How Croatia Really Works Versus How They Say It Does

By 8 December 2019

December 8, 2019 - How Croatia really works as opposed to how they want you to think it works - the latest stunning example from the medical tourism Oscars at IMTJ 2019 in Berlin. 

Whisper it quietly, but Croatia has a new tourism product which can compete at the global level of excellence and bring billions to its economy. A product which it SEEMS that Croatian officials are 100% behind and supporting intensively. 

The sector is medical tourism, and industry experts agree that Croatia has the potential (there we go with the 'P' word again) to be in the world's top 10 for this lucrative and rapidly expanding industry, if Croatian officials could unite and put together a coherent strategy, as previously discussed on TCN

And if you look on the surface, things look very good. A nice, shiny promo video called Health Spot Croatia (sadly with just 522 views on YouTube - EDIT - for clarity purposes, this video is from the Zagreb Tourist Board, not national tourist board) to accompany a shiny medical tourism conference in Zagreb earlier this year, which was attended by all the right people. But a conference which had zero impact or next phases apart from talking about the P-word at length and showing how busy officials were working on the latest gift to Croatian tourism. 

But wait - the New York Times published a glowing tribute to the potential of Croatian medical tourism on November 19, with lots of nice quotes from public officials. 

“We see the health tourism as our key product for strengthening our offer and income before and after the packed summer season as health tourists spend more than the summer holiday-makers,” said Slavija Jacan Obratov from the Croatian state tourism board HTZ.

More fine words, and ones which reached the important medium of the New York Times (the article has since been removed from the Times' website, but you can still see it here). And actually, having been very critical of the Croatian tourism chiefs and their lack of engagement in developing Croatia's medical tourism potential, I actually sensed that things were beginning to change at the recent Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference last month.

Encouraged and excited to see this new cohesion and official engagement, and on the back of the positive noises on the pages of the New York Times, and after having invested two years of my life following the story, I decided to invest further. I booked a flight to Berlin for a 3-night stay and attendance at the most important conference of them all, the International Medical Travel Journal 2019 conference and annual awards ceremony. With all this official push to support the potential of Croatia's excellent private clinics and hospitals, how would that actually look like on the world stage compared to all the other key players in the industry?

Well, it looks a little like this. 

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Some destinations are really supporting their clinics - the Balearic Islands Tourist Board had a complete stand (and very interesting approach to promoting tourism - interview soon on TCN).  

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Team Korea were focused, cohesive and overall rock stars.  

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The lovely Malaysians starred again. With a hashtag such as #TogetherWeWin, how could they fail to? Learn how Malaysian Healthcare Travel Council CEO Sherene Azli wowed the conference in Crikvenica last year.  

And Croatia? Just 12 days after those gushing words in the New York Times:

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One fat Brit, two members of a private clinic and two members of a regional health cluster. The entire Croatian presence consisted of TCN, Bagatin Clinic and Kvarner Health Cluster, 5 people in total. 

How Croatia really works v how they say it does, Part One.  

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Andrija Colak from the successful Surf'n'Fries franchise told us in a TCN interview that the best thing about doing business in Croatia is that if you can succeed in Croatia, you really can succeed anywhere in the world. 

And Croatian businesses ARE succeeding on the world stage, and succeeding big time. But not because of official help but in spite of the lack of it. 

It was with more than one tear in my eye that I recorded a truly historic moment for Bagatin Clinic and the medical tourism industry in Croatia, as 20 international expert judges voted Bagatin as the International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic of the Year in Berlin. What an achievement!

It was truly an honour to be there to witness the latest magnificent achievement of one of the most exciting business stories in Croatia after Rimac. 

And while our Croatian officials will no doubt be toasting the success at how good they are at promoting medical tourism for Croatia, my first question is - why was there no presence in Berlin? Followed by what exactly did they do to contribute to that success?

How Croatia really works v how they say it does, Part 2. Private success, independent of public support despite the empty words one reads in the media. 

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Berlin was buzzing with talk of a new medical tourism conference taking place in Europe next March. In Croatia in fact, the first of its kind in Europe and at the very cutting edge of the global industry.

The first European Patient Experience and Innovation Conference, EPIC 2020, will take place in Dubrovnik in March. 

The organiser? No, not those officials with large budgets and worthy words to develop Croatia's medical tourism industry. 

Bagatin Clinic is the organiser, with collaborative international presenter Cleveland Clinic. Additional confirmed speakers include the Mayo Clinic, the Disney Institute, and the Editor-in-Chief of IMTJ. Arguably, one of the most impressive lineups a European medical tourism conference has ever seen. 

A private initiative. 


And while I could easily turn this into a story about Bagatin Clinic and CEO Ognjen's tireless efforts to promote Croatia as well as his own clinic, his clinic's global excellence is mirrored elsewhere. Just look at one of the Leading Hospitals in the Word, St Catherine Specialty Clinic in Zabok, which recently became the first location in Europe to offer the revolutionary Mayo Clinic co-founded OneOme Rightmed pharmacogenetic test. Global excellence once more, just one of many initiatives at St Catherine. 


From medical tourism to any other industry in Croatia, the main mission is the same. Show the world how busy you are at working on Croatia's potential - actually doing something is a secondary concern. I can think of no better example than golf tourism. Golf tourism has been at the heart of Croatia's tourism strategy for TWENTY years, since 1999. In that time, a net total of just one golf course has been built. In 2013, the 7-year plan envisaged 30 new courses by 2020, and yet not only has no work begun, but the net result of this strategy has been a 500-million-dollar lawsuit against Croatia from an Israeli golf investor in Dubrovnik. And yet, as we explored in Saudi Arabian Wine or Golf Tourism in Croatia, Which is More Likely?, there have been no less than THREE Croatian golf tourism conferences this year alone, all attended by the same Assistant Minister of Tourism. 

There is a lot of potential to be discussed, after all... 

To follow the latest from the Croatian medical tourism industry, follow the dedicated TCN section