Secret Dalmatia Interview, Taking a Closer Look at Luxury Croatian Tourism

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All photos by Secret Dalmatia

November 22, 2018 – Perspectives of luxury tourism in Croatia – an interview with one of the country’s top boutique tourism providers,  Secret Dalmatia owner, Alan Mandic. 

While most of Croatian tourism is focused on bringing millions of tourists to the Adriatic coast each, the boutique luxury tourism industry in Croatia is also booming. Dedicated local experts, focused firmly on quality and authenticity, rather than quantity, have been showing their elite clientele a more luxurious side of Croatia for more than a decade, and not always just on the coast. 

Among the market leaders in this niche is Secret Dalmatia, a bespoke Croatian tourism company founded in 2005 by Alan Mandic, which has been leading the way in discovering Croatia away from the crowds for some years now. Mandic’s Secret Dalmatia blog, founded in 2009, continues to surprise to this day, as he takes his readers to new discoveries in Croatia most locals have never heard of. A member of Pure, the World’s Leading Travel Professionals since 2013, Mandic has a broader view of Croatia’s position in the tourism world, and he sat down recently with TCN to share some thoughts. 


1. We hear a lot about the seasonality of mass tourism in Croatia. How is the situation any different in the luxury sector?

It is not much different. Luxury guests usually travel in peak season as well, although we had some exceptional clients traveling in the shoulder season. Many of the top luxury guests want to spend some time on the water as they all know of the beautiful Dalmatian coast and the summer months are the best for enjoying the Adriatic.

2. Luxury tourists are obviously more demanding. Why do they choose Croatia, and what things, in particular, attract them?

Most of them have heard of at least Dubrovnik and the Adriatic coast is high on the list of anyone into yachting and sailing. Many of them come on recommendations of their friends and family. In general, they are curious to see what is there in Croatia as they hear only the good things about the people, destinations, food and wine, natural sights…


3. The North American market is obviously an important one. Are you satisfied with the visibility of Croatia, and what concretely would you like to see done additionally?

I am not completely satisfied as we let the things happen instead of working on promoting all destinations equally. I.e. Šibenik is a great destination and deserves all the attention, but it is still scarcely mentioned in the US media. The traditions of our history, cuisine, wines… are getting only sporadic attention and only for a limited time. I.e. zinfandel – it was all the rage in media when it was confirmed it originates from Croatia and now you can hardly hear about it let alone have niche travelers exploring local wines in search of original Zin tastes. There is, of course, interest but nowhere near what it should actually be and nowhere as directed as it should be. More specific press and media coverage is definitely needed. We all know that the US media are the biggest opinion makers in the world. Working carefully and with a specific plan would definitely bring change and improvement.


4. You have always been a passionate promoter of authentic Croatia, and your Secret Dalmatia blog takes readers to places most locals know little about. What are the opportunities for tourism in Croatia which are not really being exploited? 

Most of the travelers know only of Split, Hvar and Dubrovnik on the coast, and Plitvice in the continental part of Croatia. Only recently, Zadar, Istria and Korcula have become better known with US clients. So, there is a plethora of spectacular places many are not even aware of like Rab and Silba Islands, Krupa canyon and not even to start with beautiful Lika and Zagorje and the traditions of Slavonia. As one can see, there is an opportunity in exploring other destinations. In terms of activities. Croatia has enormous potential in adventure travel  – far beyond what is offered now – and in niche travel like food and wine and health tourism that can drive numbers year round.


5. Availability of luxury accommodation in Croatia. Discuss.

Not great at the moment. Worst of all, many of the hotels – due to lack of competition – are overpriced for the service and accommodation they offer, and that is not helping Croatia attract new travelers. Secret Dalmatia as also the first to start promoting only luxury villas back in 2009 with our website and that part of the market we know well. Luxury villas rental has been on the rise but luxury guests are interested only in top properties, and those are scarce. The situation is definitely looking better than before but more investments are needed. Besides, major luxury hotel chains have their own followings and spend a lot on marketing so the destination benefits as well.


6. Croatia’s coast and islands are perhaps well-known. Give us a flavour of what can be experienced inland with Secret Dalmatia, away from the beach.

The issue with experiencing inland Dalmatia these days is that we lack people in those areas. Just pretty landscapes will not be enough to attract more people to the region as guests need restaurants, accommodation, activities that are local. We have been fortunate enough  to have one of the best guides possible for the region and we were able to bring top luxury guests on tours of Vrlika and Cetina river receiving rave reviews, and we continue to bring almost all of our luxury guests to that part of the country no matter if it is just hiking or more elaborate multi-day adventure.

7. There is a lot of talk about branding these days, and you travel a lot. How do you see the branding of Croatia?

We are still a destination best recognized by the pretty pictures of Dubrovnik and Plitvice. That is not enough if we want to be a serious travel destination. More can and must be done if we want to get luxury clients to visit other parts of the country or we risk having reduced interest in Croatia. What happens quite a bit at the moment, for example, is having Dubrovnik combined with Montenegro as they have luxury accommodation and the only mega-yacht marina on this side of the Adriatic.


8. You have been made the Minister of Tourism for the day and granted three wishes to improve tourism in Croatia. What would they be?

First would be a serious effort in marketing and PR, as there is a lot of room for improvement. 

Secondly, there would be an advisory role of the Ministry in terms of local and international businesses interested in investing. I.e. – avoiding situations like overbuilding of apartments by tapping into expert advice on when a destination reaching its limits, or providing a possible list of interesting investments in various regions so, for example, people can decide if they want to build the wine tasting place near Šibenik or a boutique B&B for cyclists near Sinj.

Thirdly, I would start an initiative to more responsibly work with destinations to help them become what they want. At the moment, we have all destinations targeting all types of travelers which is not feasible in the long run.

To learn more about Secret Dalmatia, visit the official website.

For the latest tourism news from Croatia, check out the TCN travel section


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