Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Happy Birthday Osijek: Time to Tell the Truth about Slavonia Full of Life

December 2, 2021 - Happy Birthday to Osijek! Enough of Zagreb ignoring eastern Croatia, it is time to tell the world the truth about Slavonia Full of Life. 

One of the many paradoxes of this wonderful country - for me at least - is the relationship Zagreb and the rest of the country has with Slavonia and eastern Croatia (for ease of reading purposes, I will use Slavonia to refer to Osijek - Baranja, and Vukovar - Srijem counties in this article).

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Every November 18, Facebook profile photos all over the country and the diaspora are changed to remember and honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice on the anniversary of the fall of Vukovar. All the politicians and thousands of Croats from all over the country head to the Hero City to pay their respects. It is an intense and emotional day, one which I documented in 2019 in Vukovar Remembrance Day Through the Eyes of a Foreign Resident.

But come November 19 and Vukovar - and the east - is forgotten for another 364 days until November 18 comes around again. 

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Despite bearing the brunt of the Serb onslaught in the Homeland War, and despite so many promises from politicians over the years, it seems to me that Slavonia has been treated like an embarrassing handicapped cousin that is best kept out of the limelight and gently ignored. Acknowledged only when necessary. 

And not just by the politicians. 

I have been genuinely shocked at how few of my Croatian friends have ever been to Slavonia, including those among the 200,000 Croats who go skiing abroad each year (the point here is not about skiing, but having the income to travel). And I am even more shocked at how little many of them know about eastern Croatia. Simple questions such as...

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What is the capital of Baranja?

Can you name three famous buildings in eastern Croatia, not including the  Vukovar Water Tower?

Where is the cradle of Indo-European civilisation?

Which Croatian wine was served at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, as well as the weddings of Princes Willliam and Harry?

... have been met with largely blank stares when I asked friends in Zagreb. 

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Slavonia is portrayed in the media as a sad place of mass emigration, struggling to move on from the war, where good news rarely exists. For many Croats, the whole of eastern Croatia is a blur associated with the aftermath  of war, emigration, and economic stagnation.  

Next week, during my panel discussion, Storytelling and the Nomad Movement, at Digital Nomad Week based out of Bali, I will be announcing the launch of our new CROMADS platform, which connects Croatia's limitless authentic experiences to digital nomads and tourists, all over Croatia, 12 months a year. As part of the preparations for the CROMADS platform, I took Steve Tsentserensky to eastern Croatia for a 6-day tour of Croatia's two most easternmost counties. 

Steve is a very talented American writer and videographer who was one of the first to receive the Croatian digital nomad permit. His promotion of Croatia has been relentless ever since, including this viral video on the digital nomad lifestyle in Croatia on CNBC News, which has already attracted over 300,000 views.  He has also just been announced as the Zagreb Special Guest Digital Nomad Ambassador for 2021. Steve had absolutely no clue about eastern Croatia and so was in a similar position as many locals here in Croatia. 

I contacted the tourist board directors of Osijek-Baranja and Vukovar-Srijem counties, Ivana Juric and Rujana Busic Srpak, and explained the mission to film the very best of the east for CROMADS. They kindly agreed to organise a 6-day itinerary for us. Steve will have a video report of the trip, including some truly epic drone footage, later in the month. But as today is Osijek's special day, let's take a tour of Slavonia Full of Life, the reality. 

Day 1 - Zagreb to Ilok

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06:13 Zagreb, Day One. 6 days, 1 Yank, 1 camera. The mission - to discover if there is life in Eastern Croatia in November. #Ajmo Slavonia, make me proud and show us what you've got. With Steve Tsentserensky #CROMADS

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Our first stop was the easternmost point of Croatia, which is actually closer to Zagreb than Split. Ilocki Podrum and its phenomenal vineyards are the gateway to Western Europe in Ilok. And where else in the world can you hold three bottles of the same wine what was served at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, as well as the weddings of both Prince William and Prince Harry? Learn more about the magic of Ilocki Podrum in this TCN visit a couple of years ago.

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The place to stay is the magnificent Principovac Estate, which is perched on a hill and overlooking the endless vineyards. 

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And there was just enough time after an excellent wine sampling to brush up on my golfing skills before dark. 

Day 2 - Vucedol, Ovcara, Vukovar, Otocki Virovi and Vinkovci

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Did you know that the cradle of Indo-European civilisation was in eastern Croatia, and that there is an award-winning museum built into the location? Learn more about incredible Vucedol on this TCN 2019 visit

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Very close by and a much more recent memorial at Ovcara, to the victims of the 1991 massacre of around 260 patients of the Vukovar Hospital, who were transported to Ovcara once Vukovar was conquered, tortured and murdered. The bullets in the floor are but one poignant reminder.  

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The Vukovar Water Tower is a national symbol of resistance and pride. While the exterior remains untouched, the interior has been renovated, and the viewing point at the top is a popular attraction, as well as giving outstanding views of the city, the Danube and across to Vojvodina in Serbia.  

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A vegetarian when the Slavonian diet would allow it, Asian vegetable wok noodles were a pleasant surprise for Steve at the outstanding Lola in the centre of Vukovar. 

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And then for something completely different - a journey into the classroom back in nature, as we headed into the forest to the recently opened Otocki Virovi Bio-ecological education centre. Amazing carbon-neutral hotel, wellness and conference facility in the middle of the forest. I will be returning with the TCN crew for a teambuilding weekend in Spring. 

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You don't see many public telephones in Croatia these days, but here is one in Vinkovci, the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, dating back some 8,300 years. Learn more in Vinkovci: 10 Things to Know about Europe's Oldest Town.

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Home to the oldest calendar in Europe, whose symbols adorn the main pedestrian street. Nice shot, Stevie T!

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And far from being dead, Vinkovci was full of life at the rockabilly bar Hang Loose that night. 

Day 3 - Vukovar Remembrance Day and Foreign Veterans BBQ at The White Boar

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November 18 is Vukovar Remembrance Day, now a national holiday. Some 50,000 people turned up for the 30th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar. 

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We inadvertently found ourselves on national television as we filmed. You can learn more about this very emotional and intense day in Vukovar Remembrance Day Through the Eyes of a Foreign Resident

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There is a very special event each year on November 18, as all the foreign veterans who fought for Croatia gather to remember and to catch up. 

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The barbecue is hosted each year by Vinkovci Yorkshireman Steve Gaunt, from his English pub, The White Boar, which is literally in a field in the middle of nowhere.

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From a portrait of Queen Elizabeth on the wall to veterans in uniform, Steve's face was priceless. He later described it as 'the most far-out bar experience of my life.' 

Fortunately, we had the good sense to leave early, as things got a little lively later on as the veterans retured for the night and the kids took over, as Steve's public information film showed (1 minute and worth watching to the end).  

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No tour of Slavonia would be complete without a visit to the man who has done more for tourism in Slavonia than the rest of us combined, and it was great to spend the night at the home of Goran Rihelj and his lovely wife, Mirjam. Great kulen! 

Day 4 - Dalj, Erdut and Osijek

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By now, the regional press had picked up the story of our visit, and the fact that I had invited anyone who wanted to meet and discuss tourism and our new CROMADS project to come to Pivnica Runda in Osijek.  

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But first we had to survive Day 4, which began in Dalj at the incredible Milutin Malinkovic Birthplace Museum.

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Dalj seemed to be full of secrets, with the Jasna Antunovic Winery next up. Jasna was not only apparently the first female-owned winery in Croatia, but also the 2017 Decanter winner of the best white wine in continental Croatia. 

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Some claim it is the largest wine barrel in the world in continuous use, over in Erdut. While I cannot confirm that, it would take me a day or two to work my way through the 75,000 litres of Grasevina contained therein.

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And for a winery with a water view, you could do worse than Ivo Brzica on the banks of the Danube. Among his several excellent wines, what I believe to be the only Vranac produced in Croatia. 

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Where else to go for a spot of lunch than the epic OPG Ethno Kuca Stari Dud?

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Unusual church fan? Head to Aljmas. 

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But Osijek was calling and after a fantastic walking tour of the town, I had to get to Pivnica Runda for 19:00. Would anyone show up, or would I be Billy No Mates?

They came.

They were magnificent.

Such passion, such ideas, such creativity. So Slavonia Full of Life. 

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All hosted by the King of Fun.  

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One immediate consequence of one conversation that evening was a very pleasant coffee with the parents (and dog Mali) or Osijek-born tennis star, Donna Vekic, at The Westin in Zagreb a few days later. A rather fabulous exchange of ideas, and it was very encouraging to learn the Vekic vision and investment plans for Osijek 

The walk home to the fortress was a little hazy, but Facebook confirms that the streets of Osijek were very much full of life way past midnight. 

In November.  

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And when you have old town accommodation of the quality of Maksimilian, you know your stay in Osijek will be perfect.

Day 5 - Baranja

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Day 5 - Baranja, and the perfect start with one of my all-time heroes, the legend that is Mario Romulic and his quite incredible Magical Forest project

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Always a strong vegetarian offer at the Romulic kitchen table.  

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Kopacki Rit Nature Park, one of the most important wetlands in Europe. Learn more in the TC Kopacki Rit in a Page guide.

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Every dirt track in Baranja seems to lead to its own story. 30 years ago, Tito's former villa in Tikves hosted the final meeting between Milosevic and Tudjman in April 1991. Next year, the villa reopens as a presentation and education centre.

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Day 5 was significant as it was the first day of the tour where we somehow managed to avoid alcohol until after midday. 

And then... Belje.

The Belje vineyards went on for days, with grapes left on the vines by the viewing point, so that visitors could sample them. 

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All this wine was making us hungry. Next stop, one of the finest institutions in all Croatia - Baranjska Kuca in Karanac.  

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A little slice of Slavonia Full of Life, Baranja style. 

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Two of the most dangerous men on the planet, with one of the best tour agencies, Kulen Travel.  

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As far as war memorials go, Batina is right up there with the very best, overlooking the Danube, Hungary and Serbia.  

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But Baranja was not finished with us yet. 

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There was one more stop before we could return to Osijek.  

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And yes, another example of Slavonia Full of Life, the wonderful Josic wine tasting experience in Zmajevac. 

And then the Osijek fun began...

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Over breakfast that morning, a British businessman told us about a great new Asian and sushi place that had opened in the old town. We agreed to meet for dinner at Franz Koch, especially as he promised to bring his business partner, the legend that is Srdjan Kovacevic of Orqa. 

Together with Steve, they all droned on about drones until I asked how we could put their drone technology and contacts with the best drone pilots in the world to good use to promote tourism in Slavonia.

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Two gin and tonics later, and the concept of Danube Drone Days, with the world's leading drone pilots coming to Osijek, was born. 

Stay tuned.   

Slavonia Full of Life, the nighttime edition. 

Day 6 - Vukovar and Djakovo

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Our final day, and another rollercoaster. We changed the schedule to go back to Vukovar, as we needed to video the hospital museum for our CROMADS project, something that was clearly impossible on November 18, due to all the dignitaries from Zagreb.  

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The other reason to return to Vukovar was to offer this young lady a part-time job with CROMADS. Katarina was our excellent guide, and she will be helping us build the eco-system of excellence in eastern Croatia. Her first task as TCN was an interview - The Realities of Life as a Vukovar Tour Guide.

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There was just one stop between us and Zagreb, and it was another mind-blower - Djakovo. When Queen Elizabeth II visited the Lipizzaner Stud Farm back in 1972, Tito apparently built an asphalt road, so the locals were very happy. No such luck with my visit, but we had a ton of fun.

Djakovo Cathedral by Steve Tsntserensky, with a little help from a drone. 

One of the dangerous chaps from Kulen Travel stood between us and freedom.

"We just have one more surprise for you," said Domagoj over lunch. 

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Ah, yes, an excellent lunch at Bistro Loora, which was packed, with not a seat available.  

And the surprise?

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What else but a Slavonian picnic? 

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And some quite extraordinary craft gin in an orchard with a magnificent cathedral view.  

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Steve and I compared before and after photographs.  

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And as I dropped Steve back to where it all began in central Zagreb, I could not help wonder why we don't hear about any of this. 

Slavonia was beyond magnificent. Osijek was MUCH more alive than Split or any other city on the Adriatic coast in November. 

This region is FABULOUS and much closer to Zagreb than Dalmatia, and yet very few people I know have actually visited. 

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It is time to change that and to Make Osijek Great Again. 

I genuinely think we will not have to try too hard. 

So happy birthday Osijek, and may you celebrate your day in style. 

My birthday wish for you is that Zagreb lets you breathe, celebrates your magnificence, and starts to put meaningful investment your way to accelerate the process of growth. 

My heartfelt thanks to the many of you who contributed what was arguably one of the best weeks of my 18 years in Croatia. 

In Slavonia.

In November. 

I tried to put my finger on what it was that that made the Slavonian experience so exceptional, apart from the people, and I think it is this:

Nobody who makes the effort to visit Slavonia ever comes home disappointed. 

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Is It Really True That All Foreigners Living in Croatia are Really Rich?

December 1, 2021 - An article I have wanted to write for a very long time and the perceptions about - and realities of - the wealth of foreigners living in Croatia.

Shortly after I returned from our epic trip to eastern Croatia last month, I posted this on Facebook:

I am genuinely and honestly shocked at how many of my Croatian friends tell me that they have never been to Slavonia. Guys, you are missing out big time. Osijek is the most fun place to be at this time of year.

It didn't take long for the predictable reaction to take over.

It's hard to travel as a local when avg salaries are 4-6000 kunas a month ( $600-1000)

I agree. It is also hard to travel as a foreigner when salaries are 4-6000 kuna a month. 

But of course, all foreigners who live in Croatia are millionaires, and all locals earn almost nothing, isn't that the truth?

I decided to rephrase my Facebook post:

Ok, then let's reframe my sentence to suit this narrative. I am genuinely and honestly shocked at how many of my Croatian friends among the 200,000 Croats who go skiing abroad each year tell me that they have never been to Slavonia. Guys, you are missing out big time. Osijek is the most fun place to be at this time of year. How does that sound?

The conversation ended. 

And just as there are plenty of rich Croats living in Croatia, so too there are a good number of foreigners living here who struggle to make ends meet each month. 

In fact, I would go as far as to say that I probably know more foreigners here who live on or around a Croatian wage than rich expats. 

I used to show my bank manager some of the things published on social media by people who had never met me but clearly had an opinion about me. As we finalised the details of a temporary overdraft one time, we laughed at the online claim on some expat forum that I was a millionaire who had retired early and was doing TCN as a hobby. 

Life in Croatia is fantastic if you have money, and it is fantastic as a tourist.

Life in Croatia on a Croatian salary is tough.

But for foreigners too. 

When I started the Total Project back in October 2011, I had 100 euro in my bank account, as well as two young kids to feed. I have never worked harder or longer hours (or had so much fun with work) as the last ten years. And while life is certainly a little more comfortable now than it was a decade ago, that comfort was generated by a start of 100 euro plus 10 years of hard work. 

Unlike the 200,000 Croats who go skiing each year, I could not afford to do that every year, and neither could most of the foreigners living here that I know. 

Despite this, my answer to the question Is It Really True That All Foreigners Living in Croatia are Really Rich? would be an emphatic Yes. 

For they have discovered paradise and appreciate what they have. 

There is a lot more to being rich than having money in the bank. 

All the money in the world cannot buy you the safety and lifestyle and incredible experiences available in Croatia if you do not live in Croatia. 

And if you have a mindset shift, as many of the foreigners who live here have, the daily struggle to make ends meet is more than compensated by the safety and lifestyle. 

I was a lot richer before I came to Croatia, and I also earned a lot more money as a 25-year-old than I do now as a 52-year-old. Do I yearn for that salary and way of life of 27 years ago? Never. 

A few years ago, a school friend I had not seen for 25 years came to visit me on Hvar on a family sailing holiday. It was great to catch up, and we traded stories about life and where we had got to in life. He was a hugely successful chartered accountant, a partner in one of the biggest firms. He lived in a large house an hour from London by train, earned a very nice sum. Far, far more than me.

But he also left the house at 6am Monday to Friday, returning home at 9pm, when the kids were already in bed. The babysitter at the weekend cost over £100, and the restaurants and bars with his wife were not cheap. But it was a good life, he reflected.

"And of course, I can take the family on a holiday to Hvar each year," he added. 

Yes, he could I reflected, after he sailed back to Split to catch the flight home, and I to my beloved bench in Jelsa to watch the changing colours on the beautiful Biokovo mountain through the Jelsa palm trees across the Adriatic, an experience I could have for free, 365 days of the year.

It is true what they say - all foreigners living in Croatia are really rich. 

It is all in the mindset. 

Friday, 30 July 2021

City Breaks, Nomads, Medical Tourism: a New Era for Zagreb Tourism

July 30, 2021 - The announcement of 25 new routes from the Croatian capital by Ryanair is the latest step in the evolving nature of Zagreb tourism, which has a very bright future.

When I first moved to Croatia back in 2003, my budget travel options from the UK were extremely limited. There was the unenviable choice of London to Trieste, bus transfer to Rijeka, then 11 hours on a bus to Split and the ferry to Hvar. Much preferred was Ryanair to Graz, then 4 hour train to Zagreb and onward bus to Split.

I got to know Graz a little during that time, as I would sometimes stop for a night or two to explore that very pretty Austrian city, but Zagreb always left me a little cold. There never seemed to be much going on, and I remember that the only international cuisine available back then was an average Indian and an ever more average Chinese.  For me, Zagreb was always just a transit point, and not somewhere to spend time. 

My opinions of Zagreb have changed 100% over the years, but then so too has Zagreb, which was named by Lonely Planet at the best destination in 2017, something unthinkable 15 years previously. Indeed, one German newspaper even labelled it the most boring captial in the EU back in 2014.   

I have spent a lot of time in the Croatian capital, having moved from Jelsa to Varazdin 5 years ago, and it has been a pleasure watching the transformation of the city into one of Croatia's tourism jewels with outstanding potential to develop further.

Zagreb was not really known for tourism until relatively recently, but it has made enormous progress in recent years to become one of the leading destinations in terms of visitors and overnight stays. As the Croatian tourism gurus were trying to figure out how to extend the season, the rise of Advent in Zagreb was meteoric. From a standing start of just a few stands on the main square, within a few years Advent in Zagreb has been voted the Best Christmas Market in Europe, with hundreds of thousands of visitors at a time of year when things were pretty dead in Croatia. The success of Advent in Zagreb inspired other cities to follow suit all over the country, and Advent is now an established part of the tourist calendar in Croatia. 

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(Photo credit J.Duval)

But the arrival of  Ryanair to Zagreb, the first low-cost carrier to offer a signifcant presence in the capital, brings with it untold possibilities to develop Zagreb tourism, and in ways that meet the needs of the modern traveller, not just those heading for the typical beach holiday on the coast. And with Ryanair CEO Eddie Wilson claiming that the Irish airline will bring no less than 700,000 passengers by the end of the financial year, the tourism boast both for Zagreb and Croatia should be significant. 

Unlike most visitors to Croatia from European cities, I have long forgotten the luxury of choice with low-cost airlines, especially out of season.  Looking at the new schedule, with December flights at bargain fares to destinations such as Cyprus, Thessaloniki, Malaga, Rome, Malta, Milan, Scandinavia, and even my native Manchester, it brought home to me just how significant the arrival of Ryanair will prove for Zagreb. Not only will other destinations be a lot more accessible for those living in Croatia, but now Zagreb will be open to so many more passengers at affordable prices from a number of destinations previously inaccessible. And with Ryanair planning to increase the number of routes to more than 40 by next summer, as well as potentially entering the domestic market, there will be choice as never before. 

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(Bagatin Clinic was voted the best international cosmetic surgery clinic of the year at the International Medical Travel Journal Awards in Berlin in December 2019)

This new accessibility offers great opportunities for Zagreb in various tourism sectors. Croatia has always had an outstanding medical tourism offer, for example, as good as - if not better - than elsewhere in the region, but the inaccessibility of affordable flights to Zagreb has been arguably the major hindrance to developing the sector. In stark contrast, medical tourism in neighbouring Budapest has exploded, with its dental industry bringing in an impressive US$600 million annually. Choice of low-cost flights form the UK is a major factor in that success, but industry experts predict that Croatia could take 25% of that market if it could become competitive with flights.  

Budapest is also worth examining for future Zagreb tourism trends with the budget airline factor. A couple of years ago, I had a very interesting interview with Jost Lammers, CEO of Budapest Airport, on the rise of Budapest Airport after the collapse of state airline, Malev. You can read it here

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(Photo credit J. Duval)

Zagreb is an ideal city break destination, with an enviable offer of parks, culture, musuems, gourmet, events and one of the most chilled lifestyles in Europe. The Around Zagreb concept, connecting the city with the nature, traditions, wine roads and adventure tourism of the surrounding region, offer plenty of choice all year. The missing link - affordable accessibility from multiple destinations - is now in place. Where once Zagreb was a stepping stone to the coast, now it looks increasingly set to become a 2-3 city break destination in its own right. 

And let's not forget this new breed of tourist which has the ability to significantly impact both the tourism numbers and the mindset - digital nomads. Events such as the recent Zagreb Digital Nomad Week have shown the level of interest in Zagreb, but also how much the city has been a pleasant surprise.  Great Internet, English-widely spoken,  laid-back lifestyle, great gourmet, cultural and adventure tourism scenes, and spectacular nature, even with the city limits.  As Dean Kuchel of Digital Nomad World, put it when asked what Zagreb was missing for digital nomads, his reply was 'More digital nomads.'

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(Zagreb's first digital nomad ambassador, Veronica Mulhall, leaves her impressions of Zagreb on a mural in Art Park Ribnjak)

As the word continues to spread about the cool vibe coming out of Zagreb in 2021, coupled with more budget flight announcements, it is only a matter of time before they come.

Good times are in store for Zagreb tourism. Have you paid a visit recently? Learn more about the city in the Total Croatia Zagreb in a Page guide.  

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Would Nikola Tesla Have Preferred to be on a Croatian or Serbian Coin?

July 26, 2021 - A global citizen equally proud of his Serb origin and Croat homeland, what would Nikola Tesla have made of the latest Balkan political row over his identity?

It is almost 80 years since the genius that was Nikola Tesla died alone in a New York hotel room, the end of an extraordinary life of invention and creativity that changed the world for the better. 

He certainly deserves to be remembered and celebrated for all he contributed, but the latest proposed recognition of his genius has once more ignited a Balkan political row and fired up the Internet's army of Balkan keyboard warriors. 

It wasn't long after starting Total Croatia News 6 years ago that I learned that the two most clickbait evergreen topics which would attract tons of aggressive comments were the origins of Nikola Tesla and anything that mentioned the word Tito. As such, I have learned to avoid referring to either for the most part, but the latest row regarding Tesla's origins has included statements from the Croatian President, as well as both Croatian and Serbian Prime Ministers.

Someone once told me that the quickest way to start a lively negative debate on Facebook in this region is to invite thoughts on whether Tesla was a Serb or a Croat. It is a question that the Serb authorities take very seriously, as appears to be the case once again after Nikola Tesla was voted to appear as a symbol of Croatia on three coins when Croatia eventually joins the EU.  

Before we dive into the quagmire, it is worth recalling Tesla's own words on the subject, back in 1936:

"I am equally proud of my Serb origin and my Croat homeland. Long live all Yugoslavs."

A nice, balanced statement paying tribute to the two nationalities with which he clearly associated, even though he went on to be an American citizen. Nobody disputes that he was ethnically Serb, or that he was born and grew up in Smiljan, a small village in what is today modern Croatia. 

But then things get interesting. Serbia claims Tesla as their own - and ONLY theirs - there is no question that Tesla is anything but a Serb, despite the great man professing equal pride at his Croat homeland. Serbia has certainly done a great job at getting the message out there, even naming its main international airport after him. But the proud Serbs who claim him as their own fail to mention a couple of relevant facts. Tesla never had Serbian citizenship, and he only actually spent 31 hours in Serbia in his entire life, a solitary visit in 1892. If you travel to Serbia to search for places that Tesla spent time or created things, then you are going to be disappointed, as there is nothing to see, apart from his ashes which were transferred to Belgrade in 1952. Hardly surprising, given that he only spent 31 hours of his life in Serbia. 

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The claim that he was born in Croatia should also be clarified, as Croatia was not an independent country at the time of his birth, rather part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Smiljan was in the zone of the Military Frontier at the time, and his citizenship was Austrian, before he bcame an American later in life. Having said that, the quote above shows that Tesla identified with both his Serb ethnicity and Croatian homeland. 

There is, of course, a certain irony - given the nationalist passions in some quarters of this region - of Serbia objecting to the celebration of a Serb on a Croatian coin, but that is perhaps another discussion. 

What can also not be disputed is that Smiljan today is firmly within the boundaries of modern Croatia. And for those looking for evidence of Tesla's formative years, there is plenty to explore, from the visitor centre at Smiljan, his school in Karlovac, the surrounding nature which inspired him, and the city of Sibenik, which was the first city in the world to have street lights powered by alternating current. It is probably worth mentioning that had Tesla's education and life experience continued in this region, he would probably not have fulfilled his potential, as it was only once he got to the States and was exposed to bigger things that he flourished. 

As I wrote a couple of years ago in It is Time for Croatia to Claim its Nikola Tesla Heritage, Croatia has thus far done a terrible job marketing its Tesla heritage, and it is one of the several gifts that it possesses which are totally underutilised. The birthplace of Tesla should be a global attraction, and one which is there to inspire the minds of the next generation. It could - and should - be developed for that purpose, rather than the very poor effort that we have at the moment at Smiljan - there was not even a cafe the last time I visited. Combining the Tesla story with the huge success of Croatia's 21st-century innovator, Mate Rimac, is a compelling story which will bring more interest not just to Croatia, but to the wider region. 

Would Tesla have preferred to be represented on a Croatian or Serbian coin 80 years after his death? He would probably not have had to choose, as Serbia will also get to choose its motifs for the coins if and when it adopts the euro. And wouldn't it be nice for him to be commemorated by both, given that he was equally proud of his association to both?

Just as Nikola Tesla was equally proud of his Serb origins and his Croat homeland, wouldn't it be nice if his Serb origins and Croat homeland could agree to celebrate the genius of a man who gave the world so much, rather than try and score cheap political points?

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Paul Bradbury in Lider: Egypt, USA Already Requesting Total Croatia Replica Sites

May 25, 2021 - TCN CEO Paul Bradbury was interviewed by Lider Media last week. The full interview went online yesterday - an English verstion of the original interview.

In the highest peak of pandemic you launched a new project - Total Croatia portal, which represents tips&tricks welcome door to Croatia. Although it mainly refers to tourism offer, there are some information for people who want to live, work, study here. And it is not only ‘milk and honey’ (you mention corruption index and system flaws). Have you faced some disagreement with your objectiveness?

The new Total Croatia national tourism portal (www.total-croatia.com) is the culmination of 10 years of my experience writing about tourism in your country. I have tried many things in my time here, but what I feel is really lacking is a quality website written objectively based on personal experience of someone who has lived and travelled extensively in Croatia for 18 years.

The article about my experiences of living in Croatia (Croatian version here) is absolutely an extension of promoting tourism in this country. The future of work is changing, and there are MANY people who are considering Croatia as a new remote home, due to its safety, authentic experiences and lifestyle. What is missing – at least in my opinion – is detailed information and experiences about what living here is really like for a foreigner. Saying everything is perfect would be irresponsible. Pointing out the good, the bad, and the ugly, with a conclusion that it is a great place to be, despite its flaws, is an honest and positive message. Especially when you serve them the information in their own language.

It has certainly resonated. After our Croatian travel update, it is the most popular article on the Total Croatia website. The Polish version has already been viewed more than 10,000 times, for example. I think there is huge demand for this kind of information. If you give people great info, they will make a decision and come. If you give them nothing, then of course they will not come.

Is this the right time for tourism projects? How did you monetize your online publishing projects, how do you live from it and feed your employees?

It is absolutely the best time for such a tourism project. People are desperate to travel, and the hunger to travel is heightened. Feed them quality information and that interest may not manifest itself in travel next week, but the feeling and interest will remain.

Just look at the US market and Croatia. When we brought ABC News to Dubrovnik last year, which resulted in 6 feature stories including one on Good Morning America watched by 12.5 million people, people were skeptical about promoting international travel to the American market. My eye was always on 2021 and beyond. And look at the flight news recently. After almost no direct flights to Croatia from the USA, now suddenly we have United and Delta from New York to Dubrovnik, as well as Pragusa announcing direct flights from New York and LA.

Promoting tourism does not need to be solely aimed at results tomorrow. Sometimes a longer-term plan can also provide dividends.

And I have to say that I am hugely encouraged by the massive interest from some of the bigger names in the Croatian tourism private sector. We have confirmed destination partners already for many key destinations, such as Hilton for Zagreb, Sun Gardens for Dubrovnik, Falkensteiner Punta Skala for Zadar, and Suncani Hvar for Hvar Town. We will also announce several other big names in the coming days.

This portal is also about promoting authentic tourism and the little guy. If any Croatian tourism business run by your viewers wants to work with us, we will offer a discount off our rates for any interested registered by May 15. If interested, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Lider/Destination/Sector, eg Lider/Trogir/Restaurant

How much did you invest in your business in Croatia and have you brought some start capital from UK?

I started Total Hvar back in 2011 with 100 euro in my bank account. I invested no capital from the UK. My total investment in the new Total Croatia portal has been 5,000 euro. 

How big is your global audience on both of your projects? Can you compare it with Croatia Tourist Board reach?

You can check these things online.

Google Analytics tells me that we have up to 620,000 unique visitors a month for TCN, with 78% international traffic. The main sources are USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, Poland, France, Italy, Austria and Norway. The new TC site is obviously must smaller, but in time it will be much more popular than TCN, as it is based on searches for the info that people are seeking. And we are already ranking very well on all keywords. Soon after we moved our Croatian Travel Update from TCN to TC, we were getting 1,200 Google searches a day for that page alone.

Croatians mainly recognize you through your battles with this institution. This battle recently brought your case in Croatian Parliament, where Marijana Puljak demanded that membership in CTB has to be voluntarily. Could you write more about some other par fiscal institutions such as HGK and HOK, so you could help speed up the same process?

I am very grateful to Marijana for raising my case, as well as Vanja Juric for helping with my legal defence against the SLAPP lawsuits from the Croatian National Tourist Board. Both are magnificent humans, and people like them give me hope for a better Croatia.

But, haha, no I don't plan to write that much about other institutions. It seems to be an expensive hobby... And I said all I needed to say about HGK a few years ago in Welcome to Uhljebistan: the Croatian Chamber of Economy, Beyond Useless.

The lawsuits which led to finalising the Total Croatia project actually set me free. My intention is to focus mostly on TC, before taking the concept in other countries. We have already had offers to replicate it in the USA and Egypt. And we only launched a few days ago.

In which phase are currently your court cases with HTZ? Did you have to pay some slander fees already?

There are two court cases. In the first, I am being sued for 50,000 kuna for defamation. My alleged crime was being quoted in an article written by someone else on a portal that is not mine. There was no request to remove the article. Neither the author, nor the portal has been sued. The article is still online

The first hearing should have been on May 3 at 09:40, but 3 days before, the HTZ law firm asked for it to be delayed, as their lawyer asked for a delay as he had another case at the same time. Even though there are apparently 50 lawyers in the firm, nobody else must have been available. We replied that we wanted to proceed, but the court ruled that the case would be delayed until May 31.

The second case was actually heard first, in early April. Another 50,000 for my satirical use of the HTZ logo, Croatia, Full of Life. The hearing lasted 3 minutes and was adjourned until July because their lawyer filed a last-minute motion which not even my lawyer saw prior to the hearing. Apparently, he had been in hospital for a week, hence the late deposition. All of the other alleged 49 lawyers in the firm must have been busy.

You wrote many articles about tourism system gaps. Could you point out three key weak links and how to strengthen them as soon as possible?

No strategy, poor information, little understanding of modern tourism trends and needs.

All three are easy to fix. Make a strategy, provide quality information, and engage people who understand modern tourism trends and needs.

Do you share the opinion that Croatia needs more big foreign investments and position in luxury tourism?

Croatia has almost no position in the luxury tourism market. Last month, the Croatian media picked up on a story I did on Charlize Theron saying the happiest time of her life was on holiday in Hvar and Dubrovnik. 

I know one of the people who worked on her trip. She was looking for a hotel of Aman quality, and ended up going to one apparently. Not in Croatia, as Aman is one of many quality brands that are in places like Montenegro (and check out the number of top hotel names in Rwanda, for example), but not Croatia.

Yes, we do need to massively improve the luxury tourism offer to match the destination. Everyone talks about exclusive Hvar, for example. But it was only two years ago that it got its first 5-star hotel. Now compare how many 5-star hotels there are on Croatian islands versus Greek islands.

Can we take Hvar for example? There is a disorder in the mix of three totally different products – luxury yachting, party life and family tourism. Can those three products live in peace or should it be just one product to promote globally?

Actually, I think things on Hvar are changing finally, and very much for the better. Things are slowly being repivoted in Hvar Town away from the party and towards higher-quality tourism. Suncani Hvar Hotels and the Hvar Tourist Board have never worked better together in the last 10 years, and the merging of the island tourist boards into one marketing entity can only be a good thing.

But also, watch out for Stari Grad, which is quietly emerging as a really top quality and authentic destination. It has a huge future, and it will open up higher-class tourism to central Hvar. I am actually very optimistic about the future of tourism on my adopted island.

You know many foreign entrepreneurs living and investing in Croatia. Do they share your opinion that entrepreneurship is a ‘dirty’ word in Croatia, as you often say? 

One of the best things I saw at a presentation was from an Australian-Croatian returnee, who showed the definition of an entrepreneur in Australia and Croatia. There were like chalk and cheese.

To be honest, I love hanging out with entrepreneurs. They tend to be very positive people who are more interested in doing things than complaining. Croatia needs more entrepreneurial mindset to move forward.

You obviously don’t have very nice experience in cooperation with Croatian institutions. How about private sector? How would you compare Croatian with western entrepreneurial mindset? (example)

Actually, I would like to correct you there a little if I may. I have a very poor experience with SOME Croatian institutions, but outstanding experiences with others. The cooperation with MUP last summer with our Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community (which won the International Grand Prix award for crisis communication from HUOJ)  was outstanding. What they did to help the tourism season was unreal. Full respect to MUP and many thanks to Marina Mandic for an outstanding cooperation.

Just because I am critical of HTZ does not mean the same is true of every tourism board, some of whom I work with, some not. I have never worked with TZ Rogoznica, for example, but I think they do an excellent job. Our cooperation with Dubrovnik on the digital nomads projects has been the best I have experienced with any city or tourist board here. And I am very excited by the partnership with Zagreb Tourist Board for Zagreb Digital Nomad Week from June 21-27.

But there are also great tourist boards in smaller destinations. I am really enjoying working with Ludbreg on some innovative projects you will hear about soon, and TZ Stari Grad on Hvar is doing wonders on a small budget.

After so many people offered you donations for court defence, you came up with an idea of crowdfunding campaign for tourism promotion which would be much more effective than present. Do you thing this idea could be feasible in Croatia?

Perhaps, but you don't need money always to promote tourism. You need passion.

ABC News and Good Morning America watched by 12.5 million people, delivered for zero kuna by Kresimir Macan, Nikolina Vicelic and our Viber commmunity.

Jan de Jong and the digital nomad permit. Zero kuna.

Mate Rimac and his fantastic living and working in Croatia video.

Nenad Bakic and his viral Twitter videos. Zero kuna.

And many thousands of others who promote Croatia. What do they all have in common? Passion, and an understanding of the methods required to communicate and share in the 21st century. The Croatian Ministry of Tourism was still advertising its fax machine number as the primary means of communication this time last year until I politely pointed out that we had moved on a generation.

You worked as a humanitarian aid worker in Somalia, Georgia, Rwanda, Siberia. How that experience changed you and how do you look at it from Hvar’s deep shade today?

It gave me a different perspective for sure. Although they are very different cases, it is hard for me sometimes not to compare Croatia with Rwanda, where I worked in 1994 in emergency relief 2 weeks after the genocide finished.

800,000, or 12% of the population, murdered in just 100 days, two tribes against each other, one of the poorest countries in the world. Today, plastic bags are illegal in the country, emergency blood gets delivered by drone anywhere in the country, and where luxury hotels such as One & Only opened (also in Montenegro, but not in Croatia).

A poor country which no history of football success, or any Rwandese national in the English Premier League, and yet they are the first tourism country to partner with a Premier League football club. You can read about their partnership with Arsenal here in Lessons from Rwanda: Promoting Tourism Through Football, African-Style.

And Croatia, the land of Modric? Ah, Hrvatska...

More and more foreigners buy real estate in Croatia and find it as a cozy place to live. Do you believe there can be a coexistence of Croatian and foreign mindset ten years from now?

Yes, I believe that very strongly. The Mighty State of Uhljebistan is starting to wobble, and the twin viruses of transparency and technology will be too strong, I think. I am always optimistic, but about this, I am very optimistic.

You can visit the new Total Croatia portal here.

 

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Total Croatia Tourism Portal Officially Launched in 15 Languages!

May 4, 2021 - The Total Croatia tourism portal has officially launched in 15 languages! 

The Total Croatia tourism portal (which you can visit HERE) was presented on Monday in Dubrovnik, with more than 130 subpages that bring together key information about Croatian destinations in 15 languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Japanese, Chinese but also Croatian. Eminent tourist companies in the country have already recognized its value.

The portal was presented as a new web platform with various information about Croatia at a hybrid press conference (live and online) by its founder Paul Bradbury, a Briton who has lived in Croatia and has promoted Croatia for years, and communication experts Krešimir Macan and Nikolina Vicelić, who also called the portal a "national tourist portal."

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According to Bradbury, the portal is part of the Total Croatia News (TCN) family, within which it has been publishing articles, news, and all things about Croatia for about 18 years. He pointed out that many want to visit Croatia, for which they need accurate and quality information.

Thanks to Total Croatia, everyone planning a holiday in Croatia will be able to easily and in one place find all the necessary and useful information - in their own language - on this new Croatian tourist portal which, together with the award-winning Viber community Total Croatia Travel Info, represents a kind of virtual reception of Croatia, said Paul Bradbury.

According to Bradbury, journalists and writers such as Marc Rowlands, a former journalist of the English Guardian and Time Out Croatia, Morana Zibar, stars of the HTV quiz Potjera and gastro blogger, Nikola Pezić, anthropologist, translator, and founder of Eat Istria and many others write for the portal. This unique project has already been recognized by eminent companies such as Sunčani Hvar, Hilton Hotels in Zagreb, Falkensteiner Hotels and Residences, Punta Skala, Savills Real Estate from Dubrovnik, Adriatic Weddings Croatia, Algebra, and talks are currently underway with other interested tourism companies and small businesses in some destinations.

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The goal of the new portal is that by properly planning keywords and using other Google tools, information published on Total Croatia becomes the first choice for visitors planning a vacation in Croatia, as it is the best-ranked website about Croatian tourism on Google in foreign languages.

At Monday's press conference, Bradbury pointed out that the portal offers the best and timely tourist information about Croatia and answers questions that visitors coming to Croatia want to know more about in their own language.

"We create exciting content about Croatia that we observe through the eyes of visitors, using local knowledge and advice," Bradbury said.

"Many have wanted to come to Croatia for a long time as digital nomads and as tourists, and during a pandemic, but they lack real information in their languages. Now it is offered on a new portal in which we were guided by innovation and communication. The most important thing is to give tourists what they want. Among other things, it is certainly destination information in their languages, which we prepare in collaboration with the local population," Bradbury said.

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Bradbury mentioned Romanian tourists, adding that he "does not know if the Croatian National Tourist Board has ever had information for them in Romanian." He also referred to the weak public-private cooperation in tourism in Croatia and mentioned some exceptions of good practice, such as those in Dubrovnik and Zagreb, where he encountered cooperation with tourist boards and city administrations.

He added that they do not need anything from the Croatian Tourist Board and cooperate with many hoteliers and destinations, noting that a "new wave of tourism" is expected in Croatia.

Krešimir Macan, the communication expert of Manjgura and Mediacor and this year's HUOJ International Grand Prix Crisis Communication Award winner, stressed the importance of using new digital communication tools in the tourism industry, especially during the current coronavirus crisis.

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"Last year, the whole world faced the challenges of COVID-19 for the first time, but, regardless of the pandemic, the world did not stop, and all tourists who wanted to visit Croatia found a way to come. The Viber community Total Croatia Travel Info was an invaluable source of data for all guests who received all the necessary and accurate information and answers to questions in their own language and in real-time, regardless of whether they came from New York, Toronto, or Budapest. With exceptional experience working with the Viber community, Total Croatia is an additional step forward. We will meet everyone who is thinking of coming to Croatia using modern digital communication tools. Paul is creating the platform that 21st-century tourism needs!" Macan said.

Total Croatia offers a different view of Croatian beauties viewed from someone that loves Croatia, Paul Bradbury, who 18 years ago replaced cold Manchester with sunny Hvar. He has won numerous tourist awards such as the Marco Polo Fiet Award for International Promotion of Croatia for 2014, Marco Polo FIJET Award for the promotion of Advent in Zagreb in 2017, Medical Travel Media Awards for the best online article in Kuala Lumpur in 2019, and the International Medical Travel Journalist of the Year award from the Medical Travel Media Awards in Kuala Lumpur in 2020.

Bradbury also wrote two tourist guides, Hvar: An Insider’s Guide and Split: An Insider’s Guide. Paul often writes or is quoted in numerous English media and is an occasional columnist for the Index.hr portal. He founded the news portal www.total-croatia-news.com, which is often the starting point for many international media that have visited Croatia, such as The New York Times, Sunday Times, Travel & Leisure, and many others. Last year, the invaluable promotion of Croatia and Dubrovnik was brought by the American television channel ABC, whose reports on Croatia, as the only EU country to receive American tourists in the summer of 2020, were watched by millions of Americans. The first contact for the ABC team regarding their visit to Dubrovnik immediately after the first wave of the pandemic was the Viber community Total Croatia Travel Info. 

Source: Index.hr

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

How COVID-19 Became a Great Croatian Tourism Promo Gift for USA Market

February 21, 2021 - Last year may have been a disaster for global tourism, but it was a spectacular one for Croatian tourism promo to the USA market, albeit quite by chance.

Sometimes (actually quite often when it comes to Croatian tourism) things happen completely by chance. 

Sometimes some good comes from a terrible situation, the proverbial every cloud has a silver lining. 

And through the disastrous tourism year of 2020, I noted a recurring theme of hope for Croatian tourism - the most high-profile penetration of Croatian tourism promo into the important USA market.

When ABC News contacted TCN in July wanting to explore filming a feature on Americans travelling to Croatia during the pandemic, I was initially a little hesitant. Promoting travel in July, 2020, particularly from the USA as COVID-19 raged, was bound to upset a few people. My position on corona throughout has been that my opinion doesn't matter, and the more transparent the facts are, the more people can make better decisions. 

And while ABC News might have people some people hopping on a plane to Dubrovnik, the bigger impact was likely to be the longer term. A message of welcome to Americans that there is a gorgeous country in Europe waiting to welcome you as soon as they are willing and able to travel. 

I decided to get involved and connected ABC News with the best Dubrovnik fixer I know. Kreso Macan once again went above and beyond the call of duty. Ably assisted by Mayor Mato Frankovic and Dubrovnik Tourist Board director Ana Hrnic, the ABC News crew had an unforgettable few days.  

And Americans saw and wondered. An estimated 12.5 million viewers tuned in to the feature on Good Morning America, one of six stories featured by ABC News as a result of their visit.  

Mayor Frankovic posted on social media to thank ABC for its 'priceless' promotion. The Croatian tourism promo was one thing, but the bigger psychological impact was the message of a welcoming country with pristine beaches and historic towns waiting with open arms. At a time when the world was closed to American travellers, here was a beautiful ray of European sun. 

Croatia. Bucket List 2021.  

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News spread in the Washington Post, not only of Croatia's open approach to Americans, but a new lifestyle tourism opening up in Croatia. Following an open letter from Split-based Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, the Croatian PM granted the Dutchman's request just 44 days later - a digital nomad visa for Croatia. 

At the time of the announcement, there were only 4 other countries offering such a visa, with only Estonia in Europe. Legislation passed in Parliament, and the new law came into effect on January 1, 2021. The first digital nomad to be approved with the new permit, an American in Istria, gave her first interview to TCN - Meet Melissa Paul, Owner of Croatia's First Digital Nomad Visa.  

Here was a country which not only welcomed Americans, but also was opening up for remote worker longterm options. 

A country with lifestyle. 

forbes-jay-z.JPG A country popular with American celebrities, reported Forbes

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And definitely a rising star in the luxury world of superyachts, reported Bloomberg.

All this during a team when no money was spent on tourism promotion, and a time when a captive audience desperate to travel was being fed glorious Croatian tourism promo material, mostly quite by chance.   

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  As tourism was collapsing elsewhere, Croatia was seemingly pushing ahead with its luxury tourism, according to Forbes, one of many international publications to report on the opening of Maslina Resort on Hvar.  

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 5-star island luxury hotel openings on Hvar or Lopud - take your pick as Robb Report.reported on the outstanding luxury heritage conversion that is Lopud 1483.  

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Forbes was not the only one to notice Maslina on Hvar - here is Luxe Review.  

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And that message of 5-star luxury welcome for Americans made it once more to Forbes, this time from Dubrovnik.  

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And the latest fabulous free Croatian tourism promo to the USA market, as CNN combined all of the above into a great piece focusing on the new digital nomad opportunity, including chats with Melissa Paul, as well as Mexican and Singaporean nomads currently in Croatia.

All this, in a year when people were dreaming of travel, rather than travelling. And the dreams about future travel have been growing as a result.  

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And there were other pandemic benefits for Croatian tourism promo. With a more muted presidential inauguration on January 20, lesser stories assumed a greater prominence. This included a fantastic promotion of Croatian wine, a story which first appeared online in English on TCN on January 9.

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The New York Times got in on the act, this time looking at the luxury real estate opportunities in Croatia. There seemed to be two clear messages emanating from all this promotion - luxury and lifestyle. 

Perfect for the American market.  

I spoke with Ina Rodin, Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board in New York, asking her for her thoughts:

The past year has been a challenging one for the travel and tourism industry. Croatia, no stranger to hardship, in addition to an unprecedented global pandemic experienced a series of devastating earthquakes. Despite these challenges, the country deftly navigated these crises. The government made bold decisions to keep borders open, a strong and strategic move which kept the country on the radar of US travelers, a move that US-based media such as Forbes, Afar, and ABC News to name a few, covered positively.

As a result, despite travel restrictions and reduced air accessibility, Croatia had a respectable number of visitors from the States. Furthermore, the recent introduction of the digital nomad visa program was timely and contributed to the country’s positive perception from people abroad. The effort to ease requirements to work and travel is a fail-safe plan for long-term tourism growth and should create more progressive and inspiring environment for both locals and visitors. We hope these new programs will provide a fresh perspective to our tourism strategy.

While most of the above promotion happened organically, one of the bigger challenges of the 2020 season lay with the Zagreb Tourism Board  - what to do with their globally popular December event, Advent in Zagreb? With fluctuating restrictions and travel shelved by many, any event would be markedly different to its predecessors, but it was also important to keep the story and the brand going. Which it succeeded in doing, being featured once more as one of the best Christmas markets in Europe by Conde Nast Traveler.

I asked Martina Bienenfeld, Director of the Zagreb Tourist Board, how it went:

Last year was the most challenging for everyone and especially for us in the travel industry. Zagreb Tourist Board transformed challenges into opportunities that resulted with new projects. By adapting to the situation, we created new virtual and hybrid contents. 

Having that in mind while preparing Advent Zagreb 2020, we created an interactive augmented reality exhibition called Virtual Christmas Windows which brought a whiff of holiday spirit using the animated motifs of Advent. The other novelty was a project and a campaign called The Light of Advent where we initiated festive decoration of windows of 10 public institutions in the Upper Town. We also invited our citizens to send us their Christmas photos and, as a result of the campaign, we had a reach of more than 230,000 people, 240,000 impressions and we received over 300 photos which can be seen in #ZagrebLoop video on www.adventzagreb.hr .

The other new feature was the Zagreb Manger, a virtual exhibition of photographs of Nativity Scenes in churches, taken from 2007 to 2019. Furthermore, during December we organized hybrid activities with live streaming of advent concerts on our online channels. The implementation of digital innovations helped us create unique virtual and interactive content throughout the whole year 2020. Pandemic showed us that now, more than ever, we need cooperative efforts, support and mutual trust of all the stakeholders in the tourism industry. Tourism brings people together and in spite difficulties that came upon us, I’m sure that we will build new memories together again 

2020 was a year to forget for tourism in general, but a year to remember for Croatian tourism promo to the USA. 

Let's hope 2021 can be the year when Croatian tourism and Croatian tourism promo shine in tandem. In order to remind our American readers, luxury tour operator Secret Dalmatia just released the first in a series of great videos promoting the magic of Croatia that awaits you when travel returns to normal. 

For more on travel in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section

Saturday, 13 February 2021

New Student Intern Positions at Total Croatia News: Apply Now

February 13, 2021 - Looking for some practical experience at the beginning of your journalism career? Two student intern positions are available at TCN. 

About 18 months ago, I was invited to address journalist students at the Faculty of Political Science at Zagreb University on the realities of running a news portal in the modern day. 

It was something that had never done before, and I didn't really know what to say, but I thought it could be an experience and perhaps an opportunity to develop closer ties with the university in some way.  The idea of TCN student intern positions came up, and the more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it. We had something to offer in terms of real experience on the ground, and the youthful enthusiasm of students with actual journalistic training (unlike this self-starting blogger) was also appealing. Being able to reach a young audience also had its appeal. I wasn't quite sure what the internship would entail in practical terms, but I was open to the idea. 

The first rule of addressing students at a seminar is never do it in the morning. I was curious to see how many would attend the 09:00 seminar as I drove into Zagreb from Varazdin for the session. 

The answer. Just nine. Not a huge crowd, but perhaps there would be a gem in there somewhere, and maybe we could inspire some of the nine. Maybe one might even want to become an intern with TCN. You can see the whole presentation in the videos above and below.

The students' professor, Gaj Tomas, who invited me in the first place, gave the students an assignment to write about their impressions of the seminar. And then my inbox started to fill with first one, then two, and finally three applications to join the intern programme. Three from the nine was a good result. 

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And so off we started, on a journey which was as much an adventure into the dark as it was for me. They were taught to take over certain social media responsibilities for TCN, which they did much better than I ever did. Paula was into politics, and political guru, Kresimir Macan kindly met her for a coffee to give her some guidance and contacts. Within two months, Paula was published in the UK, earning her first journalist funds, co-authoring a feature on the upcoming Croatian presidential elections.  

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Ana was more into film, and who better to meet and interview than legendica Spomenka Saraga, award-winning film producer and the driving force behind Zagreb Tourfilm Festival.

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While Janja got to hang out and jam with guitar legend Yogi Lonich

Paula and Janja went on to cover Dora 2020 for TCN, with Macan helping to arrange some backstage access for them to interview the winner. They were certainly having more fun than I was, stuck in the office all day. 

Janja joined us full time on a student contract over the summer, before returning to university to resume her studies. She was joined by recent graduate Donatella, who started with a 3-month internship with TCN, and is now employed as a full-time member of the team. 

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Donatella accompanied me to her first ever protest recently, the UGP Voice of Entrepreneurs gathering on the main square (and yes, she is a much tidier dresser than me). Here are her impressions in My First Protest: What I Learned at UGP Entrepreneur Protest in Zagreb.

Now that she has graduated, I am looking forward to helping her develop new ideas from the younger generation, and I am really excited to follow her new series starting this weekend - Croatian Graduate Perspective, interviews with recent graduates about the challenges of starting out in the big bad world in Croatia during a pandemic. You can read her first interview with Karla in Split, which has just been published

TCN currently has two student intern positions available for anyone interested. We are happy to look at candidates from all over the country, as we are keen to represent as many parts of Croatia as we can. So if you are a student in Split, Osijek, Pula, Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Varazdin or elsewhere and would like to come and get some hands on work experience to contrast with the theory of the lecture hall, get in touch. 

We are looking for enthusiastic students with excellent English, plenty of initiative, with good social media and video skills. The internship will be a mixture of some of the more mundane aspects of running a portal, such as admin and social media, as well as plenty of work in the field, as well as time with TCN staff. If interested, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Internship. Please include a CV, 400-word article on a topic about Croatia you feel passionate about, one fun fact about Croatia that most people don't know, and the name of the person you would most like to interview in Croatia (and we will try and make it happen). Deadline for applications - February 25. 

I asked Janja and Donatella to write a little about their experiences at TCN, to give you an idea of students who tried the internship and lived to tell the tale:

Janja - When I first applied for TCN, I wasn't aware where exactly this journey will lead me. I'm not sure even now, but I am enjoying the path. I love the opportunities which TCN is continuously giving to us. I like the freedom of choosing my own articles and also seeing that Paul is encouraging us to do so. One of the brilliant things is how easy you can reach the person you want to talk to or go to an event you want to cover. Also, a relaxed atmosphere, quality humor, and understanding people are wonderful things to have around. It is a pretty rare thing to find, especially in a working environment. We are just a few months into this internship and have already had so many positive experiences, so I am very happy.

Donatella - A year ago, I returned from my five-month student exchange in Italy, where I studied at the University of Bologna. Delighted by this international experience, as a final-year journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb, I had another desire – to participate in a student internship abroad. However, the coronavirus pandemic ensued, so some of my priorities changed. When I had almost come to terms with the fact that I would not experience a student internship during my college education, I saw one post on Facebook that piqued my curiosity.

Total Croatia News, a news portal dedicated to Croatia, was looking for a student intern. As I wanted to continue improving my English language skills, as well as to start my career in journalism, an internship for Total Croatia News seemed like an excellent opportunity to start. I applied, passed the interview, and soon became a TCN intern. Although the internship was in Croatia, considering the circumstances with the coronavirus pandemic, I was happy and grateful even to be able to do an internship.

As the nerd that I am, I enjoyed learning to write news articles in English from my English-speaking colleagues. From week to week, I was getting new assignments, and the one I found most exciting was managing TCN's social media accounts. Social networks are one of the main tools in business today. Although I've been learning about it during my studies, I gained the biggest knowledge through concrete, practical experience on TCN.

After two and a half months of learning and working, driven by great dedication, I was given the opportunity to become a permanent part of the TCN team, which I by no means wanted to miss. When I look back, I realize that I stepped out of my comfort zone by applying for an internship and pushed my boundaries to where I didn't even know I could go. And so much is still ahead of me.

If you would like to discuss the internship before formally applying and would like to know more about it from Janja or Donatella, please contact me and I will put you in touch. 

 

Sunday, 27 December 2020

After Digital Nomads, Will Croatian Tourism Chiefs Act on 4 More Gifts?

Two small but very significant things for Croatian tourism happened in one Facebook post just before Christmas. 

The post was by arguably the most communicative senior member of the government on social media, State Secretary for Tourism, Tonci Glavina, who regularly updates his followers on good news regarding Croatian tourism and government activity, communication which is very welcome. 

And Glavina's status update of December 23 caught my attention in particular, for two reasons, and opens a small window of opportunity for progressing tourism strategy in Croatia:

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The post was significant firstly as this was the first time (to my knowledge) that a senior government official had given a concrete statement on the reality of the Croatian digital nomad visa since Prime Minister Plenkovic tweeted his intention in late August to act on a LinkedIn open letter from Dutch entrepreneur Jan de Jong asking for the introduction of a digital nomad visa for Croatia. As regular readers of TCN will know, digital nomad tourism is something we have been advocating for more than 18 months now, as well as reporting on progress on the visa every step of the way, from the law changes in the Aliens Act and the tax code. You can follow the TCN digital nomad coverage past, present and future here. Having a senior government official confirm what we have been reporting for months is most welcome, as is the additional news that Glavina brought that there will soon be a big global promotion by the Croatian National Tourist Board to attract digital nomads to Croatia. 

The second thing that was significant in Glavina's post was his acknowledgment that this was an initiative from the private sector, namely the efforts of de Jong and those supporting his initiative. I have long advocated for the private sector to play a more active role in shaping Croatia's tourism, simply because the private tourism sector understands tourism so much better than those running Croatian tourism (in my opinion), and in many cases they manage to succeed in spite of official tourism strategies, rather than because of them. So to see the Croatian tourism chiefs not only recognise a private sector initiative but to make it a key theme for 2021 promotion is a very encouraging development indeed. And one I hope will be a precedent for future development. 

National tourist board director was also ebullient about the prospects of digital nomad tourism and was quoted in Vecernji List, timeline December 23, 2020:

We plan various activities to position our country as an attractive destination for digital nomads. The focus of marketing campaigns will be on the fact that Croatia can guarantee a safe and quality stay for digital nomads. We will emphasize the excellent transport connections and the geographical position of an EU country in which many speak English and which has an excellent infrastructure and quality of offer. In the promotion, we will focus on the fact that our life is accessible according to European standards, that we have good health care with well-known benefits such as a favorable climate, beautiful nature and rich cultural and historical heritage. At the beginning of 2021, an online campaign is planned in Great Britain, the USA and Australia, and we will soon start teaser activities, ie posts with initial information about the legislative changes on social networks Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - says the director of the Croatian Tourist Board Kristjan Stanicic.

This is all wonderful (and I mean that sincerely), but I have a question which is important if we are to develop this concept of public-private cooperation:

If de Jong had not posted his online appeal to Plenkovic, and if there had been no private sector initiative regarding the digital nomad visa, would our Croatian tourism chiefs even be talking about digital nomads as a tourism strategy? 

A few weeks before de Jong posted his LinkedIn request, I request a meeting with the national tourist board to present three new initiatives for Croatian tourism. The three ideas were a concept to brand Trogir the first digital nomad town in Croatia, a new sporting event to celebrate Dalmatia's unique sporting heritage and tradition with the Olympics of Traditional Dalmatian Games, and a concept for developing religious tourism based on the only certified miracle in Croatia, the Eucharistic Miracle of Ludbreg

I left the meeting empty-handed but with plenty to think about. Funding rules had changed and I was advised to approach regional tourist boards on the financial side. And while I was more than a little surprised that one of the senior tourist board members couldn't name Croatia's only miracle, it was the reaction to the digital nomad project that stayed with me. While my Trogir idea was apparently good, I was advised to check on taxation rules for nomads planning to work in Croatia. With the situation as it was, it was not something that they could officially promote.

And that, I believe, is how the situation would be today without de Jong's initiative and all that followed.

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Private initiatives to promote digital nomad tourism continued, and there were more receptive ears. None more so than Dubrovnik, who not only embraced the concept, but acted on it very quickly. After a very cordial meeting with Mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Frankovic, in July, wheels were set in motion to prepare for an international digital nomad contest to work with the city on improving its digital nomad offering and branding. 

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Corona budget issues have delayed that project until April/May 2021, but Tanja Polegubic from Saltwater Nomads suggested Dubrovnik start the discussion by organising Croatia's first-ever digital nomad conference, Digital Nomads for Dubrovnik, in October, in partnership with the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, City of Dubrovnik and TCN.  

News of the imminent visa and the Dubrovnik conference caused quite a buzz internationally, and there were many articles in the international media about Croatia as a new hot spot for remote workers, with the Dubrovnik for Digital Nomads conference even getting a mention in the Washington Post

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And there was plenty of more niche promotion within the digital nomad community, with TravelOffPath co-founder Kashlee Kucheran, a website and community dedicated to global travel information for remote workers, extolling the virtues of Croatia as a destination for digital nomads - you can learn more in this TCN interview with Kashlee

Zagreb has also been very receptive to the digital nomad opportunity. Sadly, we had to cancel plans for a Digital Nomad Bootcamp as part of Advent in Zagreb due to the pandemic, but we will be announcing a great initiative in partnership with Zagreb in the new year. 

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And yet, despite all the activity and December 23 announcement and upbeat quote from Director Stanicic, not a single word about this new tourist sector on the national tourist board site. This is what greets you when you search the national tourist board website for information about digital nomads (see above).

The main point of this article is to show how important the private sector is for tourism and what a positive effect it could  - and should - have, and so it is worth taking a closer look at the origins of this initiative, as well as looking at others which may exist. As Jan de Jong has explained, he is also quite new to the concept of digital nomad tourism. Back in May, he was due to speak at a tourism conference and asked me for some advice about tourism initiatives. I sent him a few articles to read including two about digital nomad tourism, both written in mid-2019, a full 18 months before Director Stanicic's enthusiastic embracing of his new initiative. 

How Croatia is Becoming Increasingly Attractive for the Digital Nomad Lifestyle (June 19, 2019)

Branding Croatia for the Future: 5 Gifts and Trends to Focus On (June 9, 2019)

If these articles planted a seed in de Jong's mind regarding digital nomad tourism, who in turn planted a seed in the Prime Minister's mind with his LinkedIn post, who in turn planted more seeds for Croatian tourism chiefs, which results in a visa and strategy for digital nomad tourism for Croatia, then I will be very happy. There have been lots of people involved from the private sector on the way as I explored in Croatia's Digital Nomad Visa Story: The Expat Contribution.

The big question is that if this approach of private initiative which is helped along the way with a collection of different skillsets and influences can be embraced by the Croatian tourism chiefs, are there any other such ideas which could yield similar fruit? And the answer is an emphatic YES! Here are just 4, and let's go back to that 2019 article, Branding Croatia for the Future: 5 Gifts and Trends to Focus On

1. Medical Tourism

One sector which is a real growth opportunity for Croatian where the private sector is trailblazing is medical tourism. It is an area I have written a lot about in the last three years, not only about Croatia, but also internationally, and it was a real honour to be named International Medical Travel Journalist of the Year in Kuala Lumpur recently by one of the star performers of the global medical tourism industry - the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council. 

I have attended several conferences, both national and international, and interviewed many of the bigger names in the medical tourism industry over the last few years. I have been constantly struck by how big the potential is for Croatia, whose reputation within the industry is very high, so at odds with the delivery of effective official promotion. At the same time, the private medical tourism companies are achieving great visibility and partnerships in order to develop not only their only clinics and hospitals, but also the Croatian industry as a whole. It is quite telling that the brand of the Kvarner Health Cluster has a bigger brand within the industry than Croatia as a national brand, for example. 

Unlike digital nomad tourism, which as we have seen has yet to get a mention on the official website despite the apparently lofty plans for 2021, there have been sporadic - and particularly ineffective - efforts to officially promote medical tourism. The video above is a case in point - dating back to 2017.  Some pretty drone shots of Croatia and some footage in some clinics, but with no coherent message, and with almost no engagement - 43 likes and zero comments despite over a million views suggests another paid campaign that failed to engage. 

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Fast forward two years and a shiny medical tourism conference called Health Spot Croatia.

All the big names were there in terms of sponsorship, and the list of speakers was no less impressive as an official show of strength. 

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No less than two ministers, the president of the Croatian Chamber of Economy and Mayor of Zagreb in the welcome speeches alone. 

And the dividend from the conference once the lights went off, the initial column inches written? Very little. Indeed my understanding is that the health tourism department of the Ministry of Health was disbanded earlier this year. 

Meanwhile, in the private sector, Croatia is excelling on the global stage, working with the biggest names in healthcare. 

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St. Catherine's Specialty Hospital, a member of the Leading Hospitals of the World, became the first place in Europe to offer the RightMed OneOme pharmacogenetic test, developed in partnership with Mayo Clinic.  

Cleveland Clinic has also been taking an interest in the Croatian medical tourism story after links were forged by Ognjen Bagatin of Bagatin Clinic on a visit to Cleveland. Cleveland Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic pledged his support for perhaps the most ambitious initiative to put Croatian medical tourism on the map - EPIC 2020.

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But for the pandemic, EPIC 2020 would have been Europe's first European Patient Experience and Innovation Congress, organised by Bagatin Clinic in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic, with a world-class list of international speakers, including several from Mayo and Cleveland Clinics.  

Bagatin Clinic has become synonymous with Croatian medical tourism excellence globally, thanks largely to the extraordinary efforts of Ognjen Bagatin, who has travelled the globe several times over to promote Croatia and its health tourism story. He has done more than perhaps anyone to develop this sector of Croatian tourism, as well as being an authoritative and inspirational speaker on the global level. It was a pleasure to witness him collect the award on behalf of Bagatin Clinic for Best International Cosmetic Surgery Clinic at the International Medical Travel Journal awards and conference in Berlin in 2019. IMTJ is the leading medical tourism conference in the world, attracting exhibitors from all over the world. While official promotional bodies were out in force from the biggest countries in the industry, including South Korea, Malaysia and Germany, the Croatian presence was limited to Bagatin and the Kvarner Health Cluster.

Unlike digital nomad tourism, which is just in its infancy, there is considerable experience and expertise in the private medical tourism sector in Croatia, as well as a vision and international credibility. If de Jong's private initiative for digital nomads could be replicated for the medical tourism industry, the possibilities are enticing indeed.  

2. Lessons from Portugal - retirees and the Golden Visa. 

A little legislation change is what is required to bring in the digital nomad visa, thereby making Croatia more accessible to remote workers to come and live in Croatia and contribute their spending power to the Croatian economy. 

And a little more legislation change in another area could also boost the State coffers. With its temperate climate and relaxed lifestyle, Croatia is an ideal destination for pensioners to spend at least some of their retirement time. The lower cost of living compared to Western countries also makes Croatia an attractive option.  

Just as I have come across many digital nomads from outside the EU looking to spend more time in Croatia, so too people wanting to retire and spend time here.  

And spend money. As Portugal has figured out, retirees looking to relocate to the sun are independently wealthy and not going to take away and local jobs. And they tend to have affluent friends and family who come to visit. The Portuguese Golden Visa programme has been a big success, something which can easily be emulated by Croatia - Lessons from Portugal: Taking Advantage of the Retirement Lifestyle Opportunity

3. Wine - Home of Original Zin and 130 Other Indigenous Grape Treasures

You will not be in Croatia long before you hear about how great the wines are. And they truly are. Home of the original Zinfandel and 130 other indigenous grape varieties, Croatia also offers some very diverse wine regions and exceptional tasting experiences. With the popularity of gourmet tourism in France, Spain, Italy and Germany, the potential for Croatia to present its world-class food and wine offering is there. After all, didn't the late, great Anthony Bourdain wax lyrical about Croatia's "world-class food, world-class wine, world-class cheese" back in 2011. 

And yet... 

Where to go to find the information about the wine roads and wine tasting experiences? 

Dalmatia may be the home of original Zinfandel (a FANTASTIC hook for the American market in particular), but there is no Dalmatian wine road. In fact, trying to find information about any wine roads is rather a challenge. A few years ago, I asked the national tourist board to send me a list of wine roads for Croatia. They were very helpful saying that they did not have that information but would contact the county tourist boards individually and get the information of wine roads by county. They did send information on all but one county, in varying degrees of quality, but mostly it was just a list of names. Which was better than the help from the Ministry of Tourism, who insisted that there was a map of the Biokovo Wine Road, a wine road which no wine professional in Croatia I have spoken to knows ever exists. 

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That is not to say that it is all bad. I was much cheered on a recent visit to the Zagreb County Tourist Board to come across this very useful map for the wine lover. On the one side, a map of the 11 wineries on the Zelina wine road, and on the other all the contact details, opening hours and tasting experiences on offer, details which you can also find on the official website

How hard would it be to do this on a national level, and to put up some signs for wine roads on a national level? To actually make finding information about wine roads and wineries user-friendly? There are signed wine roads at a local (and sometimes regional) level, but it Croatia wants to be taken seriously as a wine destination, it should start taking its wine promotion seriously. Need some help? Lessons from Macedonia: How Croatia Can Learn How to Market Wine. Interestingly,  Macedonia's biggest export market is... Croatia.

4. Maximising the Tesla (and Rimac) brand

 Was Nikola Tesla a Serb or a Croat? If you are looking for the answer in how he is promoted in both countries today,  then there is no contest. Despite visiting Belgrade only once, the international airport bears his name, and Serbia celebrates Science Day each year on his birthday, July 10. 

By contrast, the birthplace of Tesla, the village of Smiljan in modern-day Croatia near Gospic, is a very humble affair, and a great opportunity for Croatia which is currently very underutilised. As I wrote in my 2019 Branding Croatia article:

From Tesla to Rimac - the home of clean energy and innovation

Nikola Tesla was a genius, whose inventions transformed the way we live. He was also an ethnic Serb who was born and grew up in the village of Smiljan, in which is today modern Croatia. Tesla only visited Serbia once, and yet Belgrade named its international airport after him. Meanwhile in Croatia... 

Smiljan is a lovely spot, with plenty of space. As Telsa's birthplace, it is also the symbolic home of the Tesla revolution. So let's give people a product to match that potential, an Old Trafford Theatre of Dreams for the e-mobility generation. I have been fortunate to have taken part in the Nikola Tesla EV Rally a few times. One of the undoubted highlights of the trip for these Tesla car converts is a visit to Smiljan, a chance to pay homage to Nikola Tesla and where it all began. 

Looking forward, as branding Croatia should be doing, something like 75% of tourists to Croatia arrive by car. By 2030, there will be 21 million new electric vehicles on Europe's roads. From a tourism and economic viewpoint, it would make sense for Croatia to be at the forefront of the e-revolution, but with a gift of the Tesla birthplace, a brand to build on and develop for sure. Especially when Croatia has a modern-day Tesla in the shape of Mate Rimac, whose electric supercars and technology is taking the world by storm. 

The energy this year to push the Croatian digital nomad story forward has been inspiring, as well as encouraging. If Croatian bureaucracy really can work that fast, and if the Croatian tourism chiefs really can react to private initiatives such as de Jong's visa proposal, then it can do the same in other sectors, for the ultimate benefit of tourists, tourism providers, and the Croatian economy. So with the digital nomad box almost ticked, can we now turn our attention to legislation for foreign retirees, empower the medical tourism industry to realise its vision, coordinate a unified and comprehensive introduction to Croatia's wine potential, or raise the level of Nikola Tesla promotion to the level the great man deserves? 

As with the nomad visa, none of these is overly taxing, and the benefits for Croatia will be considerable. 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 30 October 2020

A Foreigner Reflects on a Decade Writing about Life in Croatia

October 30, 2020 - A decade is a long time in online writing, especially when life in Croatia is the topic. Some reflections of a foreign blogger writing about life in Croatia over the last ten years. 

I remember it as though it was yesterday, even though the spinning wheel of time tells me it was ten years ago this week. 

A chill in the dark late winter air on the main square in Jelsa, I the only person outside, the numerous locals huddled in their coats in the warmth of the cafe interiors. 

I had just written my first ever article online - Driving in Albania - Not for the Fainthearted - for a now-defunct website in Canada called Suite 101, and I was anxiously waiting for my new editor to approve my piece so that I could start yet one more career in my random passage through life. Male chambermaid, bellboy, laser crystals salesman, humanitarian aid worker, wine merchant, French and English teacher, real estate agent. And now the latest metamorphosis - online writer. 

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(TCN, the early years - Photo Vedran Segvic)

 

Within 30 minutes, the message came through. The article was not only approved but commended. More importantly, it was live on the Internet, and I was now free to publish my subsequent texts directly, without any editorial checking. My heart missed a beat when I saw the article there, live and available for all to read - and for all to comment. 

 

The website had some excellent backend tools, including real-time reporting, so that you could see how many people were reading your stuff at any one time, and where the traffic was coming from. 

It was the start of a new addiction that all bloggers suffer from to a larger or smaller degree. - statistics. 

Four people were reading the article. Then 6. Now 9. All at the same time. And then my heart skipped a beat. It seemed that a Vancouver news portal was linking to my article from the data in the tracking. I went to the Vancouver portal and sure enough, there it was. In a story about a bomb in Greece, there was a box with Related News. I guess that Greek news stories are quite thin on the ground in Vancouver in October, and so my Albania driving article got my first ever online placement. 

I was hooked.  

I wrote a second, and then a third article, both about Hvar, and I watched them go live, get read, liked and shared. One of the articles had an incredible 11 Facebook likes within an hour of my publishing on a Dalmatian island in a cafe with a beer. 

The more I researched, the more I realised that there was actually very little information about Croatia in English, apart from football, how gorgeous its beaches were, and occasionally about politics. About Hvar, there was almost nothing - crazy when you look at how many column inches it gets today. I started writing 3, 4, 5 articles a day, all about Croatia and particularly Hvar. As my Canadian site was a Google News partner, and given the lack of competing material, it didn't take long for the Croatian media to start quoting this authoritative Canadian news portal. When in fact it was a fat Brit with a cold one sitting in a cafe in Jelsa. 

When Google introduced its deadly Panda algorithm update, our site lost 94% of its traffic overnight, and I went from being regularly quoted in the Croatian media to unfindable on Google. I had learned a lot, but was it enough for me to start on my own?

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By this time, I was becoming something of a Hvar expert, having written the first modern guidebook for the island, and when my wife suggested I follow it with a website, given that the five island tourist boards did not communicate with each other or do any joint promotion, the idea of Total Hvar - the origin of TCN - was born. 

Life was good. 

I was living on the most beautiful island in the world, working from a cafe (I suppose I was an early digital nomad), and my job was to write happy stories of discovery about my adopted island. Locals loved me, as did the island tourist businesses, as they were getting some excellent promotion of the island, as well as many of the islanders learning things about their own island that they didn't even know. 

As a bubble of life in Croatia, it was perfection. Happy stories - and fascinating, untold, happy stories - about an elite tourist destination, and endless sunshine island living, what could be more perfect?

Of course, life is not a bunch of roses, even on the most idyllic of Dalmatian islands. Complaining is an Olympic sport in Croatian cafes, and I was fascinated to see how locals would spend their whole (extended) coffee break complaining about things, then doing nothing about it. It was as though the art of complaining was part of the coffee ritual, and the ensuing discussion sorted out the problem. 

One day, I decided to write about one such problem which had been dominating more cafe attention than usual. If I discussed it on my portal, that could lead to an online discussion, which might even lead to some kind of change. A healthy way to discuss problems and move them forward. And anyway, all I was doing was voicing the views of all the locals. 

I was shocked by the response. No less than 7 people unfriended me on Facebook, with two looking the other way when I walked down the street (and they continue to do so 10 years later), and a torrent of abuse from people telling me to F*CK off back to England if I didn't like it here. 

From the very same people who were complaining about the same thing I was writing about the day before. 

It was an important lesson - a foreigner really is not allowed to have an opinion in Croatia. Even if that opinion is the same as the local one when it might be aired in English where tourists might hear something negative about Croatia. 

I remember back then just how sensitive I was to online criticism. After all, I was not writing about my own country, and local knowledge would always trump mine. I remember how a negative comment on an article about the local kindergarten ruined my afternoon and had me torturing myself to be more careful with my words. 

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I laugh at that memory, ten years on writing about life in Croatia. For then I started a news portal, Total Croatia News. 

Not only did it take me off the island, but also out of its happy tourist bubble. And into the warm embrace of the Croatian keyboard warrior. 

When I started TCN just over 5 years ago, in July 2015, I really had no idea what I was doing. I had only just heard the word 'uhljeb' for the first time, and I really hadn't graduated much further than my idyllic tourism bubble. I certainly had no concept of the polarising politics of Croatia, the obsession with the past, the timewarp world of some of the diaspora, the cult of Partizani v Ustase, or the online abuse and occasional death threats (or, as one so eloquently put it - death treats) that came my way by message and phone. 

It was a baptism of fire. 

If I was sensitive about a negative comment about an article about a kindergarten, then clearly running a news portal about Croatia was not for me. It is certainly not for anyone who is sensitive in any shape or form. The Croatian keyboard warriors are brutal at every turn. It took me a while to get used to them, but now I look on them with a kind of perverse affection. And I know for sure that if they don't come out in force when I write an opinionated piece, then I am losing my touch. 

I learned early on that there is little point in engaging in discussions online. A discussion might start out with the best of intentions but it does not take long to descend to Ustase v Partizani, and the most important question of all for all commentators - Di si bio devedeset prve? (Where were you in 1991, ie when the Homeland War started?)

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It was like going for a swim in a shark tank, where there was little hope of survival, and where a throwaway comment (nobody cared about them on the Hvar tourism bubble site) could start an online war, as well as the most spectacular conspiracy theories. I forget which secret service I am currently working for - MI6, CIA, FSB, Mossad or the chaps from Greater Serbia - but when we finally moved from Hvar to Varazdin, I publicly came clean with my spying mission. Having spent a decade monitoring the olive harvests of Vrisnik and Pitve, I had been reassigned to count the number of Varazdin pumpkins. 

I was genuinely bemused at how much emotion and rage one can arouse from an article on a portal like TCN, as well as the passionate opposition to things that my writing evoked. Could it be that I was touching on sensitive things that might actually benefit from being discussed out in the open?

With the negative comment on my kindergarten article a distant memory, I decided to write about the realities of Croatia, the good, the bad and the ugly. There were certain things, such as Vukovar and Oluja, that I thought best to leave alone, as they were raw and I did not know enough about them, but I made gentle inroads into a new area for TCN. 

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Not only did I have to be more careful with words, but now that more people were reading, the national (and then international) media started taking notice. A sign of just how the media has changed with the Internet was evident in December 2015. I was the only witness to a curious event on the main square in Jelsa - the removal of the Christmas star - but one hour later, it was the number one story in Croatia (and the subject of discussion on the island for months). One article picked up initially by Index.hr and then the rest of the national media.

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(Screenshot from Croatia.hr)

As time passed, it was interesting to note that not only was the Croatian media using TCN as a source for some stories, but some stories would bring about small elements of positive change. When I politely pointed out, for example, that I had not been able to locate the 18-hole golf course the Croatian national tourist board was promoting in central Zagreb, the golf course disappeared from the official website the same day, Over the next few days, golf courses, real and imaginary, appeared on the site, and it was hard to keep up, leading to Tourism Quiz of the Summer: How Many Golf Courses Will Croatia Have Next Week? 

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Sometimes the changes came really quickly. When I pointed out in May that it was a little odd that the only means of contacting the Ministry of Tourism on their home page was by letter, phone of fax, the fax machine was abolished from the ministry within the hour of Index publishing the story. At the same time, more than 3 months into the pandemic, with zero information on the ministry website about corona, and a rather unhelpful and non-user friendly page on the national tourist board, both sprung into life around May 11th, with shiny new pages and the first useful information (read more in this article on Index).

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Obviously, when one points out some of the shortfalls of the powers that be in Croatia, the likelihood of any official recognition of one's work is fairly unlikely, but there were others who seemed to appreciate TCN and its work, as far away as Malaysia. The last thing I expected to be doing last year was to be flying with my wife to Kuala Lumpur to pick up a media award at the inaugural Medical Travel Media Awards, but there we were. An amazing trip, and a sign of TCN's growing international reach. It was a far cry from those early days with a beer and a laptop and Jelsa winters.

And there is no recognition quite like the recognition of one's writing colleagues.

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The 2014 Marco Polo FIJET Grand Prix Award at the National Society of Journalists for best international promotion of Croatia was the first thing I had won since coming third in the Under 9 chess challenge in Surrey back in 1978. A huge and unexpected honour.

In addition to the expected torrent of abuse from the army of keyboard warriors and a growing number of trolls, I was surprised by an ever more frequent type of correspondent - the second and third generation diaspora, who had been raised in his/her own Croatian bubble abroad - and one which had little to do with the realities of life in Croatia today. 

"Dear Mr Bradbury, I have been following TCN for some time and wanted to thank you and your colleagues for giving me a different perspective on my homeland. I am a second-generation Californian, and everything I read on TCN - written by people who actually live in Croatia - is very different from what I was taught in my diaspora community. Thank you, and I look forward to learning more about the realities of life in the modern Croatia. You have certainly changed my perception of my homeland."

This kind of email came through more and more, and I realised that there was a niche to fill, a disconnection between the younger diaspora and their home country. I started writing more about the realities of life in Croatia from my own personal experience to help people understand how things really are today. As many people who opposed this perceived negativity also appreciated it. As with everything else in Croatian society, opinion is split down the middle. 

 

Croatia has a default negative mindset, I concluded, and the saying that a Croatian can forgive you anything but success is certainly true. These were two themes that I touched on in my interview with Croatian interviewing legend Romano Bolkovic in the interview above. 

But what happens if you swap the negativity for positivity?

One thing I have noticed about writing in Croatia is that if you start with a positive theme, you are quickly worn down with skepticism and negativity. It seems almost at times that people here don't want to hear about success and look forward to happier times, as they are entrenched in a groundhog day of disappointment and broken promises. But I also learned that there are enough bubbles of positivity all over the country that are moving things forward. Surround yourself with the positive people, immerse yourself in the fabulous lifestyle, and Croatia really is the best place on the planet. 

****

"Don't forget you have a wife and children," was the chilling message on my cellphone before the line went dead. Yes, we are a democracy, but you write about certain things at your peril. It is a fine line that is hard for a foreigner to know when he is transgressing. At least in Croatia one receives a polite warning, unlike other places in the Balkans. 

For those of you who sometimes ask why we don't write about certain topics in Croatia, there is your answer.

****

After almost a decade of writing about Croatia, I felt more confident approaching the foreign taboo topics, such as Vukovar and Oluja. The longer I was here, the more I realised that actually nobody was writing about them in English, and so I decided to visit them both. And both were very different to my preconceptions - and therefore, possibly, to other people too. 

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Vukovar Remembrance Day Through the Eyes of a Foreign Resident

Operation Storm: Foreign Reflections on a Visit to Oluja 2020 in Knin

The good, the bad and the ugly. Croatia is an incredible country, with SO much to write about, that I feel it is an absolute privilege to be here and to be able to communicate its magic to a growing number of interested readers. Some 17 years after arriving, for example, here are 30 incredible new experiences I got to write about in 2019 alone

Ten years on, I no longer worry about a critical comment on an article about a kindergarten. Indeed, I rarely read comments at all (sorry, trolls). But I do enjoy exploring and discovering this unique paradise, celebrating the excellence, constructively criticising the shortfalls, and trying to highlight its magic to forward-thinking people with an interest to help ensure a brighter future for Croatia. 

To all those who have followed my writing over the last ten years (especially those who are still reading), a heartfelt thank you. May the next ten years be equally exciting - I have a feeling they will be. 

Cheers! 

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