“Sorry, pardon, excuse me,” I uttered for the umpteenth time as I made my way through a crowd of laughing tourists clearly looking forward to a break in Croatia. “I thought overcrowding was a thing of the past?” I smiled to my colleague at my side. After so long in a tourism vacuum, in a wilderness forced by lockdowns, it honestly felt great to be back among a cosmopolitan group again.
No, I’m not talking about tourism in Dubrovnik, and no, I’m not even talking about tourism in the height of the season. This was early in March in Zadar!
The sky was a bright blue, the bura whistled down from a snow covered Paklenica, no great shock for Zadar, especially at the end of spring. However, after coming from the tourism black hole of Dubrovnik the number of foreign number plates and languages was surprising.
The reason for my journey up the Adriatic coastline was to visit a newly opened digital nomad complex in a well-known Zadar resort. I was intrigued because this was the first nomad village of its kind in Croatia. Finally, somebody had taken some concrete steps to actually work rather than just endlessly talking.
Although I must say I had my doubts before I left, I tried my best to keep an open mind. “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything,” said the same Irish playwright who called Dubrovnik “heaven on earth.” I was also curious as to whether the same business model could be copied and pasted in Dubrovnik.
So, firstly digital nomads are a form of tourism. In the same way that you have educational tourism, sport tourism, congress tourism, etc. In fact, there are 63 different kinds of tourism, if you thought it was just booking a holiday in the sun then you were wrong, and digital nomads are just one more item on that long list. Yes, an important one and one that we certainly can’t ignore.
“Hola! Nice to meet you,” said a beaming smiling face from Mexico. Yes, this is an international nomad village. The UK, the US, Germany, France, Czech, Canada, like the UN, but rather than on the East River in New York, this mini version was in Dalmatia.
As we pulled up in our car I was immediately struck by the number of people, and clearly foreigners, on my horizon. It is a big and comprehensive resort and everything, well almost everything, was open and serving customers. “How many guests do you have in the campsite?” I asked the receptionist. “Over 60 trailers, tents and campers,” he answered.
And when I investigated further it was a like we could have been in Graz, Salzburg or Maribor. Austrians and Slovenians had arrived in large numbers and their expensive looking RV’s were everywhere. And then into the hotel to be greeted by the same scenes, full spa centre, noisy café bars and packed reception.
Winter tourism is alive and well in Zadar.
“Look we have driven just over four hours to get here, but so have half these tourists?” said my colleague, and she was right. They’d escaped the winter chills for some Vitamin D and who could blame them.
And why double their journey to come to Dubrovnik when everything they needed (and more) was in this resort. We’d have to work twice as hard to attract these tourists and we don’t even have the facilities to compete. And these very tourists were the reason that the whole digital nomad village was a success.
It was basically an add-on, additional benefit, on top of the business the resort was already doing in the winter. A solid business model that was working, but one that was specific to the conditions, and one that would be almost impossible to replicate here, unfortunately.
“We absolutely love it here,” was the standard answer I received from the nomads, and who can blame them. And clearly throughout their lives these nomads will continue to be great ambassadors for Croatia, they already are. “You’re so lucky to live in such a remarkable country,” said one nomad from Canada. And that stamp of approval for Croatia will be carried close to his heart for the rest of his life.
Tourism is really about experiences and telling stories, these guys will tell our story wherever they go.