Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Croatia Online - Zagreb Boat Show

Here's Croatia Online's editor and co-author of the Croatia Cruising Companion keeping a close eye on the Marina Facility Solutions stand at the Zagreb Boat Show.
The show finished on Sunday and the contents of the stand were dismantled, loaded up and driven back to Kaštela on Monday, so it's back to the day job today.
You can read more about the show on http://www.croatiacruisingcompanion.blogspot.com/ but we found it to be a refreshing change from Split's April show - shorter, more "functional", indoors but very airy, and a much greater variety of exhibits which, in turn, attracted a wider audience. The organisation was also great with setting up and dismantling going like clockwork though I guess it helps that this is a purpose built exhibition space rather than Split's harbour and Riva area.
According to today's press release from the show, both visitors and exhibitors were 10% up on last year - a total of 33,000 and 512 respectively. Also up 10% was the exhibition space - 27,000 square metres in 10 pavilions.
From our point of view, some good new contacts were made, some firm enquiries registered, 24 books sold, and 42 copies of Time Out's Visitors' Guide to Croatia were snapped up.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Croatia Online - Zagreb Sports and Boat Show

Regular readers and followers of our Croatia Cruising Companion News will know that we are at the Zagreb Boat Show this week. Unlike the Split Boat Show, there’s plenty here for those of a non nautical bent. In fact there are two shows at the permanent exhibition centre, Velesajem in novi Zagreb, south of the city centre – The Sports and Boat Show and the Fashion and Leisure Show.

The Sports and Boat show not only has the latest boats and nautical accessories, but a large selection of sports and related equipment. One of the innovative products on display is the Gymstick (see photo). A Finnish product, designed by a Nordic walking expert, it is essentially a stick with some elastic joined to foot and arm straps. Simple as it sounds, you can exercise just about every muscle depending on how you use it. The designer exercise stick comes at a designer price – about €70 depending on model. Obviously there’s been a lot of “engineering” going into it as well so you need to look past the simple construction to justify the cost. Go to http://www.gymstick.net/ or http://www.gymstick.hr/ for more information.

We’ll be featuring some other stands from both shows in the next few days but go to our sister site, as above, for the more nautical news. If you’re in Zagreb, come and visit us on stand 32, hall 8.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Croatia Online - Split's New Library

Split's new library celebrated Valentine's day in style with its opening ceremony last night. Dancing, singing and plenty to eat and drink allowed this newly refurbished high-tech facility to show off a little of what it had to offer. We'll be returning to the library in a couple of weeks for a more detailed look at the facilities that might interest international visitors.

For news on the Zagreb Boat Show, have a look at our sister site - www.croatiacruisingcompanion.blogspot.com

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Croatia Online - Celebrations

January 21st 2008 marked Croatia Online's second birthday. It looks like tomorrow, Valentine's Day, will give us our 30,000th hit. Statistic lovers also note that we have 190 earlier posts for you to browse through to give you a taste of the real Croatia (or go to our postings index - top right of the home page - to go straight to the topic you're interested in).

In Croatia Online's short life we've covered a huge range of subjects and continue to try to bring the latest inside news on what makes Croatia tick - there's plenty more to come as Croatia continues to accelerate the pace of change and progress.
Go back to our First Birthday Celebrations, for a review of our first year and to 20,000 Hits Celebration to see how we marked that. The highlights of the last 10,000 hits have been many, though perhaps the biggest one for us was the publication of our book - Croatia Cruising Companion - and the set up of a second blog to accompany it - http://www.croatiacruisingcompanion.blogspot.com/. The Croatia Cruising Companion was the end product of three years hard work exploring the Dalmatian Coast and Islands, from Zadar to Molunat. In researching the hard facts and writing the book, we've attempted to allow sailors (and land based tourists) to share our inside knowledge. It wasn't an easy project, demanding meticulous attention to detail, as well as endeavouring to convey the real "spirit" of one of the most spectacular cruising grounds in the world. But, finally, it all seems to have been worthwhile and, for a brief period in January 2008, it was Amazon's bestseller in the travel and holiday section for Croatia. It also "sold out" temporarily at the Excel London Boat Show. More intrinsically rewarding is the lovely feedback from a number of people who have bought the book. Of course we also have a lot to thank our publishers, for - they've done us proud on the quality finish of the end product and its distribution. It's widely available in the UK and internet sites such as Amazon, Waterstones and Tesco, and it's well stocked at the best international city centre bookstores in Croatia - Profil and Algoritam. So, apologies for blowing our own trumpet a little, but the Croatia Cruising Companion has been a huge part of our life here in Croatia and the final publication of it was a little like giving birth! However, like all proud parents, we've realised that we can be a little boring on the subject so this site will now confine itself to the essentials.
Other highlights include:
Travel News
A couple of backward steps for travellers to Split with British Airways and Wizzair withdrawing from the route completely. Fortunately Easyjet have extended their service to include a Bristol to Split route alongside their London to Split schedule.
After a close battle with no overall majority winner, Ivo Sanader eventually managed to form a coalition government and continues as prime minister.
Croatia Features In The World Top Ten Island Destinations
America confirmed what those in the know have been saying for years - US Magazine Travel and Leisure ranked the Dalmatian Islands at number seven in the World's Top Ten Island Destinations. Direct link http://croatiaonline.blogspot.com/2007/08/croatia-online-dalmatian-islands-in-top.html
Vis, Klis, Krka, Krapanj, Zadar, Šibenik and Split were just some of the destinations we reported on.
Food and Drink
Browse the postings for news on Split's new vegetarian restaurant, a Chinese restaurant just outside Trogir and Bibich winery near Šibenik.
Check out http://croatiaonline.blogspot.com/2007/04/croatia-online-hotels-in-split.html for a review of hotels in Split (already due for an update!) and see http://croatiaonline.blogspot.com/2007/10/croatia-online-hotel-spongiola-on.html for a great hotel on a small island near Šibenik.
Military Matters
A whole NATO fleet visited Croatia in September 2007 for exercises direct link - http://croatiaonline.blogspot.com/2007/09/croatia-online-nato-in-croatia.html
There's much more to see but the above will give you just a flavour of what we've covered and there's plenty more to come....
Today's photo is of the self styled "fashion artist" Gena, who makes classic quality suits, with one of his many celebrity clients, President Mesić. We interviewed Gena for this year's Time Out Magazine For Visitors' to Croatia (www.timeout.com/croatia), on sale in late April 2008 and he has a fascinating story to tell. We've also written features on tennis, Klapa singing and Wellness - you'll need to buy the magazine for the full stories but we'll be giving you a sneak preview in a few weeks time along with plenty of other news and views.
Many thanks to all our visitors for their feedback and encouragement - please keep reading and sending in your comments.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Croatia Online - Kastela Carnival In Pictures

Just a few pictures from Kaštela's Masquerade. After a wet thundery morning the skies cleared for a dry parade that started around 3.30pm and must have been attended by a big part of the population of Kaštels Štafilić, Novi and Stari.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Croatia Online - Croatia Cruising Companion

You can read all about our book, Croatia Cruising Companion, on our sister site (see links - top right). And you can read about one of the best new bookstores in Split, with a great international section, a few postings below. What we didn't expect was to find our book in this bookstore quite so quickly, and so well displayed.

Thanks to Profil, at the new Joker Centre in Split, for giving us the space!

Tomorrow you'll be able to see the pictures of Kastela's Shrove Tuesday Carnival - a great local celebration and illustration of resourcefulness. It's a traditional parade of floats, ingeniously put together, with a strong dose of satire.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Croatia Online - Culture and Etiquette

As a postcript to our previous posting on business, we came across a useful website that gives sound advice on customs and etiquette in Croatia. It gives some great insight into the Croatian culture and how you can fit in with it and, for example, suggests taking flowers to the hostess if you are invited to dinner. Not chrysanthemums though as these are connected with funerals - hence the picture! Link to http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/croatia.html for the full text.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Croatia Online - Doing Business in Croatia

It's nearly a year since we reviewed the business environment and our last report made slightly depressing reading. Today's posting is long overdue and was prompted by a comment from a reader who's thinking of starting up a business here and is looking for ideas.
Thanks to Katherine for her comment, here's our latest thinking, and we hope it helps!
In our household we now have a very clichéd response when people ask us what Croatia is like - "it's a great place to live in but doing business is tough". That one liner saves our audience from a long sigh, our "where do we start syndrome", and the "wish I hadn't asked that" response.
You can read our last posting, on Croatia's place in the Index of Economic Freedom, by linking directly to http://croatiaonline.blogspot.com/2007/02/croatia-online-business-environment.html You will see that it inspired extensive comment from an eminent and eloquent expert. The posting prior to that was our take on doing business at the time.
Not too much has changed and the media is full of reports that Croatia, according to the powers that be in the EU, is not doing enough to modernise its economy and judiciary systems, or deal with extensive red tape.
On an individual level, we're hard pushed to think of any small business we know, Croatian or ex pat, that hasn't had a hard time getting started - red tape, competitive jealousy, undue regulation, frequent inspections and problems in finding good, keen reliable staff are just some of the issues that arise. However, those that have the right idea, a good business model, stick at it (and it takes a lot longer than cosmopolitan England, for example), build up a good network, and don't try to run before they can walk, generally find that it works out fine in the end.
With the benefit of hindsight, the most important aspect can be your network. As elsewhere, there are good lawyers and bad ones, accountants that can cost you a fortune in tax, or at the other extreme, allow you to go off the rails and inadvertently break the regulations. Word of mouth recommendations are vital for all manner of business activities and advisors and also for breaking into new markets.
It may be just as hard for foreigners in other countries - we don't know and can only compare Croatia to our experience of doing business in England. Our view is that if you want to live in Croatia and enjoy an excellent lifestyle in a spectacular natural environment, amongst kind hearted, decent and well mannered people, then the downside is that you'll never get rich but you'll be rich enough. Essentially, making money should not be the primary reason for coming here!
Once you've decided to give it a go, tourism is the obvious industry to go for - restaurants, bars, travel agents, accomodation, etc. Most of the tourism industry used to belong to the state and whilst much has been denationalised there's still a way to go. It's not surprising, given the history of state ownership, intervention and regulation, that many Croatians see the tourism industry as the prerogative of Croatians rather than foreigners. Similarly, particularly in Dalmatia, foreign restaurants and bars are generally treated with cool reserve by the locals. So if your cuisine is a little different from the local norm, don't expect a rush of locals curious to try something new. Restaurants that want to stay open all year need local trade so it's worth trying to entice it in. Price is important, speaking Croatian helps a lot, and listening to advice (whilst not necessarily taking it) is also recommended.
Increasingly we're coming across a number of enlightened businesses in the tourism industry who have identified niche markets and are trying to fill them - ecotourism, well equipped traditional stone villa accomodation, adventure and nature holidays, gastronomy, etc. All of these are aiming at the new breed of travellers now discovering Croatia - Americans and western Europeans with more money to spend than the earlier eastern European mainstream tourists. Budgets are bigger but they demand good service (and perhaps a different style of service than is traditional), value for money, small groups and something a little different. Many are independent travellers and rely on the internet to find what they're looking for so a smart, informative and functional website is paramount as is knowing how to maximise google appeal.
Outside, or on the peripheries of the tourism industry, there are plenty of opportunities but just how far they can be penetrated is an unknown quantity for us. Many organisations could benefit greatly from a little help with their marketing, staff training, business planning, etc. Mentoring from someone outside the domestic environment might unleash huge benefits. However that requires open minds and an awareness/acceptance of change that may not be present in hierarchical organisations that have their roots in communist Yugoslavia. It also requires a budget - certainly not of the massive size that UK companies now seem to devote to endless (and often apparently aimless) consultancy, but adequate to facilitate positive change in a practical and professional way.
In many of the various projects and professions we are involved in, we've often found that we are most appreciated for our abilities to act as "culture neutralisers" and instant networkers between eg foreign investors and skilled local expertise. After five years we've managed to build up a network of reliable Croatians with a wide variety of skills and experience in a number of different industries. That's invaluable to us and impossible to find on the internet. We've also learnt how to do effective business here and that involves a lot of patience, hard work and a thorough understanding of the culture. No doubt it's involved even more patience and hard work from those enlightened Croatians that have helped us along the way and made the effort to embrace hopefully well meaning ex-pats.
I'm not sure if this has helped Katerine and I now remember why it's such a long time since the last posting on business - it's a complex subject to try and pin down. Next time we'll try and boil it down to some bullet points on how to succeed and markets to go for.
Today's photo is of a fisherman in Dugi rat at sunset a couple of weeks ago. He's obviously got the work/life balance right!
And...don't forget to look at our sister site Croatia Cruising Companion for the latest nautical news on Croatia.