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! 

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

As TCN Celebrates 5 Years, Reflections on Running an English News Portal in Croatia

July 7, 2020 - Total Croatia News is 5 years old today. It has been quite a journey - some reflections on how TCN started and where it is going.

Looking back, I can't believe how naive I was. 

To think that I could run a national news portal in English, covering the whole of Croatia, when my knowledge of Croatia barely extended to more than every inch of the island of Hvar, Diocletian's Palace and Zagreb train station. 

I am exaggerating a little, but not so much. 

I don't think I have ever written the story of how TCN got started. Back in 2015, I was writing for an international Google News website, and I was reasonably well read, sometimes making the top 10 writers of the week. Many of my articles got 1-2k Facebook likes, which came with a bonus, so life was good. 

And then one day, I got fired suddenly, told that my articles were not that interesting or relevant (despite those bonuses for lots of clicks). The fact that an article on Adriatic oil drilling from the perspective of environmental protestors I had written was unpublished minutes before my termination email made me speculate as to the reason. Whatever the reason, I was no longer a writer for the site. 

"Why don't you start your own news website?" asked a friend and long-time supporter. "There are some English sites about Croatia, but none focused on daily news."

Why not indeed? And so in I waded, having no real clue about Croatian realities or politics, beyond my Hvar tourism bubble. 

I wanted to make a splash on the first day and target the diaspora, a natural readership market for those with love for Croatia not matched by their linguistic abilities. How better to impress than an interview with the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs, I mused - that would show how serious I was. 

And if the said foreign minister had been more to the right than Vesna Pusic, I might have felt a warmer embrace from the likes of Sydney and Melbourne. 

It was an inauspicious start, and one about to get worse. One of my main writers got quite seriously ill soon after we launched (thankfully more than fine now) and it wasn't long before the other hopped on a plane to Athens and was never heard of again. Add to that the unforgiving Croatian army of keyboard warriors, and it was clear that I had taken on more than I could handle. 

But then, slowly, things began to change. A core team began to develop - Lauren, Dani and Iva - who have now been at TCN for four years, as well as the rock that is Vedran, provided not only stability but much more knowledge about Croatia, how it worked and the pitfalls to avoid. With their help and guidance, TCN took shape. Report the politics, but keep out of the politics, give people what they want in terms of information, and celebrate the little guy. 

Only 6 weeks before the launch of TCN, and some 12 years after I moved to Croatia permanently did I hear the word 'uhljeb' for the first time - in an Index news title with my name in it.

And so my view of Croatia changed now that I had crossed the Rubicon. For my new Croatian reality could not return to the old - A Tale of Two Croatias: Before and After the Uhljeb Discovery

My personal journey of discovery continued and I finally made my peace with Croatia, once I had got to Stage 3 - The 3 Stages of Learning for Foreigners in Croatia: Love, Hate & Nirvana.

Once I understood that the best way to approach Uhljebistan is to treat it as an Uhljleb tax necessary in the most beautiful country with the best lifestyle in Europe, in the same way an alcoholic in Norway absorbs the high alcohol tax when he could drink cheaper elsewhere, I was free. Pay the tax, surround yourself with positive people. And accept the things you cannot change, have the courage to change the things you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. 

And with that mindset, Croatia really is the most incredible place on the planet. 

Here are some random thoughts and things I have learned so far on this five-year journey. 

1. If you want to be liked by everyone, don't start a news portal in English in Croatia.

2. If you can't handle constant abuse, don't start a news portal in English in Croatia.

3. Croatians, especially the diaspora, are a very tough audience. They can love you for a while, but one wrong word and that all changes.

4. The Croatian diaspora is VERY diverse. There are those who rarely visit since their grandparents emigrated from 1945 on who are the most patriotic (although many don't speak the language) who have the biggest opinions about Croatia today, as well as a growing number of 2nd and 3rd generation diaspora who are realising perhaps the daily experiences of a foreigner living the Croatian reality day to day is a better indicator of the realities in Croatia today. 

5. You will never please everyone, and everything will descend to Ustase v Partizani once enough comments get going.  

6. Running a foreign portal in Croatia is fertile ground for the conspiracy theories. I have forgotten who I am currently spying for, as there have been so many agencies I am allegedly working with. Ditto, the dark forces funding TCN (I wish!). 

7. Croatia has SO many incredible people doing incredible things. SO many. They mostly exist in their own bubbles once they pay their Uhljeb tax. But those bubbles are starting to connect, and that is why I am very hopeful for Croatia. Initiatives such as Glas Poduzetnika are just the start of the road to Croatia 2.0. 

8. There are only really two problems in Croatia today - the system and the mindset. If we can go around the system to inject the mindset with positivity, one story at a time, then the system may change. This is one of the things we will be addressing in our new CROMADS project, which will go live in a month. 

9. There is also a third problem, which I call the Death of Hope. There must be a million people in Croatia who desperately want change, but no longer believe it is possible. There are probably another half a million Croatians who feel the same way, and have voiced their protest - the protest of emigration on the streets of Dublin, Frankfurt and Stockholm. If we can get that million to believe that change is coming, it will. 

10. The two viruses of transparency and technology are getting stronger, two of the best weapons that Croatia 2.0 has. Corona has done a lot of damage, but it has also given Croatia a real opportunity for change. 

11. Croatia IS changing, and Croatia 2.0 IS around the corner. It is not a matter of if, but when. 

The last five years have taken me to every corner of this incredible country, and it has given me authentic experiences a Manchester city boy could only dream of, introduced me to characters who are books on their own. 

The future of Croatia is incredibly bright, I believe that more strongly than ever, and change is coming. 

My heartfelt thanks to the 158 contributors for TCN over the last five years, as well as the huge support from our loyal readers from all over the world. I had no idea what I was doing five years ago when I started Total Croatia News, and I am not sure I am any the wiser today, but somehow it feels that we are going in the right direction. 

Thanks for your company in the last five years, and I hope you will join the TCN team for the next five years and beyond. 

.  

Monday, 15 June 2020

Croatia, a Land of Little Promotion Where the Police Answer Tourist Emails

June 15, 2020 - Although tourism accounts for 20% of Croatia's GDP, it is a land of little promotion where the police answer tourist emails. It is time to abolish the Croatian National Tourist Board and start again.

I have been very critical of Croatia's tourism chiefs in recent times, and I make no apology for that. With so many people depending on tourism for their daily survival, Croatian tourism bodies need to deliver more than ever before, or more people will lose jobs, businesses will close, and more rental properties will be at the mercy of bank repossessions.

So how is the Croatian National Tourist Board doing. And WHAT exactly are they doing? As I will demonstrate below, and despite having a staff of over 70 people, the answer appears to be not very much. 

I want to explore a few topics to demonstrate the lack of the need for the national tourist board, at least in its current format. I will look at four things - its promotional activities, response to tourist enquiries on COVID-19, efforts to see facts about Croatia represented accurately in the global media, and how they respond to a private tourism promotion initiative they claim to like.  

Greece recently came out with a very clear statement that is was open for tourism on June 15. There was a timeline infographic, as well as a media blitz which saw Greek tourism on the front page of the BBC, featured in The Guardian, and all over the international travel media. About Croatia, there was only confusion, all the more so when Croatia opened its borders to 10 EU countries but not the others. 

I was curious about how much promotion Croatia was doing internationally, so I posted some questions on my Facebook page, asking people in other countries to let me know what they were seeing, and which countries were doing the most. 

There was almost no promotion whatsoever. 

Curious, I sent the following media request to the national tourism board - here it is, complete with the answer:

Which are the main target markets for this season - am sure you have been forced to readjust? How many campaigns have you conducted so far, and where? What were they called?

The markets on which we are currently focused, primarily due to the epidemiological situation and their proximity, are Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia and Poland. Since the start of the pandemic, the CNTB has launched and promoted 3 campaigns. In April the new communication platform #CroatiaLongDistanceLove was created with the key message „Welcome Croatia to your home”, developed for the millions of followers on the social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Subsequently we launched the campaign The Vacation You Deserve Is Closer Than You Think on neighbouring markets within a relatively short driving distance, which as mentioned include Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia and Poland. Whereas, once the necessary prerequisites are met, this campaign is also planned for the markets of Italy, France and the Netherlands. In addition, a new communication EnjoyTheViewFromCroatia was recently launched. This is an online platform, focused on user-generated content supplied by the tourism sector in Croatia, as well as individuals, namely for all those wanting to supply content and promote their destination within Croatia. This campaign primarily targets key markets, that are not likely to be traveling to Croatia in the short-term, such as the long-haul markets like the USA, China and South Korea.

For additional information you please see the accompanying press releases on http://www.htz.hr/en-GB/press/press-releases

Seven countries. 

20% of our GDP dependent on those 7 countries. 

I can of course understand that there is little point advertising in the USA, China or South Korea at the moment, but Switzerland, Serbia, BiH and  - maybe even within Croatia itself?

Switzerland is a great market (actually the fourth biggest - yes, small numbers - on Hvar at the moment) with high-spending tourists, and yet totally ignored. 

One of the people who answered my Facebook call was a Croatian living in Switzerland, who said Italy, Spain and Greece were catching the eye in terms of advertising:

1. How much advertising presence does Croatian tourism currently have in your country compared to competing countries?
 
To be honest, it is close to nothing. It is such a pity! 
 
Foreign tourists spend an average of 16.5 billion in Switzerland each year, which is less than the 17.9 billion Swiss abroad.
 
Such a high buyer purchase, reasonable driving time and no effort from Croatia? Well, that doesn't surprise me anymore.
 
4. How would you rate Croatian tourism's marketing efforts in the last month out of 10?
 
9/10 for Zagreb's tourist board and a 2/10 for the Croatian.
 
Abandoning the Serbian market makes even less sense if you take politics out of the question. They are the 6th biggest daily spenders in Croatia, and they are on the doorstep, as are the Bosnians. But you can never take politics out of the equation in Croatia, especially not three weeks before a general election. So another market is abandoned. 
 
Many people are broke due to corona, but those with money in Croatia will be looking on holiday. Has anyone seen a campaign to get locals to holiday local?
 
So, our hopes rest on these 7 markets. How is the promotion going?
 
 
Here is the official video of the new campaign in English - less than 10,000 views, and just 49 likes. Hardly something to base 20% of your GDP on, of course. But the campaign was based on 7 non-English speaking countries. And here the results are much more interesting. 
 
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The German version. An impressive 900,000 views. 
 
Now look at the engagement. Just 9 likes and 2 dislikes. Have you ever come across such a popular video with such little engagement?
 
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Similar story in Poland - almost 600,000 views, just 9 likes. 
 
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Croatia, Full of Magic for Advent last year - 1.5 million views, 41 likes. 
 
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And the most popular Croatian National Tourist Board video of all time, the heavily-promoted Croatia Feeds, with over 22 million views, and yes just 66 likes and 4 comments. 
 
Strange, no?
 
I recently spent a fascinating morning with the Croatian police and border police looking at how the border crossing system worked in practice. Behind the Scenes at the Croatian Border Control System: AMAZING! is my full report on a fantastic system. 
 
I was particularly interested to meet the team answering all the emails regarding travel to Croatia. The system had been centralised, and there was now one address to contact, with many tourists complaining they were not getting replies after a week. Who was answering the emails, and why was it taking so long?
 
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What I found amazed me. All the questions where being answered by the Croatian police!
 
More than 30,000 questions at time of writing. So many emails that the national police HQ had to bring in colleagues from police departments in Split, Dubrovnik and elsewhere to get through all the emails. Croatia, the land that breathes tourism, with a national tourist board, 20 regional tourist boards, 319 local tourist boards, a ministry of tourism, and a tourism section in the Chamber of Economy. And it was left to the police to reply to tourists when flights might resume to Split. 
 
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We had a good chat and I showed the ladies the TCN daily travel update in 24 languages, as well as our Viber community, which hopefully will help them a little. 
 
In order to help a little further, I asked them to send their 10 most-asked questions, so that we could publish them in the hope that more would read and then not need to email. 
 
It was great to meet you, ladies, and thanks for your dedication to Croatian tourism. 
 
So with little promotion and no emails to answer, what do our brave tourist board warriors get up to all day? Do they perhaps monitor the European media for mentions of Croatian tourism and make sure that facts are reported accurately?
 
Hardly. 
 
As I wrote in Fixing Croatian Travel European Media Misinformation One Email at a Time, there has been SO much inaccurate information about travel to Croatia, unlike Greece with its clear message, that people are looking elsewhere. Inaccurate information which is easy to fix. But we are all too busy doing whatever we do to fix it. Let me give you an example from this article. 
 
A headline in The Irish Times prompted me to write to their travel editor:
 
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Hi Paddy, 

I run the English news portal for Croatia and saw your article last night https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/irish-tourists-excluded-from-visiting-greece-and-croatia-1.4266161 which is not entirely accurate - Irish tourists CAN come to Croatia under certain conditions - and it is going to have a damaging effect on Croatia's tourism from Ireland.
 
It is not the journalist's fault, the info is incredibly hard to find, but as I explain in my article, many European media are printing misleading stuff. You can see the real situation in my article just published - crazy rules, but they work and there are Irish people here at the moment.
 
https://www.total-croatia-news.com/travel/43939-european-media
 
FYI, this is the master travel article which we update daily - https://www.total-croatia-news.com/editorial/43707-croatia-corona-travel
 
We also have a  lively Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community where your journalists can check the latest, as well as ask questions. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/irish-tourists-excluded-from-visiting-greece-and-croatia-1.4266161
 
Would it be possible to update the article to give a bit more clarity?
 
And if you ever need a source for Croatia, Montenegro or Slovenia, we are local and cover all three countries.
 
cheers Paul Bradbury 
 
An hour later? THIS. 
 
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The final topic I would like to touch on is what happens when a private individual or business approaches the national tourist board with a great tourism promotion project. 
 
I had a concept called Virtual Croatia, whereby we would bring all the digital tools for a destination into one place so that people with a desire to travel who now had the time would be able to research a destination and really get to know it. This way, they would know what they wanted to visit, have a better experience when they came, and probably spend more money. You can see some of the articles I have done here.
 
I suggested that, as it was a national project, TCN and the national tourist board could do ti together as a joint promotion. I had the concept and the content, they had the money, IT, promotion and network to make it happen. 
 
I was told that it was a fantastic idea, but that unfortunately their budgets were on hold, and there was no new money for new projects. Ok.
 
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I decided to make a start on the project anyway and did a press release offering a free article to any local tourist board who wanted to send me their materials. I got three replies and did the three articles. All three local tourist boards were delighted and shared them on Facebook, and each article had more than 1,000 FB likes. 
 
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I contacted the national tourist board and asked them if they could send my press release to all the local tourist boards, as it was more like they would open something from the national tourist board. The reply was negative - they cannot assist private commercial businesses in that way. They did, however, send me the database of local tourist boards so that I could mailshot them directly, which I did (and we all know how that ended up...). 
 
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Before I sent the mailshot, I contacted the national tourist board and asked if they could share some of these articles on their Facebook page, only to be congratulated on the initiative which was getting considerable traction. But no, they could not share the work of a private business. 
 
So there we have it. Here's to the 70+ chaps at the Croatian National Tourist Board. We are pinning 20% of our GDP hopes on your brilliant campaign with no engagement. Don't let the stress of answering emails, monitoring the global media or encouraging any private initiatives got in the way of your worthy work. 
 
Monday, 25 May 2020

Total Croatia News Now Available in Any Language with New Google Translate Feature

May 25, 2020 - A cool new feature from Google Translate means TCN is now available in any language in the world. Here are links to Croatia's key tourism markets. 

A lot of people have a love/hate relationship, a bit like flying with Ryanair. There are things that they don't like about it, but they realise it is a very useful tool when trying to understand a foreign language or get to a destination cheaply. 

Google Translate has been a huge help to me (and I am sure many others) during the corona crisis. Most especially for me when I was doing my shift of the daily corona live update (and apologies for the less than perfect end product during those crazy weeks). 

The tool has definitely improved over the last year, although it is of course far from perfect. I got to know some of its quirks and actually published one of them before realising. 

"There are no new newborns in Virovitica" was how Google Translate sometimes reported that there were no new cases of corona.

And then I discovered something super cool the other day, thanks to Kreso Macan, that you can now have Google Translate built into your website, so that readers can see the article and all the images, links and videos in their own language and on the TCN site. 

Super cool. The quality of the translation comes with the Google Translate disclaimer, and we will continue to translate certain important articles into Croatia, but I am super curious to see how popular this feature might be. 

In order to encourage you to try, here are links to our main travel info page, which is updated daily, in the languages of Croatia's main tourist markets. Once you click, you can browse TCN as you would normally, just in your native language (with the Google Translate quality), or simple select another language.  

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Um diesen Text auf Deutsch zu lesen, klicken Sie auf (article in German via Google Translate)

Če želite prebrati to besedilo v slovenščini, kliknite na (article in Slovenian via Google Translate)

Aby przeczytać ten tekst po polsku, kliknij (article in Polish via Google Translate)

Chcete-li číst tento text v češtině, klikněte na (article in Czech via Google Translate)

Ak si chcete prečítať tento text v slovenčine, kliknite na (article in Slovak via Google Translate)

A szöveg magyar nyelvű elolvasásához kattintson a gombra (article in Hungarian via Google Translate)

Да бисте прочитали овај текст на српском, кликните на (article in Serbian via Google Translate)

Per leggere l'ultimo aggiornamento di viaggio in italiano (article in Italian via Google Translate)

Pour lire ce texte en français, cliquez sur (article in French via Google Translate)

Para leer este texto en español, haga clic en (article in Spanish via Google Translate)

Para ler este texto em português, clique em (article in Portuguese via Google Translate)

Om deze tekst in het Nederlands te lezen, klik op (article in Dutch via Google Translate)

For at læse denne tekst på dansk, skal du klikke på (article in Danish via Google Translate)

For å lese denne teksten på norsk, klikk på (article in Norwegian via Google Translate)

För att läsa denna text på svenska, klicka på (article in Swedish via Google Translate)

Voit lukea tämän tekstin suomeksi napsauttamalla tätä (article in Finnish via Google Translate)

Чтобы прочитать этот текст на русском языке, нажмите на (article in Russian via Google Translate)

Щоб прочитати цю статтю українською мовою, натисніть тут (article in Ukrainian via Google Translate)

Pentru a citi acest text în limba română, faceți clic pe (article in Romanian via Google Translate)

За да прочетете този текст на български език, щракнете тук (article in Bulgarian via Google Translate)

Për të lexuar këtë tekst në shqip, klikoni këtu (article in Albanian via Google Translate)

이 텍스트를 한국어로 읽으려면 (article in Korean via Google Translate)

要阅读中文文本,请单击 (article in Chinese via Google Translate)

Da biste pročitali ovaj članak na hrvatskom, kliknite ovdje (article in Croatian via Google Translate)

 

For the latest travel info, bookmark our main travel info article, which is updated daily

Read the Croatian Travel Update in your language - now available in 24 languages

Join the Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Realities of Running an English News Portal in Croatia in the Corona Era

March 24, 2020 - Running an English-language news portal in Croatia is a challenge at the best of times, but these are far from the best of times. A look behind the scenes at TCN in the corona era. 

These are extraordinary times in Croatia, and today's snow over much of the country after a winter with almost no snow was the latest confirmation - to me at least - that Croatia really was the global leader in unpredictability. 

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(Spring in Primosten - Photo by Sime Saric)

And nothing was more surreal than on Sunday, when my phone starting ringing at 06:25, my WhatsApp and Messenger ablaze with the very same message so early in the day:

Earthquake.

The shocking news was yet to sink in of the quakes that shook the Croatian capital, but now it was time to work. Our first report of the Zagreb earthquake was published at 06:39, just 15 minutes after the first earthquake struck. It was the first to hit the Internet in English and be indexed by Google News.

It was obviously not quite the start to the day I had planned. The early morning calls did not wake me, for I was already at my laptop working on the first article on the topic that would surely dominate the Croatian news that day - coronavirus. 

I was wrong. 

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I was chained to the laptop all day, trying to cover as much as I could myself while marshalling the rest of the TCN team. A team that was a little slimmer than last week, as the reality of the corona effect on all of our lives economically reared its ugly head in the form of client cancellations, which sadly has resulted in staff cutbacks at TCN. A temporary measure, we hope. But in this crazy uncertainty, hope is all we have. 

The earthquake was not kind to our Zagreb team. 

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(Photo credit Forrest Stilin)

TCN's Forrest Stilin had arguably one of the most harrowing starts to the day of people in Zagreb - the double whammy of a 06:24 earthquake with a magnitude of 5.5 combined with the bedroom chandelier landing on his bed. Fortunately, Forrest has trained himself for such eventualities over the years and always sleeps in the middle of the bed. A fortunate escape. Drzi se, Forrest! We hope you are doing ok. 

Forrest remains without Internet or gas some three days later, as well as a rather claustrophobic feeling of confinement with the new reality. Without Internet, he is unable to wrote for TCN, of course, but that is the least of our worries. We look forward to having him back online after recovering from the stress of this ordeal.

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Forrest was not the only TCN victim of the earthquake. The State media service, HINA, with whom TCN has been cooperating for a couple of years, had its building severely damaged (the photo above is from the HINA Twitter feed) - you can read more about it here. But despite the considerable inconvenience, HINA soldiered on at a time when its readers and subscribers needed it most. Bravo!

TCN's beloved editor, Lauren Simmonds, was also caught up in the earthquake, although she suffered more damage the following day with the 3.7 magnitude earthquake which came 11:12 on Monday. It felt strong, said Lauren, and we were live with the story three minutes later. I asked Lauren to send me something that reflected her reality for this story.  

The once busy view from her apartment - a lone fire engine cleaning up after the earthquake. 

Sunday was easily the most intense day in TCN history (as well as the second busiest, with more than twice as much traffic as the World Cup Final on July 15, 2018). There were huge coronavirus stories and new travel restrictions to report on as well, and just when I was about to call it a night... 

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This. 

A large fire had broken out on the south side of the island of Hvar, between Zavala and Ivan Dolac, with some 40 firefighters and 12 fire engines battling the blaze. We were live minutes later, with a morning update that the fire had been brought under control around 01:00. 

And where was I, reporting on all this madness around me?

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For the most part, lying in bed, self-isolating in our home in Jelsa, with sunshine beaming through the windows, a tranquil scene below. The first corona case had been reported a few kilometres away just days before, but this was a haven compared to the madness around, and it felt all the more surreal while reporting on all the chaos around. 

There are pros and cons of self-isolating on an island rather than the mainland, as I explored in The Realties of Self-Isolating on Hvar, Croatia's Premier Island

But that view, and the feeling of relative safety, nature, and plenty of space with a very supportive family, are some very big positives.

Things are tough all round at the moment, and everyone is dealing with their own corona hardships.  

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Dani has been with TCN for almost four years now, and she has done a magnificent job for us, covering so many topics for us that we have both lost count. And she has risen to the challenge once again, putting her personal difficulties to one side to perform above and beyond the call of duty. 

The funny thing is that although Lauren, Dani and I have been the core of TCN for almost four years, we have only physically been together all three of us at the annual TCN Xmas party and one other occasion. And yet despite that, I have probably the best working relationship and team spirit of my life with these two magnificent ladies, who are both superb in times of crisis. Only my time working with outstanding colleagues in the wake of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 comes close. 

Thank you ladies, you are both beyond fabulous, and thank you for all you do (and I know I speak for many others when I say that). Someone from New York messaged me recently to thank us for our work and was surprised at how few people worked on TCN and our Slovenian and Montenegrin portals. 

"I thought you had about 50 people," the New Yorker said. With colleagues such as Dani and Lauren, it can seem that way I guess. The last three days has made our bond all the stronger. 

Here is Dani, mask on in Split, and currently living with parents and grandmother. As the only under-65 in the household, her responsibilities go beyond just writing for TCN. 

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She too, is facing other new realities, as boyfriend Nathan, part of the Australian waterpolo team, was then told to return to Australia by his coach for Olympics training before Europe locked down. After much stress and packing up his apartment until 04:30, he took the first Splt flight to Zagreb on the day the EU flight ban came into effect at midday, not knowing if he would be able to fly at 14:00. More stress, but he made it, and was welcomed home to Australia and a mandatory 14-day self-isolation and an uncertain future. 

To prepare for an Olympics which will not take place this year. 

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Other occasional TCN contributors were living their own self-isolation realities - here is intern Janja, who is already well-versed in the art of self-sufficiency in her village near Varazdin. She also found time to write about the experiences of those communities who were at the very epicentre of the earthquake, communities which have been largely ignored with all the focus on Zagreb. 

Self-isolation means no socialising with anyone, and a lonely walk for an hour each evening when there is nobody around. A tour of the Jelsa riva the day after all the cafes and restaurants closed.

And what of the reporting itself?

I started Total Hvar almost nine years ago, a happy tourism blog about the idyllic island of Hvar. I am not quite sure how that got transformed to three Google News websites for Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia, but here we are. Since starting TCN, I have come to learn how many people (expats here, parts of the non-Croatian-speaking diaspora, and tourists with a love of Croatia) depend on TCN for their news and updates about Croatia in English. And this has never been more true than the current moment, when there is so much fear, uncertainty and fake news around. 

I talked to the core team and we agreed that we had a social responsibility to report as much as we could, as accurately as we could, and in as detailed a manner as we could. We would not get it right every time - how could we, confined to our homes in different parts of the country - but we would give our best. The Croatian online community is a brutal audience at the best of times, and we long ago established that a foreigner has no right to an opinion here. I actually quite enjoy the levels of abuse I receive these days, and I reward the best of them with a guest appearance on my Troll Friday series on my Facebook page. 

But with opinions divided, stress levels high, and emotions all over the place, would it be possible to navigate the waters of an audience of Croatian keyboard warriors?

(My only social life these days - my daily Tinder date with the bura - a welcome escape from the stress, if only for an hour)

In order to encourage some better behaviour from our commentators, I decided to post a request on the TCN Facebook page for people to think before they commented in these stressful and emotional times. I have only banned 28 people in 9 years of the Total Project, mostly for hate speech of the ultimate crime of being highly irritating. Just as reading TCN is not compulsory, so too reading some of the horseshit that passes as comment. I announced that we would be taking a more proactive approach to ban aggressive, abusive and irritating posters. A policy, I am pleased - and rather surprised - seems to have worked. Only two people banned so far with the new regime. 

Of course, we don't get it right every time - how could we, confined to our homes? And it has been instructive to observe how quickly some people jump down our throats to accuse us of fake news and sensationalism. Reporting for example, on the death of a 15-year-old girl in the earthquake as the Croatian media did, only to then learn that she had been resuscitated (she has since sadly passed away). Or reporting that earthquake that Lauren said was strong the following day to be accused of stoking up an already emotive situation in the name of clicks, when it was merely an aftershock. 

Suffice to say that the coronavirus has taught us all a LOT about each other, and I for one have learned who I do - and who I do not - want to know on the other side. And some of those don'ts have really surprised me.  

Our job has been made a lot easier by the superb support we have around us. First and foremost, to the whole team at Index.hr, whose timely reporting, live updates, and great map and stats, have been easily the best source of information from day one, a time when others were dismissing the pandemic. 

A big shout out to all the officials coordinating the crisis response, both in terms of steps made and communication to the population. I hope both Vili Beros and Alemka Markotic get their own statues on Ban Jelacic Square when all this is over. 

And to the various contributors to TCN, who have helped take some of the load. We are thrilled to have Igor Rudan on our team, whose authoritative scientific texts have become required reading far beyond Croatia's borders. Here is his latest.

Other great contributions this week include Aco Momcilovic for the Voice of the Entrepreneur, Ivica Profaca's Diary of a Split Tour Guide in the Age of Corona, and Zoran Pejovic with some positive advice for those in the tourism industry

Thank you all, and we welcome quality contributions at all times - please contact me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are interested. 

And that, as they say, is that. The only other thing to add is that the 8 bottles of gin in the lead photo are sadly empty, and have been since the summer of 2014. 

We thank you for all your support in these difficult times. We will not get it right every time, but we are doing our best to play our little part in helping us all get through this crisis.

And I leave you with the most important advice of all, especially if you are in Dalmatia. 

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Friday, 28 February 2020

Traditional Values or Perpetuating Division? Shaping the Young Croatian Mindset

I love Dalmatia. It really is Paradise on Earth, and I genuinely believe that living there for 13 years has made me a better person. 

It has certainly made me a more patient one... 

Having lived there for so long, and coming with my Western mentality, it has also frustrated me more than any other place I have ever lived. It took me years and years to finally realise that there was a reason certain things, which were so obvious to this more 'advanced' Westerner, did not exist in Dalmatia for a reason - locals didn't want or need them. 

I lost count of the number of foreigners who came to Dalmatia to do business, and then left frustrated. Why were things so hard there? Why can't the locals see what was so obvious, they complained?

After many years, I realised that there was one truth about Dalmatia, and that if you can accept it from the start, Dalmatia is truly Paradise. And if you can't accept it immediately, then years of frustration as a businessman await until you come to accept it. 

As I explained in this short piece for the British Embassy, that one truth can be explained in a single sentence. 

"Do not try and change Dalmatia, but expect Dalmatia to change you."

And if you can accept and live by that maxim, Dalmatia really is one of the best places in the world to live part of your life, particularly if you are bringing up small children. 

And for those who complained about the frustrations of life, the locals had - still have - a simple answer. If you don't like it, go back to where you came from. This is the way we are, and we are not going to change and adopt your values to please you. We are the way we are, and we like it that way.  

It is a strong argument and a hard one to counter, and there are plenty of other places to live if you don't like the Dalmatian way, although few which are so beautiful. Dalmatians, Croatians have a history of having to fight for their identity.  Their freedom has been hard-fought and they are understandably prickly at the suggestion that they should compromise on their values. I respect that totally. 

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And yet... 

Although I am still - and always will be - a foreigner in Croatia, I do have a bigger vested interest in the country in the form of my lovely Dalmatian wife and adorable kids. And while I respect and admire the fact that traditions and heritage have been so well preserved here over the centuries, I am beginning to wonder more and more about the healthiness of the young Croatian mindset behind this admirable protection of cultural values. 

Children are not born with prejudice or hatred. Nor with a default negative mindset which sadly is the standard in the modern Croatia. But it does not take long for young and innocent kids to have their young Croatian mindset shaped for the future by events of the past. 

Regular readers of TCN will know that I was a little shocked by my youngest daughter when I collected her from kindergarten as a 5-year-old.  She told me that her friend Ivan was SDP and Iva was HDZ. She had no idea what either meant, but the political shaping of Croatian youth had begun. In kindergarten. 

As a non-political family, I was even more shocked that my eldest aged just nine could name and recognise all the Croatian presidents, 5 prime ministers, as well as the mayors of Split, Zagreb and Jelsa. Extraordinary when you consider that the average British adult can name and recognise and know the job title of perhaps 6 politicians. And if we had lived in a political household, who knows how much of a political authority she would be. 

But the politics is only part of the story. 

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Carnival season is one of the most joyous in Croatia, a wonderfully festive occasion when locals come out to party after a long winter, as this very Catholic country prepares for Lent. 

As a foreigner without much of the local language, I always took the carnival at face value, a time of community spirit and family fun. It was only a little later as I got more immersed in the way of life and spoke better Croatian that I realised just how brutal the carnival could be. And in terms of 'acceptance' in a foreign community, there is perhaps no better 'endorsement' than finding yourself with your own carnival doppelganger. 

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And I have to congratulate young Mili on an exceptional job well done, right down to the pink t-shirt and stylish swigging from the Lasko bottle. The only thing missing was the star around his neck that I was forced to wear. 

The political sketches tended to be brutal, focused on politicians, and invariably there was the burning of one of them in an effigy as the highlight of the event. Local mayors had the chance to find out what the voters REALLY thought during some very clever and exceptionally poignant sketches. The politicians may have come out a little bruised from the experience, but it was largely good clean fun and the mayors took it in good spirit. 

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But in recent years, at least as it appears to me, there has been a subtle shift in perception in the carnival, and the focus has been less on the traditional politicians and more on individuals and issues. The one that went truly global this year, of course, was the burning of the gay couple holding a child doll of an MP with a Communist star on his forehead. While the display was roundly condemned internationally (and check out the comments on our reporting to feel how potential tourists felt), the focus of this article is on the young Croatian mindset. There were plenty of cheering kids at the burning of the gay couple, an image which will stay with them undoubtedly, and one more influence on the mindset. 

One national portal shared the above video of 1935 Germany and the carnival featuring the Jews as the fall guys. Different times, and completely different scenarios, but for the young mindset? Perhaps a little less far removed.  

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A few years ago, just a few kilometres from Imotski, it was the turn of Dalmatian journalist Ante Tomic.

The Croatian Government released a press release in the wake of the Imotski effigy:

"The tradition of burning the carnival effigy usually consisted of a sort of humorous and mocking criticism of various events in Croatian society. That sort of carnival spirit can remain within the boundaries of satire when it 'judges' someone in power like the president, the prime minister, a mayor or some other politician, but by no means those who represent various minorities in Croatian society. That is not traditional, nor entertaining nor in the spirit of Croatian and European values. As such, we condemn that act."

A condemnation which is welcome, but it does little to impact that young Croatian mindset. 

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And so to one of the most sensitive topics in the Croatian psyche - Vukovar. The heroic sacrifice of the people of Vukovar is rightly remembered on a national level on November 18 each year, the anniversary of the fall of the city after its brutal siege in 1991, and it is incredibly important not only to honour and remember those who sacrificed so much so that an independent Croatia could exist, but also to teach the next generation about this vitally important part of Croatian history. 

But when the time is right, and when young Croatian minds are sufficiently mature to handle the distressing details. Not at the tender age of 7.

As such, it is almost taboo to question anything about the official approach to Vukovar, something which I did not do for years until my eldest daughter came into our bedroom early one morning, aged 7, shaking and crying. I took her into the bed, kept her warm, and frantically tried to figure out what could have gotten her into such a state on the idyllic island of Hvar, in a loving family environment. 

It turned out that she had had her first nightmare due to the homework she had had to do. For Vukovar Day. Aged just 7, here is the homework she presented, above (and note the 'Bravo!' from the teacher in the bottom corner).

"Some of my friends drew dead bodies, Daddy, but my teacher said we shouldn't do that."

7 years old. Another piece in the shaping of the young Croatian mindset. I was so angry at the time that I wrote Is It Really Necessary to Poison the Minds of the Next Generation? I was expecting a torrent of abuse from my faithful trolls, but not a single comment. 

I am no longer religious - 9 years in a Jesuit boarding school with priests convicted for child abuse can do that to a chap - but I respect the right to religious expression, and there is no denying that the influence of the Catholic church - both benign and malign - has helped define the Croatian nation and its identity over the centuries. 

In terms of shaping the young Croatian mindset, the Catholic church inserts its influence at an early age. Religious instruction, called Vjeronauk, is a major part of the curriculum from day one. I say Religious instruction, but it should be called Catholic instruction, for the focus is on all things Catholic in those important early formative mindset years. I decided not to enroll my kids in Vjeronauk, not because I am anti-religion, but because I wanted them to make their own minds up about things, having learned about all religions. Vjeronauk in those formative years focuses on one religion only - Catholicism. 

Conservative traditional approaches, and they have all served to shape the Dalmatian mentality, which in turn contributes to the wonderful Dalmatian way of life that we all adore. But - at least in the humble opinion of this fat Irishman - there is a disservice being done to the youth of today with such an approach. This closed mindset is one of the factors, at least in my opinion, for the mass emigration from Croatia in recent years. I have lost count of the number of young Croats abroad who place very highly on their list of benefits of emigration as 'finally being able to breathe.' 

Dalmatia I love you. You are like malaria. Once you get under the skin, you infect people for life with your beauty and lifestyle. But do take a closer look at ways to preserve your wonderful traditions while equipping your children with the tools to survive in the modern world. The world has moved on and, unless the approach to shaping the young mindset changes, so will your children too. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

One Day or Day One Conference: Earlybird Tickets On Sale, Space Limited

February 11, 2020 - Earlybird tickets are on sale for the One Day or Day One tourism conference in Zagreb this April. And we promise you won't want to miss out. 

Tickets are now on sale for the conference of the year in the B2B tourism sector, which will be held on April 2 at the Forum Congress Center in Zagreb with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, the Croatian National Tourist Board and the Croatian Chamber of Economy, organized by the leading B2B tourism portal HrTurizam.hr.

Namely, One Day or Day One, which is held just before the start of the tourist season, will bring together everyone who means anything in the tourism sector.

"We all say that we have an incredible amount of potential wherever we turn, and that we need a change in the context of market development, in order to turn that potential into resources. But in order to turn these potentials into resources, we need to be more proactive in addressing market development and growth, there must be dialogue and common communication and consensus around common themes and challenges. The question we all have to ask ourselves is: How do we move faster and better? What can we do to make tomorrow better? Where do we see Croatian tourism in 2030?,” said the conference director and founder of the HrTurizam portal, Goran Rihelj.

HrTurizam.hr wants to be at the center of this story as a kind of mediator, a channel that connects through dialogue and communication, and provides concrete solutions. In the tourism vocabulary, it is necessary to define a complete tourism product, or to remove market barriers for the development of the entire tourism sector.

"And that's why there is a need to launch the #DayOne platform, which focuses on connecting the 'incompatible' or initiating communication. The main focus is not on problems and the past, but on constructive, open dialogue and solutions. The focus is on the positives, not the negatives. The focus is on synergy and collaboration. As I pointed out, #DayOne is not another conference but a platform. Because we can talk about the future of our tourism not only one day during the conference, but every day,” adds Rihelj.

An excellent story about cooperation with big brands and a positive example of synergy between public and private will be told by Denis Ivošević from the Tourist Board of Istria. The challenges and opportunities of cooperation between OPGs and destinations in the 1 VS 1 format will be discussed with Petra Butković from the Lika Destination Cluster.

The One Day or Day One conference should showcase all niches and all development opportunities in Croatia. Thus, Berislav Sokač from Run Croatia will bring an interesting vision of Croatia as a racing destination.

We continuously talk about continental tourism and emphasize the importance of developing the continent that has the greatest opportunities for year-round tourism. The best campaign of the East was the great HeadOnEast campaign as part of Croatian Tourism Days in Slavonia. Ivana Juric from the Osijek-Baranja Tourist Board will also be at the conference. 

How tourism is developed in Austria, which is one of the best examples of year-round continental tourism, will be told by Michael Fend, LAG manager at Steirischen Vulkanlandes.

Paul Bradbury, owner of Total Croatia News, One Day or Day One conference partner, and an ambassador of Croatian tourism, is someone who sees the whole story from the outside as a foreigner with a Croatian passport. His lecture, “5 tourism gifts that Croatia is ignoring, and how to fix them,” will certainly arouse great interest.

Branding in Croatia is a unique story that is talked about often, and the importance of branding does not need to be over-emphasized, because it is imperative today. The conference will also be thoughtfully themed with branding, a complex process in which we cannot go wrong. Bozo Skoko will discuss this topic at the conference, too.

The private sector in tourism has a lot to say. What are the challenges and biggest problems, what they expect from the public sector, and what solutions they propose will be shared in a large panel where there will be representatives of hoteliers, travel agencies, family accommodation, and caterers. 

Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli, who has supported the conference and expects a lot from it, will present a tourism development plan and a vision of where we see each other in 2030. The fact that the Minister of Tourism and his associates will accompany the entire conference already gives hope for the detection of genuine problems and the concept of concrete solutions. The same panel should also feature the Croatian National Tourist Board, which should be represented by Director Kristjan Stanicic. This panel will give clear guidance to the private sector, where Croatia is going, and where Croatia wants to be. The moderator of this panel is acclaimed communications expert Kresimir Macan.

How private and public sector dialogue and cooperation can look will be revealed by the example of Ognjen Bagatin and Bagatin Clinic’s health tourism development.

One of the current leading tourism experts, Doug Lansky, will speak for the first time in Croatia about positive global examples of how tourism destinations are positioned, developed and grown. Doug's lectures have always attracted a large number of listeners and attention, especially from the tourist public and the profession, and he has a large base of followers in Croatia as well.

It is crucial to emphasize that after the conference, meetings with the private sector in each area follow, in order to gather all concrete solutions into one strategic document, with a clear argument of the whole issue, and most importantly, with concrete solutions offered to accelerate market change. A document that will integrate the views of the private as well as the public sector, with the aim of consensus on the main challenges with a specific time interval on how to overcome them.

There will also be an after party in a location yet to be announced, with discounted drinks and a chance for attendees to network with like-minded progressive tourism professionals, as well as meet some of the conference speakers. 

Tickets can be purchased directly from HRTurizam.

For Earlybird entries, which run through March 20, tickets are 750 kuna, or 40% of the total ticket price. After March 20, the ticket price will be 1250 kuna. Seats are limited.

Don't miss out on the first-ever One Day or Day One tourism conference in Zagreb!

To read more about travel in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Would Croatia Be Better If Its Politicians Were Not Treated as Rock Stars?

One of my favourite people in Croatia is a friend in Dalmatia who works in the adventure tourism business. 

Apart from being a little jealous of the healthy lifestyle this fat Irishman can only aspire to, she also gave me one of the keys to being happy in Croatia over a beer several years ago. 

"I don't follow politics here at all. It consumes you if you get sucked into it. All that negativity. Instead, I just tune out, do my thing and enjoy my friends and the beautiful nature in Croatia. Maybe after 6 months, I will check what is happening, but you know what? Despite all the noise and negativity, nothing ever changes, so why surround yourself with the negativity every day when you can enjoy life instead?"

It is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given in Croatia, and I find that when I follow this advice, my happiness factor in Croatia increases immeasurably. 

Of course, running TCN makes it impossible not to get totally immersed in the country's politics on a regular basis, and I really do believe that there is a direct link between the default negative mindset of the majority of people in Croatia today, and the rather bizarre culture here (at least to this foreigner) of treating politicians as rock stars. 

A few years ago, I wrote an article called Kindergarten Political Football: HDZ United v SDP City, in which I wrote:

Ours is one of the very few non-political households in Croatia, a country where politics seems to be discussed more than any of the 95 countries I have visited. The political theme starts early in life, something I was reminded of this week when my youngest daughter, aged just 7, came home from school and mentioned a friend 'who was HDZ' and another 'who was SDP' (things I also heard at kindergarten). She had no idea what SDP or HDZ actually were, but it seems that many of her peers had adopted their political football team for life, in addition to Hajduk on the pitch. 

My older daughter, 9, saw the ridiculous video from the Josipovic campaign, declaring the former president to be very silly in the video. I asked her to name any politicians she could recognise, knowing that the average adult British worker could probably name and recognise no more than half a dozen, and a 9 year-old hardly any.
Starting with the mayors, we had Milan Bandic (Zagreb), Ivo Baldasar (Split) and Niksa Peronja (Jelsa), former president Josipovic, former prime ministers Sanadar and Kosor, current players Milanovic, Karamarko, Petrov and Kolinda. "Oh and that new guy from Canada, who calls us citizens buildings" - a reference to a linguistic slip by new Prime Minister Tim Oreskovic.

This is a child growing up in a household with no political affiliation, no political discussions at the dinner table, and no interest in politics whatsoever. Imagine what the kids in more partisan households are going through. 

Back in the UK when I lived there, it was common to see the Prime Minister in the media on an almost daily basis, other ministers too on occasion when their department was in focus. But unless a minister was caught texting little boys or a Tory MP found with an orange up his bottom, the media presence was minuscule compared to what happens here in Croatia. 

In Croatia, political stories and scandals are the top stories of the day more often than not, the politicians are elevated to the level of rock stars personalities (even though several seem devoid of a personality at all). Great drama is attached to the most minor of incidents, which are then quickly forgotten in search of the next non-story to grip the nation. 

The office of the Croatian President is a case in point. In terms of PR, the last five years have consumed a huge amount of media space, as the Kolinda PR machine was rolled out, with photo opportunities at every point (with the notable exception of the opening of Rijeka as the European Capital City of Culture in her home town last weekend). So many speeches, so many promises, so much hot air. And at the end, what did Kolinda actually achieve in those five years? As far as I can see, not much more than one thing.

She became the first Croatian to touch the World Cup. 

I, like many people, have followed the dramas of the Kolinda Presidency over the last five years. My healthy adventure tourism friend has done the opposite. And what actually changed?

Absolutely nothing. But while I was sucked into the spiral of negativity, she was hiking on Biokovo. 

It doesn't take a genius to figure out which of us is the smarter one. 

So too with the recent presidential elections. Two candidates that many could not bear to vote for, but there was no other choice. The lesser of two evils was a phrase which was associated with the second round. And even though the post of President is largely ceremonial, with two unattractive choices, it consumed the nation for weeks. 

But not my friend, as she kayaked from Split to Hvar on a perfect winter day. 

The obsession with politics might actually have a point if something were to actually change, but with mindsets so entrenched, have you ever come across a political opinion that was changed by Croatia's vast army of keyboard warriors? 

Croatia treats its politicians like rock stars. They are anything but. 

So why not choose life? Why not choose happiness? Disengage and ignore and focus on friends and nature instead. 

It makes for a much better way of life in Croatia. 

And who knows, if enough people do, then perhaps the media moguls will take note and we can focus on some real news, perhaps even with a hint of positivity on occasion. 

Now, where are my hiking boots?

If you cannot keep away from Croatian politics, get your fill in the TCN politics section.  

Friday, 31 January 2020

Finally! A Croatian Tourism Conference to Bring Change, Progress, Cooperation

Croatia seems to have more conferences than most countries, some more useful than others. A fabulous addition for 2020, however, a new Croatian tourism initiative which should bring about dialogue, cooperation and change. Why One Day or Day One #hrturizam2030 is different and deserves your support. 

A few months ago, I finally accepted a longstanding invitation from a chap called Goran Rihelj to visit him in Vinkovci in eastern Croatia. Until I first met Goran, I had never heard of Vinkovci and I was astonished to learn that it was the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, dating back 8,300 years (there is plenty to learn about this amazing town - here is a taster from my trip). In case there was any danger that I might forget the fact, each of Goran's emails were signed off with a greeting from the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe. 

Goran is well-known in Croatia as the man behind the biggest and best tourism portal in Croatia, HR Turizam, an impartial B2B platform which does a great service to Croatia's tourism industry, even its the industry stakeholders do not recognise the quality and importance of his work as they should. He is a man with a vision of how things should be, with a quiet determination to see things through. Having put Vinkovci very firmly on the map, his most notable achievement last year was to move the entire tourism industry from a sexy destination on the coast to multiple locations in Slavonia and eastern Croatia for the annual Days of Croatian Tourism awards. 

When Goran first mentioned the idea on his portal, there was derision in certain quarters from conversations I had. There was no way that Slavonia could stage such an event, and the coast was a much more attractive venue for tourism officials to party at the end of the season. But Goran did not give up, and slowly his campaign got traction, and then the official announcement - Days of Croatian Tourism 2019 was to be held in Slavonia! It was a really good few days, and eastern Croatia put on a really good show, especially Osijek, and I lost count of the number of tourism officials who were not only on their first visit, but also astonished by the quality of the offer. It was a very important step of progress for tourism in eastern Croatia.

And so there we were, sitting at Goran's dining table in the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe with his lovely wife Mirjam, discussing the problems of Croatian tourism, the potential, the dysfunctionality of the relationship between the public and the private sector. 

"Why don't we organise a conference? Cal lit something like Croatian Tourism Beyond Bullsh*t, a 2030 Vision?" I ventured. "Get the stakeholders together and talk about the real issues."

We laughed.

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And then Goran told me that he had been planning a conference for a couple of years.

And then he went on to explain his concept. And his concept was rather good, much better than mine. All he needed was a little push to make his dream a reality - which it will be on April 2 at Forum Congress Centre in Zagreb. 

Although our styles are different, TCN and HRTurizam are similar in that both portals want a better future for Croatian tourism, and looking at - and learning from - best practices elsewhere, as well as engaging in constructive criticism, are tools to get to that end. Goran would rather focus on a problem and work towards a solution, which he did to such good effect with Days of Croatian Tourism and the promotion of Slavonia. 

I don't think I am revealing any State secrets when I say that there is a large disconnect between Croatia's public tourism bodies and its private businesses. And for all the potential we talk about, very little of that potential is realised. Rather than name-calling and criticising, why not accept that there are certain things that will not change and focus instead on working to change things were public and private sector can agree and move forward together? 30% change is better than zero change, and once relationships are built, who knows how much further things could progress? After all, the idea - even two years ago - that Days of Croatian Tourism could come to Slavonia was laughable. 

And Goran's determination made it happen. 

After that late-night dinner table conversation in Vinkovci in October, I left Goran to get on with his plans and then we met a month ago to chat about his progress. 

One Day or Day One - #hrturizam was a concept that was coming along nicely. Will we keep on talking about realising the potential of Croatian tourism and one day it may happen, ot shall we make this conference Day One of meaningful change?

And this was not just a one-day conference concept. His plan was to take the discussions and agreements from the conference and put them into a transparent white paper, with road maps and timeframes on how to achieve interim goals. And then to meet at the same conference the following year to discuss progress, made, resolve issues preventing that progress, and to make a road map for the following year. And he is offering the neutral HR Turizam project to be the platform to monitor progress and effect change. 

A conference which would engage stakeholders from all sides - from the openly, albeit constructively, crtiical such as myself, to the Minister of Tourism, Gari Cappelli, who has confirmed his attendance. The focus will be on positivity, looking forward, and developing strategies and initiatives together. I will be speaking, for example, on the topic - 5 Tourism Gifts Croatia is Ignoring, and How to Fix This.

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I have seen the planned list of speakers, not all of whom are confirmed, but there is a nice blend from the public and private sector. In addition to Minister Cappelli, Denis Ivosevic, Istrian Tourist Board director will be talking about the synergy between the public and private sector with brands such as BMW and Bayern Munich. The pioneer of Croatia's medical tourism industry, Ognjen Bagatin, will be presenting with Deputy Minister of Health, Mate Car, on public-private cooperation in the health tourism industry. Petra Butkovic will speak on the success of clusters in Lika, Berislav Sokac from the phenomenal Run Croatia project, and PR and branding gurus, Kresimir Macan and Bozo Skoko. There were also be keynote speeches from international tourism experts, the details of which are being finalised. 

And, lest we forget the potential of Croatia's gourmet potential, a cooking show run by celebrity chef Mate Jankovic, and the wines of Croatia introduced by Sasa Spiranec, will ensure that there will be much more than just food for thought for the conference participants. 

There is a quiet determination in several quarters to improve both the quality and the cohesiveness of Croatia's tourism promotion and execution, and One Day or Day One #hrturizam2030 is an outstanding opportunity to begin that journey together. 

TCN will be fully supporting the conference, and we look forward to seeing you there. You can learn more about Goran's thoughts in this early announcement of the conference (Croatian version and link to HRTurizam website here). 

Friday, 24 January 2020

How Learning from Estonia Could Transform Croatia in Under 5 Years

January 24, 2020 - Estonia is one of the world's leading countries in digitalisation and new technology, boasting no less than 4 unicorns, and a country transformed from an ex-Soviet republic just 28 years ago. And Croatia could easily follow suit. 

I have been spending a little time with officials from Estonia in recent days, which has been a lot more fun than it may sound. And a LOT more inspiring. 

It is a small country of just 1.3 million people, one of the three Baltic states which emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union with some hard choices to make, and choices it had to make fast in order to survive. 

With 92% of its trade with Russia, its economy ruined by the planned Soviet economy, the ruble worthless, industrial production falling 30% in the first two years, wages by 45% while inflation rose to 1000%, it was clear that something radical would have to be done to put the newly independent country on a stable path. To learn the whole story of how Estonia did it, I heartily recommend this brilliant explanation from former Prime Minister Mart Laar: Leading a Successful Transition: the Estonian Miracle

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And it is quite a miracle. Who could have predicted back then that in a short space of time, tiny Estonia would be a beacon of innovation and global excellence, voted the very best in the world for entrepreneurial activity, start-up friendliness, and digital health? A country with no less than four start-up unicorns (Skype, Taxify, Transferwise, and Playtech), four times more than a much bigger and developed European country like Spain. And this was a tiny country where any entrepreneurial spirit had been crushed by more than 70 years of Soviet Communist rule.

So how did they do it and - more importantly - if a tiny former Soviet republic with a ruined economy could do it, could Croatia too?

And the answer to the latter question is an emphatic YES!

And relatively easily. 

With such a dire economic situation in the 1990s, the Estonian government did not have the money for a large administration, and so they decided to look at offering services digitally so that it could service citizens in some of the more remote parts of the country. There are plenty of resources online (including this video above) to explain how Estonia established itself as a digital champion, but essentially it decided to base its strategy on digitalising as many of its services as possible. Not only would this reduce costs (an estimated 2% of the value of Estonia's GDP), but it would improve the quality of life of its citizens, as well as untold efficiencies. Sort out your driving licence online, access your medical records 24/7, organise a prescription, pay taxes, even vote in elections. All done with the security of the multi-layered X-Road Data Exchange Layer, which guarantees confidentiality, integrity and interoperability between data exchange parties. Some 99% of State services are now online. 

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No more stamps. 

No more queues. 

No more offices closed due to marenda. 

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This is not some modern Western county, but an ex-Soviet republic which had no money and very little going for it just 28 years ago. 

Of course cybersecurity is a crucial issue, one I discussed yesterday with Uku Särekanno, one of the architects of Estonia's cybersecurity strategy over coffee in Zagreb. Uku was in town for the justice ministers meeting as part of Croatia's EU Presidency in his new role on Schengen cybersecurity. Apart from explaining why the system was so secure, I was impressed that Estonia had a backup plan, in case circumstances dictated a return to paper. 

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As a man who has spent more than his fair share of weeks standing in queues (often the wrong one), days on the phone here, the thought of being able to deal with so many things quickly and efficiently at a time to suit me, and without the need for leaving the house or any uhljebby contact, is appealing indeed. And if this Soviet republic can do it, why can't Croatia?

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There is one major difference between Estonia succeeding and Croatia, and Estonia holds a huge advantage in this regard. Ironically, it has the Soviet Union to thank for enabling its current success to happen. Estonians were so against the old regime with independence that they were willing to trust their new government, which made the introduction of all this much easier, as residents were more trusting that their data would be protected. Given the polarised nature of Croatian society, there would have to be a different approach. 

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I think the most interesting approach - and one which the Estonians told me they would be happy to support with their know-how - would be to focus on and encourage the small seeds of change which are being planted in parts of the country.  Seeds like the Mayor of Bjelovar, Dario Hrebak. As we have written previously on TCN, not only was Hrebak the first to introduce digitalisation into his administration, he then made transparently available all the expenditures of his administration. Having done that, he then reduced a surtax from 12% to 6%, reporting last week that far from this meaning less income for his administration, is has actually received 250,000 kuna MORE in the first 17 days of 2020. 

DIgitalised services, an administration which accounts for all its spending transparently, and where less taxes generate more revenue. In Croatia. Imagine!

Now THAT is what I call a seed of change. 

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The Estonians think so too, and they have invited me to visit Tallinn, with any interested politicians, to see how the whole e-Estonia project works - as the leaders in Europe on this, they now have a well-polished tour. So if you are a Croatian politician and you fancy being a little less uhljebby and embracing the future, then contact me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

And if we can get a few towns to follow the Bjelovar lead, easing the lives of citizens, getting greater transparency, and seeing higher revenues from lower taxes, maybe - just maybe - we can encourage more Croatian citizens to stop just complaining in cafes and demand similar change from their mayors. And then... 

The Estonian miracle has its roots in the digitalisation of its administration but it does not stop there. A major factor in the rise in its economic performance has been its early embracing of new technologies and emerging trends. It started using blockchain technology 9 years ago, and it is the number one place in Europe for one of the game-changers in the global economy in the coming years - the digital nomad.  

When I mention digital nomads in Croatia, people often think I am referring to bloggers or influencers looking for a free hotel in exchange for some online exposure. And while bloggers and influencers are digital nomads - they work remotely from an Internet connection - they are a tiny fraction of the story. Many more are consultants, IT professionals, entrepreneurs, high net worth individuals. 

The clearest example of how this works in the Croatian context was demonstrated by two digital nomads I met in Jelsa on Hvar last year. He was Russian, she was Ukrainian, and they both worked for an IT company in Munich. Their boss had told them that he only needed them physically in Munich 2 months a year, and they were free to work from home, or anywhere else, as long as they were available and online from the working hours of 09:00 to 17:00.

They decided to do a European tour of Croatia, Italy, Spain and Portugal, choosing Jelsa from April 1 to June 30. Their day started with a swim and coffee on the main square, then to work online in Munich. Lunch in a Jelsa restaurant, back online in Munich until 17:00, then off for a swim and an evening of entertainment in Jelsa.

Working in Germany, living and spending in Croatia. For three months, out of season.

There will be an estimated one billion digital nomads by 2035.

Estonia has made it incredibly easy for digital nomads to operate in Estonia, slashing red tape and allowing people to open businesses online. Recognising the considerable value that nomads bring to the economy, including how much they spend during their stay, the Estonian Government is now planning to introduce a long and short-term digital nomad visa, so that more nomads can benefit from the Estonian experience. This visa would come with conditions and requirements and would not be a free-for-all - you can learn more here

Meanwhile in Croatia... 

Let's leave bureaucracy aside for a moment. Croatia has arguably the best conditions for digital nomads to live and work in all Europe. Safety, English-language, lifestyle, accessibility, affordability, tourist destination, great food and wine, diversity, the list goes on. If it got just 3% of that 1 billion number above as the leading nomad destination in Europe, that would dwarf today's tourism numbers. And with nomads coming at different times, and for different reasons (read about the Denver nomad who is absolutely loving life in Osijek, for example),  That would be 30 million people a year not coming for a week to an already crowded beach, but for a month or three, spending much more. The pressure to keep on devastating the Adriatic coast would be reduced, and perhaps we could move towards a responsible tourism strategy.

It could be a perfect, perfect scenario. Estonia on the Adriatic. A land where the young generation joked about their parents needing something called a 'pecat' to stamp all kinds of non-virtual documents A country where everything worked with minimal administration, and where the creativity and diversity of a new digital nomad generation was producing unicorn after unicorn. 

And the sun shone, every day. 

And now let's add in our Croatian bureaucracy. A bureaucracy where Americans cannot retire here as they cannot get permanent residency. A bureaucracy where non-EU digital nomads have constant issues with temporary residency. A bureaucracy which inflicts misery on its citizens on daily basis, and is notoriously corrupt, costly, and inefficient. 

Rather than chairing the EU Presidency, Mr Prime Minister, why don't we all take a road trip to Tallinn and figure out how to get rid of all this pointless bureaucracy and encourage entrepreneurship instead? There are even EU funds to help us on the way. We always hear about how Croatia is a tiny country. Estonia is a tiny, TINY country, an ex-Soviet republic which started life 28 years ago with nothing. If they can do it, why can't we?

Read more - why Zagreb is increasingly attractive as a digital nomad destination

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