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article imageVedran Meniga, a true festival tourism pioneer in Pula, Croatia Special

By Paul Bradbury     Sep 2, 2014 in Music
Pula - Croatia is emerging as Europe's premier festival destination, largely due to the work of pioneers such as Vedran Meniga in Pula. Digital Journal went to meet him.
As Dimensions 2014 finishes and Outlook 2014 is set to begin on September 3, 2014, Digital Journal met Vedran Meniga, a true pioneer of festival tourism in Croatia, and a key player in bringing the two festivals to the stunning location of Fort Punta Christo near Pula, surely one of Europe's top festival locations.
Outlook Festival, which is Europe's leading bass music and sound-system culture festival, opens tomorrow night in the spectacular setting of the world's sixth largest Roman amphitheatre in Pula. Now in its fifth year in Pula, Outlook has played a significant role in boosting end of season tourism in Pula, and the public/private partnership between the festival organisers, Pula Tourist Board and City of Pula is a typical example of a successful and innovative approach to modern tourism in Croatia.
The Moat  one of the quirkier stages at Fort Punta Christo
The Moat, one of the quirkier stages at Fort Punta Christo
Fort Punta Christo
One man who has been a driving force behind the success of these and other festivals in Pula is Vedran Meniga, who sat down with Digital Journal during the Dimensions Festival to explain the origins of festival tourism in Pula, as well as outlining a vision for development.
Meniga is part of a dedicated team of local music lovers, whose association and contribution to the Pula music scene has been immeasurable, and their drive and enthusiasm has helped to turn Pula into one of the country's most important festival destinations.
Born in Sibenik, life changed for Meniga on August 25, 1991. He was working in Hotel Olympia in Vodice when war broke out, and when he turned up the following day, the beach which was always full of German and Italian tourists was deserted. His mother explained to him that war had broken out between the Croats and the Serbs.
Vedran Meniga  a true pioneer of Croatian festival tourism
Vedran Meniga, a true pioneer of Croatian festival tourism
Fort Punta Christo
"Who are the Serbs?" he asked her. She had been a true socialist and not preached about nationalities.
A keen music fan, he headed to Pula in 1992. As the only part of Croatia which was spared the conflict, and with a reputation (which exists today) as the most tolerant region in the country, it was the only place to go for festivals, and he and his then girlfriend attended the first Monteparadiso punk festival in a ruined fort in the city. He and other friends asked permission to clean up the fort and hold a festival there, which was a great success. The festival, which has a capacity of just 500 people due to the location, is now in its 22nd year.
Monteparadiso 1993 was also a success, a spontaneous gathering of people from all regions of Croatia, where the motivations were friendship, enthusiasm and of course music. It was never something they throught they could live from. The location of the festival meant that it could not expand, and a decade later, Meniga and his friends stopped working on the punk festival, and they started something altogether more ambitious.
Fort Punta Christo was an abandoned military fortress on a peninsula outside the city. The team set about cleaning it up, obtaining permissions and putting on a festival. The music tastes had changed — dub, jungle, reggae — but Seasplash was born, and this festival has taken place in the third week of July every year ever since, with many UK acts booked, several of which also return to play at Outlook.
Fort Punta Christo has a number of intimate stages
Fort Punta Christo has a number of intimate stages
Fort Punta Christo
How did Outlook end up coming to Pula?
"Outlook today is a great festival, but it didn't have the best start in Croatia. It was expelled from its first location after just one festival, and then it moved to Zrce on Pag, the party island. That was how I first came in contact with them, as they wanted me to help with logistics and equipment.
"I could see they were not happy with the location and the vibe, and so I took them to some possible locations in Croatia, and when they saw Fort Punta Christo, it was love at first sight, and they have never looked back. The connections are also much better to Pula, with airports in Venice, Trieste and Ljubljana also close by.
"I remember the day well when they came. It was Halloween 2009, and things moved quickly after that, with the first Outlook Festival at Fort Punta Christo taking place the following year. We sold 4,500 tickets, more than double the 1,800 at Zrce. We had experience in implementing infrastructure in the Croatian context, and we became partners with Outlook. In 2011, there were 10,000 people and this year we are closer to 15,000. We can't grow any more in this location, as we have limited capacity, as well as accommodation - all apartments in the region are fully booked, which is great for this late season tourism revenue.
Pula Arena  the sixth largest Roman amphitheatre in the world  is one of Europe s most spectacular c...
Pula Arena, the sixth largest Roman amphitheatre in the world, is one of Europe's most spectacular concert venues
Dan Medhurst
I then showed them Pula Arena, the Roman amphitheatre, where we all dreamed of how amazing it would be to have an event there, a dream which became a reality last year. With our better connections and relations with the city, we were invited to hold the opening night of Outlook 2013 in the Arena. It was an incredible night.
"It is a good partnership, and it is hard for the English organisers some 2,000 miles from home. They can, however, afford professional services, whereas we all do it out of love and have full-time jobs, in an office, in the shipyard. Our team has been the same for more than 20 years, and there is more turnover with Outlook staff, so each year we have to start things again, but that is fine - for us, stagnation is extinction. It this was just about business, we would stop. It is about energy, music, tolerance and ideas."
Dimensions is a much younger festival. How did it start?
"Outlook promoted dubstep, but the style has changed, and it is no longer the main theme. Outlook needed to change. There was roots reggae, hip hop, dub, sound system culture, drum bass. Dubstep went further with many more styles, revitalising some styles which were popular in the 1990s like house. We all love this music, and it is not natural to implement all styles into one festival, so we decided to create Dimensions.
The allure of the Adriatic and the boat parties are an additional benefit of the festival s location
The allure of the Adriatic and the boat parties are an additional benefit of the festival's location
Fort Punta Christo
"It is also a matter of cost. With two festivals, we can share costs between the two. It costs one million kuna (US$ 170,000) for example, just to run the generators for Outlook. There was electricity here, but the Yugoslav army destroyed everything when they left, then people came and stole the cables.
"Both festivals have the same spirit and vibe, but offer something different. There are 7,000 at Dimension, now in its third year, up from 4,000 when we started. The Brits make up 50%, but there are more Germans, French and Italians this year. It started as an English ghetto on the coast, but has turned into a truly European festival. Our goal is to bring people from former Yugoslavia and the wider region to have fun. Regional sales are increasing each year, from less than 200 in the first year to more than 1,000 now, as well as the many locals working with us of course.
"We are now a lot more recognised and accepted. Look at the local media five years ago; they were very negative about the festival, but they are much more positive. We were voted as one of the three most important events in Istria by the national tourist board, who are supporting the event this year, after four years of hard lobbying."
Festival tourism at Fort Punta Christo is now more than a decade old
Festival tourism at Fort Punta Christo is now more than a decade old
Fort Punta Christo
Tell us about your relationship with local authorities. Getting permission for something like this in Croatia is not easy, surely?
"It is a nightmare! The most exhausting thing about the festival for sure, but nothing can be done without the proper licences and documents. It is often hard to get official advice on the correct procedures, but the inspectors know where to find us...
"Our cooperation with the city of Pula is excellent, and we are very grateful for their support, particularly from the Pula Tourist Board and mayor Boris Miletic. He has been an enthusiastic supporter of all we do, and I think it helped him in his election campaign, as it showed he was in touch with young people. Another key factor has been the contribution of Jasmina Kamber, head of the cultural department in the city. She is our generation, understands things, and manages to get things done in a day. We are grateful for her support.
Once an abandoned military fortress  Fort Punta Christo is today one of Croatia s most intriguing ev...
Once an abandoned military fortress, Fort Punta Christo is today one of Croatia's most intriguing event locations
Fort Punta Christo
"Our relationship to the neighbouring village of Stinjan is also much better. When we started, we held resident meetings, and about 100 people would show up, wanting to kill us. This year there were 10, mostly to congratulate us. They were angry when we proposed temporary traffic changes, but now they come to us with their requests.
"The city of Pula has to play its part. It is little known, but there was an initiative after the Second World War to promote tourism in September. Lots of things were attempted, but we have genuinely succeeded, through lots of enthusiasm and hard work.
"Where is our money, cry some local residents? Our financial benefit? It is in the local institutions, and in the millions of kuna which pour into local businesses. People think we are rich, but most of the money goes into the Croatian economy and tax system. We have been lobbying the city, and we are delighted that the city has transferred 2 million kuna to Stinjan, so that roads and lighting will be provided.
Fort Punta Christo is bathed in exotic light  as festival goers explore its secrets corners
Fort Punta Christo is bathed in exotic light, as festival goers explore its secrets corners
Fort Punta Christo
"The city mayor has also promised to restore the electricity connection, which will be amazing. With electricity, we will be able to transform Fort Punta Christo into a great social point. Perhaps a wine bar, jazz evenings, that kind of thing. The money is there for the electricity, but there is a small thing called Croatian bureaucracy, plus the fact the landowners' price increases 15 times when there is a hint the English may be involved. But we do hope to have the connection for next year, which will be fantastic."
How can Pula grow as a music and festival destination?
"It is quite simple. Listen to us! Listen to our stories and use our experience. We can do many more festivals, both here and elsewhere. We have already spoken to the city about some of them. One idea is a music conference in October at the end of the season, using different areas every day, with the last part in the fort to close the summer season. It would be great for Pula.
The festival location on a peninsula several miles from the city of Pula is an ideal compromise of m...
The festival location on a peninsula several miles from the city of Pula is an ideal compromise of minimal disruption and noise and increased revenue
Fort Punta Christo
"The music conference would be focused on the festivals in the region, not something official and sterile, but a gathering of all the festival guys in the region, who may see us and each other as competition. We propose that we all sit at the same table - the organisers of Exit, For, Ultra and Garden festivals - to discuss things of mutual interest, such as festival dates, booking headliners etc. The idea is to cooperate not compete, and to discuss that cooperation in a chilled environment.
"That is just one idea", Meniga finished with a twinkle in his eye, "we have hundreds..."
Fort Punta Christo  a fine example of Pula s innovative policy of blending heritage with modern tour...
Fort Punta Christo, a fine example of Pula's innovative policy of blending heritage with modern tourism
Fort Punta Christo
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