Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
You could think that finally after years of wait that the destroyed hotel complex of Kupari, just south of Dubrovnik, is on the long road to redevelopment. Fences have been erected, areas cleared and building materials have arrived, all the signs lead to reconstruction. However, these signs are a little misleading, as in fact it isn’t being rebuilt for tourists but rather dressed up for a film set.
Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Robin Hood are just a few of the international blockbusters that have been filmed in the south of Croatia, and now the former Grand Hotel in Kupari will be the backdrop for another international series.
The head of the parish of Župa Dubrovačka, Silvio Nardelli, pointed out that this is not the beginning of the renovation of the Grand, although he would be happier if that was the case, but he hopes that the renovation will follow soon. “It is about cleaning the Grand for the needs of shooting a film of one production,” stated Nardelli to Dubrovački Vjesnik.
And we have learned from a source that the Grand Hotel in Kupari will be the backdrop for a “second World War series and filming will start in the middle of September.” This is rather ironic as the Grand Hotel, and indeed the whole of the Kupari resort, was actually destroyed in a war, the Homeland War.
And the filming of this “television drama” will take place at various locations around Dubrovnik in September.
On Friday, President Zoran Milanović received Croatian diplomats on the occasion of their annual conference, so, like Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Thursday, he asserted that Croatia's international position has never been stronger, but that Croatia must use it.
In his office, Milanović met with ambassadors, consuls general, consuls and military envoys who participated in the annual conference of Croatian diplomats in Zagreb from Wednesday, his office announced.
"Today, Croatia's position is stronger than ever, but we have to use it, not just talk about it," Milanović said. "Croatia as a country has strong instruments at its disposal, and we must behave that way," the president told the Croatian diplomats, according to the press release.
Prime Minister Plenković told the diplomats at the official opening of the conference on Wednesday in the National University Library that "we can say very clearly today that our international position has never been stronger".
Milanović discussed with the diplomats the key topics of Croatian foreign policy, with special emphasis on the relationship towards Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, and on Croatia's position in the current crisis caused by Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Speaking about relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, President Milanović once again emphasized the crucial importance of the Dayton Agreement as a treaty on the division of power and authority that must be respected, it was announced.
In addition to about a hundred Croatian ambassadors, consuls general, consuls and military envoys, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and officials of the president's office were also present at the meeting, the press release added.
Croatia's international position has never been stronger, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday in Zagreb at the ceremonial opening of the Conference of Ambassadors, Consuls General, Consuls and Military Envoys.
Plenković said that in the year since the last conference, the world has changed and become more demanding, so the role of diplomatic representatives whose engagement will become more related to economic, energy and financial topics will also become more demanding.
"Today we can say really clearly that our international position has never been stronger", said the Prime Minister in front of representatives of diplomacy and a number of government ministers in the National University Library.
The position will additionally be strengthened from the beginning of next year by membership in the euro area and Schengen, Plenković said.
"Nine and a half years after membership, we will be with both feet firmly in the core and engine of the inner circle of European integration. It is a huge political achievement".
Croatia thus joins only 15 countries that are members of the European Union, NATO, the euro area and the Schengen area, the Prime Minister emphasized.
"This speaks of Croatia's belonging to the innermost circle, and when we are part of the innermost circle, then we know that we are significantly more protected and safer, not only in the defence and political sense, but above all in the economic and financial sense," Plenković said.
"I hope, as you have done so far, to promote Croatian interests with your sincere enthusiasm and patriotism, strengthen our identity at the international level and thus contribute to the betterment of all of us," he concluded his address to the diplomats.
This year, the Croatian Tourist Board (CTB) is once again presenting the Croatian offer of business tourism, that is, the MICE segment, at the Conventa congress fair, which is being held from August 23 to 25 in Ljubljana.
92 exhibitors from 17 countries are participating in the congress fair, and in addition to the Congress Department of the CTB, the congress departments of the tourist boards of the cities of Zagreb and Dubrovnik are also participating in the fair.
"This year's fair is the 14th in a row, and so far it has profiled itself as one of the most important places for creating new contacts and additional values for all participants focused on MICE tourism. Our goals at Conventa include the promotion and positioning of Croatia as a quality and attractive destination for business trips," said CTB director Kristjan Staničić, adding that MICE tourism is extremely important for stimulating tourist traffic in the periods before and after the main season.
And Bruno Bonifačić, the director of the CTB office in Ljubljana, stated that “the greatest interest in our country is expressed from neighbouring markets, such as Slovenia and Hungary, precisely because of the proximity of the market and the possibility of using road routes in the case of larger corporate groups traveling.”
I feel I have to be up front and honest right at the beginning, this is certainly one of my favourite restaurants in the whole of Dubrovnik. It's one that I'm constantly recommending to guests, and one that I visit on a regular basis, so I'm on home soil when writing this. Dubravka 1836 Restaurant & Café, or just Dubravka, has got all the aces, enough to win any game of poker.
Ace number one – one of the best locations and views in the city, with views over the city walls and yet the breeze from the Adriatic, you just feel that you're sitting on a private terrace. Ace number two – great menu with something for everyone. From light lunches to full-on evening meals, a really great menu all round. Ace number three – value for money. Somewhat of a rarity in Dubrovnik, Dubravka is really great on your wallet. And ace number four – and this is a big one, great staff, not only great staff but lots and lots of them. No waiting here, it's fats and very professional. In a city that is always struggling to find staff Dubravka has it nailed.
Well trained and informed waiters
So eating at Dubravka was, as I've already mentioned, a little like eating in my dining room. But never mind I still took the opportunity to try something new. This is where the great staff came into play. "I would absolutely recommend the chef's beef steak. It comes in a mustard and gin sauce, and with a side serving of your choice," said the friendly waiter. "And as a starter then go for the ravioli with truffles and prosciutto," he added. You've got to love well trained and informed waiters. I followed his advice and he was spot on.
Food was excellent
As I've already said Dubravka offers great value for money and this choice, or a starter and main course was around 300 Kuna. The food was excellent. One of the best steaks that I've ever tasted. I often find that if a chef puts his name to a dish that he or she goes that extra mile just to make sure that it is really special. The sauce was incredible and I would have no hesitation at all in recommending this to all of you, and I will continue to recommend Dubravka to guests. I guess the clue is in the name, Dubravka 1836, the year it was founded. Probably those years of experience have rubbed off on the chefs and staff. A huge thumb up and a big like.
Brsalje no. 1, 20 000 Dubrovnik
Phone - + 385 20 42 63 19
Looking for a location to spend a day as a "Dalmatian" to get the real Dubrovnik experience without having to actually move anywhere? We've got the ideal location for you, and it might surprise you.
Location, location and location. The three most important points when purchasing real estate, and the same can be said for tourism. And this is a unique location that can't be beaten up and down the Croatian Dalmatian coast. The indented Croatian coastline is in fact 1,800 kilometres long and there are an incredible 1,100 islands and reefs dotted all the way up the coastline. The vast majority of these picturesque islands are uninhabited. And one of the southernmost islands in the whole of Croatia is the island of Supetar, or St. Pietro. I have already mentioned location as a key factor, well imagine this, Supetar is located between two tourism heavyweights, Dubrovnik and Cavtat. You can literally see both of the gems of Croatia, jewels in the crown of the Adriatic from the island.
So you are looking for that true Dalmatian experience, that real Dubrovnik experience that is the best souvenir you can take home from your vacation in the south of Croatia. a day on the island of St. Pietro will tick all the boxes. And I say a day for good reason, it is quite easy to spend a whole day on this relatively small island. There is absolutely everything you need, great food, all of the types of drinks that you can imagine, beaches, shade, sunbeds, snacks and of course the Adriatic Sea whispering in the background of the day. "It honestly feels like we are elegant Robinson Crusoes," laughed an English couple who already seemed to be enjoying a whole day on the lovely island. In a world where we are constantly in a rush, an instant world where things must happen in a flash, it is refreshing to get back to nature and normality with a day on an Adriatic island. And just imagine recounting your Dubrovnik holiday to friends and family when you get home. "What did you do on vacation?" – "We spent a day on an island in the middle of the Adriatic."
"In principle this is a whole day lounge, chill and restaurant destination. We find that guests who come to St. Pietro start their experience with a cocktail or drink in the lounge bar area and soak up the atmosphere and unwind. The afterwards move onto the other side of the island where we have the restaurant set-up," explained the bookings and PR manager Bruno Čular when we visited St. Pietro recently. That is the whole concept and it is one that is obviously working, and working well.
You might be mistaken in thinking that this kind of experience, almost a private island is the norm in Croatia. With over 1,000 islands along the coastline there is surely a good chance that a good percentage are like the offer on St. Pietro. That's where you would be wrong. This is unique. A truly unique experience in the south of Croatia, and almost the same across the rest of the northern coastline.
Dalmatian chill out zone
So what can you expect? Well, I've already mentioned the lounge area, which is one of those relax and stretch out lounge areas that draws your eyes immediately to the crystal, clear Adriatic. It also has an impressive drinks list, from the fanciest cocktail to hot beverages and something for the children. Under the shade of pine trees you get that sea breeze, pine aroma and sparkling background. It's a real Dalmatian chill out zone!
And then on the other side of this relatively small island is an equally impressive restaurant zone. To say that the views, and especially the sunsets, are stunning would be a complete understatement. It is gorgeous. And the menu, which again has a Dalmatian twist, it just as impressive as the location. Value for money and a service that is tailor-made to each guest, although you feel more at home that like a guest.
A day to remember
Wherever you are on the island you're not far from the sea, you are on an inland after all. Meaning that a dip (or two) in the Adriatic is a must. And St. Pietro has thought about this, around the island there are special ladders for entering the warm waters. And even special areas for sunbathing after your dip. Catch a special island boat from the picturesque town of Cavtat and in under ten minutes you are on your own island retreat. Believe me, it is a whole day location, and one that you'll never forget.
For more info - stpietro-dubrovnik.com
This week we caught up with one of the rising stars of the Dubrovnik tourism industry, Dominik Gustin, the director of Hotel Splendid. This charming hotel, which is part of the Hotel Maestral Group, is a firm favourite with guests from all over the world. And with Gustin now at the helm the future for this iconic hotel looks very bright indeed, as bright as the glint from the sparkling Adriatic.
How has this season been after two pandemic affected years?
We already expected that from the beginning of the year that this season would be significantly more successful than last year. Throughout the winter we were busy organising staff for this year and i have to say that there was a great interest for people to come and work with us, which is always a positive sign. We are very close to the number from the record year of 2019. and we are also seeing an increase in business throughout our outlets, such as the beach bar and Glorijet restaurant. Of course the two-year pandemic has left a influence on our hotel, and indeed the tourism business of the whole country. But it is always positive to see just how resilient and indeed flexible tourism is. We can probably expect that until the end of the year we will see numbers around 80 percent of those of 2019, which is superb.
We can probably expect that until the end of the year we will see numbers around 80 percent of those of 2019, which is superb - Photo - Mark Thomas
What feedback have you received from guests this summer season?
The majority of our guests come from the UK, Scandinavia, France and Germany. Of course our guests are happiest with our location. Hotel Splendid is well-known for its friendliness and we take a lot of time to make sure that guests feel special. As I said the location is important, right on the Adriatic but yet in a tranquil position in the shade of pine trees. It is also very easy to get from our hotel to the historic Old City centre. We see that in the afternoon hours that our guests like to find some shade in the pine trees and wait for the sun to set over the islands.
Hotel Splendid has a truly excellent location, but what do you believe also attracts guests every year?
We have plenty of loyal guests who return year after year. Believe it or not we have a lot of guests who even ask for the same room every year. This can only be a good sign. We've had guests who even say to us, "the grapes have been trimmed since the last time we were here." That's just how much they remember us and our hotel. This for us all is the most important and it's always nice to get that kind of feedback.
What plans do you have for the hotel in the future?
Of course as the competition in Dubrovnik increases we need to keep pace with the market and in fact prove ourselves as market leaders. Investments, creativity and innovation are the key words. We will surely see a cycle of investments at Hotel Maestral, including investments into our Hotel Splendid. I can't say anything concrete at this time, but I'm sure there is something in the pipeline.
You are one of the new, young generation of tourist leaders. How would you like to see Dubrovnik develop in the future?
Sustainable tourism is the way forward, in fact the only way forward. We need to think about a low impact tourist brand that is far away from any kind of mass tourism. This is the route that we will take at Hotel Splendid. We should forget the system of counting tourists and start thinking of measuring success with guest's satisfaction. Quality and sustainability, the key words for our tourism industry.
And finally, what message do you have for potential guests at Hotel Splendid?
We are ready and waiting for you, we look forward to hosting you. Again it is a big plus for us that loyal guests come back year after year, the best recommendations that we can have.
Studenac Market, Croatia’s largest retailer by number of stores, is preparing for the country’s adoption of the euro currency with initiatives including customer communication, employee training and ensuring IT systems are capable of handling the new currency.
All prices in the Adriatic country must be displayed in both the euro and the local kuna currency starting Sept. 5, but euro notes and coins won’t be accepted until January 1. For the first two weeks of the new year, customers will be able to use either currency, and those paying in kuna will receive their change in euros. Prices will continue to be displayed in both currencies until the end of 2023.
Studenac Chief Financial Officer Michał Halwa is in charge of the transition for the company’s more than 1,000 stores, as well as its centralized IT systems. He and his team are working with other business units, including marketing and operations, to ensure the changeover is smooth and complies with a Code of Ethics published by the government agency in charge of the switch.
“This is a huge change for all of Croatian society, as well as for Studenac as one of the country’s leading retail chains,” Halwa said. “Fortunately, there are several factors working in our favor, including familiarity with the euro among the majority of Croatians. For our part, we’re working hard to ensure a smooth transition for our employees and our customers.”
The transition comes as consumers and retailers around the globe are struggling to respond to surging inflation, and transparency about pricing and conversion will be key to maintaining customers’ trust, Halwa said. Studenac began displaying prices in euros in mid-August, ahead of the Sept. 5 deadline. In total the company will print more than 7 million price labels as part of the changeover.
With more than 5,500 employees, Studenac has almost tripled its number of stores since the company was purchased in 2018 by private equity fund Enterprise Investors. From its original location on the Dalmatian coast, one of Croatia’s primary tourist regions, the company has built a presence in 17 of the country’s 20 counties, plus the capital city Zagreb.
Following are comments from Studenac CFO Michał Halwa on various aspects of the euro adoption process:
On consumer behavior:
“This is a big mental challenge, and people of different ages adapt differently to changes. The good news is that because of the euro’s role in tourism, for example with many people pricing
accommodation or other services in euros, there’s already a lot of familiarity with the currency and a lot of support for making the shift. That will definitely help to cushion the shock.”
“During the pandemic, many people shifted to contactless payments because they didn’t want to handle notes and coins. The lower use of cash will make the transition easier than it would have been otherwise.”
On the logistical challenge:
“Getting all the euro notes and coins to the stores at the end of December will be a challenge; we’re working with banks and security companies to plan a smooth, safe handover. We also need to manage our stocks of kuna cash at the end of December, because after January 1 we won’t be able to give them back to customers as change. Also, because of the denominations of the two currencies, with the euro we’ll be using a lot more coins than with the kuna.”
On the Code of Ethics for business:
“We are fully committed to following the Code of Ethics for business, which will allow us to display the logo of this initiative in all our stores. The Code includes seven provisions, on matters such as not using euro adoption as an excuse for price increases; how prices are advertised, displayed and converted; and how employees are trained to communicate with customers.”
On training for employees:
“We have to train all of our frontline employees to recognize euro notes and coins. It’s also crucial that they understand the transition process, and that they’re able to explain it to customers who may have questions. It may seem simple, but one of the most important messages is that even though prices are displayed in euros, people can’t pay in euros until January 1."
On the challenges for IT providers and users:
“Adjusting our IT systems is a huge challenge, of course – we have to make sure they can show dual prices, and that our cash registers can print the proper receipts. And we have to adjust all of our back office systems – accounting, payroll and everything else. Some vendors are adjusting their current systems, while others are requiring their clients to upgrade to new systems. Fortunately this doesn’t affect us, because we’re already using the newest versions, but this could be risky as you also have all the other potential difficulties with adopting a new system, such as the need to train users on a new interface.”