October 2, 2021 – Community, events, co-living – how concepts for digital nomads can be used to improve the problem of winter tourism in Croatia.
Let me start by explaining the background to my perspective on Croatian winter tourism.
Having lived full time for 13 years on the island of Hvar, I have seen the realities of Croatian tourism seasonality more closely than most. An idyllic island to live in for sure, but with locals too busy with the season to fully enjoy the summer months, only to then meet the long and beautiful winter with everything closed and nowhere to go. With so much more to offer than sun, sea and beach, it has always been a mystery to me why Croatia has not been able to develop year round tourism.
As a local resident in the winter with all restaurants in town closed for 5 months of the year, the announcement of ANY event and the opportunity to go socialize was gratefully accepted by many locals. Something different to break the daily routine of coffee visits, work in the fields and walks along the coast. I used to watch the few tourists who came during the winter months – a time when Hvar, at least to me, was even more beautiful than in summer – and how lost they looked. With so few places open, it was difficult to find a place to eat, things to do, people to meet.
And it wasn’t just Hvar. The Dalmatian coastal towns in winter are a shadow of themselves in summer in terms of life. This is the classic story of the chicken and the egg. A lot of businesses want tourists all year round, but they couldn’t afford to stay open in the hope that they show up. Many tourists would like to come in the off season – Sandinavians escape a harsh winter, for example – but the air connections were very poor. And for those who managed to visit, there was simply no focal point or events to attend, or ways to connect with other tourists.
But while there was better connectivity, a decent schedule with a selection of restaurants and other hospitality services available year-round, as well as focal points to meet both locals and fellow travelers, some Could Croatia’s coastal destinations extend their season, or even operate 12 months a year?
I think they could, and I think there are various initiatives of the digital nomad community that provide some useful insight on how we can tackle this winter tourism problem in Croatia.
In the winter of 2019, Saltwater Nomads, based in Split, one of the city’s premier coworking spaces, was receiving good deals from nomads who came to use their services. But nomads not only want a place to work, but also a social life. Saltwater Nomads has partnered with local restaurants Zinfandel and Brasserie on 7 to deliver a weekly concept called Nomad Table. For a fixed price for a 3-course meal, Nomad Table was advertised on nomadic and expat social media platforms. It was a total success, sold out every week and was becoming an integral part of Split’s off-season tourist scene, until a certain pandemic disrupted matters.
Yesterday evening, at the Canopy by Hilton hotel in Zagreb, the ambassador of the digital nomad of Zagreb in September, the Israeli Nimrod Dean Kuchel, organized a meeting and presentation evening in Zagreb. it was a simple social evening, open to all and promoted through TCN and some nomadic social media groups. A pledge of 5 speakers talking about their travel / digital nomad experiences followed by a social evening of chat and networking.
About fifty people showed up, a mixture of locals, expatriates and nomads. The 5 announced speakers quickly turned into 10 as people in the audience wanted to share their stories as well. New friendships were formed, new events were discovered, many going to Ivanic-Grad today for the Bucijada Pumpkin Festival. A simple concept with a wide appeal.
Earlier this week, TCN shared with you the story of Croatia’s first digital nomadic village, Digital Nomad Valley Zadar. This is the first creative use for digital nomadic purposes of the abundant tourist accommodation that is largely unused during the winter months. The concept is simple: to provide people with a spectacular location, with many facilities, including a community and a good co-working space, and to offer events and activities.
Launched three days ago, Digital Nomad Valley Zadar already has 25 nomads who have registered to stay when it opens in 8 days on October 10.
A weekly nomadic table in Split, an evening over drinks with travelogues in Zagreb and a creative use of a campsite and hotel in the low season. Nothing revolutionary, and nothing too complicated to organize or reproduce. But quite a success, and with applications beyond simple digital nomads.
As I can attest from my stay in Hvar, the benefits of successful Croatian winter tourism would not only be for the tourism sector, but for the population as a whole. If certain tourist traffic made it possible to open a few more restaurants or other businesses throughout the year, and if these tourist arrivals involved the addition of events during the winter months, not only would money go into it. economy, but the quality of life of local populations would also improve.
But how do you deal with this chicken and this egg?
I would try a pilot project in a destination that has the potential to be a year round destination with a lot of content outside of the sun and the sea.
A destination like Split.
Ten restaurants, 2-3 hotels, a few travel agencies to start with. Use the creative ideas above and adapt them to winter tourism. Perhaps an emphasis on active tourism or perhaps gastronomic tourism. Wine tours don’t depend so much on the season, for example. Hiring good winegrowers and restaurateurs to come up with a gastronomic extravaganza could be a real success.
The islands are fabulous to visit any time of the year. Organized tourism in Europe began in Hvar with an emphasis on its temperate winter climate with the founding of the Hvar Health Society. Take the winegrowers, a few restaurants and activity tourism specialists aboard each island to offer a limited but quality product that will bring the island to life for its visitors.
Talk to the airlines. A longer season is in their best interests, and if they can have the first-mover advantage to make it happen, maybe that’s an added incentive. With Ryanair now serving multiple destinations during the winter from Zagreb, would it be too difficult / expensive to see what can be done for Split?
A concerted effort and a focused strategy to deliver a rich and targeted tourism offering for the pilot program should not be difficult to conceive for a country where more than 20% of its GDP comes from tourism, and the rewards of a successful pilot could. be substantial, both in terms of quality of life and income. If a few progressive private sector entrepreneurs can organize things on a small scale like in the examples above, what could be done with a concerted official campaign?
For more information and views on Croatian tourism, follow the dedicated TCN section.