Chinese tourists are slowly but surely discovering the tourism possibilities and one of the pioneers of this emerging market is the CEO and founder of iYAT, Wang Shuai. China’s largest nautical tourism company, iYAT promotes high-end yachting holidays on the Croatian Adriatic and has over 2,000 yachts at its disposal. We caught up with Shuai in Dubrovnik as he was attending the Silk Road Travel Conference in the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera.
Why is Croatia interesting for your company to invest in? What attracts you to Croatia?
I think the unique coastal line of Croatia is the most important thing for us. When you combine the great weather, the thousands of islands and the history and culture it is the perfect location for yachting. When we chose a yachting destination it is important that the seas are peaceful and clean. And then we look at onshore activities and there are so many options on Croatian islands. From wine tasting, to great restaurants to sporting activities, for us Croatia has it all.
You are the CEO of iYAT, China’s largest nautical tourism agency, how much interest is there from Chinese tourists to sail in the Adriatic?
We are a new company and to be honest the interest isn’t so strong at the moment. One of first challenges is to explain to people where Croatia actually is. However, from last year, with the popularity of Game of Thrones, more people are discovering where Croatia is located. Certainly Game of Thrones helped put Croatia and Dubrovnik on the map for potential tourists.
Do you have plans to open offices in Croatia and invest here?
Our main focus is online. We work with local partners and of course a big part of our business is to work with Chinese tour operators. We have no direct plans to invest in Croatia although we are heavily investing in promoting Croatia in China.
Is yachting a popular activity in China?
Not really so that gives us a new challenge. This is why we are positioning our trips as holidays rather than as a sporting activity. We deal with around 2,000 yachts in Croatia. Of course we are looking to expand and to meet more local partners in Dubrovnik, this is the main reason that we have come to Dubrovnik for this congress. We have two challenges, firstly Croatia isn’t very well known in China and secondly yachting isn’t that popular. But we call this potential. So far we don’t have any competition in China, we are the first on this market and the first to promote Croatia and yachting. It will take time and effort but we hope the results we be worth it.
If Croatia wants to attract more direct flights. Do you know if there are plans to introduce more direct flights?
Yes, direct flights are absolutely vital. When I flew from China to attend this congress I had to firstly fly from Shanghai to Istanbul, then to Zagreb and finally to Dubrovnik. This doesn’t make it easy for Chinese tourists to come here. If there is interest then there will be more flights, if the larger tour operators see that more tourists are asking for Croatia then they can bring airlines here. This means that the most important thing at the moment is to keep promoting Croatia and Dubrovnik in China.
The iYAT team
Is there something that Croatia needs to do in order to attract more tourists from China?
Generally everything is to a high level in Croatia. There are a couple of points that would be helpful. However, there is a big problem with getting a tourist visa for Croatia. It can take at least one month to get a visa for Croatia. This is why most Chinese tourists take Schengen visa from France or the UK as these visas are ready in only 48 hours. Of course this means that the tourist has to travel through Paris or London because of their visa. If Croatia could speed up this visa process it would be very helpful. And then making sure that Chinese tourists can use their ATM machines in Croatia. At the moment only Zagrebačka Banka has this possibility for Chinese banks. This is why most tourists bring cash with them, which isn’t ideal. As far as nautical tourism is concerned it would be great if more marinas could offer Chinese food. It would also be helpful to have Chinese speaking skippers, guides and crew.
What moves would you like to see the Croatian government take to make Croatia more friendly to Chinese investors?
Firstly, more work needs to be done on promoting Croatia as a destination. As I have already mentioned many people in China don’t know where Croatia is. And then to attract investors you need to have a very transparent situation. The potential investor needs to know exactly what are the rules and regulations and what the expected earnings could be. Tourism in Croatia could be a very good business for Chinese investors to explore.