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article imageAn interview with Croatian Minister of Tourism Darko Lorencin Special

By Paul Bradbury     May 27, 2014 in Travel
As Croatia prepares for another bumper tourist season, Minister of Tourism Darko Lorencin visits Split. Digital Journal had a couple of questions.
These are good times for Croatian tourism. A rise in flights to the Adriatic coast, a successful branding of the country's coast and sunshine, The Mediterranean as It Once Was, and new opportunities with EU entry; Digital Journal put a few questions to Minister of Tourism Darko Lorencin on May 27, 2014.
1. You recently visited Vinski Podrum wine festival in Split. Croatian wine is undergoing a renaissance, but there is for example no wine road of Dalmatia. What plans does the ministry have to develop wine tourism in Croatia?
According to the Strategy of Croatian tourism, gastronomy and oenology is one of the ten key tourism products that will be developed in the future and will be a motive for arrivals outside the peak tourist season. It is not true that there are no wine roads in Dalmatia, we have them in Dalmatia, Istria, Eastern Slavonia and around Zagreb. However, cuisine is definitely one of the advantages that we have and have to work harder on its development and promotion. It has the potential to become one of our key products, especially in June and September. Croatia has huge gastronomic wealth due to the large number of different regional and local cuisines. For example we have Rab, Ston, Dubrovnik and Imotski cake, and this diversity is precisely our advantage. However, we need further work on the creation of a concept. About 13 million tourists are visiting the country every year, and they know that we have good food, but it has not yet become a key motive of their arrival. In the past year the gastronomic scene has noticeably brightened. But what is equally exciting is the news that Croatia is finally creating an entirely different and unique culinary concept which did not exist before. One such project is called Gourmet Croatia, which has been prepared but has not yet been presented to the public. This should consolidate all existing initiatives and individual efforts to make a distinctive and competitive brand in the world market.
Darko Lorencin promoting bike tourism with Istria county chief Valter Flego near Motovun.
Darko Lorencin promoting bike tourism with Istria county chief Valter Flego near Motovun.
Croatian Ministry of Tourism
2. The potential of new tourism markets from the East is intriguing. South Koreans, Japanese and Chinese tourists are coming in ever greater numbers. What activities are the ministry engaged in to bring deeper penetration to these markets?
Markets outside of Europe are increasingly important for Croatian tourism. South Koreans, Japanese and Chinese tourists generate a large number of arrivals and overnight stays. The work programme of the Croatian National Tourist Board predicts participation in tourism fairs in Japan, South Korea and China this year. Also, the work programme predicts organising business workshops called “Sell Croatia” within the above tourism fairs. These tourists are also important for us because they like to travel outside the main part of the season. This year I visited China - Beijing and Shanghai - and I will do so again at the end of the year. These markets have very great potential, but the prerequisite is to increase aviation links. Together with my colleague, the Minister of Transport, I am working to increase the number of direct flights or one-stop flights not only from the distant eastern markets, but we have a significant rise of tourists from the United States and Brazil. I am an optimist because the number of tourists from these distant markets is increasing from year to year.
3. Russian tourists to Pula Airport comprised 40% of passenger traffic before the visa restrictions brought about by EU entry, which led to a sharp decline in 2013 numbers. With the crisis in Crimea, there is also an opportunity to increase tourists from Ukraine. What is being, and what can be done, to resolve the visa issue?
Minister Lorencin with his assistant Davor Ižaković on at a hot spot in Rovinj.
Minister Lorencin with his assistant Davor Ižaković on at a hot spot in Rovinj.
Croatian Ministry of Tourism
The visa regime in Croatia is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In collaboration with them, we have significantly simplified the procedure for obtaining visas, and we expect an increase of tourists from Ukraine and Russia in the future. Croatian tourist visas now last for six months, and users can stay in the country up to 90 days. Tourists who visited Croatia last year may request multiple visas with a duration of one or two years. Additionally, those who have Schengen visas can enter the country without a Croatian national visa. Unfortunately, the situation in Ukraine does not give us optimism, and we have given up all further activities in the Ukrainian market at the moment. As for Russia, the situation with visas is now completely resolved, and we believe that additional promotional activities this year will halt the decline of this market.
4. The Mediterranean as It Once Was was a hugely successful marketing slogan for Croatia, and it is fair to say that Croatia is best known for its sunshine and beaches. How hard is it to move away from that stereotype, and what are your priorities in tourism development?
The sun and the sea is the most dominant Croatian product. Despite many initiatives and an emphasis on reducing the seasonality of Croatian tourism and the development of other tourist products, the share of the sun and the sea in the total tourist product has for many years remained at a high 85% of the share of physical volume. Our Tourism Strategy predicts that in addition to "the sun and the sea" as the dominant tourist product, a number of other products such as nautical, health, cycling, adventure and sport, cultural and business tourism will grow significantly. Although "the sea and the sun" product will always be one of the main competitive advantages of Croatian tourism, we also want to have a new direction in promotion of our tourism identity. A new Strategic marketing plan, which is in its final phase, will pay a key role in this process.
Split is an increasingly popular destination for Scandinvian tourists.
Split is an increasingly popular destination for Scandinvian tourists.
5. The Adriatic is Croatia's tourism jewel, and it is known as one of the cleanest seas in the world. There are plans to start drilling for oil and gas from 2015, which could have a catastrophic effect on tourism. What is your position on drilling in the Adriatic?
One advantage of Croatia is definitely its pure and preserved nature, which we should protect from any pollution. Regarding the implementation of such projects it is very important to think about the potential environment impacts and regarding this, an environment impact study is necessary. I have faith in the expertise of colleagues who will be responsible for the damage assessment, and hope, for the good all of us, that Croatia will continue to be one of the best-preserved natural oases in Europe. It is precisely on this issue I asked for further information from our Ministry of Economy which is in charge of the process.
6. The European Coastal Airlines hydroplane service could revolutionise tourism in Croatia, particularly on the islands. Although they are close to starting, they have been trying for 13 years now. What is your position on the project, and what is the ministry doing to actively support them?
This is a brilliant and extremely valuable initiative which the Ministry of Tourism has supported from the beginning. Although the Ministry of Tourism is not responsible for concessions and other aspects of this project, we have already held several meetings with representatives of the European Coastal Airlines (ECA), and we continuously encourage conversation on the national and local level about the importance of this project for Croatian tourism. In fact, linking the island via hydroplanes would greatly contribute to strengthening the competitiveness of island destinations and better connect Croatia with other countries.
The ECA island-hopping service will allow tourists to concentrate on the reason for their holiday - ...
The ECA island-hopping service will allow tourists to concentrate on the reason for their holiday - fun.
European Coastal Airlines
7. Croatia is sometimes perceived as an expensive destination compared to, for example, Greece. Do you agree with that, and what are Croatia's competitive advantages?
Croatia offers an optimal ratio of rates and services, and it is a really acceptable destination for tourism of different interests and profiles. The advantages for Croatia are definitely the preserved environment, clean sea and unique local attractions. We are aware that in order to maintain competitiveness, sustainable development of tourism is crucial, and our priorities are the protection of the environment and the preservation of authenticity. In addition to its well preserved sea and environment, Croatia must become better known for its rich culture, history, traditions and native wines and gastronomy. The potential for Croatian tourism lies in the fact that each region is uniquely well known and interesting for tourism. That is why, by creating specific programs and new reasons for attracting tourists with a variety of interests, we will become an even more interesting lifestyle destination, not only for annual holidays, but also for long weekend breaks.
Blending technology with heritage: Visualia 2014 in Pula was a major success.
Blending technology with heritage: Visualia 2014 in Pula was a major success.
Visualia 2014
8. And finally, in a sentence, why should people visit Croatia?
If you want to see a lot of nature diversity in a relatively small area, Croatia is a perfect destination for you. If you want it even shorter than that – Croatia is unique and beautiful!
Croatia s Minister of Tourism  Darko Lorencin.
Croatia's Minister of Tourism, Darko Lorencin.
Croatian Ministry of Tourism
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