six years, including documenting what has been going on with party tourism, we have become perhaps a natural reference point for journalists wanting to do more on the story, and I have so far refused interviews with several international tabloids. All that I have to say on the matter has been said, and my experience of newspaper interviews is that it is rare that everything you say appears in its proper context. But when The  New York Times contacted me last night, I decided to meet them. As one of the world’s leading media, and especially relevant to the important North American market, it made sense to assist them to get the true picture, and after a couple of messages (thanks, M), the mayor kindly agreed to meet us earlier today. The New York Times are doing their own story and angle, so I will say no more on that until it comes out, but it was a chance for me to learn more about the new mayor’s plans and how his strategy to bring order into the town will work in practice. 


Some people go into politics for self-advancement or self-enrichment (sadly too many of the latter in Croatia), and others out of a desire to make a difference, but I sensed a third reason as I entered the mayor’s office – the world’s best office view! I am joking of course, but a reminder of the unique treasures that Hvar possesses, as we looked out at the exclusive waterfront which includes the oldest public theatre in Europe, dating back to 1612 (the top floor of the Arsenal building in the picture below, guarding the entrance to the main square, which is Dalmatia’s largest at 4,700m2).  


Mayor Novak is definitely in the latter group of politicians, a man who loves his town and wants to make a difference. I was curious how he was going to handle the meeting. Having met him previously a few years ago to discuss his tourism ideas for the island, I knew he was a man of conviction and integrity. He was also a man very much in demand, and the number of calls he received during the interview was a reminder of how thankless the job of mayor can be – everyone wanting something. He was more than happy to discuss the party, the signage and his plans, but before he did so, he wanted to put the current situation into the context of Hvar’s tourism pedigree, and I thought he did it rather well.  


We were treated to a brief overview of the island’s rich heritage and tourism history, from last year’s 2400 year birthday of Stari Grad wth its adjacent UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stari Grad Plain, to the oldest theatre and the fact that with no less than five UNESCO heritages on the island, no island in the world has more. 2018 is an extremely important year in the town’s tourism history, for next year it will celebrate 150 years of the first destination with organised tourism in Europe. Once known as the ‘Austrian Madeira’, the Hvar Health Society was formed in 1868 to offer the island’s renowned recuperative climate to the sick and needy from the aristocracy in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Hvar has been offering high class tourism ever since, and I was pleased to learn that next year’s anniversary will coincde with the hotel location where it all began with the opening of the island’s first five-star hotel, which will be themed on that orginal tourism story. 


The mayor was keen to point out that everyone is welcome in Hvar Town, and that there is no intention or desire to ban anyone. The town has always had a diverse tourism offer, including vibrant nightlife, attracting guests from all walks of life. It is one of the town’s charms, a place where celebrities feel they can come and walk around unhindered; this is where Beyonce revealed her baby bump to the world, and where Tom Cruise dropped in for a drink at a main square cafe, for example. The first disco in former Yugoslavia opened in Jelsa in 1964, and so nightlife and partying has long been a tradition on Hvar, and there is no reason why it should not continue.  

But there has to be respect, and a little more order. Having written about the Hvar party, and having interviewed one of the drunken Australians who was arrested for climbing on the roof of Hvar’s historic cathedral last summer, the perception of Croatia among many partygoers is that it is a party place without rules, where anything goes. This perception has gained traction over the years and while one would expect tourists to behave on holiday, the reality with some is that they will do what they are allowed to get away with. It is one of the reasons why you don’t hear about a lot of people drinking and vomiting in the streets of Singapore, or having sex on the beach in Dubai.  


Hvar Town’s new strategy is a simple one, with different phases – education, warning, enforcement. The last thing the mayor wants to do is to fine people on holiday, but at the same time, he wants to instil a sense of order and respect, which is not an unreasonable wish. The educational phase started with the signs, and it will continue in the coming days, with an information blitz to inform people about the town rules and home rules. Screen adverts on the incoming catamarans, leaflets explaining the basic standards expected for behaviour in town. There will also be a leaflet for home rules, available in each apartment. Simple things, and nothing unreasonable that you would not expect at home. Since the signs went up, there has been a marked improvement in the dress code, although these are very early days, and the mayor is confident that the vast majority of these problems can be cleared up by a reinforcement of the message. 

One thing I have noticed in my conversations with people in the town is that there seems to be a genuine desire for change. The party element has been on the rise, to the detriment of other types of tourist, but also to the restaurants and clubs as well. Many tourists buy their booze in the supermarkets, drink at home in their hostels, eating the available fast food there, before descending into town. 



The concept for a code of conduct is not new in Hvar Town, and indeed there was a petition by concerned citizens, as far back as 2011, voicing concerns about the unruliness of the party, and in 2013, a code of conduct leaflet was produced, politely advising guests of the behaviour standards expected, by a local organisation, Dignitea. It was never distributed by the authorities, but it would appear that four years later, it will have a successor which will be widely distributed.  


After the education comes the warning phase. There will be no instant fines, but people will be requested to dress appropriately or refrain from drinking alcohol in the streets. Only after that will the enforcement come. And a word on the fines – they will be up to 500 or up to 700 euro, depending on the situation, in the same way that a crime attracts a different length of sentence.  

Enforcement of course is the key, and some 13 additional police officers have been drafted onto the island for the summer (this is not a new development), and they will be patrolling the streets with a physical presence from 18:00 until 06:00. Apart from keeping order, they are also there for tourists’ safety, but their presence should help to calm the situation.


(photo Igor Andjelic)

This to me is the key element – enforcement. If there is a genuine will (it has not been so evident in the past) to educate, warn but then actually enforce these rules, then I think this approach could stamp out the vast majority of the issue but, as they say in Manchester, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I asked about one of (in my opinion) Hvar’s biggest problems, The Yacht Week, which residents have petitioned to have banned. His reply was that it is not his intention to ban anyone, but to make sure that people behave with respect, and that the approach of education, warning and ultimate enforcement will be his initial approach.  

The big party is on Monday, with the annual Ultra Europe Beach Party, which takes place in the pool of Hotel Amfora. About that event, he is not worried at all, as it is now probably the best policed event of all, with the security provided by the organisers. And while Ultra Europe is not his kind of entertainment, he has been to the event every year in some shape or form, as it is a spectacle, in the same way a top Premier League football match is. Interestingly, he will be asking the Ministry of Tourism and Ultra Europe to remove the party image from Hvar’s tourism promotion. The message on party tourism I got was that it is not a type of tourism Hvar sought or wanted, but it is welcome, along with other types of tourism, as long as there is respect and order.  


The mayor invited the Hvar Town Tourist Board and the town’s cultural representative to the meeting, and there seems to be a concerted determination to push this policy of education, warning and ultimate enforcement, and to get the town’s tourism back to its usual equilibrium, hopefully in time for next year, when the town’s 150-year birthday will give it the opportunity to showcase to the world the destination of culture, heritage and beauty, which was today once more voted one of the top ten islands in the world

I left the meeting smiling. It was an impressive performance, and one from the heart. I hope Mayor Novak gets the support he deserves, and he is I think the best chance for the town to get things back on track. I walked through that fabulous square to my car. It was filling up, and everyone was dressed appropriately, and it had the air of the classy destination that it is. As I came close to the cathedral, I saw three Australians coming out of a shop and opening their first beers of the day on the main square. I was tempted to ask them if they were aware of the fines, but decided against. 

Education, warning and ultimate enforcement. It is an interesting strategy, and I hope it succeeds. We will report back. 



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