I visited Croatia this summer. Already before landing there I knew I would write this blog. There were couple of thoughts on country marketing that burst in my mind while I was planning the trip.
Croatia is a very beautiful country. With no hesitation am enthusiastic to suggest planning one of your next holidays there. Croatians are blessed with the Adriatic coastline and all the benefits it includes like no other. But there is more than just an idyllic climate conditions that allow you sunbathing, yachting or chilling out on a terrace while sipping their own wine in a calming sunset. Croatia is one of those countries that offer plenty of socializing opportunities, mixing with locals and the same time secures your personal space and freedom. Cuisine is soulful and delicious. They are proud and determined in a positive manner. They have quite a few well know names in various fields, including a Nobel Prize winners. The cultural heritage is rich. Sometimes one may wonder (just like a group of locals I met) why Croatia is so eager to join European Union, as their infrastructure on a first glance is more advance than in couple of existing EU member states. And it is truly unique to see a progress the country has made since the Croatian war that ended only in 1995.
My intention is not to analyze 30 second TV spot that advertises Croatia as a perfect holiday spot one may have see on CNN, BBC, Euronews or elsewhere in early spring. Sure, TV is one of audiovisual elements that can help to build an opinion and attitude towards the country. The media channel and its content also defines what should be a context of your communications. I agree that CNN, BBC or Euronews are among channels that work towards building an attitude (in certain target group), but I would argue it has less impact on direct sales.
When it comes to sales, today airlines do a wonderful job to advertise countries. Now when the air travel is widely accessible, it is possible to fly to any destination you can imagine. It is in airlines’ interests to generate profits. And the more country has to offer (total travelling experience), more flight options you get. A destination communication correlates with a destination offer.
The challenge for countries is to get the offer right. The offer is a product. In today’s context it goes beyond weather conditions and historical sites. Sure it is important. But it is more about travelling experience from planning a trip to enjoying a trip. A field of nation branding is vast, so I will not go in details in this blog discussing factors that sum up to make guests’ travelling experience enjoyable. In any case, Croatia already knows how to deliver a pleasant stay.
About planning and sales (tourists). I think there is an opportunities for Croatia to be one of the first ones who pioneer making a trip planning simple, intuitive and engaging that is helpful both for potential visitors and beneficial for local businesses.
There are couple of reasons why I think it is important for Croatia:
First, it is relatively new tourism destination, has very rapidly gained recognition as a fabulous holiday place and needs to live up to these expectations in the future.
Second, a new approach in building travelling experience would out-weight traditional marketing investments, such as TV.
Third, tourism generates 22% of Croatia’s GDP. A new platform for local entrepreneurs (particularly SMEs) would help them to sustain growth and development.
Fourth, position Croatia as a modern state with an efficient use of e-commerce and digital marketing tool.
Trip planning is digital for me. (Sure there are groups of people who prefer package holidays prepared by travel agents. This is not a group am talking in this blog.) Planning a trip to Croatia was an interesting and little bit tiring experience. I cannot recall the last time I spent so much time on web finding Bed & Breakfast would like to stay (place, type, style, price, etc).
The major issue in a nutshell: there was a massive surplus of information that was highly fragmented.
I started out planning out the trip with the official websites http://www.croatia.hr (also advertised in TV spots). Honestly speaking I found it too general. It kind of captured the key points of activities and things to do. I can understand that as people, probably, are too lazy to read. The good thing was an interactive map. Thanks to that I learned the location of each region. When it came to accommodation, the site kind of tried to cover everything but didn’t deliver anything.
I moved on to googling. Croatia is rich of information. There is plenty of private initiative both at home and abroad. During web exploration I learned almost by heart all towns and villages in the area I was planning to land and explore. I was happy to see a strong digital presence of local municipalities. It was fascinatingly puzzling that within a radius of 30km there was a dense presence of local authorities websites communicating their own offering. (Example of Zadar, Nin, Privlaka, Sukosan, Zaton, Ugljan Island and neighbouring Pasman Island) Even villages that are just 5km apart (Nin and Privlaka) had their own websites marketing local surroundings and businesses. A small Uglajn island that is famous of its olive farming has no more than 7500 inhabitants but has 4 different websites: http://www.preko.hr (one of the key villages), http://www.kukljica.hr (another village), http://www.ugljan.hr (another village) and http://www.islandugljan.com (private initiative). And this is just around Zadar – one of rising tourism centres.
It is great that the area of Zadar is “digitalised”. It is fantastic that people use internet to promote their area and businesses. The same time the way it is run right now looses a momentum and additional opportunities. Each of the websites is really trying hard to do their best and offer visitors a complete set of necessary information. However, it took a lot of my patience and attention.
Ok. I might be too demanding. But, now let’s look at the local businesses. Similarly, their efforts of driving a traffic and attention are also fragmented. Sure, during summer months businesses are doing pretty well. Yet, when I spoke to couple of local B&B owners they had 2 major concerns: (a) how to ensure their premises are continuously occupied during a tourism season; (b) how to attract some of guests during the off-season. To illustrate our conversation, one of owners was pointing at landing Ryanair flight saying, “I do not need much, just one or two couples additionally every week who land with them”.
Sure, the occupancy rate is influenced by a reputation, location, communication, services and other creativity and management factors each B&B owner is personally responsible. Yet, there is something that state’s tourism marketing institutions can do by participating and acting in little different manner.
1) A digital platform that not only improves a trip planning experience for potential travellers but also is an important tool and coach for local entrepreneurs in their business planning, management and development.
2) A platform that links travellers with businesses (and vice verse)
3) A platform that allows interacting, sharing and connecting.
4) A platform that offers real time booking and reservations.
I am not offering to re-invent bicycle. It is about linking well working principles in social networking and e-commerce, such as Facebook, booking.com, tripadvisor.com and Google Maps. Of course, there is room for plenty of more to be integrated. It’s about state’s initiative that merges with private partnership. This is not about taking away jobs of people who work in local municipalities and tourism offices right now. It is about giving them a new tool that will allow working better, in more efficient way and achieving more. And for people like myself, a totally new experience, simplified yet enriched, when planning my next trip.
When done properly, this initiative helps to shape a product and is a starting point for a journey of new digital and e-commerce opportunities.
Sure, lots of external factors shape opinions and attitudes towards countries, but when it comes to travelling the digital world will dominate in decision-making process and sales generation. Communications of country marketing will need to change a focus so does the product.