Staying Authentic: Croatia the Non-Starbucks Capital of the EU

By 9 November 2019

November 9, 2019 - One of the top travel speakers in the world was in Croatia this week at CIHT 2019 in Selce near Crikvenica, talking Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and successful tourism. 

One of the things I love most about my 'job' is the sheer diversity of opportunity it gives me to see so many different aspects of this beautiful country. And while I cover a wide range of subjects and destinations with my travel around the country, it is almost always the case that a new situation will lead me off in an altogether different and totally random direction. 

Who would have thought, for example, that seeing a red British telephone box in the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe in eastern Croatia would lead to a visit to an authentic English pub in a field literally in the middle of nowhere close to Vinkovci. You can learn more about that, as well as why Yorkshire puddings were once on the Vinkovci menu, in How I Came to Open an English Pub in a Field in Eastern Croatia


But this week was exceptional. The main reason for attending the outstanding G2.5 diaspora conference in Zagreb (see report here) was to pursue contacts and business links between the diaspora and entrepreneurs building bridges from the Homeland, but the highlight - at least in terms of stories - was learning about a golf tournament which takes place in Zagreb each year, where the competitors play in kilts, to the sound of bagpipes, and accompanied by a wee dram or three of whisky. Yes, really - check it out here


My second conference of the week was in Selce, near Crikvenica, the 7th edition of CIHT 2019, the Crikvenica International Health Tourism Conference. We will have MUCH more about this conference shortly, including TCN's maiden speech on the medical tourism speaking circuit, but my main takeaway of the whole event had nothing to do with medical tourism. 

As my wife and colleagues will tell you, I am famously disorganised, and I usually walk into situations with the minimum of preparation or research. I find life more fun that way (ok I am lazy) and so I had no idea who else would be speaking. 

And so it was rather a surprise on the first day to see one of the world's top tourism speaking gurus not only giving one of the keynote speakers but also held two workshops in the afternoon. I have no idea how much Doug Lansky costs - and I suspect he is not cheap - but he was worth every penny. By quite some distance, he was the most thought-provoking speaker I have heard in my time in Croatia. I am still processing much of what Doug said, but one of his points got me initially motivated enough to write. 

Forget the fancy websites, the top 10 lists, even the sponsored social media - the thing that motivates people to travel is having something unique and amazing to offer. If you have that, the word of mouth and genuinely heartfelt social media sharing will do the rest. 


And yet, according to Doug, the paradox is that the more we travel, the more the places we resemble look like home - sometimes almost more than home. He cited the case of the handful of Pizza Huts in New York City, versus the dozens in Beijing, as just one example of how the chains we use back home are even more evident when we go abroad. It is all becoming the same. What is sought after is something unique and different. I made a mental note to myself to check something later. 


I knew that, despite many rumours, Starbucks still had no presence in Croatia. With such a wonderful coffee culture here, there really is no need for it, but I was curious to see how prevalent Starbucks was in Europe. The results were interesting - and encouraging for Croatia. 


The following was posted on Reddit recently, a map of all the Starbucks franchises in Europe as of 2019. There are only five EU countries which have no Starbucks at all - the three Baltic states, Slovenia and Croatia. Of those, by far the biggest country, both in terms of size and population, is Croatia. And when it comes to tourism numbers, that size is much, much bigger (as an aside, several people have asked me to comment on Croatia's record 20 million tourists this year - and once I catch my breath from all this travel and do a little more research, I will publish Why Croatia Should Not Be Celebrating Its Record 20 Million Tourists). 

Coffee drinking culture in Croatia is authentic and pretty unique. 

A land without Starbucks.  

It is fast becoming a unique thing in itself. 

Unique and amazing - Croatia has such things in spades, but (at least in my opinion) does a very poor job at promoting them. And while the obsessions with numbers, numbers, numbers and the gradual environmental devastation of the Adriatic coast slowly continues, there are SO many unique things that Croatia has to share that very few people know about. 

In addition to the Yorkshire puddings, red telephone boxes and English pubs in obscure fields, I am discovering an abundance of fantastic stories and unique finds all over continental Croatia. And as I report on them, I am struck by how many local people are amazed by what they read. Not because my writing is particularly good, but because they are vaguely aware, they really had no clue about just how awesome some of these rarely visited attractions are. 


Two recent examples will suffice. Very few people outside Croatia (and I would guess not that many even in the country) have a firm grasp of Vucedol culture.  And yet, just a few kilometres outside of Vukovar, one can find an outstanding museum on the site of what was once the centre of a very sophisticated culture, probably the most advanced in Europe at the time. Learn more in Vucedol Era: When Eastern Croatian Settlements Most Important in Europe.

There are many, many tourism niches, which do not appeal to everyone, but if you have something unique and high quality in that niche, people will travel for it. Look at the case of Medjugorje, the site of the alleged apparitions from the Virgin Mary in neighbouring Bosnia and Hercegovina. Even though there is nothing really to physically see, and even though the Vatican has not authenticated anything, more than one million people visit every year. 

And yet, back in Croatia, there is a fully authenticated miracle approved by the Vatican (you can even see the Papal Bull) that you can physically see that hardly anyone knows about in detail. Learn more about it here

Europe's oldest inhabited town with its British phone box, Europe's leading culture 5000 years ago, Croatia's miracle town - unique, authentic experiences which could be developed responsibly and authentically to take the pressure off the insane current obsession with numbers, numbers, numbers on the coast. 

And with no Starbucks. 

Looking to learn more about the unique finds in continental Croatia? Here are 25 reasons you should never visit






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