The Dubrovnik Times caught up with the director of Time Out Croatia, David Plant, as this renowned publication celebrates its tenth anniversary in Croatia. Time Out is known throughout the world, it is London’s most popular weekly magazine, and the publication has made great steps on the Croatian market over the past ten years. We found out how the beginnings of the magazine started in Dubrovnik, whether there is a future for printed media and how Time Out is helping to promote Dubrovnik to its millions of readers.
Time Out Croatia is celebrating its 10th anniversary, congratulations, how pleased are you with this first decade and what can readers expect in the next decade?
Thank you. We’re delighted with our first ten years in Croatia - it all started in Dubrovnik as we shot the first ever cover there with Croatian model Mateja Penava. However, it’s important to place what we do in Croatia in context, Time Out didn’t start ten years ago, we began in London in 1968 as a weekly magazine bringing readers the best of London’s gastronomy and culture; the world’s first ever ‘What’s on’ magazine. Now, 47 years later Time Out London magazine is still thriving; it’s London’s most popular weekly, but we’re also a global media brand in online, mobile, print, email and events loved by more than 40 million people in over 200 nations; with 1000s of dedicated, expert staff. We work with the world’s biggest brands, such as Apple and Google, we’re an Official Olympic Partners, the Official brand partner for the Barcelona Tourist Board globally, and we have offices in established and emerging economies, such as London, New York, Sydney, Seoul, Paris, Barcelona, Lisbon, Shangahi, Delhi, Dubai, Moscow, Rio, Mexico City, Cape Town, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Hong Kong to name just a few. It is from this audience of 40 million wealthy, urban people that the millions of people who use our Time Out Croatia products come. In the last decade we’ve introduced Dubrovnik (and Croatia as a whole) to this huge, influential audience and inspired millions to visit, people who have spent a huge amount of money. During this time we’ve formed strong relationships with commercial partners many of whom have been working with us since year one. They know the power of Time Out - no-one else can place their business in front of people who are definitely coming to Croatia before they arrive: when they have their credit card in hand and are searching for a destination, a place to stay, a flight to book, a restaurant to pick. Of course it hasn’t always been easy - the recession has been long and deep - but there are positive signs and the future seems bright for Croatia and Time Out in Croatia. In the next decade things will accelerate for us - we’re investing significantly into Croatia right now - a new, fully responsive national Croatia website that works perfectly on desktop, laptop, Smartphone and tablet has just launched and will grow and grow; as have specific Facebook and twitter accounts just for Croatia, a new Croatia iOS and Android mobile applications, special offers for small businesses to get themselves listed editorially and visible to millions of foreigners from as little as 100 EUR per year, a blogging platform - all driven by proven technology that has worked for us globally and new staff. As we concentrate on promotion on our global audience and our editorial experts and researchers visit venues and review anonymously I’d say we’re Croatia’s most important and best kept tourism secret. This will change very soon as Croatians will become much more aware of Time Out, we’re already seeing in our digital users a big increase in locals.
Am I right in believing that Time Out started as a country-wide publication and that you have recently started with Time Out Zagreb? Why Zagreb and is this an indicator that in the future you will start to publish Time Out for other Croatian cities.
Yes, you’re right; we focused initially on national products. However we’ve collaborated very successfully with many Tourist Boards in Croatia to produce specific products and/or increase coverage of their destinations in national products including Dubrovnik. Other partners include Korcula, Istria and Zagreb. We agree editorial topics but maintain control - we do not do paid-for editorial - this would make us a lot of money in the short-term but we would lose the trust of our readers and destroy the brand. The annual magazine guide Time Out Zagreb you mention is distributed globally and a result of a collaboration with the Zagreb Tourist Board- we all knew the time was right, tourist numbers were increasing rapidly, it’s the EU’s newest capital, it manages to maintain a strong sense of identity and authenticity in an increasingly globalised world, it’s gastronomic scene has exploded, it has an impressive cultural program, is the centre of a local design scene. We knew we could inspire our readers to visit, whether they’re Londoners, Parisians, or South Koreans. We will also collaborate with the Zagreb Tourist Board on mobile, digital and social media - it’s a successful partnership that has huge potential to develop further. We’d love to expand our relationship with the Dubrovnik Tourist Board to do something similar but whether this includes a print edition is to be seen, it works brilliantly in some cases, in others digital alone can be sufficient. I want to say that although print is going through a difficult time in general we are seeing annual products sales increase; people love to browse and have the ‘coffee table experience’ as they plan their holidays with friends and family.
What feedback do you receive from your readership and what would they like you to feature in future publications?
We get lots of feedback and it’s positive, they use Time Out daily in their home cities to find out the best places to eat and drink, the latest concerts, films, theatre and art etc. So they feel part of a big family, a kind of global collaboration. They know nowhere is perfect but they love Croatia. You mention future features - we get less feedback about this, instead they want us to maintain the Time Out tone of voice, to review anonymously as secret shoppers, to do the hard work for them to say where to go and what to do. They do want the authentic, to peel behind the mask, that’s why we always include opinion pieces e.g. ‘Croatia Today’, why we interview artists, designers, architects, writers and film-makers as well as wine-makers, restaurants, hoteliers, event organisers etc. Our readers want to find the best and they trust us to combine local knowledge of Croatia with the distance we have to place Croatia in a global context.
Dubrovnik is recognised as the leading destination in Croatia, why do you believe that Dubrovnik is such a strong brand?
Dubrovnik ‘owns’ the visual identity of the ancient walls on the Adriatic - many well-travelled, intelligent foreigners shown images of other destinations - be it Rovinj, Primosten or Korcula Town would say it’s Dubrovnik. The imagery, colour and tone of the city walls against the crystal clear Adriatic have become iconic, Dubrovnik owns that and the value of this is huge. However, there are other elements too of course: the beauty, the history, the sense of romance, luxury and indulgence. Dubrovnik is infused by a warm glow, plus there are no signs of industry to remind people they need to get back to work soon. Even the name Dubrovnik is pleasant to say and easy to pronounce. However things change and Dubrovnik cannot take it for granted this will continue forever, such positive elements are less well known in our younger readers in comparison to those in their 40s and 50s. There’s serious work to be done to ensure Dubrovnik maintains its success over the decades to come when destinations within Croatia are working so hard to increase their visits, nights and revenue. We’re working with the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, for example by promoting the city’s improving events schedule and we’d like to expand our existing relationship further to match of the success we’ve seen with Barcelona, Zagreb etc, to ensure Dubrovnik benefits fully from Time Out’s audience of over 200 nations.
In these digital times what, in your opinion, is the future, if at all, for these printed publications?
The death of print has been greatly exaggerated. When print works to its strengths it’s an invaluable tool - if you’re a business wanting to raise awareness, if you’re a reader wanting to browse over coffee or look at something with friends it’s still the best. And this is the key for people’s holiday decisions. We print millions of magazines every week and they’re much loved. Beautifully designed, well-written magazines with great photos that have a valued opinion and are low frequency are doing very well indeed, daily papers less so as this audience uses online for free news. Print is still very much in our plans alongside all things digital as it works for readers and the businesses we work with, e.g. Time Out Zagreb magazine will see the city placed on news-stands, bookshops, kiosks, airports etc globally, this tangible presence has a real value alongside digital.
Working in the front line of tourism how would you compare Croatian tourism with our competitors?
Comparisons tend to use generalisations and can mislead, how you define a competitor is interesting question. Is it other tourist destinations in Europe? Globally? Within Croatia? Can local competitors become allies via joint promotion? But it is also something much broader i.e. anything people can spend their free time and money on? Many places are thinking of the later. Disruptive products and/or single events can change things rapidly. Look at airbnb and accommodation, Uber and taxis, the impact of an individual in Tunisia, the economic chaos in Greece, striking workers in France, if the Croatian football team is thrown out of competition the impact could impact tourism in the whole country, it may not but it could. It’s crucial to be as good as you can be so you’re as prepared as you can be. As many of these factors are beyond our control I would say that the key area to concentrate is making Dubrovnik as great a tourist destination and exploring what works for others rather than becoming too obsessed with them. Collaboration and proactive improvement are the key. However to answer your question Croatia is doing well and attracting people from new nations and a wide age range. A big challenge is Croatia is no longer a ‘new’ destination that people want to try, the job is now repeat visits - and younger generations are less loyal than older people. There’s work to get people to come back again and again when they like to visit new places all the time. Events are the key in this and it’s good to see this is being worked on in Dubrovnik and Croatia.