A Return to Jelsa: Some Things Change, Some Never Will

By 7 July 2018

July 7, 2018 - The town of Jelsa on the island of Hvar is a once-popular tourist destination in the midst of huge transition. A progress report, as TCN takes a walk around town to find something things changing and others which never will. 

I don't know much about organising successful tourist events, and I applaud those who are able to pull these things off. 

I do have a little common sense, however, and logic would tell me that when you have a global event such as the World Cup, where every cafe and restaurant in Croatia has at least one television watching the game, it is possibly not the smartest idea in the world to organise a klapa festival on the main square where there are 7 cafes of football-loving fans, who would be watching the game at the same time as the klapa singing would take place. 

But in The Beautiful Croatia, anything is possible. 


One of the nice things about the World Cup from a tourism event point of view is that the fixtures are published months in advance, so you have the chance to plan your events around the various kick-offs. 


So why not plan the klapa event when one of the long-scheduled matches in the last 16 was going to take place - England versus Colombia in this case. There was the rather bizarre situation where cafes were allowed to show the game, but only with the televisions on silent, and customers were informed that they were not allowed to make any noise during the klapa concert - try telling that to fans of the Three Lions. Live World Cup football in 7 cafes surrounding a live klapa event - fairly inspired planning, even by the high standards of The Beautiful Croatia.  


Full credit to the klapa singers, who managed to pull off a great show, despite the occasional groans and cheering from the footballing sidelines, and congratulations on those who actually made it to the concert, a real achievement given the outstanding information sharing from the authorities. A quick look at the Jelsa Tourist Board Facebook page shows no activity since around Easter.  


And in case you are not into social media and want to check things out on the official tourist board website, you can find all the details of Holy Week in the build-up to Easter.

And while you might think that our old friend Telepathy Tourism has returned to Jelsa, the rather bizarre reality is that tourist information is being shared on a regular basis on Jelsa social media, but not in English or through channels which have anything to do with tourism.  


If you happened to be a Croatian-speaking tourist who followed the Jelsa municipal Facebook page, you would see that yes, indeed, Jelsa is (somewhat) Full of Life. As the mayor is also the president of the tourist board, one might question why it is not possible to share this information with tourists via the official Jelsa tourist board channels. But that would come with the assumption that the tourist programme was aimed at attracting tourists and not placating local factions. Why else would keep tourists totally in the dark about what is happening?

As we were coming to Jelsa for the summer and I hadn't seen any information about Jelsa's annual cultural summer programme, and when I enquired two days ago, I was told that there was no information available. On July 5! Telepathy Tourism had truly reared its ugly head. And then yesterday, miraculously, on July 6, halfway through the summer, a leaflet has been produced. If you are looking for great events this summer in Jelsa, don't hold your breath. At least there is no klapa concert scheduled for during the World Cup Final. 

The president of the tourist board has apparently removed the director of the Jelsa tourist board, and a tender for a new director has just closed, leaving Jelsa looking for its fourth tourist board director in as many years. The director is apparently appealing the decision with the ministry, a process which will take some time, leaving one poor employee at the tourist board trying to cope as best she can. 


Time for a wander around town, with several things to check out. European Coastal Airlines still has its containers there, talking about super quick flights to Split, which have not happened for a couple of years, or will again. Perhaps an idea to put a little notice on the door to dampen expectations? The containers themselves are in limbo, with ECA selling to a third party but then refusing to hand over a final invoice, which means they cannot be exported by the new owner to his intended location. And so they will sit...  


One of the saddest sights for me. ECA had planned to open a cafe, and a very cool new location was prepared close to the seaplane station. With ECA heading to bankruptcy proceedings, would it be worth at least investing a little to do something with this position, rather than letting it rot? A little enterprise and a great new addition to the town.  


There were some new things, such as this excellent fish picnic tour, which leaves daily from the riva at 10am. The boat is also part of a new Thursday night attraction, Fishermen's Evenings, with the traditional sailboats from Vrboska. The first event was on the night we arrived, and a friend of mine said it was great, but there was hardly anyone there, as many passing tourists assumed it was a private event. Why wouldn't they, if they were not Croatian speakers checking the municipal Facebook page? 


And so to the heart and soul of Jelsa - The Bench, a Jelsa icon, which is sadly about to be moved (more details on the new location soon), to give way to partners of Carpe Diem who are opening a pizzeria, as we discussed in great detail a few months ago.  Progress is, well, like everything else in Jelsa - beyond slow. According to the tender of March, 2017 (extract from my article a few months ago):

"- Jelsa District intends to complete 2/3 of the offered and contracted investments in the first year of the lease contract, at latest by December 31, 2017, and the remaining 1/3 at the latest by May 31, 2018

"An opening date of May 15 was pushed back to June 15 when I met the mayor last month. Given the speed of the works now, I need to confirm if that is June 15, 2018 or 2019."


Something seems to be happening, but as this is July 6, will we make the season? Does it matter? No rent is being paid for 15 years, apart from the cost of the works being offset, so no income for the town from that. A condition of the tender was that the company moved its headquarters to Jelsa within three months of winning the tender. More than 14 months later, the company is still safely located in Zagreb. Does it matter?


Signs of an imminent restaurant opening are hard to spot. 


Fountain Square, whose showcase fountain was promised to be in position by May 2017, is looking relatively waterless more than 12 months later. 


And while the view from the Total Hvar terrace seemed to indicate a more finished riva, taking a closer look told another story. At least there were no diggers in the terrace view, the first time for four years.  


New benches, with one bench positioned to look across at where The Bench once was. 


And then, hiding behind the rowing club, a little digger - I knew there would be one somewhere. 


As for the much-heralded new town beach, seemingly years in the making, it may be ready for 2020.


It is not all a disaster, and some parts are certainly looking better.  


The last time I walked through St. John's Square, this was a dangerous ruin - a rather nice renovation.  


And of course, plus ca change on Jelsa's main square, a true children's paradise and international melting pot for the little ones. It will be interesting to see how the square (and Jelsa) looks in 5 years. A little different, I suspect. 

More amazing numbers officially announced this week, with Croatian tourism up 10% again on last year, amazing numbers which have not quite trickled down to Jelsa, where overnight stays for the first half of the year are down more than 10%, or more than 10,000 overnights. 

Perhaps, if someone decided to tell people Jelsa was a tourist town with an events programme, those numbers might improve. 

Tagged under: hvar jelsa