In 2018 around 50,000 Indian tourists visited Croatia, that number jumped massively in 2019 to 70,000. Why? Well mostly due to a Bollywood movie. This week we caught up with the Indian Ambassador to Croatia, Raj Kumar Srivastava, to discuss the future challenges, or as he says opportunities, between the two countries. From the fantasy land tourism that Indian tourists are looking for, to the development of closer links and of Croatia being a future gateway to Europe. Whilst the vast majority of Indian tourists only know of Dubrovnik the whole of the country has a chance to attract even more tourists with its hidden gems.
What would you say is the general opinion of Croatia as a tourist destination in India?
I would say in general, and bear in mind that we are talking about a population of 1.3 billion, that they don’t know much about Croatia. However, those people that do know about Croatia really know about Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is well-known thanks to serials like the Game of Thrones and other movies that have been recorded here. You also have to understand that many travellers arrive in Dubrovnik by boat, either cruise ship or private yacht, and don’t visit any other part of the country. Therefore, any promotion of Croatia in India should be spread to include all regions and all attractions of the country, from the Plitvice Lakes to the Adriatic to the hinterland.
How do you think that this clear power of movies and serials could be used to promote Croatia in India?
This has been done before, for example in Spain, where a Bollywood movie was shot in conjunction with the Spanish National Tourist Board. This film highlighted the main attractions of Spain and to show you the power of the media the number of Indian tourists in Spain increased by 300 to 400 percent in just one year. Another example is Iceland. There was a Bollywood movie made in 2016. It was a really interesting movie and the landscape was just unique. Before 2016 and before this movie Iceland received around only 1,00 tourists from India, but in 2017 there were 19,000. There is a clear value of filming in locations as these movies are seen by a wide section of the Indian population. The key for Croatia would be to highlight the gems of the country and not just Dubrovnik, which is already popular.
How demanding do you think Indian tourists are? Are there any special facilities or attractions that we need to think about in Dubrovnik?
Most Indian tourists look for “fantasy land” when they leave India. This is because it’s like going outside of your regular life and trying to live a dream. And Croatia has those dream possibilities. This could be a walk in the nature in one of the many National Parks, it could be exploring the wonderful history of Dubrovnik, Split or Zadar or the prehistoric museum in Vukovar. These things need to be promoted, you can come to one country and you can see multiple attractions and live multiple dreams. And you don’t even have to get onto a plane as everything is easily reached by road. Indian tourists can focus on one country, with one flight from India. A small, yet extremely diverse country.
Bollywood has already been in Dubrovnik with the filming of the movie Fan starring one of the greatest Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan. This clearly had a great impact on the interest of Dubrovnik in India.
Yes, in 2018 there were around 50,00 tourists from India, and then in 2019 that jumped to 70,000. I would say that all of this jump is due to that film, that is the power of Bollywood! This jump was quite substantial, so it can only happen due to external stimulant. I would certainly say that the vast majority of these tourists from India came here to see where the movie was made and to take a selfie in the locations. This is the “fantasy land” effect. The Game of thrones had so effect in India but nowhere near that of Shah Rukh Khan filming here.
And yes of course we took a selfie in the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik
What are your challenges as the current Indian Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia?
First of all, I don’t see challenges, I see opportunities. The challenges in diplomacy would be considered those where there are differences of opinions, I don’t see those kind of things between India and Croatia. A difference, or rather a fact of life, is that India is 60 times bigger in land mass, 300 times bigger in terms of population. This is a fact of life. So that every time I say something about Croatia in India they will think about it, but then the size comes into the picture. But when you say that Croatia is on its way to becoming a completely European country, with entry into the Eurozone and Schengen coming up, then Croatia becomes a point of entry for the whole of Europe. And in that sense Croatia’s size can be seen bigger than it actually is. And as India is currently upgrading its relationship with the European union to a new level, we’ve just had a summit between the EU and India, this brings more opportunities for Croatia. And as Europe is trying to put more focus on a smarter Europe, a more digital Europe that is climate change orientated this would bring India and Indian companies even closer to Croatia.
How difficult is it for Indian tourists to physically get to Croatia?
It is really a question of demand and supply. So, for example if 70,000 tourists were coming and that number grows then more airlines would introduce flights. One of the good things about Indian tourists coming to Croatia is that they would come in June and July rather than in August, at the height of the normal tourist season. Indian tourist at the moment need a visa to enter Croatia, but of course when Croatia enters the Schengen border-free system then a Schengen visa would be enough. The main connection between India and Croatia at the moment is through Frankfurt and Amsterdam, now depending on the load and the demand there could well be in the future direct flights from Delhi to Zagreb or Dubrovnik.
Away from tourism are you looking for co-operation in other fields in Dubrovnik and Croatia?
Yes, we are looking across the whole of Croatia for opportunities. In the past six months we have been able to create four new partnerships across the country with various universities. I can see a future partnership between Croatia and India based around the four T’s. Those are tourism, technology, trade and talent. India is known for its surplus talent. For example, India produces close to one million engineers every year. That’s one of the reasons that there is an IT revolution in India. This talent can be useful for Europe as well as Croatia. For example, there are currently 120 Indians working in the main shipyard in Split at this very time. The possibilities for the future, with new Croatia and Indian start-ups is very promising, and I look forward to a much closer connection, in many ways, between our two countries.