First Croatian panoramic tourist boat now offers the best Danube experience
It is always such a pleasure to write about perseverence and success of individuals in Croatia, and I would like to thank my colleague Goran Rihelj for sharing (and letting us translate) this amazing story from Vukovar, an area which has suffered so much over the last two and a half decades and where tourism can indeed change the economic outlook and create much needed new jobs.
Historic Day for Croatian Tourism
By Goran Rihelj Photo: Vanja Vidaković, Goran Rihelj
It was a day in Vukovar just like any other, but for long-time entrepreneurs and tourist workers – family Šesto, it was a very special day. The day when their vision finally became reality. On that foggy morning of September 30, 2015 in Vukovar, a new page was written in the history of Croatian continental tourism.
After 84 years, on the beautiful blue Danube, a Croatian tourist panoramic boat named Bajadera started its maiden voyage. Tourist agency Danubium Tours, first 100% incoming agenciy in the region, lead by a husband and wife team, Zoran and Zrinka Šesto, completed its panoramic tour boat project and now it is cruising along Danube telling a different and more positive story about the heroic city of Vukovar.
Much to my dismay, this story went on unnoticed in Croatian media, which is sad to say the least. Maybe if someone fell overboard during the maiden voyage the story would have made it to the front pages. This was an exceptional opportunity to celebrate perseverance and enterpreneurship in Crotia, success earned by years of hard work and above all with utmost professionalism, and I don’t even have to mention how important this is for continental tourism and its further development. Ministry of Tourism and the Croatian Tourist Board whould have been there with fireworks to celebrate the occasion.
Do you think I’m overrecting? Yes, I do agree an opening of a new hotel would have been a larger and more significant investment, but we are talking about small businesses here, continental tourism and the first tourist boat on the Danube which in itself carries special weight. Šesto family spent the last years, bringing tourists to Vukovar instead of organising various ski trips across Europe. The fact they’ve managed to survive on the market for 12 years dealing only with incoming tourists is enough to congratulate them on their achievement. Their hard work, enthusiasm, drive, vision and endless love for their city once again stand as proof that people are the main pillars of tourism. So I can say I was privileged to meet this dynamic duo, share an espresso with them during the very first tour along the Danube on Bajadera and chat with the ambassador of Croatian continental tourism Zrinka Šesto.
When I asked them where the idea for the very first panoramic boat on the Danube came from, she explained that the idea came to her in 2012 when they opened the DMC agency since their goal was to create a product of their own: „ We wanted to offer something new and different, not another hotel or restaurant since the market in our small county is already overcrowded. Danube is not exploited enough in tourist purposes and since we are a Danube country, this project seemed logical. The project changed and developed over the years, but we always knew what we wanted, and that was a panoramic boat. And, here it is, proudly sailing along the Danube in Vukovar“ Zrinka tells their story.
First boat to be built in Vukovar since 1932 is a Croatian product. It has a capacity of 60 people, it was built in Croatia and it is powered by electricity. Of course, just as in any other project in Croatia, Bajadera had to overcome many absurd regulations, administrative hurdles and the owners tested their nerves on a daily basis. But after 12 months, it was completed. The boat also has solar panels and after it is charged overnight, it can sail for 10 hours straight. It is fitted with LED lighting and fully heated so tours can be organised during the winter. It is completely multifunctional and it can be turned into an event boat by adding chairs, tables and all other necessary elements.
„The boat can accommodate up to 60 people, seated or standing. During their tour, guests can watch a promotional video about Vukovar or simply enjoy the ride with a glass of local wine. One tour is 45 – 60 minutes long, according to the wishes of our guests. The boat can also be used for various themed events, seminars, conferences etc. Zrinka Šesto commented.
When we talk about enterpreneurship and business ownership in Croatia, unfortunately we cannot escape the question about administration and bureaucracy. Construction of this boat was not freed of problems in that department: „Unfortunately, everything you hear and read is true. Overall, our experience was quite negative. Procedures are disastrous, but you have to give it your all if you want to succeed. We live in the 21st century, but papers still rule, e-mails and any other form of digital communication has been just non existent. I think I submitted by Personal ID number about 150 times, and not by phone, I had to go to various offices and submit it personally every single time.“ Zdenka stated.
„We have to let small businesses breathe and they can function normally in that case. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every single time, we just have to see how things are done abroad and just copy those rules and regulations“ she continued.
So, what are the first reactions, are the guests satisfied with the product: „ First reactions are more than positive. People are stunned by the panoramic views of Vukovar, the beauty of the Danube river and the ride itself. We already had groups from England and Germany, BBC did a story on our boat, bookings are coming in from all parts of the world and we haven’t even started promoting it properly. We are also happy with the interest from the locals and as of yesterday, we have two tours a day for all citizens of Vukovar. As we have already mentioned, the boat is heated, so we won’t deprive our guests of the beautiful images of Vukovar covered with snow during winter months“ Zrinka Šesto commented.
Šesto family already attracted some of Croatia’s best known manufacturers, so each guest now receives Kraš’s small Bajadera chocolate as a souvenir and reminder of the trip: „We would like to thank Kraš for recognising the value of our product and we are proud to help promote their renowned Bajadera brand. Our guests love Bajadera chocolates, especially foreigners, we are very proud of this Croatian product“.
Local businesses also cooperate well with the tour agency so the boat offers wines from the local winery and they hope others will recognise the promotional potential and join in.
Of course, I wanted to know if, in her opinion, Slavonia has a tourist potential: „I believe Slavonia has potential and perspective on tourism. We all have to sit down and find a solution, define our tourist product. Slavonia can have tourism 365 days a year, but it can only be achieved with synergy. It all comes down to people because they are the key to success. We cannot have museums that are closed on weekends or only work until 3 pm. That’s not tourism, that’s not how you develop a tourist destination. We have to change our mindsets, start thinking positively and start from ourselves, Two of us in our agency work throughout the year, we’ve spent countless sleepless nights but the boat is here. Our entire region has so much to offer from gastronomy to events, but it all has to be lifted to a higher level, we have to cooperate and we have to start promoting ourselves. We didn’t invent anything new, tourist boats have been touring the Danube in Austria and Bavaria for years. It is interesting to know that 80% of all guests in Bavaria are Germans and only 20% foreigners. I still say our continental tourism can live from domestic guests if they would only start exploring their own country, and foreigners would follow. However, when it comes to domestic guests, we were all hit pretty hard by the financial crisis so that slowed down the development of tourism in Slavonia quite a bit“. Zrinka is quite optimistic.
Now that the boat is operational, this dynamic duo doesn’t intend to stop, they already have new plans for the future. Next year, in cooperation with the Port Authority and Agency for Inland Waterways, they are planning on building a pontoon on Vučedol next to the Museum of Vučedol Culture. Guests would be able to take the bus to the museum and continue to Ilok on the boat. Boat rides to Osijek and Aljmaš are also in their plans along with the opening of a „Visitor’s centre“ where all guests would be able to taste and buy local products : „Possibilities are endless and this is a long term process but we’re taking it step by step“ Zrinka Šesto concluded.