How Will Croatia Mark 150 Years of Leading European Organised Tourism in 2018?

By 19 March 2016

A great marketing anniversary is closing in for Croatian tourism - 150 years of organised tourism, the first in Europe. Will Croatia take advantage?

One of the things that surprised me about living on Hvar for years when I first started researching my guidebook, Hvar, An Insider's Guide (2016 edition out shortly), was just how much I did not know about the island which had become my adopted home. I was astonished to learn that Hvar was home to the oldest public theatre, the most UNESCO heritage of any island in the world, an olive tree dating back 2,500 years, and the birthplace of organised tourism in Europe. 

Really? Apparently so... An extract from my guidebook:

"With the founding of the Hvar Health Society on May 15, 1868, the first organised tourism in Europe came into being, tourism based on health and recuperation, rather than historical sites. While individual travel had a long tradition among the upper classes, the first organised tourist association in France only came into existence in Cannes in 1907 (Syndicat d’Initiative). The birth of organised tourism in Europe was announced as follows:

Having surrendered Venice, in all its vast dominions Austria does not have a single place on the coast suitable for people with chest illnesses to stay during the winter season, despite the fact that there are several such places in Istria and Dalmatia.

After due consideration, and with the approval of the most capable doctors and excellent naturalists, it has been established that nowhere is better than Hvar for those with chest illnesses. With its location, the particular nature of the town and the special features of its climate, it can not only rival Venice, Pisa, Nice and so on, but can often outshine them.

Guided by these reasons, and inspired by patriotism and humanity, in the belief that we can offer people from Austria and Northern Germany a superior and more accessible resort, we are establishing in Hvar, Dalmatia, a joint stock company called the Health Society in Hvar.

The aim of the Health Society is to provide everything needed for visitors to have a pleasant stay in this town, so that their sufferings are eased and their diseased lungs can benefit from our mild climate and health-giving air.

For this purpose, the Society will have at its disposal comfortable accommodation for visitors, providing all services, and sparing no effort to fulfil all their desires.
By October several houses will be ready and equipped for this purpose.

Hvar, 15th May 1868.

The first hotel for the new society was a private house on the main square in Hvar Town, owned by the Samohod-Duboković family, which opened for business on October 15 1868 after a full renovation. The new hotel had 13 single rooms with heating and a restaurant, and was staffed by a cook, two waiters and a chambermaid from Trieste.

Funds for a more expansive hotel were sought but progress was slow and the temporary hotel was moved to the former military building on the Fabrika in 1872, with private accommodation fulfilling any shortfall in beds.

The Hvar Health Society petitioned the Court in Vienna for financial support to build a proper hotel, asking that the Empress Elizabeth become patron of the new hotel, allowing it to bear her name. She agreed and the first royal donation was made in 1869 with this reply:

To the honourable Management of the Health Society in Hvar, Dalmatia
Her Majesty the Empress and Queen has very generously decided to accept patronage of your Health Society, based in Hvar, and to allow the Clinic built by this Society to bear the name “Stabilimento igienico imperatrice Elisabetta” (The Empress Elizabeth Institution of Health). As a mark of her most gracious acknowledgement of the worthy aim of the aforementioned Institution, it is her pleasure to grant a gift for it of 200 florins from her Royal Highness’ personal funds.
As it is my honour to inform the honourable Management of the Health Society in Hvar of the glad news of Her Majesty’s decision relating to the request of the 20th of last month, and to pass on the above-mentioned generously approved sum, I ask you kindly to sign and return the enclosed confirmation of receipt of the same.

Gödöllö, 10th November 1869
B. Napcsa, on behalf of Her Majesty"

1868. Fast forward 150 years to the year 2018, and we have a great focus for promoting Croatia, with a full two years to plan. Croatia, Leading the Way in Organised European Tourism for 150 years. I am not a marketing expert, but someone smarter with me could turn this into a great campaign. 

My expectations sadly, are very low, based on previous experience. Tourism in my adopted hometown of Jelsa turned 100 in 2011, a great opportunity to attract tourists, but the then director refused to even mention the anniversary, and the only mention of the centenary came in the local media in October wondering why nothing had been done.

2012 was another significant birthday, 400 years of the oldest public theatre in Europe, an opportunity to showcase Croatia's culture and heritage. Apart from lots of flags, a book and a few low-key events to mark the event, the historic anniversary passed without incident.

This year is another huge anniversary with great potential, 2400 years of the founding of Stari Grad, which some claim is the oldest town in Croatia, complete with 2400 years of its neighbouring UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stari Grad Plain (see video below). A billboard at the ferry teminal and the following information on the official Stari Grad Tourist Board website:

According to reliable data from historian Diodorus Siculus, ancient Pharos, today’s Stari Grad was founded at the beginning of the 99th Olympiad (in 384 BC). It was founded by Ionian Greek settlers, coming from the Cycladic island of Paros.

Next year, 2016, will mark the 24 centuries anniversary of the known date of the foundation of our town, which is the fact that we intend to celebrate, finding in it a confirmation of long-term continuity and a pledge for the future. With this celebration we want to expand and increase the awareness of our citizens as well as the entire Croatia, and the broader public about the uniqueness of our cultural heritage, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for a reason.

The celebration of 2400th anniversary of the foundation of Stari Grad has a national character, because this is the oldest confirmed creation date of any city in our country, and international component of the historical connection only adds meaning to this cause. The celebration will be sponsored by the President of the Republic, Mrs. Grabar-Kitarović.

We are now almost a quarter of the way through this historic year, and so far no official word as to how the birthday will be celebrated, although there was a lone article in the local media yesterday that there will be a festival on September 8-11. But no official confirmation so far of anything. I emailed the tourist board for information, both to write about and to include in my guidebook, but no response after three weeks. As they say in these parts, pomalo... 

Will the same opportunity be missed in 2018? A chance to celebrate a significant birthday, but also to highlight Croatia's heritage, culture and previous attractions as a winter tourism destination, concepts we are dealing with today with our old friend Croatia 365. 

With almost two years to plan, the opportunity and time is there to plan. TCN is of course more than welcome to get involved if requested.