You spent 2 months on the road in Asia, Croatia is in your heart - how did it compare?
I spent the last two months traveling throughout Asia, filming my TV series, WONDERS. During my trip I had the chance to visit Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. I’ve always been a fan of Asia and through the years have had the opportunity to visit several countries throughout the continent. Like when I was filming “WONDERS OF CROATIA,” I highlighted the food, culture, landmarks and adventure that can be found. I feel so privileged to be traveling around the world, but don’t worry, I am not going to call it my second home. Croatia is in my heart and always will be, while Asia is a place I will always love to just visit. Asia in general is beautiful and up until this trip I thought it was always a bit chaotic, which I don’t mind. This time around I was completely blown away with how “different” my experience was. In a recent report I read that Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo were the most expensive cities in the world whereas my previous trips to Asia were probably in the cheapest cities in the world. This is what is so fascinating and why I like Asia so much. The standards are still good when things are cheap and in the places where drinks and food are expensive, it is not shocking because there is also no trash on the streets, everyone knows how to form a line, etc. This time around I liked the organized city life.
What does it need to do to improve?
When it comes to tourism in Asia, you can find all different levels, however English is really not as common as you would think or hope in a lot of the countries. Sometimes the best experiences come out of these language barriers, but in places like Japan, it was very difficult to communicate in some places. Traffic in Asia is horrendous and while Singapore has figured out the problem and how to solve it, I’m afraid Manila and Hong Kong still have a way to go. As an American, I found the public transportation to be extremely reliable and user friendly in Asia and I think this is always an advantage for tourists.
What are the perceptions of Croatia in Asia?
If there is a big increase in tourists from Asia, I’ll take all the credit- just kidding. I was a big promoter of Croatia in all the destinations telling everyone it was one of my homes. To be honest, not many people knew much other than “they heard it was beautiful.” Many would also ask me if it was expensive in Croatia because when you can travel very reasonably throughout Asia, they are bit concerned about the flight and prices once you arrive. I typically tell people that Croatia is still quite reasonable, but I am saying this according to US standards. I think at the end of the conversation everyone I spoke to was convinced to book a trip and they will one day.
What should Croatia be doing better to increase its share of the Asian market?
Flights are always a big game changer in bringing people to your country, but what would also be a great program is some kind of stopover program that hits other key European cities. It is still a trek for Asians to travel to Europe, so they always want to make the most of it. I think this is why a lot of groups from Asia do only stay one day in different cities because they really do want to see as much as they can. I think Croatia has the foundation set to accommodate people from all over the world and Asians are ready to make the trek as long as the marketing is visible to them and flight options are easy.
How visible is Croatia there?
Funny enough, the only people I hung out with in Singapore on my off days were Croats working in Singapore. I also went to a Croatian restaurant in Tokyo with no reservation on a Thursday night and it was completely booked. After begging for a table and speaking to the poor waiter in Croatian (he didn’t understand a word), he told us to come back tomorrow. I immediately knew the restaurant was not run by Croats and found out it had been sold a few years ago to a Japanese owner. It was pretty awesome to drink wine from Peljasac in Tokyo. Unlike in America where many people don’t have a clue where Croatia is, in Asia they have heard of the country.
You moved to Istria! How is that going?
I’m about to come back to Istria and I sure have missed it! I can’t wait to get back home and be back at the sea. A dip in the sea and the food is what I am missing the most. This summer I am excited to start filming Ashley Colburn’s Croatia Video Guides. These 3-minute web videos will highlight the top things to see throughout various cities, national parks and regions. The videos will all be on YouTube and accessible by all. While I am also writing a guidebook that will be out later this year, I wanted a video link to be available to send to someone and with watching it for 3 minutes, you can find out key places, to see and do and how to get there (this excludes restaurants and hotels).
What’s new from your side? Can we expect another quiet Ashley Colburn summer?
In addition to filming the video guides this summer I am teaching a travel journalism workshop at the University of Zadar, teaching the study abroad program from USA for the second year, speaking at Croatian Travel Festival and have some other fun projects that will be announced soon, but basically I will be in Dalmatia a lot! I feel like I keep saying this, but this summer is going to be my busiest yet!
Here is a trailer to WONDERS OF ASIA:
To follow Ashley’s adventures through Croatia this summer, check out her instagram @ashley_colburn