Saturday, 27 July 2019

Some Simple Steps to Improve Jelsa's 2-Star Tourism Strategy on Hvar

July 26, 2019 - Named the top destination in former Yugoslavia in 1983, many locals are complaining of the worst peak season in Jelsa for quite some time. So what is the situation on the ground and - more importantly - can tourism be improved? A TCN case study concludes that it can, quite easily.

It is almost 17 years since I took the ferry from Drvenik to Sucuraj on August 15, 2002 to visit the island of Hvar for the first time in search of a house. Having driven through the empty villages of eastern Hvar, arriving in Jelsa in full swing in peak season was a joy. It was love at first sight, and less than 48 hours later, I departed, having found a small house in the old town that would soon become my home. 

The town has been very good to me over the years, and I lived in Jelsa with my lovely wife and two gorgeous daughters, before moving to Varazdin County a couple of years ago. Over those years, it has been sad to watch the lack of development of tourism in such a beautiful spot, but nothing was quite as bad as what I experienced returning this summer. When I say bad, I mean in terms of the number and quality of tourists - Jelsa this summer is as gorgeous as I have ever known it, and if you are looking for a late holiday, there are plenty of options. Come visit!


Obviously the Mayor of Jelsa's decision to publicly announce that he was suing me last summer put a cloud on things somewhat. I am sure I will find out what the lawsuit is about when it finally arrives, but in the meantime, I would like to pay tribute to him for the significant success he has had with EU funds and improving the infrastructure and look of the town, including the new waterfront. I won't pretend that I like all the improvements, but a lot has been achieved. 

When it comes to tourism, however, the same is not true - at least in my opinion. 

Several years ago, a small lunchtime blog of mine became the number one story in Croatia for the day, as well as the subject for local discussion for weeks. The Politics of Christmas Decorations: We Don't Celebrate Christmas Here Some locals objected to the fact that the main square had a five-pointed star symbolic of Yugoslavia. It was taken down one lunchtime and replaced with a Star of Bethlehem, an act I witnessed and blogged about. The reaction was huge, and right down the main faultlines of Croatian society. I felt for the Mayor, as he really was in a no-win situation, but I immediately advised him not to do what he planned. It was a nice idea, but... 

HIs very sensible compromise was to put both stars up, which was all very well in a non-tourist town.

"It is a nice idea but if you do that, you will be officially launching the first two-star tourist destination in Croatia."

The two stars stayed, and so too has the two-star tourism strategy. Which is why Jelsa tourism is in such an impoverished position. 

It doesn't have to be. 


I can understand that the Mayor's focus has been more on the grand plans to develop Jelsa and its infrastructure, and that the focus has been less on tourism. After all, we are now on our fourth Jelsa Tourist Board director in 5 years, and the new website is at least 4 years in the works. 

I have spent a couple of weeks talking to LOTS of people in Jelsa about the destination, getting their views. I have documented parts of the current season, and I have applied some of my knowledge and observations with a foreign eye, and I offer up a set of recommendations and solutions to make tourism in Jelsa better as early as next season. In order to get to the recommendations, I think it is important that we see openly and honestly how bad things have become. Only then can we acknowledge the current situation and look at ways to improve. 

Fasten your seatbelts.  

Where is Jelsa now?

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As the Minister of Tourism has decided to restrict access to the transparent, internationally award-winning eVisitor system, it is hard for me to say with authority how bad the season is, but there are plenty of clues if you look around.

Jelsa is not blessed with the best hotels (more on that later), but their locations are fantastic. And so are the prices. Book today and you can get 7 nights half-board, free WiFi and parking, for a couple and child under 12 for a total price of 3980 kuna, or 535 euro total for the family of three. No need to spend any money downtown, you have all you need at the hotel with the beach and some drinks and supplies you brought with you. And that family of three clocks up 21 overnights for the Temple of Record Overnights statistics.  

These are the prices today when I was preparing this article. If you are looking for a late booking, then please come. Jelsa is GORGEOUS at the moment, and this is really great value right by a fantastic beach. Here is a link to the agency selling the package.  Once you take off the agency fees, taxes and operating costs, I am guessing there is not that much left. But at least we have 21 overnights for the hallowed spreadsheet. 

Makarski Jadran - 12:30 on July 20

The other major source of tourism - actually the main, these days - are the tourist boats that come from Makarska for an hour or two. The general itinerary is a fish picnic with stop-offs in Bol and Jelsa (sometimes Vrboska), then back to Makarska. The best-known of these is the legendary Makarski Jadran, which certainly wakes up the town as it enters and leaves each day. Get a taste of that and also how Jelsa looked at 12:30 o July 20. 

Each boat pays I think 25 kuna per metre to come to Jelsa (it used to be one kuna per passenger, I think, but someone please correct me if I have that wrong) - although someone told me that stays of less than two hours are as low as 2 kuna per metre. If anyone knows how much Makarski Jadran pays, for example, please send me into with link, and I will amend.. There are about 1000 visitors to Jelsa each day in the season on these boats. I have watched them for years. They get off, not knowing exactly where they are, or what to do. They tend to head to the main square as that looks like the centre. Then they walk into the old town but soon come back, stopping for an ice cream or beer until the boats leave one or two hours later. And then, as you see above, the town goes back to sleep. It is gorgeous, especially in this era of overtourism. 

Main square - 20:45 on July 8

With our price-conscious hotel guests safely enjoying a stunning sunset back at the hotels, there is plenty of space in the bars and restaurants. Apparently, more restaurants in Jelsa shut than opened for the first time in a number of years. The main square at 20:45 on July 8. 

Main square and the entire waterfront and visit to Lavanderman - 20:30 on July 21

As the special offers at the hotels were further reduced in July, more of those hallowed overnight stays were created, which sadly were not translated into full restaurant tables. A fuller length tour of the main square and the waterfront at 20:30 on July 21. 

Main square - 22:40 on July 21

Maybe everyone was busy and could not make it down until later? The main square at 22:40 the same evening. I posted quite a few of these on my Facebook wall (apologies to my FB friends) because I wanted to document the reality when the inevitable will happen when the statistics are announced. We will be blinded by science and spreadsheets about numbers and overnights. Those Ukranian 21 overnights will cover up the real situation to save some ministerial embarrassment. As the hotels are filling with low-cost half-board tourists, the restaurants are complaining that the higher-spending guests, such as Norwegians, are a lot less this year. Does 21 Ukrainian half-board overnights equal 21 Norwegians in private accommodation and eating in the restaurants and drinking in the bars? For the spreadsheets, they are the same. For tourism revenue to Jelsa businesses, I would put the ratio at 21:3. 

And please don't think I have anything against Ukrainians - I love Ukraine and enjoyed my time there (and we have a lovely Ukrainian Jelsa story below), and you are very welcome in Jelsa. You found a great deal in a great location with a great beach. Enjoy.

So it seems that the current state of tourism in Jelsa is that we have about a thousand boat passengers in the morning which generate a few thousand kuna in fees (or perhaps considerably less) and whatever they spend on an ice cream, the hotels are possibly not even breaking even with the deals they are offering, and the restaurants are desperately trying to attract a shrinking number of higher-quality guests. 

It doesn't have to be that way. And now that we have an overview of the situation, how do we improve things? 


What is the brand of Jelsa?

Tourism began in Jelsa in 1911 with the opening of Hotel Jadran. One hundred years later, in October 2011, I started Total Hvar, the birthplace of TCN. One of the first articles I did was about Jelsa and 100 years of tourism. Apart from one short article in Slobodna Dalmacija, there was no mention of the centenary whatsoever, which struck me as strange. 

As I got more into writing about tourism on Hvar, I found myself asking what kind of destination was Jelsa selling itself as, and what is its brand? 

It is a question I am still asking 8 years later, and still nobody seems to know. And if we don't know our brand of what we are selling, in an increasingly competitive market both within Croatia and globally, how can tourists?

So I posted three questions on Facebook - my own wall and a closed Jelsa group which someone had obviously added me to.


1. What is Jelsa's brand and target market?

2. What is Jelsa's unique selling point?

3. What direction do you think Jelsa should take with its tourism?

I was struck by the answers that nobody had any clear defining brand of Jelsa after more than 100 years of tourism. There were some comments and relaxing, wine, family-friendly and the general feeling was summed up by this answer, for me at least:


1. Jelsa today is not "branded". Now regarding the type of destination, I'd say it's a reasonably pleasant, family-friendly town

We had a very good discussion in the closed group until the admin came on (it turned out the group was run by the Deputy Mayor, who accused me of self-promotion and something else - I forget what). When I asked what her views about Jelsa's brand, the thread was deleted. I have heard many people talking of the suppression of opinion in recent years in Jelsa, but had not realised it also extended to closed groups. Thankfully, technology is our friend, and the Snipping Tool really is useful in these situations. 

I digress. 

So the number one early problem for Jelsa is that it does not know what it is, and so nor does anyone else. Without a brand, or a unique selling point, why would anyone consider coming unless they already knew about it? 

So let's give Jelsa an identity and a brand. How about... 


Relaxed Family Lifestyle in the Dalmatian Wine Capital 

The Dalmatian wine capital? Is there really any special wine story in Jelsa? Well actually, a lot more than you might think. And there is no town in Dalmatia with such a wine tradition as Jelsa. Or with so many quality producers in the town. Croatian wine is growing in popularity, and wine tours are on the rise. And there is no better place than Jelsa to explore. Yesterday, I wrote a big piece related to this on how to develop gourmet tourism on Hvar without spending much money. Learn more about the concept of Hvar Wine Time Traveller and the island of the Dalmatian Wine Capital with UNESCO Mediterranean Diet

You see what I did there? Jelsa is no longer just a reasonably pleasant family-friendly town, but one famous for wine, healthy food and relaxed living. Tell me more!

How to optimise the Makarski Jadran tourist boats?

But while we wait for the branding to take effect, what can we do to maximise the tourism we already have? Let's look at those 1,000 people on the morning tourist boats. Currently, they are left to wander around like lost sheep. Most have no idea what to do, or even where they are. So let's give them some content. If they are staying in Makarska, maybe they could fall in love with that brief introduction to the Relaxed Family LIfestyle in the Dalmatian Wine Capital. Maybe they are still undecided where they are going next and could even come this season. 

But if Jelsa accepts this kind of tourism, let's give them opportunities to spend money and fall in love for the next time. There are SO many things that those tourists can experience in that 1-2 hours, then leave more contented and with a greater awareness for next time. The amazing Gamulin chocolate store, an introduction to the wines of the capital of Dalmatian wine, a folklore performance at St. John's Square, a walking tour of Jelsa to get an overview, a tour to the OPG on the road to Pitve with all the island herbs and plants. a greeting from Lavanderman and tour of Dalmacijaland. And so on. Prepare a leaflet with 10 things to do during your first visit to Jelsa and get the boats to distribute them. It will take some effort (unfortunately proper tourism does), but visitors will leave with a better knowledge of Jelsa and what it has to offer for next time. If one could get very organised, perhaps the boats could get numbers of who wanted to do what in advance. 

Stop hiding behind poor hotels as an excuse for poor tourism

The hotels are not great, and some good 4-star hotels would help transform the town in the same way as happened to Bol. 

But there are plenty of other destinations which do not have great hotels and they manage. Vis does not have that many hotel beds or many of high quality, and it does more than ok. Solta only has seven hotel beds on the entire island. 

The key to moving Jelsa forward if the hotels will not change lie in the private accommodation sector, which seems to me to be well down this year.  

Create your own quality hotel in time for next season - and include the neighbours

So why not combine the two? Create a diffuse hotel and work with the 4-star apartments and villas in Jelsa, Vrboska and even Stari Grad. Those private renters would want to contribute to the project - there might even be EU funding for it. In the days of technology, hotels can exist almost as a website, which tells you where to check in - directly at your apartment. Build a concierge service and a reception area downtown where they can come for more information. Keep it open 24 hours a day and provide good service.  


Return to Jelsa's sporting roots: Create the first Run Croatia Week - they are ready to do it!

Jelsa used to be a popular destination for sport, and Hajduk came for winter training, as well as others I can no longer remember. It has one of the best rowing clubs in the country, one of the best chess teams in the country, and good sporting facilities, including football pitch and large sports hall. What can we do to return some focus to Jelsa's sporting traditions?

One of the most successful tourism start-up businesses I follow is called Run Croatia. They are slowly building a national network of races and a healthy living lifestyle, working with airlines, hotels, clinics, restaurants etc. It is impressive to watch them grow. You can read more about the project in this extended TCN feature. I asked Bero and Iva how they would feel about working with Jelsa to make it their first-ever Run Croatia Week. And they said yes!

A week in Jelsa, with access to the sporting facilities and the relaxed family lifestyle in the Dalmatian capital of wine, with perhaps three races for adults - a 5km, 10km and 21km or trail, as well as some runs for the kids. They are waiting for Jelsa's call. 

Recognise that neighbouring destinations are not competition but add value

The tourism offers of your neighbours add to yours, and they are not competition. Imagine someone coming to the Dalmatian capital of wine to explore as many different experiences in a week. Wouldn't a day trip to Bol to try the Stina and Senjkovic wineries be a great addition? 

Use the tourism budget to promote tourism not reward nepotism


It took me quite some time to figure out how Croatian tourism works, and that the budgets for promotion are not necessarily used to promote tourism. Or if they are, there is an element of nepotism there. You do this for me and I will make sure you have money for your event, that kind of thing. I am also constantly amazed at the ratio of locals (lots) to tourists (few) at many of the official tourism events. Of course there should be things for locals, but shouldn't the emphasis of the tourism budget be on entertaining tourists? I have heard lots of tourists comment on how much they enjoyed the wine tasting events with live music at St. John's Square, but am yet to hear of one who was raving at the dialect poetry nights in the park. 

Join the digital revolution and steal a march on the others - here's how

Earlier this summer, I met a very nice Russian/Ukrainian couple from Munich. They had been living in Jelsa for three months from April 1 - June 30, and they wanted to return for the same dates next year, renting our apartment. They took Croatian lessons, were active in the community. Their day consisted of an early swim and coffee, then online office work in Munich. When they closed their laptops, they went for another swim and then went shopping for food or out to dinner. Working in Munich, spending in Jelsa. You can read much more about this and why Croatia is perfectly poised to take advantage of an industry which will have an estimated 1 billion digital nomads by 2035

A little like being first with Run Croatia Week, why not do something bold. Talk to the regional and national authorities and offer Jelsa as the first digital nomad island destination in Croatia. Invite 50 nomads to come for a month with free accommodation (max two from each country) and then work hard to make them happy. They will tell friends, fellow nomads, and their social media posts and hashtag #DigitalJelsa will give Jelsa great exposure. Get some funding to open a Jelsa co-working space, so people can get their business done while here if they need to. 

Highlight the strong bonds over the years through stories

The relaxed family destination in the Dalmatian wine capital. Tourism these days is so hurried, as people rush from place to place. If Jelsa really is the relaxed family lifestyle destination - and it is - then let's tell some stories which highlight that. Bring out the warmth and the love of those tourists who have been coming for 20 years and more. Talk about the friendships made, and let the people who can present Jelsa the best have their say - the tourists totally in love with Jelsa. A relaxed family lifestyle in the Dalmatian wine capital with loyal and happy visitors. They are your best ambassadors. 


Develop ties and tourism with the other Jelsa... in Norway

Did you know that there is one other Jelsa outside Croatia - a fishing community in Norway? Over seven years ago, when Norwegians were coming in greater number to Croatian Jelsa, I thought that this would be a cool way to develop tourism ties between the two Jelsas. And so I wrote to them, and received a reply:

"Some time ago I received an e-mail from the tourist office in Suldal. I understand that they had received a mail from you, but unfortunately I have not read your mail myself. I am sorry you had to wait so long for an answer, but here it is. I am a teacher at the local school in Jelsa, Suldal. Our school is quite small, 19 pupils (six to twelve years old) and four teachers + one head master.

"It would indeed be nice for us to get to know people in the Croatian city called Jelsa.  As far as I know the name is not used anywhere else. As I teach English, it would be nice if I can ask my pupils to write letters to children in Jelsa, Croatia, and that we can learn something about your country and city." 

Excited, I replied, copying the then Mayor and tourist board director. The teacher never got a reply. Worth trying again?

Family destinations need content for kids 

Just something to think about. 


(Photo credit Paolo Buncuga)

Za Krizen procession and tradition - a huge opportunity

The Holy Week Za Krizen (Behind the Cross) procession on Maundy Thursday is one of the most incredible traditions in Croatia. It has taken place year on year for 500 years, and the honour to carry the cross is significant.  The actual procession is not meant for tourists but it is quite a spectacle and attracts more tourists every year, and my interview with a former cross-bearer was extremely interesting and educational

You can learn about the whole process of becoming a cross-bearer in this excellent Hvar TV video above. Well worth the time. 

With such an incredible heritage and procession, why not make some kind of exhibition about it for the town's tourism? There are so many Catholic visitors, and other denominations would be curious as well. And rather than have the 22km path of the procession only used once a year, why not make it available to those who perhaps want to do part or all of the route at another time of year. Information boards along the way is more content to the tourism offer. 

Tell the story of Dalmatian wine and make it accessible to tourists

The Dalmatian wine capital needs to tell its story. A wine museum and tasting place would be excellent content, especially on those rainy days...  

Sailors tell me Jelsa and its bays is one of the best places on the Adriatic - who else knows?

Nautical tourism has great potential, and it has yet to be fully realised. I am not a sailor, but I was intrigued by this response from a friend:

The bays and coves around Jelsa, from Smočiguzica on the West to Pokrivenik on the East. For those of us who have our small boats in Jelsa, there is an amazing choice of really beautiful places for the typical "day sailing" trip. I've been practically everywhere around the Adriatic and you will very rarely find an "akvatorij" as nice and enjoyable as this one.

One more little thing to add to the relaxed family lifestyle in the Dalmatian wine capital. 

Please build a new website

It was almost finished three directors ago.  

Reengage with Belgrade - a strong Jelsa tourism bond

The relationship between Belgrade and Hvar fascinates me. Before the war, Hvar was one of the most popular destinations for the Serbian elite. The now ruined Belgrade Resort east of Jelsa provided so many lasting memories for thousands of Belgrade children, whose love of Hvar turned them into lifelong island tourists before the war stopped all that. 

I understand the post-war animosity between Serbs and Croats, and if that was the whole story, then I could understand that. But if you walk the streets of Belgrade in winter, you will often bump into more people from Hvar than you would on Hvar. One Hvar restaurateur even takes his restaurant to Belgrade each year for Days of Hvar Cuisine in Belgrade. It is a huge hit - here is the Hvar TV report from a few years ago when I also visited. 

I interviewed Jasminka Vekic, owner of Restaurant Saran, the host restaurant in Zemun, and she spoke of her love for Hvar and her childhood days in Jelsa

In 2011, some 16 years after the war, the Croatian National Tourist Board was the main sponsor of the Belgrade Tourism Fair, the largest in the region. Last year, there was not a single tourist board from Croatia with an official stand. When I asked CNTB why, I was informed that Serbia was no longer a strategic market. 

It could be a very good market. As Hvar's restaurateurs will tell you, Serbian guests like to spend. They are also very close, and there is a great chance to catch them as regular year on year visitors. 

Conclusion: The future of Jelsa tourism is very healthy if those who run it want it to be

Enough. I went on far longer than I intended. While many may be feeling the pain of this season and the poor quality tourism, the problems are actually very easy to fix and without too much investment. I hope that at least some of the suggestions above may have some merit. 

The rest, dear Jelsa, is up to you. 

To learn more about Jelsa, here are 25 things to know.  




Friday, 26 July 2019

RokOtok by RibaFish: The Most Heartwarming Project in Croatia in 2019

The incredible RokOtok swimming marathon hit Jelsa on July 24, 2019 and had TCN in tears. Here's why.

He made me cry four times within 24 hours of our first meeting. Grown men - he 48, me 50.

And that was without mentioning the number of times I cried with laughter. And they were many. 

And - yes, I have to admit at the tender age of 50 - he changed me in the one hour we were together. 

And he is changing and influencing many, many more people as he embarks on the most heartwarming project in Croatia this year.  

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Full disclosure. I had no real idea who this blogger Ribafish was until a few days ago. I knew he was a popular blogger and was much loved, and so there was probably some instinctive jealousy due to that, but for some reason, Ribafish was off my radar. When Kolegica Iva asked if she could write an article about his incredible project to swim to the 50 inhabited islands of Croatia, I agreed immediately as I was in the middle of something else. 

And then a friend messaged me to say that Ribafish was coming to Jelsa next and I could meet him if I wanted to. So we scheduled some cold ones and an interview at 19:00 a few days ago at The Office. 

With a couple of hours to go before our scheduled interview, I decided to find out who exactly WAS this Ribafish, and what intelligent questions could I ask?

A man who had me crying tears of pain and laughter just a few hours later. 


I read Iva's article to get up to speed - what on earth was this RokOtok project about anyway?

And when I discovered the background, I REALLY wanted to meet him. We met on the square at The Office, and I think we even hugged, before taking a celebratory photo at the Aslej Instagram attraction. 

And then we talked, and the tears started to flow (internally during our interview, externally the next day).  

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For Ribafish's project is both emotional and full of positivity, injecting hope, support and family unity with his wonderful project. A project for all generations. 

As I understood from Iva, Ribafish suffered a terrible tragedy recently when his 12-year-old son, Rok, died. While Rok was still alive, Ribafish told Rok that he did not have the money to take him to Disneyland, but he could take him to all of the 50 inhabited islands of Croatia - natural beauty and natural living. They had visited 8 by the time of Rok's tragedy. Ribafish decided that he wanted to fulfil his promise to his son, whose ashes he spread in the waters of their favourite beach on Korcula. 

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And so the project RokOtok was born. Over a period of three summers, Ribafish would swim between the 50 inhabited islands, 17 this year and next, 16 in the final year. At his side the whole time would be Rok, whose ashes are in the Adriatic with him. 

The swim was one thing, but at every destination, Ribafish would meet with local kids and their parents and talk of the need for better understanding between parents and children, the importance of the environment, and the healthy benefits of spending more time with family and nature and less with gadgets. His message is simple, genuine and heartfelt. 

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So why did I cry four times within a day of meeting him, in addition to laughing out loud several times during our meeting? I REALLY encourage you to watch the video interview below, the best TCN has done so far - and that had nothing to do with TCN. 

My first internal tears were when he told me about the circumstances of the death of his 12-year-old son. I have a lovely daughter who is the same age. Unimaginable what he went through. 

My second internal tears were when he talked of his time with his son and those special moments - had I done the same for my girls? Shamefully, no. I needed to become a better parent. 

My third internal tears were when I asked him about his favourite spot and favourite memory, and he talked of that and his determination to honour his promise to Rok. 

And the fourth real tears came the next day. 

I am blessed with a truly wonderful wife and two incredible daughters, as well as the best punica in Croatia. I am not the best Dad in the world, but also not the worst, but I am pretty liberal, and I am grateful to my wife and her mum for the way our girls have turned out. 

I don't insist on many things in the household, but I came back from my time with Ribafish, and I insisted that the girls go the following morning when Ribafish would be talking about the things mentioned above. I saw the look in their eyes - here we go, Dad has met someone again... 

But they went as I requested, and they apparently came home enthused and inspired, the same way I had been. One daughter explained how impressed she was not only by the quality message, but also by the fact that Ribafish had one way of talking to the kids and one to the adults. That is when I cried a little externally. Here is a humble and simple man dealing with his pain, but providing so much positivity and healthy messages for all generations. An agent of change.

He changed me a little, as I am sure he has changed many, many others. 

And long may it continue. 

Learn more about the RokOtok project on the official website where you can donate to support it. Or follow the latest events on Facebook

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Nikola Radovani Exhibition: When a Celeb Snapper Meets Local Talent

July 23, 2019 - Jelsa's talented photographer Nikola Radovani has a great exhibition on Saturday and recently met Croatia's first celebrity photographer for some advice. 

One of the things I most love about Hvar is just how egalitarian it is. We are all here for the same reason - to relax and enjoy the lifestyle and the beach, and it doesn't really matter who you are in your other life. The rich and famous mingle as easily on Hvar as anyone else in the world, and as long as you are not a British prince falling into a nightclub swimming pool, the rich and famous are generally left alone. For they are here for the same reason. 

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A really lovely moment the other day in Jelsa that was a pleasure to watch. I was having a post-lavender harvest chat with Jadran Lazic at The Office. As he was telling me about his first big break - bluffing his way into Charlotte Rampling's hotel room and photographing her smoking seductively on the couch - someone approached us and asked if Jadran had a few minutes to look at his work. 

It was popular local photographer, Nikola Radovani, and Jadran was more than happy to help. 

And so it began. All talk and memories of Charlotte Rampling on the sofa were forgotten, and the two photographers got to work, with Jadran giving high praise at the quality of Nikola's work while offering a few tips. 

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It was somewhat ironic, given the quality of photographers in front of me, that the person recording the event was once described in the national media as the worst photographer in Dalmatia. 

I am still proud of that. 

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Come and see Nikola's work for yourself this Saturday in the main street in the old town of Jelsa behind the church, as his Hvar landscapes will be exhibited from 19:30. 

Here is a link to the event's Facebook page. 

To learn more about the destination of Jelsa, here are 25 things to know

Sunday, 21 July 2019

One of Croatian Tourism's Biggest Problems Explained in 2 Photos

July 21, 2019 - A new sign telling people who are already in Jelsa where they are is a symbol of one of the biggest problems in Croatian tourism. And quite easy to fix. 

This is not an article criticising my beloved adopted home town of Jelsa, although it could easily be one. I am actually working quite hard documenting various parts of the summer season, such as it is, in Jelsa, with the aim of producing a detailed and constructive report on what is going wrong with the town's tourism and - I hope it will be useful - several concrete and easy to implement steps to improve the quality of the tourism offer. 

But a new attraction to Jelsa this month caught my eye and was probably the best visual explanation of one of the biggest problems in Croatian tourism. And one that is quite easy to fix. 

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The official town Facebook page announced a new tourist attraction for Jelsa a few days ago - a new red sign with big letters on the Jelsa waterfront close to the main square. The post got 161 likes, 50 more than a post a few days earlier when Jelsa announced 270 million kuna of EU funding for EU infrastructure, so very popular. 

In this Instagram age, I can see the logic in it. Some people love it, and some people hate it (my opinion is irrelevant). But then if you have the formula for how to please everyone in Croatia, please send it on. 

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And this is the view of the new attraction that people already in Jelsa see. It is also the view from the main square, and the view most familiar to the tourism chiefs and people who came up with the idea. 

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And this is the view from the water, the first impression and welcome to Jelsa when you arrive by boat, as many do. 

Not quite the same. The first impression a foreign tourist will have of Jelsa. 


(Photo credit Secret Dalmatia)

One of the things I do when selling TCN services is to explain that we are a website with local knowledge and a foreign eye. As a foreigner who has travelled to 95 countries and lived in 10, I have learned a lot over the years on my travels, and my observation skills are not too bad these days. As an adopted local living in another country, I have access to that local knowledge. Knowing what a foreign tourist wants and being able to provide the best information is one of the key things which has made TCN so successful. Let me give you an example of what I mean. 

Every local in Split knows where to buy tickets for the ferry and the catamaran.

Almost no tourist does. 

So, 7 years ago when we started Total Split, we provided a guide how and where to buy tickets for each service, including this map above. 

The reaction was interesting. I got so many comments of thanks, and many people added the link to their accommodation rental pages. Here was something very useful to enhance the experience of their guests, as well as saving the hosts from repeating the same information at the same time. It remains one of the most popular articles on Total Split. 

"I would never have thought about how hard it must be for foreign tourists to get this information," remarked more than one person. 

Local knowledge with a foreign eye. It is something that Croatian tourism is desperately missing. Please don't think I am advocating for myself - I am no expert at all, I just write about things as I see them. 

But not getting a foreign expert eye to help is fairly widespread in Croatian society. Why pay for a competent international expert when you can make a Croatian cousin a little richer? 

Croatia held yet another branding conference a few weeks ago - maybe one of these conferences will end up providing a brand at some point. This from my previous article Branding Croatia for the Future: 5 Gifts and Trends to Focus On:

The other observation another friend participating made was that the speakers were all Croatian, and that surely for such an important topic, the input of international experience and viewpoints were essential. If Croatia is to develop a global brand, then surely one should take on board the views of those living in the global community. To not do so, my friend said, would be akin to having the big fish in a fishbowl talking with authority about things that happen in the ocean.

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A last word on the use of the sign. They can work well, especially if you have them facing the right way. The last time I saw one was on the magnificent island of Zut as Restaurant Festa held its second Festa Days with 5 Michelin Star chefs and 5 of Croatia's top chefs. 

Festa is an incredible story of how to build incredible tourism from nothing. In 1993, in the middle of the war and on an uninhabited Kornati island with no water, electricity or ferry connection, a restaurant opened. It is one of the best culinary experiences I have had in Croatia, and a great example of what can be achieved with the right vision and determination. You can read about my extended look at The Paradox of Croatian Tourism: Case Study - Restaurant Festa, Island of Zut

Interestingly, not only does Festa put the sign the right way around, but they also take lots of international advice and opinions. 

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Croatia Full of Cheap Empty Beds Despite Official Record Year

July 18, 2019 - As Croatia's unusual tourist season continues, and with access to official statistics restricted in another officially record year, is Croatia full of empty beds?

A record year with millions of tourists and - much more importantly for the Kings of Accidental Tourism - millions and millions of overnights. We all love statistics, right? At least until they don't work quite as you want, and then you restrict access to them, as the Ministry of Tourism did recently to their internationally award-winning, transparent tourism statistics reporting system, eVisitor

So with access to official statistics restricted, how can we find out how the season is going, and how to get a better understanding of the QUALITY of the Kings' beloved overnights?

There are various Croatian agencies offering last-minute deals on the coast. I decided to check out one of them to see what kind of availability and prices were on offer - Integral Zagreb. There are other sections of the site, but I chose 'Adriatic Sale.' You can check what is available in the link in the previous sentence. 

(Jelsa main square - July 14, 22:00)

For the purposes of this article, I decided to focus on one example I know well - Hotel Fontana in Jelsa, which is about 50 metres from my Jelsa front door. I was surprised to see not only so much availability, but also such incredible prices for a waterfront hotel on Croatia's premier island. Fontana is a 2-star hotel, so there is not much luxury in the hotel, but the location is divine. 

And, as you can see from the lead photo, the prices are very good indeed. A family of two parents and child under the age of 12 can have a 7-night stay, with free parking and WiFi, breakfast and buffet dinner, for a total price of about 475 euro. The cheapest advertised price above is 1,750 kuna per adult and one child goes free. Prices go up a little in August, but not that much. 


I checked for private accommodation, and the cheapest I found for the same family for a week starting tomorrow in Jelsa was 405 euro. That is before you start to eat. 

So a family can have a great 7-day stay in Jelsa for under 500 euro. There is no need to spend money in the restaurants, as the hotel provides everything. Perhaps an ice cream or two on an evening stroll. 

Meanwhile, the number of overnights increases so that the Kings can boast yet another successful tourism season of record growth. 

Except even with these crazy prices, there is still lots of peak season availability. 

Croatia, Full of Life? More like Croatia, Full of Empty Beds, which will probably get filled when the prices go down further. And so we can all celebrate another record year. 

As the Kings have restricted access to the statistics, all we can do is speculate. Anecdotally from cafe and restaurant owners, the higher spending Jelsa guests from Scandinavia and the Brits, are down, but there seem to be more Bosnians and Hungarians, who do not spend as much, if at all on their hotel package. I don't blame them. If you can get such a great location for a holiday for such a price, why not? 

This is the worst kind of tourism for Croatia, a country blessed with so many natural gifts, but missing one thing - a tourism strategy. 

(Jelsa main square - July 16, 20:35)

Monday, 8 July 2019

Me and Mrs Jones Celebrates 10 Years of Gourmet Excellence in Jelsa, Hvar

July 8, 2019 - A much-loved restaurant, which has done much to raise the culinary scene in Jelsa on Hvar, turns 10. Congratulations, Me and mrs Jones!

Just over ten years ago, my wife told me that we were invited to a new restaurant opening in Jelsa. Her cousin, Josipa, had decided to take the plunge and open her first restaurant with husband Amadeus. 

The name - Me and mrs Jones. 


(Photo credit for first three photos - Secret Dalmatia)

I raised my eyebrows. This was a little unusual for a town not famed for diverting from the traditional fare.

It was quite a location, on the Jelsa waterfront. And quite a party, as friends, family and seemingly everyone else in Jelsa that night descended upon the new restaurant to enjoy the very generous free opening. 

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While the name of the restaurant was somewhat unusual (taken from the song of the same name, the song which was playing the first time the couple met), the decor was something else. Bold, to be sure - here was a restaurant which was going to push the traditional boundaries on several levels. 

"Great food and lovely place," commented one expat that night as he tucked into another plate, "but they will never be this full again."

He was wrong. 

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Word spread about a very friendly restaurant in Jelsa which was aiming to raise the bar. and people started to hear about it in Hvar Town. And they got in the car and came to investigate. With the wide choice of restaurants in Hvar Town, there are not many which can get diners to drive 30 minutes out of town. But this was one. 

Word spread. The team from Secret Dalmatia, Croatia's leading luxury boutique tourism agency, came to pay a visit and left VERY impressed. You can read the 2011 Secret Dalmatia blog here

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The restaurant moved across the water to the other side of the harbour to its current spot, arguably the best location in all Jelsa. A great place for a meal, but also for a glass of wine, watching the laganini pace of life in Jelsa harbour go by. 

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It quickly became a favourite restaurant for many in its new location, and especially so for sailors who could moor up right in front of the new Me and mrs Jones. 

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I am as useless at taking photos as the owners are at posting them on Facebook, so here is a shoulder season view, before the boats come into the harbour. Idyllic. 

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Although she is family and perhaps I have to say nice things, cousin Josipa is genuinely one of the warmest hostesses in the Croatian culinary scene. I was trying to find the right phrase to describe Me and mrs Jones a few years ago, when a reporter from Croatian National Television summed it up perfectly. We had been filming at the restaurant for some tourism programme, and she so enjoyed her first visit that she went back every day until she left:

"Everything in this restaurant is done out of love."

And it is. 

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Right down to their signature presentation of their food. 

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There is another aspect to Me and mrs Jones that tourists are not normally aware of - the small events they hold during the winter season when almost all other restaurants are closed. Their Valentine's Day dinner has restaurant owners from Hvar Town driving their loved ones to Jelsa, and celebrations such as International Women's Day on March 8 are welcome additions to a quiet winter life. 


And Me and mrs Jones is one of the few places where you can try a rare Hvar speciality (you need to order at least two days in advance) - 'puh' or edible dormouse, a speciality which is eaten only in three places in Croatia - Dol on Hvar, Dol on Brac, and Gorski Kotar. 

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The attention to detail and personal service are often mentioned by guests - and how many restaurants would give you this kind of support after your team had just been relegated from the Premier League?

We had dinner last night, and Amadeus came over to say hi and showed me a poster - it was the opening poster from that inaugural night over 10 years ago - the date, May 6, 2009.

"I found it while I was going through things. It seems we are ten years old and didn't notice."

So, we may be a couple of months late, but Happy Birthday, Me and mrs Jones, and a huge thank you for your incredible contribution to Jelsa over the last decade. Thanks for the memories and may you continue to prosper. 

You can follow Me and mrs Jones on Facebook.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

How Croatia is Becoming Increasingly Attractive for the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

June 19, 2019 - Tourism is a major component of the Croatian economy, but a changing digital world offers an even more lucrative sector - lifestyle for the digital nomad. 

The world is changing, and some of those changes are global and change the way we do things forever. 

It is just over 20 years since a small company called Google was founded, for example. Does anyone even remember how we used to source information before the Great Google God?


(Screenshot from Digital Takeover conference in Zagreb)

Uber, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, AirBnB - among many of the companies that dominate our lives but which did not exist 20 years ago. 

And there is one more revolution which has already started but which is accelerating - the mobile workplace. 

The term digital nomad is perhaps still not so well understood by many, and even less see just what an impact it is going to have on the status quo in the coming years. Or how countries which embrace this imminent - and inevitable - change can benefit enormously. Or how Croatia is in prime position to take full advantage and attract wealth creating visitors to boost its economy throughout the year. 

Without really trying too hard. 

Let me give you an example from a meeting I had yesterday with a very nice Ukranian and Russian couple in their early 40s here on Hvar. They live in Munich and he works for an IT company, where the boss has decided that his staff would be happier and more productive if he let them work remotely 10 months a year, with only 1-2 months required in the office. The boss himself only spends 6 months in the office and has arranged things whereby he can spend the other half in the warmth of Asia. 

The couple I met last night decided that they wanted to use the opportunity to travel and to experience life in different countries and integrate into communities. The wife came with her family to Jelsa 19 years ago on holiday, and the memories were warm enough for them to decide to put Jelsa into their plan, and so they have been here for 3 months, from April to June, with plans to do exactly the same next year. From Jelsa, they will move to Sicily for 2-3 months and then onto Portugal or Spain. And after the required stop in Munich, it will be back to Jelsa next April. 

The working day is just like any other for someone working online. Deadlines, phone calls, emails, contact with bosses and colleagues. But all this is done remotely. What is different is that each morning starts with a swim before work and a swim after work. They shop in the market, drink coffee in the cafes, and eat in the restaurants. They are even learning Croatian, as they want to get the most out of the community experience. Friends and family come to visit, and they too visit the market, cafes and restaurants. The couple also has many friends with a similar lifestyle, who will be following the places they stay in and consider them for their own digital nomad experience. 


There will be a projected one billion digital nomads in the world by 2035. A shift in the global economy and work pattern on a par with what Google did for information and Uber for catching a cab. 

And Croatia has SO many advantages to get a sizable part of that business. If Croatia could attract 2% of that projected number, that would be 20 million digital nomads a year, which is more than the current tourism numbers. And they would stay longer, spend more, many of them out of season. The boost to the economy would be much more than tourism currently. And if Croatia managed to attract 3%, or more... 


The digital nomad way is about much more than simply a good WiFi connection. It is a lifestyle choice, where people want to experience great living conditions to complement their online working day. Destinations which are safe, beautiful, have great food and wine, lots of activities, the chance to meet people and build a temporary social life, where English is widely spoken, the weather is great, and getting to other places is relatively easy.

Are there many better places in Europe for ticking all the boxes above? Check out the Total Croatia Digital Nomad in Croatia guide

All the key factors are in place to position Croatia as an important player in this lucrative sector. All that is required is to get a better understand of the exact needs of this new breed of visitor, ensuring that those needs are catered to, and then a concerted campaign to tell the world why Croatia. 


It really should not be too much more complicated than that. 

Considering spending some time living in Croatia and wondering what it is like for foreigners? The Total Croatia Living in Croatia guide has more

Saturday, 20 April 2019

'Za Krizen' 2019 on Hvar: 6 Processions, 8 Videos, 1 UNESCO Heritage

 April 20, 2019 - One of Croatia's most important religious traditions, the UNESCO-inscribed 'Za Krizen' processions on Hvar, took place once more through the night of Maundy Thursday/Good Friday. A video snapshot of all 6 processions. 

As previously reported on TCN, an altogether different face of the sunny tourist island of Hvar was on display during the night of Maundy Thursday, as thousands of Catholic worshippers took part in the overnight 22-kilometre processions of 'Za Krizen' (Behind the Cross), which took place simultaneously from Jelsa, Pitve, Vrisnik, Svirce, Vrbanj and Vrboska. 

The processions, following a barefoot cross bearer and his acolytes, through a circular route of prayer and contemplation through the other five settlements, are a tradition dating back almost 500 years. They have taken place every year without fail, including during wars, Communism and even in the Sinai Desert in the El Shatt refugee camp in 1944-5. 

TCN spent the night on the main square in Jelsa, capturing the action from 20:00 until the spectacular climax, as exhausted Jelsa cross bearer ran the final steps, as per tradition, to return the ancient cross to the awaiting priest at 07:15 on Goof Friday. 

Below, some video footage from the start and end of the Jelsa procession, as well as every other procession as they entered Jelsa's main square. 

The Jelsa procession departs.

The first of six processions which will pass through Jelsa's main square. Timeline - 22:15.

The arrival of Vrboska at 23:50.

The arrival of Vrbanj at 01:00.

The arrival of Svirce at 02:15.

The arrival of Vrisnik at 03:30.

The arrival of Pitve at 05:10.

The return of Jelsa at 07:15.



Thursday, 18 April 2019

UNESCO Traditions on Hvar (VIDEO): 'Za Krizen' Procession Underway in Jelsa

April 18, 2019 - A religious spectacle is underway on Hvar, as 6 simultaneous 'Za Krizen' processions through the night uphold a UNESCO tradition dating back 500 years. 

Known for its endless sunshine, great beaches and nightlife, the island of Hvar shows another side to its multi-faceted personality on Maundy Thursday each year with the annual 'Za Krizen' (Behind the Cross) procession in 6 towns and villages. 


At 22:00 on Maundy Thursday, six simultaneous processions set off from Jelsa, Pitve, Vrisnik, Svirce, Vrbanj and Vrboska. They are led by barefoot cross bearers carrying ancient crosses weighing between 10 and 18 kg, walking through the night along a 22-kilometre route for a night of contemplation and prayer through the other five settlements. Finally, the processions complete their circular route, arriving back where they started about 07:00 on Good Friday. 


The cross bearer is followed by his acolytes wearing white robes and carrying candles. Behind the acolytes, more than a thousand pilgrims walk through the night following the procession, which was awarded Intangible UNESCO Heritage status back in 2009. You can read more about the heritage in the TCN UNESCO heritage series

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Each procession has its own uniqueness, but the biggest one in Jelsa has a very dramatic ending, as the exhausted cross bearer and his main acolyte run the final metres on Jelsa's packed main square, before kneeling in front of the awaiting priest. While there is an understandable tourist impulse to applaud the achievement, it should be borne in mind that this is a very religious experience, and applause is not welcome. To learn more about the procession through the eyes of a cross bearer, learn more through this interview with a former cross bearer from Jelsa

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There are other traditions associated with the procession. One is that an illuminated image of Jesus falling with the cross is displayed in the main church tower. 

And locals add to the light by keeping their lights on all night. 

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TCN will be up all night recording each procession as it comes through Jelsa. 

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The procession has just got underway for 2019. Check out the first moments from the video below. 


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Mediterranean as It Still is: Hvar Catamaran Goat Travel

November 14, 2018 - A little goat transport action on yesterday's catamaran from Split to Jelsa on Hvar. 

Shortly after I moved to Hvar back in 2003, I was on the bus home from the ferry, driving though Vrbanj. Suddenly, the bus, which had been screaming through the village at quite a pace when suddenly the driver slammed on his brakes, reversed back and jumped out.

For at the side of the road was a man selling looked like half a dead pig. A negotiation was done, several kilos of meat cut and wrapped before the driver realised he did not have enough money and so borrowed the passenger fares to pay for it. 

It will remain one of my favourite island moments. While some see Hvar as a premier elite island full of superyachts and A-list celebs, there is another, more natural side of life on the island.

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The view on Hvar last night as the evening catamaran from Split to Jelsa (with thanks to Dalmacijaland for the great find) - the culture of goat travel by catamaran seems to be alive and well now that the main tourist season has finished. 

This goat travel is particularly timely for me. Having spent several hours recently putting together the definitive guide on how to get from Split to Hvar, I really thought I had every angle covered. Can you smoke on the catamaran or ferry, what is the policy of bringing pets on boats to Hvar, and even some advice on the rules for transporting Christmas trees, but there is clearly a gap of information regarding goat travel, an omission I shall address immediately. I am not an expert in goat travel, but I suspect if you are planning on bringing your pet goat to Hvar the next time you travel, it might be wise to check in advance, unless you know someone on the crew of course.

For all other options of how to get from Split to Hvar, click here

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