Saturday, 18 January 2020

President Kolinda, Corruption is Not the Only Thing That Begins in Croatian Schools

Outgoing Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was in the international media this week, her topic how corruption in Croatia starts with cheating at school. It is not the only thing which starts in Croatian schools. 

I don't normally delve into Croatian politics, as it is rather complex to understand for an outsider, but a recent interview with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic caught my eye for other reasons.

Actually, her interviews and public utterances during a very chaotic, and ultimately unsuccessful re-election campaign have been catching my eye for weeks. Whether it was the bizarre assertion that those who died defending Vukovar during the Homeland War were happy to do so, or that - just a week before the election - President Kolinda had magically struck deals with foreign states which would bring jobs for Croatians living in Croatia for the tidy sum of 8,000 euro per month (almost ten times the average wage in Croatia), something which for some reason could only be made public a week before the election. 

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(President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic interviewed in The Guardian)

Having heard so many things coming from the presidential office in the last five years, I am still trying to figure out what President Kolinda achieved in her term of office. 

Apart from becoming the first Croatian to ever touch the World Cup, of course... 

The election lost, it is time for President Kolinda to cement her legacy internationally, and I was somewhat intrigued to see an interview with her in The Guardian this week entitled Croatian Corruption Starts with Cheating at School, Says President. In addition to the subject in the title, President Kolinda managed to offend the Croatian Nursing Council who issued a press release after the interview, as well as distance herself from any corruption in Croatia. While she served in the government of convicted criminal, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, she was - according to the article - kept away from the big decisions and had no knowledge of everything. There was no mention of the only convicted criminal who organised many of her birthday parties, or her relationship with the mayor of a large Croatian city, whose activities challenge the very notion of being innocent until proven guilty. To name but two.

But the legacy of President Kolinda is not the subject of this article, it is the notion of Croatian corruption starting in schools. While the president did not elaborate on what steps she had taken to tackle this issue during her five years in power, it got me thinking about other things that start in Croatian schools. Cheating in schools is a universal fact of life, and I don't quite follow the logic of how cheating in a Croatian school is the start of a life of corruption, when cheating in a Swiss school is not. And while it would be a bit much to expect a president to eradicate cheating in schools, efforts to address other, Croatian-made, problems in schools could have a much healthier outcome for the future of this country and its next generation. 

As a foreign parent of two girls in the Croatian schooling system, I have been quite surprised by a number of things over the years. The first is how quickly kids in Croatia are conditioned politically. My youngest came out of kindergarten one day and proudly told me that 'my friend Iva is HDZ and my friend Ivan in SDP.' She had no idea what HDZ or SDP actually were, but the fact that political parties were even being mentioned by 5-year-olds was a sign of how overtly political Croatian society is - the most political of the 10 countries I have lived in. 

Ask a regular British adult on the street how many politicians he or she can name, recognise and know their job title. I doubt the average number would be more than 6. We have no politics in our house and never talk about the subject at home, yet by the age of 9, my eldest knew all about the mayors of Jelsa, Split and Zagreb, Presidents Kosor, Tudjman, Mesic, Kolinda, Prime Ministers Zoki, Oreskovic, Plenky, and there is no party without young Karamarko. This Croatian media obsession with turning average politicians into rock stars is pushing them and their divisive policies into the minds of the youngest in society. 

This all happens outside of school, of course, and the first time I realised what an effect schooling in Croatia could have on my kids was early in the morning of November 19, 2013. It was just after 6 am, and my eldest daughter, aged 7 and in her first year of school, came into our bedroom and woke me up. She was shaking, trembling, crying, and I had never seen her like this. I took her into the bed, kept her warm, safe and loved, then asked her what was wrong. 

"I had my first nightmare, Daddy, it was horrible." As I held her tightly, I wondered what in the world could have given her a nightmare. She lived in a loving family on the safe and idyllic island of Hvar, with lots of friends at school. It made no sense. 

And then I remembered the date. November 19. Which was the day after November 18. Vukovar Remembrance Day, the day that all Croatia rightly stops to commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the brutal siege of the hero city before its fall on November 18, 1991. Did this nightmare perhaps have something to do with Vukovar and what they had learned at school? 

"Yes, Daddy, it is horrible. The Serbs came with tanks and they destroyed everything, and then they took an old man and put him on this thing, and then stretched his body, and then they put cigarettes out in his eyes." And she cried again. "Some of my friends drew dead bodies, Daddy, but the teacher told them that they should not draw dead bodies." You can see her homework in the lead photo, complete with the red tick and 'Bravo' from the teacher.

Seven years old. 

Let's forget about the cheating in schools for a moment, President Kolinda, what kind of society are we building where we are giving our kids and grandkids their first nightmares at the age of seven? Burdening them with the division and conflict of the past at such an early age? It is entirely right and proper that Croatian children should learn about and know of the horrors of Vukovar when the time is right, as well as pay their respects. But at the age of seven, with impressionable kids that age drawing dead bodies for homework? Is it really necessary to poison the minds of the next generation?

Vukovar is a very emotive issue in Croatian society, and I shied away from it until last year, when I decided to take part in the annual remembrance parade, as it had never really been documented in English. It was a harrowing day, but much different to how I had envisioned it. You can read my account here

I was shocked at how the Vukovar memorial event had been hijacked for political purposes by the politicians of today, President Kolinda included. And when the national focus left the city after its annual day of remembrance, Vukovar returned to its hopeless, abandoned limbo where it has existed ever since peace came. This was perhaps not the prosperous city that those brave defenders would have been happy to die for, as the president claimed, above. Rather than scoring political points and doing nothing to help the survivors of Vukovar, here is how to honour the fallen and assist the survivors.

Cheating in schools is a global problem, and a hard one to eradicate. Giving Croatian kids nightmares from the age of seven is a very Croatian problem, caused by Croatian policies, and extremely simple to eradicate by Croatian politicians. 

Now that would be a presidential legacy worth talking about. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Lessons for Croatia: Successful Tourism by Doug Lansky at CIHT 2019

Successful tourism in an age of overtourism. Leading travel guru Doug Lansky put on a very thought-provoking show at the recent Crikvenica International Health Tourism (CIHT 2019) conference in Selce last week. With plenty of lessons for Croatia (and others) to learn.

From the very first minute after taking the stage of CIHT 2019, Doug Lansky had me hooked. One of the leading (and most engaging) speakers on the global circuit (you can check out one of his TED talks below), author of books for both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, along with a host of other stellar tourism credentials, it became clear early on from his pouring cold water on Kvarner Regions's inclusion in Lonely Planet's top 10 regions to visit in 2020, that this was going to be quite an education. 

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"Yes, it is nice to have, but people don't visit destinations because of lists. I know how those lists are compiled. I used to compile them back in the office for various publications. What makes people get on a plane is something altogether different."

Before we got to what made people travel, we were treated to a very detailed and entertaining explanation of what did not make people travel. Logos, slogans, websites, sponsored social media posting, lists. And food. 

Yes, food. 

Lansky showed us the results of a social media which was conducted to find out if there were differences between what people clicked on when they saw a sponsored post and then - via a tracking cookie installed - what they actually spent the money on when they reached the destination. The findings were amazing. Of the four tourism activities chosen for the experiment - restaurants, supper clubs, natural attractions, and tours - restaurants had the highest click-through rate (CTR) on the ad (2.9%) and the lowest actual visit (2.7%), while natural attractions had by far the lowest CTR (1.9%) but by far the most engaged results in terms of users and dollars spent (4.8%). Take-home lesson - what grabs someone's attention while browsing on the sofa is not necessarily what will be the beneficiary of an open wallet on arrival. 

So if these are not the reasons people travel, what is getting them on a plane? The answer is something obvious in an increasingly globalised world. 

 

Something different, something unique. 

Lansky took us through several examples of how abroad is looking even more like home than home is these days. Just 2 Pizza Huts in New York City, but 72 in Beijing. Just 7 KFCs in The Big Apple, but 134 in the Chinese capital. No New York Wallmarts, but three in Beijing - we have even mastered how to sell the Chinese their stuff back to them, he joked. 

All this got me thinking. Croatia has never been big on international franchises but how did it compare with the rest of the EU? The results were rather interesting and offered a wonderful branding opportunity of the major EU tourism destination offering something completely different. 

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A country which can call itself the Non-Starbucks capital of the EU, the largest country in the EU (and let's not forget those 20 million tourists looking for a fix) with no Starbucks at all. One of the main reasons for that is the coffee - and coffee culture - is so strong.

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The lowest per capita density of McDonalds in the EU outside the Baltic States. The KFC situation looked encouraging - just 7 outlets compared to 224 in Poland for example. 

A great niche for Croatia to develop, perhaps?

Tourists want something unique, something different

Something different like the London Eye, for example, which was a real hit and attraction when it opened. Something truly unique. And then not so unique, as Eyes started to appear in cities as far away as Shanghai, Melbourne and Singapore. 

But it is the truly unique attractions which make us travel. And the very ironic thing is that those very unique things are VERY affordable and cost almost nothing. Imagine going to Paris without visiting two of its stars, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre - combined entrance price just 20 euro. The Taj Mahal (1 euro), the Pyramids (6 euro) the Great Wall of China (7 euro), the Hermitage in St Petersburg (8 euro), the Statue of Liberty (17 euro), Edinburgh Castle (20 euro), Macchu Picchu (39 euro). Lanksy took us through 15 world-class and very unique attractions, of which Petra in Jordan was the most expensive at 60 euro - total entrance price just 290 euro all in. In his example, a tourist coming from Vancouver to Paris to see the Louvre was spending just 0.3% of the holiday budget on the thing he came to see. 

All the money is made elsewhere. 

Protect and develop the unique and fabulous attractions, and they will come. And word of mouth will spread about a destination with something different and well-managed, and non-sponsored social media will market that message even louder. 

Unique attractions do not need to be old monuments or places of natural beauty. He cited the food court in Brooklyn, where members had to adhere to one important rule - they could not have a similar restaurant anywhere else. If they did, they were out. And so every single restaurant is a unique gourmet experience. Plane tickets for foodies. 

From the ice hotel in Sweden to the competition in Scandinavia and Finland for the best offering to enjoy the Northern Lights, to random unique hits such as a restaurant with goats on the roof, it is the unique experience which is what people are searching for. 

The key of course is how to manage it well. 

But we are many, and will be more. Time to put a cap on CAPitalism?

But there are more and more tourists, how to stop them coming en masse? One of the things I loved about Lansky's presentation was that he presented it in such a way as you felt that everything was so obvious and that you almost came up with the idea yourself. Simple steps, sensible suggestions, eloquently delivered. Many eyes opened. 

The best example of tourism development is a theme park. If the management decides to add another ride, they also add supporting facilities - another restaurant, a ticket booth, extra toilets. The theme park growth is coordinated and takes in all considerations, and so bottlenecks are avoided. Not so with tourism. 

Everyone wants to squeeze into the old town of Dubrovnik, for example, but are there enough parking spaces? Toilets? And this is before we think about the cruise ships... 

There are natural caps in many, many tourism-related sectors, where only a finite number of people can come. Simple examples include airplanes and hotels. But it is rare to find destinations that put a cap on tourist numbers, as that would be anti-capitalist, right? Missing out on the chance to make more money. That money-grabbing approach highlights one of the stress lines of tourism today - the alienation of the local community. Yes, we want more tourism, said Lansky, but how many in the room wanted ten buses a day parked on the street with engines running to keep the aircon going, while tourists took over the streets, cafes and peed in the bushes. Day after day after day? 

But with so many people coming, how do you reduce the numbers and reduce those queues. Can you actually put a cap on tourism numbers? Some destinations are. One Italian coastal destination Lansky mentioned was overrun by tourism and the 2.5 million visitors. They shifted to a ticketing entrance system with a maximum of 1.5 million tourists. A million less tourists, a much better destination and happier locals. 

I wrote something similar a few months ago about how to deal with overtourism in Dubrovnik. With so many tour buses clogging up the roads, their guests spending little to nothing on arrival, and with the wonders of modern technology, I suggested an application which controlled access to the prime attraction, the old town. If you are spending a night in Dubrovnik, you get the download code. If you, the download costs you 100 euro, which you can spend anywhere in the old town (restaurants, entrance to the walls etc). It might not be popular for those looking for a cheap walk around, but Dubrovnik has to put a cap on things somehow, as it is really not a nice experience visiting in the summer these days. You can read more of the concept here

Looking for a tourist attraction which manages demand very well? The Harry Potter Experience in London. Massively in demand, but only available when your selected visiting time comes around. Simple. Not only no queues, but a chance for advance spending when you book other services online. 

How to make guests spend more?

I really enjoyed this section, as Lansky came out with a trove of data and ideas. And most of the conclusions were simple enough that I could make them. 

People like to shop, especially if you can divorce the cash from the experience. Put it on the room bill, advance shopping, casino chips, that kind of thing. More than 30% of shopping is done after 6pm apparently, so stay open!

Toilets! Lack of good toilets often sends tourists back to the hotel to use the facilities in the hotel room. And then one of the kids lies on the bed, Dad checks his email, and before you know it, destination spending opportunities are lost. 

One company which understands this is 2theloo, a high-street retail services company which keeps those spenders out in town. Check out the video above - genius. 

Innovative tourism to create something from nothing

Customer service is everything. Do it well and that will often be the highlight of the holiday. Do it exceptionally and innovatively, and you can transform your business. Lansky gave a great example of a hotel which was number 62 in the destination's TripAdvisor ranking. They decided to convert 4 ground-floor rooms to be pet-friendly. In order to add a little friendliness, they had a gimmick of email the pet to say that its bowl and cushions were ready, ending with a greeting like Wuff, Wuff. To the hotel's astonishment, the arriving canine guests emailed their own wuffing messages back. To such an extent that all were great friends by the time of arrival. The hotel is now completely pet-friendly in all rooms. And number one on TripAdvisor. 

Another brilliant idea which cost nothing was the Overstay Hotel. Guests can stay as look as the room is not booked, so if you come for a night and there is no booking for the rest of the week, you get a free stay. While this does not actually cost the hotel very much, in addition to the marketing benefit, guests are likely to spend on ancillary services such as bar and restaurant, much more than an empty room could.

Not all the money stays in the destination

An obvious point, perhaps, but one which is often overlooked. 15% to Booking.com, 10% franchise fee to corporate head office, 4% for credit cards etc - and so much more, but Lansky also gave a great example of how tourism money seemingly comes into a community, when it actually doesn't. And he gave a great example, again. 

A guy comes to a hotel and pays for the room in cash. 100 euro. The owner is grateful as he is broke and immediately gives the 100 euro to the laundry guy who has been doing the service on credit. The credit guy goes to pay his vetinary bill, and the vet then settles his outstanding bar bill. The barman pays the debt to the accountant, who immediately runs to the hotel to settle last night's hotel bill when his parents came to stay. Just as he does so, the original guests comes down and says he has changed his mind and so takes his money back and leaves. 

The other money aspect which is rarely mentioned (and I have NEVER heard it mentioned in Croatia) is the cost of tourism. 20 million tourists generate 12 billion dollars or whatever the number will be this year, but has anyone ever heard a number on the utility or cleanup costs on the explosion of mass tourism. Or the environmental coast of the gradual erosion of the idyll that was the Adriatic coast 50 years ago?

So what are Croatia's top 10 unique things to see that might get people on that plane?

To conclude - as I have gone on longer than I intended - close your eyes, strip away the tourists and the mass tourists. What are the top 10 things in Croatia with that unique WOW factor or the potential WOW factor? Something that you can not or can hardly find anywhere else? 

My list I am sure will be different to yours, so post yours in the comments - it could be a fun discussion. But one thing that immediately strikes me about my list is that almost all - if not all - of the 10 are either threatened by overtourism, or are hardly touched by tourism at all. The lesson being, if young Lansky is right, that Croatia and his Starbucks-free brand might be better served to have a complete rethink of how to make those unique attractions which cost almost nothing to see so amazing that all the money is spent around them. 

And to consider, perhaps, that 1000 tourists a day spending 1000 euro a day is a lot better than 100,000 spending 10 euro a day...

My top 10, in no particular order

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1. Dubrovnik Walls

2. Diocletian's Palace

3. Plitvice Lakes

4. Vucedol (in photo above - and an intro for those who have never heard of it)

5. Blaca and Dragon's Cave

6. Blue Cave

7. Smiljan, birthplace of Nikola Tesla (but needs to be developed - but what an opportunity with 21 million electric cars on Europe's roads by 2030)

8. Pula Arena

9. Sibenik stone fortresses and cathedral

10. Hvar Town and the Pakleni Islands

(and as a bonus for religious tourists looking for the only authenticated miracle in Croatia you can actually visit, Ludbreg). 

Imagine if all those where developed with the idea of preserving and keeping special the unique attractions, and then generating the cash all around. 

To learn more about Doug Lansky and successful tourism, visit his official website

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

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

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

It is fast becoming the Croatian 'P' word. 

P for Potential. 

Croatia has so much potential. 

Croatian tourism has so much potential. 

Croatian medical tourism has so much potential. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is lots of potential. 

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

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

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

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

Friday, 23 August 2019

Total Croatia News Wins Medical Tourism Media Award in Malaysia

August 23, 2019 - The inaugural Medical Travel Media Awards took place at the Kuala Lumpur Sheraton in Malaysia on August 22, 2019, with Total Croatia News among the award winners.

 
TCN CEO Paul Bradbury was at the event representing TCN and collected the award for Best Online Feature in the International Category. Additionally, Bradbury and TCN were finalists in the category of International Medical Journalist of the year.
 
The awards were conceived by the dynamic Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, whose spectacular success in forging a public private partnership and national brand has catapulted Malaysia among the best medical tourism providers in the world. This was the first time a country has held a special event to celebrate the media contribution to the medical tourism story.
 
MHTC invited journalists to submit print, online and broadcast contributions profiling Malaysian medical tourism excellence, and they received over 250 submissions from 10 countries.
 
Bradbury, a vocal promoter of the huge potential of medical tourism in Croatia, first came into contact with Malaysian medical tourism last year at CIHT 2019 in Crikvenica, where MHTC CEO Sherene Azli gave a spectacular presentation of the Malaysian approach to developing its medical tourism.
 
"Malaysia's approach to medical tourism is summed up together by the MHTC hashtag, Together We Win. Their unity and wonderful, coordinated approach between the public and private sector is a lesson to us all. Croatia has much to learn from countries such as Malaysia as it tries to exploit its own medical tourism opportunity.
 
"It was a huge honour to win this award, the first international award for TCN, and I would like to thank my entire team, my wonderful girls and Ognjen Bagatin and Tea Hitner from Bagatin Clinic for their support, as well as the outstanding hospitality of MHTC."

As part of his trip to Malaysia, Bradbury is visiting various medical tourism facilities as a guest of MHTC, where there will be more lessons to be learned for sure.
To read more about travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page
Saturday, 10 August 2019

Bourdain's World-Class Wine, Food, Cheese Meets Tacky, Taco Croatian Service

August 10, 2019 - When is a taco not a taco, and some lessons to be learned about customer service in Zagreb.  

One of the many things I get criticised for is that I never write negative things about restaurants, and the majority of my writing about gastronomy in Croatia is extremely positive. There are a few reasons for this. 

Firstly, I don't believe in spreading negativity for the sake of negativity, and one of the reasons TripAdvisor exists is so that people can vent their dissatisfaction. Secondly, I like to celebrate Croatian gourmet excellence where I can, especially giving the little guy a little more exposure - the fabulous vegan and gluten-free menu of Lucullus in Hvar Town or the traditional yet innovative Zbondini in Velo Grablje are recent examples of this. And thirdly, as a naturalised local, I have a better grasp of where to eat and where to avoid, and so my exposure to bad food choices is a lot more limited in Croatia than it would be to the visiting tourist.

But the subject of the quality of restaurant food and of restaurant service is something I encounter on a daily basis online and in person, perhaps more so this year than previously. Higher prices, average food and disinterested waiters are things which I am encountering more and more with the many people I engage with and follow. 

All agree on the huge potential of Croatia's goumet tourism, which was perhaps given its biggest ever endorsement by the late, great Anthony Bourdain back in 2011, when he spoke of Croatia's 'world-class food, world-class wine, world-class cheese.' It was certainly a great launching pad to develop the niche of gourmet tourism, which has a much longer and higher-spending season that summer on the beach.  

And while most of us mere mortals cannot afford to eat in the places frequented by Bourdain, Croatia can develop its image as a destination with good quality food, dishes and service simply by delivering menus and restaurant experiences with those ingredients at the core, whatever the actual budget. 

Sadly this is happening less and less listening to many people I meet. And the perception is growing that although Croatia has a GREAT gourmet story, what many of its restaurants are delivering average food at a high price with poor service. 

It really shouldn't be that way, especially in a country which lives off tourism. 

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An article on this subject has been formulating in the back of my head for quite some time, but I have never really had a focus to turn it into an article.

Until I went for lunch (or thought I went for lunch) at Submarine in Bogoviceva in central Zagreb a few days ago. Originally known as the Yellow Submarine until a British lawyer representing the interests of those Beatles chaps ensured a change of name in 2015, Submarine is a popular place with a specialty in burgers. At its entrance, it promises organic, homemade, farm to table, natural products. 

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I wasn't in the mood for a burger, but the idea of a tuna taco sounded very appetising indeed. Tuna & Taco, Mediterranean tuna with couscous, crunchy tacos and fresh arugula, mixed with cherry tomatoes and red cabbage. It sounded great and I ordered the large Tuna & Taco along with a drink.  

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What was I expecting? A tuna taco, or perhaps mini tacos - something like this, perhaps. 

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Or this maybe.

And what did I get?

Once the waiter placed the dish in front of me, I stared at it for some time. What in the world was that?!?  

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What looked like a can of tuna, a few sliced cherry tomatoes, some couscous and a few tortilla chips on a bed of red cabbage.  

Maybe I was missing something, but where was the taco?

Despite the fact that I write a lot about food in Croatia, I am not really a foodie, and I often rely on others to help me with the understanding of dishes and terminology. Maybe my understanding of what a taco was was incorrect. So I asked my Facebook buddies. 

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I called over the waiter to confirm that this was the Tuna & Taco, which he confirmed. When I pointed out that this was not a taco, I was told that this is what they call it and this is how they prepare it. It is not the waiter's decision on how things are prepared or advertised, and no, there was no supervisor or management person I could speak to.

Ordinarily I might just have paid for the drink (I did not touch the meal), but that article in my head now had a focus. I decided to pursue the issue to see how customer service works in Croatia today when dealing with an unhappy customer. When I asked the waiter if he really had no number to call if the restaurant caught fire, a number of a supervisor was found and he called. After speaking to the supervisor, he repeated what he told me - that this is what they call it and that is how they make it. I would not be charged for the meal, just the drink, and so everything was fine. 

Everything was not fine, and I asked to speak to the supervisor by phone if she was not available in person. I was told that the supervisor would not speak to me, but that her shift would begin at 21:00 (it was now lunchtime). I felt sorry for the waiters, who are in the front line of customer dissatisfaction and have nobody in authority to call upon to deal with unhappy customers. The waiter agreed that this was not a taco in the classic sense, but repeated that this is how it was presented and served, not a decision he could influence. When I asked if I was really the only person who had complained at the tacolessness of the taco dish, he confirmed that I wasn't. 

I decided to follow up in the evening by returning to Submarine after 21:00. In the meantime, I sent a message to the Submarine Bogoviceva Facebook page, as well as an SMS to the COO of Submarine, whose number I had obtained through my media contacts. The Facebook message remains unread today (more on that later), but the COO (I have decided to omit the names of the people involved) texted back with an apology and a promise to call the next day as he was on vacation. 

When I returned to Submarine about 21:50, the supervisor was not there. A phone call from the waiter confirmed she would be at 22:20, so I returned then and after 10 minutes, she arrived. I explained that I was a very unhappy customer from this morning, even more so when I was told by the waiter that she, the supervisor, refused to speak to an unhappy customer. She told me that she really didn't have time to talk as she was in a rush, but that there had been no need to talk to me as the waiter had explained everything to me, I did not pay for the meal, and they call it Tuna & Taco and serve it that way because that is the way management wants it done. She was aware it was not a classic taco and went on to describe what a real taco is like. With great accuracy.  

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Yes, the tuna comes from a can, but it is from the Mediterranean, not the inferior quality from Vietnam. 

"Can you explain why the English menu describes the tuna as Mediterranean but the Croatian version describes it as 'delikatesna' - alluding to higher quality."

"Because it is higher quality tuna."

"From a can."

"Yes."

And that, more or less, was that. She did not respond to the Facebook message because she doesn't manage the Facebook page, but I could have emailed her (she neglected to mention how I was supposed to have obtained her email). She also said I was the first person to have complained about the tuna and taco, contrary to the waiter's response to my question (and my anecdotal feedback since posting the dish on Facebook). As supervisor, she would be aware if there were any other instances. 

And so to bed.  

 submarine-zagreb-taco (2).jpg

The next morning, I received a phone call. It was not from the COO but from Submarine's communications director, who must have got my number from the COO as nobody else asked for it. It was a polished performance, as he asked me to explain what the problem was, and he was a good listener. 

He told me that the fact that I was a journalist made no difference - they wanted to speak to all unhappy customers. Which sounded nice, apart from the fact that the only reason he was able to communicate with this dissatisfied customer was because I had sent it to the COO. Not only did the supervisor refuse to speak to me on the phone, but nobody asked for my number so that the communications director could speak to the unhappy customer. 

Like the supervisor, he assured me that I was the only person ever to complain. If someone else had complained, he would have known about it, and Submarine has very checks and balances to monitor these things.

Clearly, those checks and balances are not working. 

Would the Tuna & Taco dish stay on the menu? Yes it would, although perhaps they would look at the wording. And yes, the tuna was from a can, but it was the very best Mediterranean tuna, Ribeira from Spain (he sent me the photo above).

The communications director invited me to bring my family and friends for a complimentary meal to enjoy the Submarine experience, which was gracious but I declined.

The Facebook post remains unread, as the Bogoviceva page apparently only exists to tell people where the location is. 

Tourism is an increasingly competitive industry, and international travellers expect international standards. 

That includes providing dishes from other cuisines which look and taste like the original dishes, as international tourists would expect to find them. 

That includes have a proper complaints procedure, where someone in management is available to deal with situations, either in person or by phone. Or if they are not immediately available, that a contact number is taken so management can get back to the customer as soon as possible. To not have that in place is also very unfair on the waiters, who are generally not the best paid anyway, even without having to deal with customer complaints without backup. Submarine is certainly not the worst experience I have had in a Croatian restaurant - far from it - it just happened to be the one which focused those thoughts swirling in the back of my head all summer. Much of the above is applicable to many restaurants in the country. 

Croatia has a phenomenal gourmet story to tell, from the world-class food, wine and cheese that had Bourdain raving right down to the good, honest and delicious food served in the family konoba. Great, well-priced food, served with a smile and with an engaged management to deal with issues makes SUCH a difference to the holiday experience. 

While there are many exceptions, it is not something that Croatian tourism is strong on. 

 

Monday, 5 August 2019

Why Public Shaming is Sadly the Only Way to Effect Change in Croatia

August 5, 2019 - So how do you effect change in Croatia? The case for public shaming, and how the little man can win those little victories. 

They say life begins at 50. It certainly seems to be doing so for me and my writing career. 

Just days after my 50th birthday, I was published for the first time in my home country - an article in The Daily Telegraph no less

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I was even published in the Samoan Observer this morning, my first article in the Pacific.

And now this. My own occasional column in Croatia's most popular news portal, Index.hr. After seeing my recent interview with Index on the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism clock up over 100,000 views and more than 5,000 likes, it was clear to me that there was no better way to reach a Croatian audience, and I was happy to agree to contribute an occasional column. Here is my first one in English, which went live on Index this morning. Thank you for the opportunity.

****

Many years ago soon after I started writing online about Croatia while living in Jelsa, the Internet stopped working at home, and we were told it would take a week to get it fixed. The joys of island life. 

The next day, my wife was in Split and I was forced to take my two young daughters into a smoky winter cafe so that I could do my job. I posted on Facebook asking my friends if anyone had a Croatian solution to get the Internet fixed quicker. Less than half an hour later, our home was back online. How?
 
A friend messaged me the email address of the telecom company's PR department and said that they hated bad publicity. One polite email explaining the dangers to my kids' health from this British Google News journalist, and I had a reply within 2 minutes and Internet restored shortly after. Outstanding customer service, as good as anything you will find in America. 
 
A few weeks later, a friend who runs a tourist agency called me in desperation. His Internet was down at the office during the season and he was told it would be 9 days before it could be fixed. What was it I did to get my Internet fixed so quickly? 
 
I decided to write to the PR lady again, copying my friend and asking if there was anything she could do. My friend called me three hours later.
 
"Amazing. We have the Internet back. Thank you! The engineer came after a couple of hours and sorted the problem. I asked him how he could come so quickly when we were told 9 days? The engineer replied:
 
"I have strict instructions from Zagreb that when the fat Englishman in Jelsa complains, I have to jump."
 
Now you might think that because I am a journalist writing in English with a wide international audience, I have more chance of people fixing my problems than you in case I publicly shame the official online, but here is the good news for every Index reader and everyone else in Croatia - you have that same power at me. Let me tell you how I found this out and then let me show you how you use a simple process to improve your dealings with bureaucracy. 
 
Six years ago, I bought a car in Germany and the dreaded day finally came when I had to go through the whole process of doing the paperwork to import it at the customs house in Split. I went from room to room to room collecting stamps and signatures. 
 
When I entered room number 4, the official in his late 50s was busy at his computer, playing Angry Birds or something similar I guess. He looked up at me, then through me and returned to his computer screen. From the time I lived in the Soviet Union in 1991, I have had officials look through me like I wasn't there tens of thousands of times. The way to deal with this is to get them to notice you are there. 
 
I explained in Croatian what I needed from him, but he barely responded. This stamp was going to be a hard one to get.
 
"Also, if you don't mind, I am am a blogger researching how the customs houses have changed with EU entry for a story I am writing for an American news portal. Would you be able to give me a quote, and perhaps I could take your picture for the article?" I raised my phone to take his picture. 
 
"No photo!" he snapped, before grabbing my paper, then signing and stamping it. I was onto my next battle 30 seconds later. 
 
Do you see the difference? With the Internet problem, I explained who I was and wrote an email from my website email. With the car import, I made a story up and gave no proof that I was a blogger or journalist. And the result was the same. 
 
Over the course of 17 years here, I have come to learn that there are three types of people in Croatia. The uhljebs and their many cousins who are - in the words of one successful Australian Croatian entrepreneur recently - sucking on the nation's tits. Then you have the vast majority of disenfranchised people in Croatia, who have no voice, and whose sole purpose for the uhljebs is to keep paying more tax so that they can continue to rule this fine country. 
 
And then there is the third group. It is a group which I thought was the smallest, but it is actually the biggest. The people with shaming potential to cause embarrassment to the people who run the mighty State of Uhljebistan.
 
The only thing that uhljebs fear is public scrutiny, and they will do anything to keep their activities and uselessness away from the public eye. The mere hint of exposure means that they will react in a way much more dynamic than a polite request. Words such as blogger, social media, viral terrify them.
 
And the good news for all of us is that the POSSIBILITY of public shaming is often enough to make them act, especially at the lower level. I wrote an article on my Total Croatia News portal called Activate Your Shaming Potential: How to Get Things Done in The Beautiful Croatia. https://www.total-croatia-news.com/lifestyle/24035-activate-your-shaming-potential-how-to-get-things-done-in-the-beautiful-croatia
 
And it works. Try it. I know at least five friends who are not bloggers or journalists who have followed this advice and had their problems fixed rather quickly. 
 
Let me give you two examples of how the Kings of Accidental Tourism can react quite quickly, for example.   
 
On May 10, I wrote to the Croatian National Tourist Board asking some questions about the lack of Game of Thrones promotion. I went in search of the Game of Thrones section on their website.
 
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"When I didn't find any, I typed in 'Game of Thrones' in the HTZ search box. I attach a screenshot of my findings - a link to our Lady or Trsat in Rijeka, something about food and sailing, and a fruit fair in Zagorje. I have never watched the show, but my GoT friends tell me that they are not related to the show. Can you explain how people are supposed to find any info about GoT on the HTZ website if there is no section and the search box sends you to other parts of Croatia entirely?" Twelve days later, on May 22, I received a reply:

"Your search results on our website may not have resulted in the expected outcome. We are in the process of reviewing the search mechanism of the website."

Time passed. A week later, as part of a separate press enquiry, I noted that it had still not been fixed.

"No, it is still not fixed. The web department is currently working on more important issues of CNTB’s websites and it will be fixed as soon as possible."

Months passed, and our heroic IT kings must have been very busy, as nothing had changed. And then last week, Index published an interview with me, in which I pointed out the Game of Thrones searchbox issue. The interview was read by almost 100,000 people apparently, and many thanks for SO many positive messages of support. The next day, something changed.
 
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Progress. I guess. Now when I search for information, you get a blank page. Croatia, Full of Information. 
 
(Game of Thrones searchbox update August 5 - there have been some major developments since this article was originally written. So good in fact that we will dedicate a new article to it soon).
 
As you can see, I did politely try to get the searchbox problem sorted, but something stronger than me, the Index factor, effected the change through public shaming. It is really sad that this is the only way to make change happen in Croatia. 
 
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Sometimes, however, when you point something out on a blog much smaller than Index, you can get change very quickly. Such as the time you point out that Croatia has the world's most challenging golf course - an 18-hole course just off Zrinjevac in central Zagreb. The course, Dolina Kardinala, near Karlovac actually closed 7 years ago, but as we know from the Ministry of Tourism's strategy to build 30 golf courses by the end of next year (none yet started, one lawsuit of US$500 million from one golf investor against), Croatia is Full of Golf. 
 
Of course, the Index factor is far more powerful than one fat pink British blogger could ever be. Do you think that the ministers who recently resigned would have done so if they had received a polite email pointing out what had been discovered?
 
Are the first cracks starting to appear in the mighty State of Uhljebistan? Probably not, but at least we can all now activate our shaming potential, whether we are Index or just the regular citizen on the street. Try it and let us know how you got on in the comments below. 
 
To read the original article in Index in Croatian, click here.
Friday, 2 August 2019

Lies, Damned Lies and Croatian Statistics Said Mark Twain, Kind Of

August 3, 2019 - A deeper look into the tourism statistics in Jelsa on Hvar points to the realities of season 2019 in Croatia beyond the headline numbers.  

Statistics are such useful things. On the one hand, they can be used to track progress on things, while on the other, they can be interpreted in certain ways to fit a particular narrative. 

And when - as is the case with the Croatian tourism chiefs - the powers that be decide that statistics (and their interpretation of them) will be the biggest barometer of success, then having control of public opinion of the interpretation of those statistics becomes crucial. 

And so when the Ministry of Tourism decided to restrict access to the transparent, award-winning, real-time eVisitor statistics reporting system, I was not the only one who was suspicious that there was something 'going on.'

Some people think I am a tourism expert because I write a lot about Croatian tourism. I am not. I am a former male chambermaid turned wine merchant turned aid worker turned English teacher in Japan turned real estate agent turned writer. My first article published online was less than 8 years ago. 

My understanding of Croatian tourism is still evolving, and I - like many others - was impressed at the growth of tourism in Croatia. Record number of tourists, record overnight stays. It was all good. 

Or was it?

The overtourism debate in Dubrovnik started to spill over to other places on the coast, and somewhere along the way, the charm of the Dalmatian coast (I am referring mostly to the Adriatic coast here, and would also like to point out that little of this refers to Istria) seemed to be getting lost with an ever-increasing influx of tourists on the mainland. Were all these extra tourists a good thing, and were they actually spending to compensate for the inconvenience?

There has been a growing call in recent months for cruise ships to be limited, to have a general rethink on the tourism strategy. This mass tourism strategy is not healthy, and anyway Croatia cannot really compete with the likes of Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt, who are all now back in competition after recent terror attacks. And as there is a severe lack of quality hotels, luxury tourists are looking elsewhere. 

But the statistics. If statistics are the thing you have decided to be judged on, then statistics you must deliver at any cost. The quality of the tourism has become less important than the statistics. If Minister Cappelli can announce that last year's record overnights of 106 million (54 million more than in 1990) has been exceeded, then he can officially declare the season a success and a vindication of his 'strategy.'

But is it? Is judging a tourist season by its arrivals and overnight stays the way to measure success? If we all worship at the Temple of Record Overnight Stays and feed it more and more overnights to make the temple bigger, is that what we call success? Or a strategy? 

Statistics. As Mark Twain famously wrote, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Let's take a closer look. 

As readers of TCN will know, I have been following the season very closely in my adopted hometown of Jelsa on Hvar this summer. I felt saddened enough by the low-quality tourism that this lovely town is now enduring, while at the same time enjoying a lovely summer - the empty Jelsa of summer 2019 is as nice as I have known it. And if you have not booked a holiday yet, then come! There are some great offers for an affordable holiday, as we will discover below. 

 

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The statistics for the 2019 season to the end of July are now finally available, so let's dive in to see how Jelsa is doing, as it seemed so empty in July. And remember, statistics can be interpreted to suit any narrative. 

The first surprise in such a seemingly empty destination is that tourist arrivals are actually UP! By 1.44% compared to this time last year. Is this the World Cup dividend finally coming to light?

But then, if you wanted to write a negative narrative, you could say that the overnight stays were down 0.91%

Either way, this is a good season, isn't it? What the hell is that fat, pink Brit complaining about? 

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Here are the arrivals and overnight stays by country for the first 7 months. In Minister Cappelli's Kingdom of Accidental Tourism, All Overnight Stays are Equal.

As a foreign fly on the wall, I beg to differ. I think that overnight stays from countries who are also going to spend in the bars, restaurants and on tours are worth more than those bringing their own food and drink and looking for the cheapest option to have their summer holiday on the beach. But he is the minister and I am just a blogger, so what would I know. 

If we look at the overnights so far, the only countries which are up are from Eastern Europe (big welcome to our friends from Ukraine, up 177%). If we look at who is down, we have Austria (-20%), Norway (-19%), UK (-12%), Italy (-14%). The higher spending East Europeans are also down (Poland and Serbia - 10%).

Not great news for the restaurants. 

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These are the numbers for July, the month I was documenting - while Norway was down almost 30%, Bosnia was up 12%. We will figure out why in a moment. 

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If we look at the hotels in Jelsa, they are having a great season - at least the main two are - 15% more arrivals than last year. Great news for Minister Cappelli's spreadsheet.  

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So who is staying in the hotels, and where are the biggest increases coming from? Ukraine (269% on overnight stays), Slovenia (30%) and Bosnia (20%). It is nice to see that there are 13% more Croatians in Jelsa this year - many complain that the coast is too expensive for them these days, especially islands such as Hvar. So why the big increases in the hotels from places like Bosnia and Ukraine, for example? 

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Could it be something to do with price, perhaps? An example of some of the offers for Jelsa hotels being discounted already this summer. In the cheapest offer of them all (available for the first three weeks of July), 2 adults (1,750 kuna each) and one child under 12 (free) could have a week in a hotel room close to the sea and a great beach, with breakfast and dinner, free WiFi and parking for just 3,500 kuna inclusive. 

Or 166 kuna per day per person. 

That includes the agency fee, taxes, running costs, and all the rest.

Expensive Hvar? Never was it so affordable! We live 100 metres from the hotel and only half-jokingly talked about moving in for a week to save money. A REALLY good value holiday, and with such an excellent beach and everything in the hotel, no need to go and spend downtown. Perhaps on an ice cream for the little one. 

In Minister Cappelli's Temple of Record Overnights, All Overnights are Equal.  

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And just in case you are cursing yourself for missing out on such a bargain, relax. There is still time. It will cost you 39 kuna a day extra now in August, but that family of three can enjoy magical Jelsa for just 205 kuna a day. Book here. 21 more overnights for the hallowed spreadsheet.

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How is it going in private accommodation? Up with East Europeans, down with Germany, Austria and Norway.

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Camping has always been one of Jelsa's accommodation strong points. With several camps within walking distance of the catamaran, it is the perfect place for camping tourists to base themselves when coming to Hvar. 

Not this year. 

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Perhaps the most surprising - and alarming - statistics are in this table. 

After 108 years of tourism in the town, nobody still has any idea what Jelsa's brand is. Most people talk about it being a family destination. More a destination for old people and teenagers these days it seems, rather than young families and parents aged 25-44. 

So what have we learned?

Jelsa is extremely good value, with bed, breakfast and dinner available even today from 205 kuna per person per day. Tourists from the region are taking advantage of those offers and then staying within the hotels, while the traditional higher-spending guests from places like Germany, Austria and Norway are going elsewhere, which is leaving the restaurants and the town considerably emptier. 

It is the worst kind of tourism Jelsa could have, but Minister Cappelli will be able to preach from the pulpit at the Temple of Record Overnight Stays about how well Croatian tourism is doing. 

Just make sure you don't ask him to explain the World Cup tourism dividend.

In this era of manipulated information, some will cry Fake News. Others will not believe something unless they see it. A quote from my recent blueprint to improve Jelsa tourism, Some Simple Steps to Improve Jelsa's 2-Star Tourism Strategy on Hvar

I posted quite a few of these on my Facebook wall (apologies to my FB friends) because I wanted to document the reality when the inevitable will happen when the statistics are announced. We will be blinded by science and spreadsheets about numbers and overnights. Those Ukranian 21 overnights will cover up the real situation to save some ministerial embarrassment. As the hotels are filling with low-cost half-board tourists, the restaurants are complaining that the higher-spending guests, such as Norwegians, are a lot less this year. Does 21 Ukrainian half-board overnights equal 21 Norwegians in private accommodation and eating in the restaurants and drinking in the bars? For the spreadsheets, they are the same. For tourism revenue to Jelsa businesses, I would put the ratio at 21:3.

For the more visual types, a selection of videos of Jelsa's tourist season in July, shot at different times of the day. I am sure Minister Cappelli can only see packed tables and a main square Full of Life. 

July 8, 2019. 19:25

July 8, 2019. 20:45

July 8, 2019. 22:00

Jelsa, 18:45, July 13

19:45, July 13

21:00, July 13

21:45, July 13

July 16, 2019, 20:35

July 16, 22:55

July 20, 12:30

July 20, 12:40

July 20, 19:10

July 20, 2019 at 21:00

July 21, 20:30

July 21, 20:40

July 21, 22:40

July 22, 19:35

 

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Je li glupo i naivno misliti pozitivno o budućnosti Hrvatske?

Jedna od stvari koje sam kroz ove godine primijetio jest kako domaći i stranci različito percipiraju Hrvatsku, i kolikogod je takvo nešto prirodno u svakoj zemlji na svijetu, ovdje se percepcije razlikuju na daleko očitiji način.

Nalazim da je ispravno kazati da većinu posjetitelja Hrvatske impresionira njena ljepota i opušteni način života. Iskustva turista su općenito vrlo pozitivna, a upoznao sam i nekolicinu koji su zbunjeni zašto tako veliki broj mladih ljudi  iseljava iz takve spektakularne zemlje Europske unije, sa toliko puno potencijala. Razumijem ih, i sam sam  godinama o tome razmišljao, pa i nakon što sam preselio u Hrvatsku. Jedna demokratska zemlja u Europskoj uniji, s obrazovanim kadrom koji vlada engleskim jezikom, prirodni raj sa turističkom infrastrukturom koja može opslužiti gotovo 20 milijuna turista uglavnom na jadranskoj obali, toliko je razloga po kojima Hrvatska - barem na papiru - izgleda kao jedno od najljepših mjesta za život u Europi.  

Kod mene su se stvari  promijenile tek kad sam otkrio moćnu Državu Uhljebistan, o čemu možete pročitati  na A Tale of Two Croatias: Before and After the Uhljeb Discovery

No ipak, optimistični dojmovi većine stranih posjetitelja dijametralno su suprotni viđenjima većine lokalnog stanovništva. Oni koji se još nisu iselili nalaze da je situacija sve gora i gora, sa sve manje nade za uspješnu budućnost kod kuće - osim ako, naravno, nisu dijelom naduvenog birokratskog sistema koji omogućava udoban život, i to dobrotom opadajućeg broja sve jače porezima stiješnjenih poreznih obveznika.

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Gole brojke parazita koji se hrane na onima koji ostaju i rade mogu se ilustrirati na puno načina, no evo ovdje meni najdražeg snapshota za opis o čemu se radi. I dok brojke možda nisu baš 100% točne (nisam uspio provjeriti), sentiment bi trebao prenijeti poruku.

New York, grad sa 8.4 milijuna stanovnika, ima jednog gradonačelnika, 5 zamjenika i 51 gradskog vijećnika. 

Hrvatska, zemlja za polovinom stanovništva New Yorka ( danas ustvari i manje, sa manje od 4 milijuna) ima 128 načelnika gradova sa 213 zamjenika, 20 župana sa 50 zamjenika, 428 načelnika manjih gradova i sela sa 480 zamjenika i ukupno 8354 vijećnika

Dok New York manje-više funkcionira, Hrvatska ne štima.

Očigledno rješenje bilo bi, naravno, srezati birokraciju i tako priskrbiti ogromne uštede  državnom proračunu.  Tako na primjer otok Hvar ima nešto manje od 11.000 stanovnika, ali i 4 lokalne uprave sa 4 načelnika i 5 direktora turističkih zajednica.  Ukoliko bi se nešto promijenilo, problem bi bio  situirati sve te ljude. Još kad se sjetiš da svaki državni posao hrani širu obitelj glasača koji nisu zainteresirani za ikakvo diranje u status quo, očekivati neke promjene u dogledno vrijeme gubi svaki smisao.

Osim ako Hrvatska  ne uspije.

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Osim napuhane i neučinkovite birokracije, još  je puno pokazatelja koji bi trebali signalizirati da je propast na putu.  Prema nedavnom pisanju Indexa, odnos zaposlenih koji plaćaju porez i umirovljenika pokazuje alarmantne trendove. Nekadašnji omjer od blizu 4:1, sada se približio omjeru 1.2:1. Osim broja redovnih umirovljenika, iz godine u godinu, čak skoro 25 godina nakon rata, raste i broj ratnih veterana. Trenutno ih je preko 500.000.

Značajnijih pokušaja reformi ikakve vrste nema. Kleptokracija nakon rata i klijentelizam koji paraliziraju zemlju nesmetano se nastavljaju, pa je pravo malo čudo da je Hrvatska rangirana kao 60-ta  od 63 zemlje na nedavnoj IMD-ovoj listi svjetske konkurentnosti za 2019. godinu - tek ispred Argentine, Mongolije i Venezuele.

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Gledajući na ovo gore više regionalno, jasno je da se Hrvatska bori,  sa ne baš puno nade na horizontu. Nekoliko ljudi s kojima sam ovdje razgovarao mišljenja su da su promjene i novi početak moguće jedino ako sustav  spektakularno propadne. Jedan od načina koji može ubrzati promjene je izgladnjivanje parazita koji uvelike doprinose svim problemima. Veliki zagovornik ovakve strategije je Matija Babić, vlasnik portala index.hr, i netko tko u Hrvatskoj razdvaja javno mnijenje kao rijetko tko drugi. Babića smatram dobrim prijateljem koji je mnoge udaljio od TCN, što je meni OK,  jer - da mi je glavni cilj bio da me svi vole, vjerojatno se ne bih odlučio voditi portal vijesti sa razmišljanjima o Hrvatskoj.

Babića spominjem zbog njegovog ovotjednog članka pod naslovom U Hrvatskoj samo budale mogu biti optimisti. Članak je očito inspiriran još jednom konferencijom o brendiranju Hrvatske koja se je održala prošlog tjedna ( primjedba budućim organizatorima od nekolikih sudionika - ukoliko stvarno želite ostvariti pravi cilj hrvatskog brenda, morate izaći iz akvarija lokalnih stručnjaka i uključiti onaj ocean svjetskog znanja i pogleda). Na konferenciji  je predsjednica Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, u izbornoj godini, da ne zaboravimo, pozvala na potrebu  kampanje za optimizam u Hrvatskoj.  

Kako je primijetio jedan sudionik - potrebu za kampanjom baziranom ni na čemu osim na političkom sloganu kao dijelu re-izborne kampanje. A obzirom na gore navedene sve gore i gore brojke, na čemu se točno  misli bazirati optimizam? Babić je premjestio svoj posao i boravište u Bugarsku, gdje su porezi i birokracija nešto mekši, i pozvao druge da slijede njegov primjer. Promjena je moguća samo ako parazitima ukinemo prihod od poreza i svatko onaj koji na Hrvatsku i njenu budućnost gleda optimistiki, obična je budala.

I dok se naširoko slažem s Babićem, ja sam na primjer optimist glede budućnosti Hrvatske. Zbog čega sam moguće budala.

Čini mi se da će nažalost Hrvatska morati propasti da bi ponovo započela, kroz svakako bolan proces, mada ne bi baš nužno i trebala  propasti. A ako i bi, postoji jedna gorljiva, iskusna i ekonomski snažna grupacija koja bi bila spremna sakupiti komadiće i resetirati hrvatsko gospodarstvo na manje socijalističkim i koruptivnim pravcima - hrvatska dijaspora. Ona koja trenutno šalje u Hrvatsku više novca od ukupnih stranih investicija, dijaspora je ekononomski super uspješna i jako je vezana za Hrvatsku. A to što je većina od njih otišla s malo više od košulje na sebi,  čini njihov uspjeh još impresivnijim.

Nedavna konferencija dijaspore održana u Splitu bila je fascinanto mjesto za sve gostujuće muhe na zidu. Dijaspora je u velikoj dilemi, ili se barem meni tako čini. Investirati u Hrvatsku znači neminovno podupirati postojeći sustav kroz poreze, a oni žele pomagati svoju domovinu. Postoje razlozi za optimistično gledanje da bi nešto moglo stići iz njihove dinamike, ali ja nalazim dva još veća motiva za optimističnu budućnost Hrvatske - tehnologiju i mijene u prirodi svijeta.

Transparentnost i tehnologija igraju veliku ulogu u digitalnoj eri pa sam pred neko vrijeme pisao da će tehnologija, po mom mišljenju, s vremenom ubiti Uhljebistan (na što mi je prijatelj odgovorio da je izglednije da Uhljebistan ubije tehnologiju…). Uberova revolucija je pravi primjer na  hrvatskoj drpačkoj taxi tržnici. No, tehnologija i transparentnost će stizati u državne institucije sve više i više. U stranim medijima jedva da je primijećeno, ali stvari počinju sa aplikacijom gradonačelnika Bjelovara na kojoj građani mogu transparentno pratiti financijske transakcije grada u stvarnom vremenu.na kojoj građani mogu transparentno pratiti financijske transakcije grada u stvarnom vremenu.

Zamislite da se to dogodi u Zagrebu…

Još veći optimizam, međutim, stiže iz nečega što je sasvim izvan hrvatske kontrole - iz promjenjljive prirode svijeta. Da je pred jedno godinu dana netko izjavio da će debate o klimatskim promjenama diktirati neka 15-godišnja školarka iz Švedske protestima protiv nečinjenja po pitanju krize svakog petka ispred švedskog parlamenta, grohotom bismo se smijali. Samo jednu naslovnicu Time Magazine-a i nominaciju za Nobelovu nagradu kasnije, i Školski štrajk za klimu Greta Thunberg poprimio je  svjetski opseg i stavio  klimatske promjene na vrh dnevnog reda političkih razgovora kao nikada prije.

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I kao što u globalnom svijetu jedna srednjoškolka može utjecati na globalne razgovore, tako i tehnologija i digitalizacija mogu promijeniti Hrvatsku.

Upravo dogovaramo iznajmljivanje našeg stana na Hvaru za slijedeće proljeće jednom paru iz baltičkih zemalja. Oba digitalni nomadi, tri proljetna mjeseca proveli su već u Hrvatskoj, kombinirajući svoj online posao sa uživanjem u za njih savršenom dijelu godine, u Hrvatskoj. Potrebe su im minimalne - dobra wi-fi veza, i mogu raditi bilo gdje. Hrvatska je njima idealno mjesto barem za 3 mjeseca godišnje. Divna priroda, nestvarno Jadransko more, fantastična hrana i vino, odlična optička mreža, svugdje se govori engleski, krasna klima, sjajan način života, puno prostora, lako daljnje putovanje bilo kamo u Europu i izvan nje.

Svoj posao mogu obavljati bilo gdje u svijetu, ali su oni odabrali Hrvatsku. Kroz ta tri mjeseca postat će i potrošači u dućanima, kafićima, restoranima i drugim poslovnim mjestima u Hrvatskoj. Vjerojatno će i pričati svojim prijateljima, digitalnim nomadima, kakvo su fantastično mjesto pronašli.

Predviđanja kažu da će do 2035. godine u svijetu biti otprilike jedna milijarda digitalnih nomada koji će, po prirodi posla i načina života, gotovo svi generirati novac.

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Zamislimo Hrvatsku poznatu kao jednu od 11 najpoznatijih mjesta za život i način života digitalnih nomada. Uhljebistan bi mogao i dalje postojati, ili ne, ali bi se transformiralo hrvatsko gospodarstvo.

Ako želite naći  primjer u Europi gdje su digitalizacija i prihvaćanje digitalnih nomada promijenili gospodarstvo, ne treba vam tražiti dalje od Malte.

Ako gledamo u budućnost a ne unatrag, ima li baš tako puno zemalja u svijetu koje mogu savršenije iskoristiti ovu priliku od Hrvatske?

Naravno, takva neka strategija tražila bi dobrodošlicu boravka velikom broju stranaca u Hrvatskoj, nešto što sada nije slučaj, jer u Hrvatskoj trenutno živi manje od 30.000 stranaca, na 4 milijuna stanovnika

Naravno, da bi Hrvatska prihvatila nomadsko digitalno gospodarstvo, potrebna bi bila neka akcija genija koji trenutno vode Hrvatsku, pa nemojmo uzimati nikakvu vrstu optimizma zdravo za gotovo. Zaboga,  poznati su  po tome što iz ralja pobjede izvuku poraz.

Je li glupo i naivno osjećati pozitivu za budućnost Hrvatske? Po parametrima tekuće situacije u Hrvatskoj, bez tehnologije i digitalizacije, svakako.

Je li glupo i naivno misliti o budućnosti Hrvatske uz digitalizaciju, tehnologiju i dijasporu? 

Ovaj engleski glupan misli da nije.

Originalni tekst na engleskom.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Does Croatian Tourism Have a Plan B If Climate Change is Real?

Even though I live in Varazdin, I always know when it is raining in Split and on Hvar. 

My Google Analytics Real Time shows two articles on the subject attracting hits as people who came for the sun and are met with the rain desperately search for some activity to replace the planned day soaking up the rays. 

Both Hvar and Split have content even on a rainy day, but there are many destinations along the coast which essentially offer sun and beach, and very little else. With the Adriatic coast famous for its excellent weather in general, this was never really a problem. Tourists knew what they were getting, and the Croatian tourism strategy was little more than 'wait and they will come.' If tourists wanted sun and sea, Croatia had that in abundance with little effort. Locals built apartments en masse, and everyone was happy. And suddenly, Croatia found that 20% of its GDP came from relying on the cleanliness of the sea and those fabled blue skies. 

But what if - as seems to be the case - climate change is real, and those idyllic temperatures and endless blue skies which are the bedrock of the Croatian tourism offer were to change?

It is no secret that freak weather is becoming more common. and perhaps Croatia's reliance on those faithful blue skies is a risky strategy. One only has to look around the storms that have occurred all over Croatia this week to realise that the old 99% guarantee of perfect weather is not looking as rock solid as it once was. 

As a pink Brit, I personally feel that things are a lot hotter than they used to be. When I first moved to Dalmatia in 2003, there were four distinct seasons. Now it seems on the coast that we go from the winter into a hot summer, and those four seasons have become two. I don't think I am alone. 

This is not an article about how bad this season could potentially be, although many destinations are reportedly far emptier (it should also be borne in mind that even if this season is 20% down on the last one, the continuous rise in the official statistics over the last few years will place things back to where they were a couple of years ago), it is more about what would happen if the prime attraction of Croatian tourism (the weather)  which contributes to 20% of the country's GDP cannot be depended upon to deliver as it always has in the past. Not only would the numbers suffer, but so do the GDP and the economy. 

You can see how several Croatian destinations have changed since 1969 and how they are projected to be in 2049 IF we stick to the Paris Climate Accord. Quite sobering, isn't it?

So does Croatian tourism have a Plan B? A strategy to diversify beyond slogans and strategy documents? And does it have enough content away from the beach to still attract tourists who cannot be as confident about the beach weather as they once were. 

In theory, and in slogans and strategy documents, it does. 

The Ministry of Tourism, for example, has committed to building 30 golf courses around Croatia between 2013 and 2020 in its strategic document. As we enter the second half of 2019 with 18 months to go, none have been started, and the only tangible development is a $500 million lawsuit against the State from a disgruntled Israeli investor from the Dubrovnik golf project. 

We proudly learn that the original Zinfandel comes from just outside Kastela, and yet the famous wine region of Dalmatia does not have a wine road. 

We are proud that Kings Landing is the home of Game of Thrones, a global superstar, and yet we have no sections about the hit HBO series on the websites of either Dubrovnik or Croatian National Tourist Board. 

We are proud of the amazing quality and diversity of Croatian cuisine, and that the late, great Anthony Bourdain recognised Croatia's 'world-class food, world-class wine, world-class cheese' - and yet compared to similar gourmet destinations such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain, Croatia earns only a tiny percentage. 

This season may be another record one for Croatian tourism (and official statistics for the first six months indicate this is the direction we are heading), or it may be sharply down on last year (as many are saying - and my evening out in Jelsa last night gives an indication of how busy things are there - see above (19:25) and below (22:00), but the bigger issue is where Croatian tourism is heading and how can it build more solid foundations in the event that climate change affects its prized jewel - its fabulous weather. 

The good news is that Croatia has some excellent potential to develop its tourism industry without such a reliance on the coast and beach tourism, if the Kings of Accidental Tourism were able to consider a real strategy to develop tourism for the long-term. One of the comments I have been getting from many locals up and down the coast this month is how empty some of the beaches are - and how nice that is. There is space for locals to enjoy their local beach in the summer. Wouldn't it be nice if that could continue and we could also have great revenue from tourism.

We can. 

Quite easily. 

But it requires a little bit of a rethink and a reboot. I have already written about Branding Croatia for the Future: 5 Gifts and Trends to Focus On. You can read in more depth in that article, but the key components of a diversified, more secure tourism future for Croatia, which will move the country away from mass tourism are the following:

1. Medical tourism - many experts agree that Croatia has the potential to be in the top 10 medical tourism destinations in the world within 10 years. In the world. If only their officials could unite. In addition to Croatia's clinics of excellence attracting health tourists, many of those patients would stay to recuperate. Medical tourism is an industry which is only going to get bigger. Croatia is in a great position to take advantage.

2. The digital nomad revolution. With some one billion digital nomads projected to be working remotely by 2035, Croatia is again perfectly situated to take advantage. Nomads come at different times of the year, generate money to fund their nomadic lifestyle and spend in the local communities where they stay. There is a LOT of buzz about Split as a new digital nomad destination right now - and the nomads are already here. You can meet some of them in our dedicated section

Imagine if Croatia, with its fantastic lifestyle and so many other advantages, could attract just 2% of that billion for part of the year. 20 million nomads, more than the current number of tourists visiting Croatia each year.

And if little Estonia can do, surely Croatia can too? Check out how and why Estonia is attracting so many international visitors in the video above and also in Lessons from Estonia: Farewell Uhljebistan, Welcome to the Future

3. Embrace the future and technology. Croatia is the land of Rimac and the birthplace of Tesla - two incredible icons of technology. Manchester United has the Theatre of Dreams at Old Trafford. Turn Tesla's birthplace in Smiljan into something outstanding. Most tourists come to Croatia by car and there will be 21 million electric cars on the road by 2030. Build the temple, celebrate technology, educate, build Tesla-inspired attractions. And those joining the electric vehicle revolution will have reasons to visit one of the most important focal points - the birthplace of Tesla. 

4. Capitalise on Croatia's phenomenal sporting success and natural beauty. The 2018 World Cup success was one of the greatest tourism gifts ever, one which Google Trends tells us was wasted. But there are so many other ways to attract sport to Croatia and the healthy lifestyle. That wonderful Croatian lifestyle. Learn from - and support - great initiatives such as the Run Croatia project, which is developing year-round tourism to Croatia. Learn more about it here

And we haven't mentioned the beach once. 

And if golf is your thing, build a couple of those golf courses, but try not to get sued for 500 million each time. 

And maybe create that Dalmatian wine road rather than just telling people about the original Zinfandel. Tourists apparently like content once they arrive. 

And use that fabulous Bourdain promotion and put action into words - Croatia should be getting close to the gourmet tourism revenues of its European neighbours. Pay some consultants to figure it out for you if you don't have the knowledge. 

Several very simple ideas, all of which are not weather dependent and move Croatia away from its crazy obsession with cruise ships and mass coastal tourism. 

And if climate change is a hoax, all the better - and there will also be plenty of space for locals on the beach.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Successful Diaspora Returnee Stories: Daniela Rogulj, Total Croatia News, Split

June 18, 2019 - TCN's recent series featuring the successful returnee stories from the speakers at the recent diaspora tourism conference in Split led to several requests for more of the same. And so we continue in the same vein, looking at more people who have made the successful switch back to the Homeland, starting with TCN's very own Daniela Rogulj, who made the switch from California to Split. 

1. You are from California, returned to Croatia, something that many diaspora dream of doing. Tell us briefly about your journey.

It all happened by accident. In a nutshell, I came to Croatia via San Diego, San Francisco, Nashville, and London. I was born and raised in San Diego to a mother from Metković, father from Split, a grandfather from Prapatnica and grandmother from Stari Grad on Hvar. I moved to San Francisco for University, managed a cupcake shop, graduated, played a part in the tech industry, started developing my own mobile app and said bye to it all at 23 for Nashville and eventually London. 

After impulsively crossing the pond with my parents at 24, which saw me nearly overstay my six months as an American in the U.K., I needed a solution, and fast. I went back to California to get my birth certificate amended (my last name was spelled ‘Roguli’ instead of ‘Rogulj’), so I could begin the process of obtaining my Croatian citizenship to ensure I could remain living in London. Let’s just say that upon my return back to Heathrow, the immigration officer was having a bad day, and back to California, I went. Over the next few months, my parents decided to move back to the homeland and settled in Split. I visited them in Split the summer of 2015 without the faintest idea that it would be my home for the next four years.

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The day Daniela became a Croatian citizen

My first 10 or so months in Split were spent trying to meet people while figuring out what I would here. A job at Total Split popped up on my Facebook feed in April 2016, and considering I studied journalism in college and was the token blog writer for the San Francisco startups I worked for, I gave it a shot. I joined Total Croatia News in May of 2016 to lead Total Split, and that’s when my life in Croatia really began. 

Not only did TCN open a world of doors for me, with invites to exclusive events and excursions to explore the gems of Croatia, but I've had the chance to meet (and befriend) innovative business and restaurant owners around the country, many of whom are in the diaspora community. It's also given me opportunities I never thought possible - at least not possible for me in the United States. Like following Hajduk from Split to Liverpool, or the Croatia national team from Zagreb to London. My work for TCN during the World Cup last summer was recognized by the largest sports radio station in the world, and I found myself as the Croatian correspondent for various radio shows in the UK last year - the BBC even called me for an interview. I marked my third year with TCN last month (thanks Paul & team).

2. Looking back, what were your hopes, expectations and fears about moving to Croatia?

Maybe it’s best that I didn’t have many considering I had no plans to live here at all. After I received my citizenship that summer (which surprisingly took a painless two weeks in Croatia compared to a year of torture in London and the US), I must have told my parents every day that I would not be calling Croatia my home and furiously looked at apartments and jobs in Berlin or anywhere but Croatia. To me, Croatia was my summer home; where life stopped when the seasons changed. I didn’t know Croatia past the warm and lively summer season, and I wasn’t interested in finding out. 

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But after the summer settled that September and I celebrated my 25th birthday on a mild Split day, something changed. Split wasn’t just the transit hub I knew to get to Hvar or the pitstop my family would make for a Hajduk game. Split was a spirited city - and at the time, it was experiencing a new renaissance. I told myself I’d be a fool not to give Split a chance, and perhaps my biggest fear then was not knowing the slightest bit of what lay ahead. I was lucky to be young enough at the time to fail and start over again 100 times, and I guess I expected that much. I was worried about meeting people, if the language barrier would make it harder, and what job I would do in Croatia at all. I had experience in the tech industry, which at the time I had no idea even existed in Croatia, and I knew I wasn’t comfortable jumping into an office job in a working culture I knew nothing about. The one upside about moving here without a clue of what I’d do is that it forced me to get out, meet people and begin the conversation. This settled my fear and slowly made me more and more comfortable with my decision to stay here. 

3. How supportive was your Croatian community back home at the time?

My Croatian community back home consisted exclusively of my extended family, and I remember some of them expressing mixed feelings about it all. The ones that knew Croatia well wondered what I’d do here. “You’ll make significantly less than you did in San Francisco, and you have no idea what it’s like in the winter!” I’m sure even today some of them think I’ll come back to the States, which isn’t in my plans whatsoever. 

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My immediate family has supported me unconditionally throughout my journey, and I owe them the world for that. It certainly helped that my parents were by my side as I started my journey in Split. 

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Because I never officially announced that I was moving to Croatia, and just proceeded to stay after that summer, I think I missed a lot of the pressure and criticisms there could be otherwise. 

4. What were the main differences in what you expected to find in Croatia and the reality of living in Croatia?

Learning to live seasonally. Something I cherish now, but struggled with when I couldn’t find tomatoes my first winter here. But also adapting to the seasons in general - spring is the warm up, summer is the peak when you're too busy to breathe, autumn is reserved for unwinding from the season, as is winter, but everything in the winter is closed. Seasons don’t exist in California, so this took some getting used to.  

The pace of life, in general, is another one. While it’s easy to adapt to the lax mentality in Dalmatia when you’re holidaying here in the summer, it throws you for a loop when you’re living here permanently and trying to get things done. Though it has its perks, and I’ve definitely adopted the ‘pomalo’ way in some aspects of my life, like learning to walk at a considerably slower pace than my city days in San Francisco. And to-go coffee is a thing of the past. 

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Furthermore, America is the land of customer service, and you learn pretty quickly that Croatia is not. Though I still tip as I would in the States hoping that this small nod to good service can be an example for others. 

A monumental difference is how safe Croatia is. Ditching the pepper spray from my city days for the uninterrupted late-night walk home is a massive bonus. You also get the feeling that the people around you will lend a helping hand, without asking any questions. 

 4. Many diasporas think of returning but few do. In truth, there is little information out there about real-life stories and help/info about the process. What advice do you have for those who are thinking about making the move?

Be patient, take a lot of deep breaths, stay here in the winter or a good part of the offseason, and try not to compare it to back home. Coming here with a plan is probably smart, though you have to expect that plan will be altered, edited, amended, adjusted, and most likely rewritten at least once. On the contrary, I had no plan and really no idea, and still managed to find my way. 

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While it's nearly impossible for us stubborn Dalmatians, ask for help, because you’ll be surprised to find how many people have already been through what you’re going through. And if they don’t have answers, they’ll at least lead you in the right direction. 

But really, deep breaths and the willingness to endure uphill battles is a must, though coming out on the other side is incredibly rewarding. Come determined and try to weed out a lot of the negativity you'll hear - it's not always true, and remember, we do love any reason to complain. 

5. How were you perceived in Split as diaspora moving back - was the welcome warm?

“Why in the world would you leave California?” If I had a lipa for every Uber driver’s baffled expression when I tell them I live here permanently…

On the upside, it does open a platform to educate Croatians thinking of leaving that life isn’t always greener on the other side. 

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But yes, the welcome was warm, and you quickly learn that there are a lot of others just like you; a lot of others who took the leap to live here. And that is a feeling of comfort by itself.

6. Through a lot of hard work, you have been very successful, while many foreigners have given up and left Croatia. What are the keys to success in doing business in Croatia in your opinion?

Learn the importance of having a bubble (and when to come out of it), persevere (the American work ethic definitely pays off here), and keep a supportive group of like-minded people close. Try not to let people know too much too quickly and be careful with who you let in. Testing the waters is key. Acclimating to how the locals operate to ease your daily frustrations is equally as important.  And if you're lucky to have just a few run-ins with the beauty of Croatian bureaucracy while you're here, consider that a great success.

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Daniela on-air with Talk Sport at their studio in London.

7. What is the diaspora community like in Split and how integrated is it with locals?

I’d say that Split has a reasonably large diaspora (and expat) community. From the events I’ve been to, there seem to be more ‘foreigners’ than locals. The expat group holds book swaps, coffee meetups and pizza nights, while the 'Croatian Australians & NZers and Friends in Split' group organizes outings for Anzac Day and the like. I believe that keeping a healthy balance of locals and expats is crucial to creating the harmony you need in Split. 

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8. And finally, 3 things you would change in Croatia?

The drivers - do pedestrian crossings mean anything in Croatia?

Talk about the war - which I am surprised to see discussed often in the diaspora community. We will never move forward by looking back.

The amount of time it takes to get anything done. From the beloved Croatian bureaucracy to checking out at a grocery store. You quickly get used to the delay, and while I enjoy that waiters don’t rush to bring you your bill after coffee, it’s another story when paperwork is involved, or you’re at the bank or just trying to keep anything to a schedule. Schedules don’t really exist here, and neither does the concept of being ‘on time’. Remember, "I'll be there in 5 minutes" usually means at least 30 and probably an hour. Welcome to Dalmatia. It has its perks. 

For more on the Croatian diaspora, check out the TCN dedicated section

Are you a returnee who has moved back to Croatia and would like to be featured in this series? Please contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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