We have been having a wintry spell over the last few days, wild, windy and wet. Not the best time of year to visit Hvar if you have nothing particular to do, but perfect if you want to see the reality of island life in the middle of the 'off-season', that is, the part of the year furthest removed from the tourist bustle in the hot summer.
The visit by about a dozen postgraduate architectural students from Boston U.S.A. has been an unusual and refreshing event. They have brought gaiety and enthusiasm with them, and have managed to appreciate the stunning natural beauty of Jelsa and its surrounding areas even under the fairly thick cloak of cloud and rain. Some of them also have rivalled Mr Total Hvar in the art of under-dressing, being seen today skipping along the waterfront in summery cut-offs with bare legs, albeit with heads under the protection of large umbrellas.
Thursday evening, when our paths first crossed in Hvar Town, was the date for the presentation of a 'Strategy for the Development of Hvar Town up to 2020' by Professor Ivana Marić from the Economics Faculty of Zagreb University. That meeting was ably chaired by Hvar's mayor Rino Budrović, and set the ground for establishing working groups of interested parties to identify what they wanted for the town, and what realistically could be achieved.
Asked by Igor Kolumbić of Otok-Hvar, Hvar Town's website, how committee members would be chosen, Professor Marić immediately suggested Igor should volunteer to represent the younger generation. She also suggested that Mr Total Hvar (aka Paul Bradbury) could be asked, on the basis that he represented an outsider's viewpoint. If both take up the invitation, at least the committees would be guaranteed full local blogging coverage! A preliminary workshop to discuss the issues is scheduled for March this year. The overall aim is to produce a strategy report by early 2015.
The young researchers from Boston's Northeastern University, led by Professor Ivan Rupnik, have to date produced a phenomenal survey of tourism, based on comparing locations in Portugal and Dalmatia. These two areas have some similarities historically and climatically, and in some ways offer similar opportunities and problems in respect of touristic development. As Portugal entered the EU before Croatia, there are lessons to be learned for Dalmatia, especially as regards using EU funds. The first part of the research project, which is funded by MSF-Neocivil, a Portuguese construction company, within a broader EU framework, focussed on Zadar and its surroundings, and now attention has turned to the possibilities in the Jelsa County.
Professor Ivan Rupnik gave a poweful and engrossing description of the scope of the project, illustrated by the impressive material which has been collated from the first phase, after which the researchers each described their particular interests. It was heartening to hear how many of them highlighted the need to preserve the environment and make use of Hvar's abundant natural resources, as well as existing facilities and amenities. Each researcher had a practical project in view. Among the suggestions: 'wellness tourism' based on using the 'working landscape', that is the areas of cultivation such as the vineyards and lavender fields; developing the vineyards, especially on the south side of the island, to make Hvar progress to being a top wine destination; developing agricultural tourism, and helping the problem of accommodation through part-pre-fabricated lodges for the fields; revitalizing the old hotels in prime locations, specifically the Hotel Jadran on Jelsa's waterfront; opening up the possibilities for year-round tourism, especially upgrading the sports facilities to be used as training centres; developing the villages into tourist locations, without spoiling their identity; improving the infrastructure by making better use of existing services, especially the ferries; and considering the development of air services such as the seaplanes, and perhaps building an airport.
Jelsa's Mayor Nikša Peronja expressed his pleasure at the depth of the research and the potential practical help it would give Jelsa Council in planning its strategies. Final thanks were given by Ivica Čović, Professor of Architecture at Milan University, who is overseeing the redevelopment plan for Jelsa's harbour.
The visitors brought enthusiasm, youthful energy and expertise to the table, and it was obvious that the relationship between Jelsa and this dynamic group is set to flourish over the next few months or years. I was particularly pleased that 'golf course' was mentioned only in passing, and was not included as a potential prime tourist attraction for the island. There is always a danger that tourist developments will harm a natural or historical environment. Successful strategies keep a balance. But golf courses use pesticides and fertilizers to a degree where environmental damage is inevitable. The Boston researchers showed impressive concern for the environment, with aspirations to base agricultural projects on organic methods. Eco Hvar is with them all the way in this!