Wanda Radetti has been on a journey for most of her life, and we all know that the journey is more important than the destination. A travel specialist with a capital T. Her considerable inside knowledge of Croatia has opened so many new doors for her clients. In fact, she has been awarded the "The World Top Travel Specialist for Croatia" by Condé Nast Traveller Magazine since 2006.
Wanda S. Radetti has been the heart and soul of VisitCroatia.com – Tasteful Croatian Journeys, a New York State-registered and based travel company since 1995. A passionate Italian-Croatian, Wanda has led her life with a quest for adventure and enlightenment through travel, dedicating the most recent decades to unveiling the hidden treasures of her ancestral and spiritual home of Croatia and its surrounding regions. From enjoying oysters in Ston and sampling truffles in Istria to exploring the markets of Zagreb and sailing across the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic Sea along the country’s 1,185 islands, Wanda provides the best in tailor-made luxury travel.
The Dubrovnik Times caught up with Radetti over a glass of wine to discover where Croatia is going as a tourist destination and why Dubrovnik is a hit on the American market.
Croatia, and especially Dubrovnik, have gained enormous amounts of publicity as a tourist destination over the past few years. Have you seen a change in attitude towards Croatia as a tourist destination?
Absolutely, today Croatia remains a most longed for vacation destination for our most sophisticated travellers from the United States, Canada, South America and from other places of the world.
I was born in Rijeka/Fiume and while the “last war” was winding down, I needed to “return” and learn about the "Lijepa naša domovino" that my mother recalled as tears wetted her checks and yet with a smile when she spoke in exalted terms of the beauty of Croatia.
When in 1994, as the war of independence of Croatia was winding down, I started my personal journey of discovery. I became fascinated by the complexity of the history and culture of Croatia, but most of all I was totally seduced by the splendour, the sheer beauty that envelopes this little, strategic, country of Europe.
I was excited by my findings and wanted to share what I learned with anyone that would listen. Pencil and paper in hand, ready to draw the map of Europe, I confirmed to all those who asked that “yes, Croatia has always been part of Europe and, “no, it was never a part of Russia”.
Eventually I was asked to design personal itineraries for affinity groups that had ties to former Yugoslavia. I created my little LLC and went to work designing luxury itineraries that responded to the interest of travellers curious about the history, culture, the food and the wine. I confess that my initial intent and quest was rather premature. When I first arrived on the scene, I tasted food that was deliciously organic and usually farm to table, however, I found lots of wine possibilities but not a drop that I would want to drink. The beer was and is, always good. Now, of course, I favour, savour and taste the wines of Croatia with relish.
It took just a quick moment for the young, smart, passionate, brilliant wine makers of Croatia to cultivate, produce and create one of the most interesting “new” wine regions of the Mediterranean.
These days whenever one pronounces “Croatia” the response will be “on my bucket list”, or “dying to go to Croatia”, or “planning to go before everyone discovers it”, etc. It seems that everyone already knows about Croatia and everyone is desirous and planning to travel to Croatia.
We note that Dubrovnik seems to be perceived as a strong, stand alone, recognizable destination brand and not always, automatically associated with Croatia. Travelers that hire our services reach out to us from every part of the World. Personal, face to face planning meetings are not always a convenient possibility.
During the planning process, the team VisitCoratia.com – Tasteful Croatian Journeys will engage in several telephone conversations with the travellers. When designing private, luxury, tailor fitted travel experience, and as we endeavour to fulfil their wishes and dreams, it is critical that we learn all about their personal preferences, expectations.
How is Croatian seen on the American market? Are we still an exotic destination and has interest increased in the past years?
For most of the American market, Croatia is still considered an enticing, exotic destination. On a whole, they are still not as familiar with the geography, history and culture as they might be with other European countries such as the UK, Italy, France, Spain, etc. Keep in mind that only one third of the population of the United States holds valid passports.
The events of this past year, specifically the World Cup, has increased familiarity with Croatia to a much larger segment of the U.S. market. The film industry’s use of Dubrovnik as a backdrop for popular films, and television shows, such as Game of Thrones, has also contributed to a certain acquaintance with this singular city. Beautiful images of the coast line and the National Parks arouse curiosity and interest, often as a result of online news articles, such as those authored by The Dubrovnik Times, which are shared on various social media outlets.
The Tasteful Croatian Journeys clientele tend to be sophisticated, well educated, experienced travellers. They possess a visual understanding of Croatia yet come with a desire to engage with cultural aspects, history, gastronomy, art, yachting and unexpected facets, which will leave them with a sense of authentic Croatia. Hence, to American’s with a cultural curiosity, Croatia is indeed an exotic and rich destination for uncovering lesser known parts of European civilization.
What are we missing? What do you believe we need to introduce to become more attractive for American travellers and what would make their journey to Croatia more interesting?
In terms of cultural elements and natural beauty, we think Croatia already offers much to the American traveller. The ever-evolving culinary scene, well preserved historical sights, and growing adventure sports market all continue to impress our travellers. However, we would love to see improvements in transportation. Most internal flights require a stopover in Zagreb which often proves inconvenient and increases travel time exponentially. Ferry and Catamaran schedules are limited even in summer. The once glorious sea plane is no longer operating. Ultimately, the difficulty in efficiently traveling from one location to another results in higher concentrations of people in certain locations. Croatia has so much to offer as a whole, we’d like to be able to show people the entire country more easily.
For Americans it is particularly important to be able to travel from city to city with ease and efficiency. As the average American has only 10 days of vacation per year, American vacation culture has evolved in such a way that travellers wish to see as much as possible in a short time. Unlike European travellers who will often spend an entire week in one location, Americans prefer to switch cities every few days. In this way they are able to maximize the return on their investment of time.
How does the level of accommodation in Croatia compare with what your guests are used to?
This is a salient and important question which we struggle with daily. Ever since we first started bringing travellers to Croatia, we have struggled with the “star” system. In our experience, the number of stars awarded a particular property do not always present a clear picture of the quality or service one can expect to find there. For this reason, we have always found it necessary to see properties in person and assign our own rating. In some cases, what is officially awarded only three stars feels more like a four star, but often it works the other way around. We find that most often complaints about accommodation have to do with service. American’s expect a certain level of care to be taken by staff. Whether this is assistance with luggage and being escorted to their room upon check-in, or coffee being served (not self-served) at breakfast, American travellers expect to be catered to with a smile. It’s important for hotel staff to convey to the guest that their requests are not an imposition. It is not simply “no problem,” it is in fact “our pleasure”
Dubrovnik has a problem with overcrowding. Has this been noticed on the American market and have you had any negative feedback from your clients?
Yes, American’s are aware of the conversation around crowding in the old city of Dubrovnik. In the last two years, we note that often curious travellers have reservations about the crowds in Dubrovnik. We have heard many concerns referencing Dubrovnik as “overwhelmed” by visitors and having a feel of being “kitsch”.
Our primary aim when speaking with travellers is to gain insight into their desires in order to design exclusive experiences. A client may envisage avoiding Dubrovnik yet based on their inclinations would in fact find much to appreciate, when in the right hands. The team at Tasteful Croatian Journeys takes great care to provide an experience for felicitous visitors to enjoy the splendour of the Old City, while insulated from the congestion. We are engaged in reassurance that we can create an experience that avoids the height of overcrowding.
Where do you see Croatia as a tourist destination in the future? Are heading in the right direction or should we change course?
We feel, Croatia as a brand, has not established one coherent presentation of the type of traveller it is looking to attract. When Croatia speaks of tourism, the dialogue is always about “the number of beds occupied”, rather than the profile of the guest and the quality of the bed that is occupied.
Clarifying the identity of the type of destination and the quality of travellers that Croatia wants to attract, will offer a clear objective that can lead to effective management of resources.
Croatia offers remarkable natural beauty, and a pristine environment which demands protection. In order to preserve the bounty of natural resources, guardianship over the seas, rivers and the cleanliness of water must be paramount. Protection of parklands, mountains, and agriculture contribute to the allure of Croatia, safeguarding the rich habitats will assure a long and fruitful future for Croatian lands, while responding to the world’s concerns about sustainability. As with the natural environment, manmade treasures also require preservation. The layers of history are still visible in Croatia, maintaining and protecting this abundant heritage is paramount in the continued offering of Croatia as a cultural destination.
What feedback do you receive from your guests about their time in Croatia?
Generally, the feedback we receive is very positive. Travelers are impressed not only by the natural beauty, but also by the cities and architecture, so much of which has been preserved. We often hear from our guests about the people we have connected them with, and their great fondness for the warmth they receive, as well as the expression of personal stories which offer a perspective on Croatian culture they would not have otherwise encountered.
Below please find some traveller reviews, though we encourage you to explore our feedback in more detail on our website:
….. The country itself has so much to offer – such a diversity of locations, settings, cultures and cuisines – but what made our trip so special was your amazing advice about how to get the most out of our time. The accommodations, the guides, the sightseeing tips – every one of them was terrific.
Jeremy & Barbara Mishkin – Wynnewood, PA
Just a quick note to let you know that we had the most spectacular vacation. Everything about it was perfect: the hotels, the guides, the drivers, the cities and towns, and your staff. No doubt, we will head back to Croatia in the near future. It is a wonderful country with lovely people, wonderful sights and gracious service. Thank you for planning such a wonderful vacation for us.
Ronald & Christine Manoni – Brookfield, CT
Hello Dear Wanda,
On behalf of all of us who traveled to Croatia this April, THANK YOU! We had the most wonderful, informative, relaxing time discovering this beautiful new country thanks entirely to the plan you made for us. Throughout our 10 days – in Dubrovnik, Korcula Island and Split, we met guides who clearly love their jobs and showing people their city. Each one was nicer, funnier and more enjoyable than the last and their English is as good as ours. Our hotels were spectacular – whether the Hotel Grand Villa Argentina in Dubrovnik, the Hotel Korcula de la Ville on Korcula Island, or the Marmont Hotel. We think our favorite was the Hotel Korcula – sitting on the grand terrace watching the sun set into the Adriatic is as serene as one could want. We spent a good deal of time on that terrace watching boats and people. The wine tasting trip you suggested was great – we liked what we tasted so much we sent more than a few bottles back to the states. We then went to Ston with our guide and tried the famous Ston cake – unfortunately we couldn’t bring that back with us or we would have. Mirela Benić, the in-country concierge truly is a ‘personal guardian angel’ – she watched over us and even when we didn’t realize it, she was checking all our steps and arrangements to assure no plan went awry. When we decided to adjust our travel at one point she followed up behind the scenes to be sure it would work as we, the naive travelers, anticipated. In all, we look forward to returning to Croatia and would tell anyone thinking of going not to step foot in the country without your expert planning and recommendations. Again, thank you for all you did to make our first trip to this beautiful country an extraordinary experience.
Bob and Cathy Twomey & Leslie Taylor – Metuchen, NJ