Saturday, 7 September 2019

Lessons from the Private Sector: Creating Viral Croatian Tourism Campaigns

September 8, 2019 - Tourism promotion is a complex thing, but how to achieve a global viral Croatian tourism campaign without breaking the bank? Lessons from the private sector. 

One of the nicest feelings as an online writer is producing an article that goes viral. It is not a common occurrence - at least certainly in my case - but when it happens, it is truly uplifting and a joy to watch unfold. 

I have only written one truly viral article in the 8 years I have been spamming the Internet, and ironically it was an article which took me about 20 minutes to write. When I think of the articles I have put hours of my life into which have been largely ignored, I have to laugh. A little like winning that recent media award in Malaysia for one article, compared to the thousands I have written about Croatia. 


The article in question was 25 Reasons You Should Never Visit Croatia, and it got over one million hits in the first 24 hours. After years of writing and trying to get my stuff shared, it was wonderful to sit back and watch the Internet explode, as first national and then regional portals reported on the article. The number of likes, shares and comments were unbelievable. Some called it the best promotional article about Croatia they had seen, and while I would not agree, it was certainly nice to see the very positive feedback. There were also a lot of shares and kind comments among tourist boards, although nothing from our friends from the Croatian National Tourism Board, which actually deleted the link several times as people posted it on their page to share. Apparently, they have an automatic deletion programme for any links posted, and they could not share it as it was on a commercial website. So there you go.

But while the article was a huge hit, and while it probably gave the impression of being a viral hit way beyond Croatia's regional borders, it actually did not make much of an impact internationally, as it was shared mostly in Croatian and not in English. And for a tourism promotion article to be truly effective, it has to go viral in the language that tourists can read in, most notably English. And so, while I enjoyed all the attention at the time, the main effect of the article was giving a feel-good factor to people of Croatian original. Which is also a good thing. 

Viral global campaigns and articles, especially those on a budget, are quite rare to find, especially in Croatia. They are even rarer to find from official channels, and the genius for viral campaigns is most notably to be found in the private sector. 


Arguably the best promotional campaign in the history of Croatia took place 2 years ago. It was not tourism-related, but the Melania Trump 'Imagine how far you can go with a little bit of English' campaign was covered by seemingly every major news publication across the globe. Budget? Very little. The secret? Take a globally known name, add something provocative or quirky, and let the Internet do the rest. 

So does Croatian tourism have similar successes in its marketing - viral campaigns that have people laughing and discussing for days, while checking out the latest holiday offers in Croatia?


If we look at the official Croatian tourism promotion, the record is pretty poor, at least in my opinion. I really liked the slogan The Mediterranean as It Once Was, all those years ago - indeed it was while watching the advert on CNN in Somaliland back in 2002 that made me decide to move to Croatia - but I don't feel the same branding and appeal has been achieved with the 'Croatia, Full of Life' campaign. 

Comparing the cost efficiency and viral effect of the Melania campaign above (and several private sector tourism promotions below) certainly puts things in perspective. One of the more bizarre (and expensive - £425,000 rings a bell in my head, but as most references to it have seemingly been erased from the Internet, it is hard to confirm) tourism promotion ideas to launch Croatia, Full of Life was to have a floating Croatian island floating down the River Thames in London for two days only, according to Campaign Live, one of the few websites which still remembers the event. I am sure it was a nice day out for the Chosen Few... And it probably proved to be better value for money that the 100,000 euro Zadar taxpayers bill and 60,000 euro Zadar Tourist Board contribution to the Rita Ora shambles recently

Croatia has had two huge PR gifts in recent times, where some intelligent and innovative PR campaigns could have done wonders for its global tourism promotion. The first, of course, is the World Cup, and it has been fascinating to see different people claim credit for the unprecedented interest in Croatia in July last year. At the time, Croatian National Tourism Board Director Kristjan Stanicic was quoted in the media as saying that the CNTB website traffic had increased by 250%, as though CNTB was responsible for that increase. TCN's traffic went up 600% in the corresponding period, not because we did anything more than report on the heroics in Moscow, but more because every man and his dog was Googling 'Where is Croatia?', and our website ranks pretty well for those kind of searches. 

Yes, the World Cup promotional video (somewhat ironically recorded months before the World Cup when Croatia was not expected to do anything special in Russia - you can learn about the story of how it was made here) played some part in spreading the word about Croatia, but I had to laugh at Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli's claim in the recent interview above in which he said that only 30-40% of people knew what Croatia was before the semi-final with England, and some 75% after the semi-final victory, as though that increased awareness was somehow down to him and his team, and not the team on the pitch in Moscow and the fabulous fans, who were outstanding ambassadors throughout the tournament. 


Some 60 BILLION mentions of Croatia in those crazy days in July, more than the entire time of the 28 years of the modern Croatian State. The work of our official tourism experts was just beginning, surely?

Apart from a few tweaks of the video for various markets and an article on the geographic locations of the players' birthplaces, that was more of less it. I was waiting for the clever campaign to entice tourists to discover the Slavonia of Mandzukic and Vida (with all the traditional dress and pomp that would entail), a competition to come to the Luka Modric Street Soccer tournament in Zadar. 

But instead, nothing. And the great World Cup dividend opportunity failed to materialise, as Google Trends shows, above. The best hope to cash in on the football dividend in the future, it seems, is to hope the boys play well, share the video again and take all the credit.  


The second huge gift for Croatia was Game of Thrones. There has been filming here for 8 years, and Kings Landing, aka Dubrovnik, has become something akin to the spiritual home of the hit HBO show. Until recently, neither the CNTB or Dubrovnik had even a section on GoT (still the case) and a search for 'Game of Thrones' would bring you to a blank page in both cases. Thankfully, after a little media attention to the matter, there is at least some info there now. More on that in a later article. 

But this April took missed opportunities by the Kings of Accidental Tourism to new levels. The launch of Series 8 of Game of Thrones was arguably one of the most anticipated events in television history and a gift almost up there with the World Cup. Over 100 brands partnered with HBO to promote their brand in association with hit show. Johnnie Walker came out with a special Winter is Coming White Label. 

And the Croatian National Tourist Board?

Not even a post on Facebook. 

But the private sector saw the opportunity and took full advantage. In one of the most innovative and cost-effective viral campaigns ever to come out of Croatia, Uk-based agency Unforgettable Croatia came up with a campaign which went all over the world. A quirky hook on a global brand, which worked like a dream. Simply guess how Game of Thrones Season 8 will end and win a luxury $5,000 trip to Croatia. And I am willing to bet that the agency did not even have to pay all that, as hotels would probably gift the room for free in exchange for the publicity. 

This is how successful the campaign was, according to an email response I received from Unforgettable Croatia:

The idea for our Unforgettable Croatia ‘Guess-the-Ending’ Competition came from our fantastic marketing and creative team. The competition was open from 14 April to 5 May, just before the final episode was aired. The reason we got so much great coverage was down to the creativity of the idea, the timely advantage of the final series and that we were willing to give a fantastic prize that was worth around $5k.

The result of this campaign has meant that we've been aired throughout US television including Fox News and NBC News. We've also been incredibly fortunate to have over 300 magazines and news outlets worldwide feature the story. The most prominent ones being Cosmopolitan, Condenast, the Independent, Elle Magazine, Travel & Leisure Magazine, Yahoo, MSN and Thrillist. 

During the period in which we ran the competition, we had 98,200 unique visitors to our Game of Thrones competition page and 14,487 applications which was an incredible response. It has taken us a bit of time to choose the winner due to the overwhelming response. We have chosen a winner and they have been notified, though we are just waiting for them to respond. We plan to share pictures of their trip on our social media channels once completed.

When CNTB finally got around to doing something halfway through Series 8 (perhaps in response to the criticism, or perhaps due to the paperwork with HBO Adria), it was all rather curious. A fantastic prize - to watch the final episode at a special screening in Kings Landing - was restricted to just 14 countries, mostly local and target markets of HBO Adria. The important US market, where GoT ranks as one of the biggest points of interest for Croatian tourism - see slide above - was one major market completely omitted with this latest gift. 

But the private sector was not finished with Game of Thrones. No sooner was the final episode done than another private company, Cruise Croatia, launched another product which went viral - a 7-day GoT-themed cruise from Split to Dubrovnik. Thrillist, Lonely Planet, USA Today, Daily Star, Daily Mirror, CN Traveler, Forbes - just some of the international media which picked up and promoted the story. Budget? Zero. 

And Unforgettable Croatia was not finished with their innovative, viral and extremely cost-effective campaigns.

They followed up with a campaign about their sustainable approach and removing plastic from their ships for 2020. They plan to also donate a percentage of our profits to the Blue World Institute in Rovinj to support their efforts in dolphin and turtle research and conservation. They aimed to be the most eco-friendly cruise company in Croatia. To celebrate this campaign, they launched a Travel Scholarship where they offered 1 lucky individual the chance to spend 2 weeks volunteering with the BWI in Rovinj and then spend 2 weeks with Unforgettable Croatia visiting Croatia and doing one of their cruises.

Low-budget campaign, big viral success. The campaign was featured in Unilad, Business Insider,, MSN News, Yahoo News, Travel + Leisure, and The, among others. 

As far as I am aware, the Kings do work with international PR agencies, but are they the right ones? With the inability to take advantage of such gifts as the World Cup and Game of Thrones while the private sector is wiping the floor with great ideas delivered virally, is it time for a rethink? The Zadar taxpayer, for one, might have some thoughts on this after the recent Rita Ora fiasco. 

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Unforgettable Croatia Agency Offers Trip to Croatia for GoT Game Winner

Think you can predict the ending of GoT? Let the Unforgettable Croatia agency know!

If one thing has put Croatia on the map more than anything else for film and TV buffs, its the hit Game of Thrones series which has taken the world by storm, leading to countless visits to the many Croatian filming sites, particularly those in Dalmatia's southernmost city of Dubrovnik, which plays Kings Landing in the series, as well as Split.

While the Game of Thrones hysteria has been met with both positive and negative conclusions from residents of popular cities like Dubrovnik and Split, there is no doubt that economically speaking, Croatia has benefited beyond belief.

As Lider writes on the 19th of April, 2019, the British-American agency Unforgettable Croatia has announced a competition in which the task is to guess the ending of the wildly popular Game of Thrones (GoT) series and the reward for the one who manages to decifer the unfolding of the series' events will be rewarded with a trip to no less than GoT heaven - Croatia. So far, more than 5,000 people have sent Unforgettable Croatia their thoughts about who will take the throne at the end of the hit series.

The winner will be awarded a tourist-style tour of the various locations where the popular series was filmed across Croatia, more specifically Dalmatia, including Split, Klis, Hvar, Vis and Dubrovnik. Game of Thrones took off like few could have ever imagined, and the promotion that brought to Croatia was and remains unquantifiable. The first episode of the final season alone, which broadcast on Sunday attracted a record 11.8 million viewers.

Graham Carter, the owner of the British-American Unforgettable Croatia agency which launched the this GoT inspired competition, had his business in mind, which would further flourish by increasing the overall interest in travelling to Croatia. Every year, this agency brings about 5,000 passengers travel to Croatia, and they're hoping to increase that figure to 6,500 next year, as Carter revealed for Večernji list. Carter is currently residing in Split, where he is trying to establish a Croatian office for his the Unforgettable Croatia agency.

The winner of Unforgettable Croatia's competition will be offered half-board accommodation for a seven-day trip for two to Croatia, a tour of the Game of Thrones sites accompanied by a professional guide, and a visit to Hvar and Vis by sea. But there is, of course, a catch - the winner will not win the airplane tickets for travel, and they'll need to foot the bill for that themselves. 

GoT fan? Have your say! Click here.

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