Qualifying for the 2012 Gariful Hvar Open finished on April 11, 2012, with one of the tournament's sponsors, leading island hotel group, Suncani Hvar, hosting a reception for tournament officials and players at Hotel Riva on the Hvar waterfront.
The tournament, now in its seventeenth year, is another example of efforts to promote tourism outside of the main season, when the island's reputation as a sun, sea, wine, nightlife and celebrity destination sells itself.
The shoulder and off-seasons are a different proposition, however, and the sponsorship efforts of some of the bigger businesses on the island, such as Suncani Hvar and Restaurant Gariful, have ensured that popular events such as the New Year Regatta, and community events such as children's tennis lessons, free horse-riding and squid-fishing championships, can provide winter entertainment for local residents, as well as additional attractions for out of season tourists.
An important part of that approach is the Hvar Tennis Open, a WTA tour event, whose past participants have included future stars such as Justine Henin and Victoria Azarenka. Part of the umbrella of the Pearls of Dalmatia organisation, which this year includes the Solaris Sibenik Open and Bluesun Bol Open - all with 12 WTA points at stake and $10,000 prize money - the tournament has been an important event for many tennis players, and Digital Journal caught up with the tournament founder, Zlatko Foglar, at Hotel Riva, to learn more about this less publicised tennis tournament, which this year attracted 93 entries from 23 countries.
Pearls of Dalmatia started in 1996 in Makarska, a Dalmatian coastal resort whose tourism was decimated by the war in former Yugoslavia, and the opening of a tennis centre in the town was the catalyst for Foglar, together with Hrvoje Urljic, to try and drum up some tourism and general interest in the town, by holding a tennis tournament. A total of 90 players came, an encouraging start.
The following year, the tournament was expanded to include Dubrovnik and the island of Hvar, and while the event has been held in different towns along the Croatian coast, it has been held every year on Hvar since 1997, with the exception of the year Belgrade was bombed.
"We have had players from 69 countries take part in our tournament," said Foglar, "and I am very proud of that. Some of the biggest names in world tennis, such as Justine Henin and Victoria Azaranka, and I smile when I see them performing well on Teletext results, remembering how they came to Hvar. It really is the most beautiful position for a tennis tournament in the world." The event is held each year at the multi-purpose Gariful Sports Center.
Foglar went on to explain that the tournament is an important opportunity for younger women players. Costs are lower in Croatia than neighbouring Italy for examples, as are the entry requirements, and the Pearls of Dalmatia tournaments are popular with local Croatian players, as well as the numerous international participants. They may not have produced a female Goran Ivanisevic yet, but grassroots initiatives like these are important to maintain interest and participation in sport at a local level.
Equally important are the efforts of the island's bigger businesses to support such events, as they now turn their attention to their core business of tourism - Restaurant Gariful to serving high-end guests, including 2011 visitors Prince Harry, Roman Abramovich and Giorgio Armani, and Hotel Riva to hosting guests who are flocking to one of the hottest destinations in the Adriatic.