Hvar, Full of Belgrade Love But Please Tell Nobody Back Home

By 6 March 2018

March 7, 2018 - Does Croatian tourism want guests from Serbia or not? In the first in a three-part series, a look at the extraordinary events surrounding the recent Belgrade Tourism Fair, the biggest in the region. Just don't tell anyone, because it is all a secret.

It was, by all accounts, a fabulous promotion of Hvar, a total success.

"A truly special night," wrote one member of HDZ's tourism committee on Facebook. 

All the important people from the island were there - mayors, the tourist board, representatives from the main hotel group, tourism writers and many others. They all just happened to be in Belgrade, apparently. 

It was a fantastic night, filmed by Serbian TV. The Mayor of Hvar Town even gave interviews on Serbian television. 

There was only one strange thing about the Hvar 150 celebration at Klub Knjizevnika in Belgrade on February 23, a great tourism event which took place at exactly the same time as the region's biggest tourism fair, the Belgrade Tourism Fair, was being totally boycotted by official Croatian tourist boards. That was not the problem.

The problem was that nobody in Croatia was supposed to hear about this wonderful party with our friends from Belgrade.  

My three days at the Belgrade Tourism Fair were the most productive three days of the entire Total project. I met every regional tourist board from Slovenia, met the key players in Albania and Serbia, and I spent the majority of my time meeting all the people on the biggest stand of them all - Montenegro. Total Montenegro News went live this morning. 

Everybody was there - all the tourist boards of Serbia, Montenegro, BiH, Slovenia. Macedonia had a nice stand, Greece was the partner country, Germany, India, Bulgaria, South Africa. There was just one country which was conspicuous by its total absence, a country which has been the main partner for this, the biggest regional tourism fair, just seven years earlier. 


I could accept that Croatia boycotted a tourism fair in Serbia because of the war which ended 23 years ago if that had been the policy all the way along, But just seven years ago, Croatia was the main partner country at the Belgrade Tourism Fair. Why had Belgrade gone from a key tourism market to nothing in just seven years, a major tourism country in the region with absolutely zero official tourist board presence? It made no sense, and it turned out that this was the start of a whole train of events which made absolutely no sense whatsoever. 

It was the start of a little TCN investigation which is ongoing (and I am very grateful to Dario Trnka from the Croatian National Tourist Board PR department for his efforts in helping me understand some VERY strange happenings in Belgrade). As with all great detective stories, it all happened by chance. 

As I was finishing my very productive tour of Slovenia for Total Slovenia News, I was somewhat surprised to see the ever jovial mayor of Jelsa walking by with what seemed like half of Vrboska in attendance. Never shy of a photo opportunity, he asked that I not take a photo, a wish I respected. But just what was he doing here at the biggest tourism fair in the region, with absolutely no Croatian presence whatsoever? Private visit, these chaps from Vrboska wanted to see Belgrade, so here I am showing them around. Now THAT is a mayor who looks after my constituents, I thought to myself, before heading off for my appointment with the Montenegro Tourist Board.

And then I saw the Mayor of Hvar Town, also attending this unimportant tourism fair (the biggest in the region for everyone else). There must have been more Forani than Serbs in Belgrade, I began to feel confused. 

How little did I know... 

"Paul. Paul Bradbury? Total Hvar, yes?" The face was familiar, and then I placed it. A Serbian journalist I had spent some time with 6 years ago when I covered Days of Hvar Cuisine, a wonderful annual event between a Hvar and Belgrade restaurant, which dates back to 2002. I visited in 2012 and it was an outstanding promotion of Hvar in Belgrade.  I interviewed the two restaurant owners at the time, Jurica Tomicic from Kod Kapetana in Hvar Town, and Jasmina Vekic from Restoran Saran in Zemun. When I returned to the island, I had coffee with the Hvar Tourist Board and suggested they get involved. 

Nothing happened. That was then. 

"Paul, are you going to the event tonight?" 

The event? I thought I was at the event, the biggest regional tourism fair in the region. 

"No, the special Hvar party to celebrate 150 years of organised tourism in Europe?"

Aha! So that was why half of the island was in Belgrade, totally ignoring the biggest tourism fair in the region. I was a little confused by the logic, but went out drinking with my new Montenegrin partners and then went to bed. 

My curiosity was aroused about this wonderful event the next morning. I felt a little bit useless as Mr Total Hvar that I had no knowledge of the event, and went to the Hvar Tourist Board Facebook page for information. 



This was VERY strange. When the Hvar Tourist Board have something they want to tell the world about, it doesn't take them very long - take, for example, today's presentation of Hvar 150 in Berlin (photo credit Hvar Town Tourist Board). But this great promotion in Belgrade? Nothing.

I was beginning to think perhaps I had a Jelen pivo too many. Checking my Facebook feed the next day, I came across a photo on the page of a friend of mine. Always one for a good promotional picture to promote Croatian tourism, there she was in a gorgeous and happy picture with the not-so-shy Jelsa mayor. A really nice picture and a snapshot of what looked like a great promo of Hvar. I was ready for bed after an exhausting day, but took the opportunity to congratulate Hvar on their Serbian initiative while questioning why Croatia was not there at all.  

And that was when things got VERY strange. Within two minutes I had a request from someone in the Hvar tourism industry to remove the photo immediately, as it was never supposed to be public (note to self - if you want something not to be seen, don't post on Facebook and tag several people. The photo is still on Facebook as I write this). Having checked the photo again, I realised that my friend had not posted it but had been tagged. I replaced the photo with the one in the article you see now, and the Joomla system took its time to make the change. Apparently, I was not quick enough, and there was quite some consternation that the photo of this excellent Hvar promo was in the public domain, even though the people so concerned had no issue putting it on Facebook.

Why? What was there to be so ashamed of? And if a mayor did not want his photo to appear online, there is a very simple way to avoid that - don't pose for the photo. 

Or the video. The more I researched this very strange event, the more bizarre it became. I could post the video of Team Hvar engaging in some very jolly traditional folk dancing, but knowing my luck, it would turn out to be a type of dance which was politically explosive, so I won't. Why pose for a video for Serbian national television if you didn't want to be seen? This at a very successful Hvar tourism promotion event. 

I checked the Hvar Tourist Board Facebook page, and still nothing - no event announcement, no report on the fact that they had been. What kind of promotion was that? Now intensely curious, I put in a media request to the tourist board and the two mayors who were present. And that is when things got even more interesting.

After initial vague answers, it was clear that I would be persistent and publish a story about the secret promotion in Belgrade (despite tourism journalists from Croatia being invited to the event, not a single word has been written), suddenly, some eight days after the event (and three after my initial enquiry), the Hvar Tourist Board finally posted some photos of the event - reporting on Berlin was a matter of hours.

In my search for answers, the evasion only made me more determined, and after several exchanges with the Hvar Tourist Board, this is what I have learned:

There were a monumental number of people from Hvar and friends of Hvar who not only happened to be in Belgrade at the time of the wonderful dinner, but the Hvar Tourist Board knew of their presence and were able to invite them (but telling people about the event on social media was not necessary).

While it seemed a good idea to go and have a party in Belgrade with a Croatian media blackout with no attendance at the biggest tourism fair in the region, the Hvar Tourist Board (despite their official denial) did appear at the fair by proxy, at least according to their colleagues from Makarska. With no official stand for Croatia, it appears that some local Croatian tourist boards hid behind stands from a private travel agency, Peca Tours, and even organised a private event for 30 Serbian journalists (but again with a total media blackout for Croatia). 



Is Hvar embarrassed of its Serb guests? Happy to party with them and take their money in Belgrade, but wanting to deny the connection? The bond between Hvar and Belgrade is very strong, and it is a natural market for Croatia. As the man from the Makarska Tourist Board told me on the phone this morning, after expressing surprise that there was no official Croatian presence at the biggest fair in the region, where Croatia had been the main sponsor just 7 years ago: The war is over, I was told, and a new generation has been born whose parents used to holiday in Croatia, and we are not addressing them. 

Is Belgrade an important market for Hvar and Croatia? Yes or no?

If no, fine, if yes, isn't it time to show Serb guests the respect they deserve, by celebrating promotions in Belgrade at the same speed as in Berlin, and officially, not at some wonderful promotional dinners where it is hoped that no word will reach Croatia?

As for why Croatia was not represented at all at the Belgrade Tourism Fair, just 7 years after they were the partner country, THAT is a truly fascinating story that we will pick up when young Dario from the Croatian National Tourism Board returns from Berlin.