Why Does Croatia Have So Much Potential When Switzerland Has None?

By 23 October 2019

It is fast becoming the Croatian 'P' word. 

P for Potential. 

Croatia has so much potential. 

Croatian tourism has so much potential. 

Croatian medical tourism has so much potential. 

Everywhere you look, Croatia has potential, and nowhere more so than listening to government ministers and officials trying to be upbeat and justify whatever it is that they do all day. There is lots of potential, good times are just around the corner. 

Golf has great potential in Croatia, for example. It is why despite having a 7-year plan back in 2013 to build 30 new golf courses by 2020 with a sum total of zero started or even close to beginning to start that Croatia hosted no less than THREE golf tourism conferences this year alone. Although nothing has happened for years, the conferences gave us a great opportunity to talk about the potential of Croatia once again. 

Having spent rather more time than is perhaps healthy listening to government officials in recent months talking about the potential in sectors of Croatia's tourism, economy and other walks of life, I am coming to the conclusion that one of the biggest problems in Croatia these days is actually its potential. 

For it is used as a tool to hide the fact that nothing  - or nothing positive - is actually happening. 

I have used the example of golf before. Let me be clear that I am not advocating the building of golf courses in Croatia. I don't know enough about the issue to decide whether or not golf tourism is a winner or sensible strategy for Croatia. But presumably the bods who run Croatian tourism are convinced as it is in their strategy in a big way. 

Someone - I think Matija Babic - posted a question on Facebook some time ago asking why Croatia had so much potential when nobody ever talked about the potential of countries such as Switzerland. 

The answer, of course, is that where potential for something existed in countries such as Switzerland, some entrepreneur or ministry realised that potential to improve the country. Potential was converted into something concrete that could be touched, felt, and benefited from. 

Not in Croatia, for we live off potential and not concrete progress. 

Here is a quote from Assistant Minister of Tourism Robert Pende in 2007 at a golf conference in Brijiuni:

"One of the crucial, essential development projects is also the golf project, which has been part of the development strategy for a number of years, since 1999."

1999! In all that time only one golf course now in function has opened in Croatia. There were 30 planned in 2013, to be built by 2020, and presumably many more planned in strategic plans before that but never built. Mr. Pende is still the Assistant Minister and has so far attended no less than three golf tourism conferences in 2019 alone, where the potential of golf tourism is being lauded. 20 years of potential and nothing but potential to show for it - you wouldn't get that in Switzerland... 

By chance, Assistant Minister Pende was a panel speaker at the 3rd Adriatic Health, Sport and Tourism Investment Forum in Zagreb this week, where the potential of Croatia's medical tourism industry was one of the key discussion topics. After hearing about so much potential, it was rather refreshing - and somewhat unusual - to listen to something concrete -  Dr. Magdalena Rutkowska's excellent presentation on how Poland is developing its medical tourism identity using EU funds. Even more unusually for a conference in Croatia, there was time for questions to the panel from the floor. I raised my hand. 

"Assistant Minister, I have lived in your country for 17 years now and have heard one word more than any other when talking about developing Croatia's future - potential. Croatian tourism has so much potential, the medical tourism industry has so much potential etc. Medical tourism has been at the heart of your 2013 - 2020 medical tourism strategy for almost 7 years now. Putting the word 'potential' aside for a moment, and having listened to the excellent and very concrete example from Poland, can you give us any similar concrete examples of projects undertaken in that time, and what were the results?"

There was a short silence, followed by words, lots of words, including liberal use of the 'P' word, but no concrete examples that I or other delegates noticed when I asked others for their interpretations afterwards. 

But there is lots of potential. 

I am coming to the conclusion that one of the things that is slowly killing Croatia is its extraordinary potential. And I invite you to join me in a little experiment. The next time you hear someone talking about Croatia's potential in something, challenge them (and yourself) to come up with some concrete example of something that has been done to turn that potential into something more tangible. Especially if they are a government official. 

For only by stopping to hide behind Croatia's wonderful potential will we actually get to work and do something concrete. 

And who knows, maybe have something in common with Switzerland and be a land of no potential. 

I, for one, would welcome life without the 'P' word.