Reflections on the first Split TCN Winter Tourism Roundtable
December 16, 2021 – TCN Split’s first winter tourism roundtable took place on Monday at CHOPS Grill in Split. Some thoughts …
Looking over the excellent steak that was served for lunch after the TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable, I smiled (see photo above). Because in front of me, on the other side of our rectangular round table, were perhaps the four public officials who could have the most influence in making the initiative to extend the tourist season in Split a success.
And I had a history with the four.
The director of the Central Dalmatia Tourist Board, Josko Stella, actually gave me my first job in 12 years in 2013 (after more than a decade of self-employed) when he invited me to become the official blogger of the Central Dalmatia Tourist Board, a position I have held for 7 happy years. It is something that I will always remember with gratitude.
Next to him, the mayor of Split Ivica Puljak, whom I first met with his wife, MP Marijana Puljak, around a coffee in Jelsa in 2018, as they wanted to show me their support after the Mayor of Jelsa announced that he was suing me (he never did). And it was Marijana who rose in parliament last year to raise my case of the SLAPP trial by the Croatian National Tourist Board last year.
Next to him is the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Tonci Glavina, a man with Klis running through his veins, whose lovely wife Tracey was the very first writer for TCN in 2015.
And next to Tonci, Alijana Vuksic, director of the Split Tourism Office, which first supports Total Split, then TCN, since 2014.
(Four personalities from the public sector – Tonci Glavina, Josko Stella, Alijana Vuksic and Ivica Puljak)
To their left and right, additional public sector figures in the form of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, the county representative and the deputy director of Split Airport, as well as some of the most important names in the private sector – general managers of 5-star hotels, tourism consultants and representatives of the MICE, hotels, inns and restaurants sectors.
They all came. Everyone who has been invited.
And they all – without exception – left their egos and their agendas at home, came to listen, then speak, then engage. I will not pretend that it was easy to get everyone to the table, because it was not, but it will be much easier next time, because everyone left pleasantly surprised by the constructive way of the meal. session. And I think everyone came away feeling that this was a very real chance to develop something concrete, meaningful and lasting.
Although I am by no means an expert in tourism, a man who is Zoran Pejovic of Paradox Hospitality, whose contributions have been poignant (and we are all very happy to know more about the investment of 200 million dollars). euros that he brings to the region of central Dalmatia). Here’s what he posted on LinkedIn after we met:
Yesterday morning I had been looking at my very busy schedule for the day and for a brief moment I had considered calling Paul Bradbury to inform him that I cannot attend his “round table” discussion on the theme of tourism in Split and its off-season and off-season activities, its promotions and especially its connectivity. It would have been a mistake.
No, we have not solved all the challenges of low season tourism in Split and Dalmatia. However, we had a very substantiated and civilized discussion with some of the stakeholders exchanging contacts for the first time and most of the participants exchanging thoughts and ideas in this format for the very first time. We had the mayor of Split, Ivica puljak at the head of the table, with the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Tourism, Tonči Glavina. We had representatives from hotels, youth hostels, restaurant associations, DMCs as well as officials from Split airport, tourist offices and the chamber of commerce. And I was there, and I’m glad I was there.
Perhaps I expected so little from this roundtable that it was not difficult to overtake it, but this one was so well organized by Paul Bradbury and Daniela rogulj, so well moderated by Michael freer, so well hosted by Jasmine garbin that I left the feeling that there is still hope for us to create better and more thoughtful tourism in Dalmatia.
Now a few comments from my side. I believe that the task of creating better and more diverse tourism products and promoting the destination rests on the shoulders of the private sector, not on officials and governments. Having said that, we need public administrations to provide better infrastructure where possible and to reduce tax burdens where possible, in order to make us more competitive with our Mediterranean competitors. Also, we all have to understand that we will not have a lack of travelers in the future, but the lack of workers and if this is not structurally resolved, we will have nothing to discuss in the future. We need tips so that service staff are untaxed up to certain limits, capped at around 700 euros per month. We finally need to start developing suitable hotel managers, from hotel general managers and sales and marketing managers to operations managers, and make this industry attractive again. And finally for this post, finally only because of the character limit of the LinkedIn post :), we have to make a strong effort for excellence and within that, not to make any concessions on the way of hospitality and more responsible tourism.
(Three stars – Jamina Kruscic, CHOPS Grill hostess, TCN’s Daniela Rogulj and moderator Michael Freer)
You can read the meeting report here, as well as the proposed action plan to take it to the next level – many thanks to Daniela Rogulj for the enormous amount of work involved.
Here are some of my main takeaways:
1. The amount of knowledge, experience, connections, and ability in this room was appalling. Just like the awareness of his disconnection. When Zoran casually mentioned that he was bringing 200 million euros of investment in Central Dalmatia, I smiled. It came minutes after Ante Lacman lamented Split’s inability to respond to simple requests to close a road, so that a 7-figure (euros) car launch could take place in Split. So many people dealing with so many big numbers, without any coordination with other stakeholders. As I drove towards Zadar, Zagreb and finally Osijek the next day, the mere thought of being able to have a coordinated approach with all these actors singing from the same hymn sheet would transform everything.
2. Mayor Puljak’s commitment and desire to learn was impressive. It’s no secret that tourism isn’t his strongest card, but I left feeling that he, too, wanted to unblock some of the roadblocks we encounter.
3. The commentary of consultant Mario Seric gave me another reason to dare to dream of a good end result. Mario is a veteran of a 2008-9 initiative to bring winter flights to Split (and with some success – one of his legacies is the year-round Split-Munich flight). He agreed to give a presentation on lessons learned from 2009 (and did it superbly), but I know he – like Zoran – had no expectations from the roundtable, and he was probably only there. to help me. Mario’s conclusion that if he had had Josko, Ivica, Tonci and Alijana as public officials to deal with in 2009, the outcome likely would have been different.
(One of the many meetings before the round table)
4. Pero from Split Airport was a total star and very transparent. Split Airport has always been a mystery to me, and I have never met an official from there, but their openness and engagement with everyone has helped break down barriers and misconceptions, and we have all left with a better understanding of why things are the way they are, and how we can slowly make changes with a longer flying season.
5. One thing I learned in 2021 is that although Croatia is a very bureaucratic country, an effective public-private partnership IS possible in Croatia. Not all public institutions are as inefficient and irrelevant as the Croatian National Tourism Board and the award-winning partnerships of Saltwater Nomads, Total Croatia News and first the Zagreb Tourist Board, but also the city of Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik Tourist Office with Zagreb Digital Nomad Week. & Ambassador Program and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence Program show just how impactful these public-private partnerships can be when focused on a common goal. I left the roundtable feeling that there is now an opportunity to leverage the energy of Monday’s meeting to create something similar with the roundtable stakeholders.
6. Split, central Dalmatia or possibly Dalmatia itself has a branding problem. Istria does things so much better, but I don’t think the basic quality of the raw product is better in Istria than in Dalmatia. Dalmatia needs to be properly branded, things need to be proactive rather than reactive. With consultants such as Mario Seric and Zoran Pejovic already involved in this initiative, why not engage them to use their expertise and their contacts to mark Dalmatia once and for all?
7. We have the right stakeholders at the table. What I really enjoyed about this whole process is seeing it fall into place and seeing how various stakeholders understand the limits and possibilities on the other side. Secretary of State Glavina has experience in the private sector, our lovely hostess Jasmina Kruscic was once the director of a tourist office and Jelena Tabak, restaurateur and head of the Split Catering Association sails the waters with expertise. So many stakeholders were meeting for the first time, or at least exchanging ideas for the first time. More meetings like Monday (and the next one is scheduled for next month) will build confidence, confidence, brainstorming – and ultimately results.
8. CHOPS Grill is truly the best meat restaurant in Dalmatia and a fantastic and hospitable venue for such an event. Thank you Jasmina for your generous support.
Real progress has been made and I am very encouraged by everything that happened on Monday. Special thanks to the amazing quartet of women who were the real stars of it all – Jelena from CHOPS, Mare from B7, Dani from TCN and Jelena from Dujkin Dvor. When they created the Wikipedia page on how Split built its winter tourism, this photo below will be the main photo.
And a big thank you to Michael Freer, whose moderation and facilitation played a big part in helping us get here. I look forward to meeting – and reporting – again next month.
To be continued…