Digital Nomads

3 Female Returnees Bring Digital Nomad Work, Play & Living to Diocletian's Palace

By 23 November 2020
From left to right - Maria Mustapic, Korana Bucic, both of Zeven Hospitaliy Group and Split Hostel Group, and Tanja Polegubic of Saltwater
From left to right - Maria Mustapic, Korana Bucic, both of Zeven Hospitaliy Group and Split Hostel Group, and Tanja Polegubic of Saltwater

November 23, 2020 - What if remote workers could combine the world of digital nomad work, play and living in one place - a UNESCO World Heritage Site and retirement home of a Roman Emperor, perhaps? Well now you can thanks to three enterprising female entrepreneurs in Split. 

Having been brought up a Brit, it is hard to admit I have a hero who is Australian. Actually, not one, but three - all inspiring ladies from the Croatian diaspora who moved to Croatia to try their luck in the land of their ancestors. 

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And all three have succeeded, despite the many obstacles thrown in their way. It has been a pleasure to cheer from the sidelines as I have charted their path to success. And now a new chapter, as my three heroes have teamed up together for the first time to offer the option of digital nomad work, play and living in one exciting concept - located in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and former retirement home of a Roman Emperor no less - Diocletian's Palace in Split. 

There is a lot of buzz and talk about digital nomads in Croatia at the moment. A combination of the initiative to make Croatia only the sixth country in the world to offer such a visa, as well as the realisation that Croatia's current accidental tourism 'strategy' needs an urgent reset, has had many tourism providers looking to cater to this new digital nomad tourism opportunity. 

Most are completely missing the point. 

It has been mildly amusing to see the number of businesses in Croatia who are suddenly advertising themselves as digital nomad friendly, as though a bed and reasonable WiFi is all that is required. While both are a prerequisite, there is a little more to it than that. Two of the major planks of a successful digital nomad tourism offer, at least in my humble opinion, are lifestyle and community. Travelling the world is a rewarding experience, but it can also be a lonely one. If you are working remotely and you can find a place to live, work and play all in one, then that is a lot more appealing.

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Enter my three Australian heroes - Tanja, Maria and Korana - all of whom will be familiar to longterm readers of TCN. 

I have been spending quite a bit of time on and offline with Tanja Polegubic from Saltwater Nomads this year. Founder of a co-working space of the same name in Split, Tanja has put a lot more thought than most into the potential (and the pitfalls) of Croatia embarking on the digital nomad route (and for those interested, 10 Ways Croatia Will Be At The Forefront of Countries with a Digital Nomad Visa is a worthy read).  Tanja also organised the first Digital Nomad conference in Croatia last month, is a founder of the Digital Nomad Association, and we will shortly be announcing her latest cool event, a digital nomad boot camp to coincide with Advent in Zagreb. 

Maria and Korana are lifelong friends who came to Split as naive 22-year-olds who thought they spoke fluent Croatian almost 20 years ago. As some of the few foreigners who have been working here as long as I have, it is always fun to catch up with them and have a laugh about the good old days. Having famously flooded the main square of Diocletian's Palace on the first day of opening their first business, a fast food joint, they have gone from strength to strength with a combination of determination, vision, charm, sound decision-making and 10 lifetimes of hard work. The first legally registered hostel started the empire which then blossomed into three hostels, one of the most popular hangouts  in Diocletian's Palace (Charlie's Bar), and two excellent restaurants, Zinfandel and Brasserie on 7. Life was good for the owners of Zeven Gastronomy Group and Split Hostel Group.

And then came corona. 

Not for the first time in their Croatian odyssey, it was time for a rethink, this time over a glass of wine with Tanja. What if all the assets and components of both businesses could be realigned for the greater good? A co-working business, hostels, a bar and two restaurants. What kind of package could that be if it was all made available to customers to work, live and play?

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And that is exactly what these three heroes have done. As Tanja explained:

Around mid-September, I was contacted by nomads looking for co-living options. There weren’t any in Split. We already find long-stay accommodation options, so a hostel - especially as they had been hit so hard by Covid19, was a logical option. I contacted Korana, and it started very quickly.

All this was happening while the preparations for Dubrovnik Digital Nomads was underway. Korana and Amanda - our Saltwater member who ran the bar at our Beach Office Bacvice Bacvice this summer.

In our first week of opening, our two top floor “penthouse” private offices (Bill and Ted) filled up! Couples from US/Canada and UK/USA. Since then, we’ve had quite a few people trial, and some join.

Coworking isn’t an easy business - it’s very transient. It is more about the community activity and events. Plus some good ole fashioned Dalmatian ‘pomalo’... things happen slowly here. Which is fine; we’re in this for the long haul. Especially as it’s very fun to run.

So what does the digital nomad work, play and living combination look like?

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Some of the stone wall hostel rooms have been converted into shared workspaces, private offices, meeting rooms - already fitted out with showers, communal areas and kitchen. And the authentic stone walls as your Zoom background come as standard. 

One of the hostels remains as a coliving option - starting at 250 euro month to stay in the Centre of Old Town Split in Diocletian’s Palace.

And what better location for your new office. Not only in a World Heritage Site, but also above the team's Charlie's Bar, offering a steady supply of coffee, cocktails and beer on tap with a nomad discount.

Feeling peckish or looking for a change of workplace scene? Both Zinfandel and Brasserie on 7 are available with discounted prices for registered Saltwater and Split Hostels customers. And with B7's fabulous waterfront location at the centre of Split's famous riva, there are few better more beautiful locations for a temporary office. 

The sense of community is crucial to a happy experience, and all three of these fabulous ladies have long experience in producing outstanding customer service, and so it is no surprise that this new nomad offer comes with a little fun in addition to the basic services. 

The weekly Nomad Table combines food, wine, entertainment and great company.  Education of Croatian wines are already proving popular, a Zinfandel speciality, and some ice-breaking games at the events so far have helped bring people together. The first, held on the inauspicious date of Friday 13, 2020 (what could possibly go wrong?) included an icebreaker game lining up cards with guest and staff point of origin and distance to Split. The furthest away was Hamilton, NZ - although this was strongly contested by Dunedin and Taupo hometowners!

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Last week, the Crljenak, Plavac Mali and Posip was washed down with COVID bingo - “68 late for your Tinder Date, 83 Gluten Free and 88 Wills and Kate”. It’s very 2020.

The next event is on Friday 27th - a wine flight and group dinner, with another icebreaker game to be decided. And every Friday and Saturday has live music.

Word of mouth seems to be moving quicker than even the most dedicated blogger. Several Zagreb nomads are heading south for a taste of a Mediterranean winter. So far there have been nomads from Paraguay, USA, UK, Canada, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Korea, and a couple from Poland who are sharing their newly adopted home with people back home on Ewa’s Let's Split blog - documenting their journey from Poland to their new home in Croatia. 

Did I mention customer service? New vegan options are being added to the menu, as three of the early members are vegans. 

Fabulous stuff, and I look forward to seeing how this initiative evolves. With the connections and creative minds of the founding mothers, the prospects are enticing indeed. 

The potential of digital nomad tourism in Croatia - with or without the visa - is immense. In order to take advantage properly, it will require a little more than a bed and a good WiFi connection. Good luck to my three heroes - I have been saying for a while that Croatia needs to move from Croatia, Full of Life (whatever that means) to Croatia, Your Safe, Authentic, Lifestyle destination. The Zeven Hospitality Group/Split Hostel Group/Saltwater partnership does exactly that. 

For more information, you can contact the team via the Saltwater website.

For the latest digital nomad news, follow the dedicated TCN section

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