Ivana Alilović: By analyzing trends, tourism indicators confirm that we are going in the right direction

Author  Goran Rihelj

1. June 2022.

During the pandemic, Zagreb County managed to position and brand itself and impose itself on the market through several projects. From the positioning of Turopolje truffles which have become a complete tourist product - connected with agencies and restaurants, as well as through the promotion of Turopolje pigs as a gastro brand. 

It is important to emphasize a great project Via Vino, through which winemakers were promoted. It is crucial to emphasize that it was not a one-day event - but four weekends in a month, ie a month-long campaign, with many different quality events, and everything revolves around Zagreb County winemakers, ie the promotion of the Zagreb Green Ring Wine Road. The great news is that the project continues.

There is also excellent cooperation with the Zagreb Tourist Board through a unique destination campaign Around Zagreb i.e., "Near the city close to the heart," as well as the platform Vacation never closer.

Basically, one thing is for sure, Zagreb County used the opportunity to impose itself and position itself on the market as an unavoidable continental tourist destination in the pandemic time, when the focus was on continental destinations.  

It was an occasion to talk to Ivan Alilović, Director of the Zagreb County Tourist Board.

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After three years of experience as the director of the Zagreb County Tourist Board, what is your experience in the system? 

First of all, I would like to emphasize that the result of previous work experience, especially in tourism and the implementation of projects co-financed by EU funds in the field of tourism, ie good knowledge of tourism in Zagreb County is an indicator of successful management of the Zagreb County Tourist Board. In the short period after taking office, I found myself in the unexpected circumstances of the global pandemic COVID-19, which shook the tourism market and caused the emergence of new patterns and trends in the tourism sector. New initiatives were needed, a different, integrated approach to tourism, in order to deal with all the challenges, shortcomings but also the advantages of tourism development in the Zagreb County.

By analyzing current trends in the field of tourism in general, and tourism in Zagreb County in particular, tourism indicators are proving that we are going in the right direction. Namely, in Zagreb County we have surpassed the successful 2019. There were 83 percent more overnight stays compared to 2021 and 7 percent more than in 2019. From the season, of course, we all have high expectations, and these results are a breeze for all tourism workers to offer every guest an unforgettable experience in the green ring of Zagreb. It is necessary to ensure the right balance between the well-being of tourists, the needs of the natural and cultural environment and the development and competitiveness of destinations.

How do you see the global future of tourism? The pandemic shuffled the cards, focusing on some new trends.

The future of tourism largely depends on the ability to cope with today's trends.  It is necessary to provide a framework and encourage the sector to be innovative, smart and united by all key stakeholders in order to guarantee more resilient, responsible and sustainable tourism. A system that works together is stronger and better. Further development of tourism in a sustainable way is a key prerequisite for continued competitiveness. One of the main challenges of sustainable tourism development lies in collaborating different stakeholders in the tourism value chain to deliver a coherent full experience, but also in creating innovative solutions that address the main challenges of tourism development such as identifying new market niches, reducing seasonality and improving working conditions. missing in the tourism sector.

A complete recovery of tourism will occur when there is no danger of a COVID-19 pandemic and when the balance between tourism supply and demand is re-established in the global tourism market, which is a necessary precondition for any tourism growth and development. Given the trends described, security is becoming an absolute priority. In order to minimize the level of stress that will certainly be present, tourists will give preference to safer destinations and the same brands - those that have provide a sense of stability. The focus will be on a better travel experience, of course with security, which means that users will seek a personalized approach, and it is necessary to take a proactive approach to each individual potential guest.

Tourists now prefer to travel to closer and safer destinations "without crowds" which to some extent guarantee the maintenance of social distance, with the car being the most commonly used form of transport, and the most popular accommodation facilities offering safe environment and increased hygiene standards. In the coming years, the key trends that will influence the further direction of tourism development at the global level are a greater focus on sustainability and responsible travel.

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A growing number of tourists are environmentally aware and reflect on the socio-economic impact of their travels on the visited destination. Consequently, they increasingly prefer destinations focused on sustainable development that, among other things, offer tourism products, services and experiences that can help protect the environment and bring tangible benefits to the local community. In addition, they are willing to pay more for products and experiences that are in line with their values. 

Of course, the changing patterns of behavior and interests of a particular demographic group, because younger demographic groups (Gen Y and Gen Z) that have "grown up with technology" by 2028 will represent 50% of all tourists. These groups show a strong tendency to use technology at every step of their journey, such as mobile check-in, online ticket reservations, etc., or specific needs for communication and travel experiences. 

Tourists today are looking for authentic and personalized experiences, education while traveling through interaction with local people and a focus on local culture, history, gastronomy and traditions.

In September  2021 The Zagreb County Tourist Board has joined the Network of European Regions for Sustainable and Competitive Tourism (NECSTouR), which brings together stakeholders from over 30 European regions. 

On this track, a whole range of activities and project proposals will be prepared, which aim to promote quality in tourism and contribute to the development of a smart tourist destination. The focus is on sustainable coexistence with local communities, nature, culture and the history of the destination. 

In the atmosphere of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new normal times call for a different, integrated approach to tourism. NECSTouR membership is a good opportunity  for the participation of Zagreb County in positioning the model of sustainable and competitive tourism in Europe, as well as strengthening the role of regions in tourism policy at the level of the European Union. The Zagreb County Tourist Board will through the NECSTouR platform  be able to participate in proposing tourism development activities in the European Union, both in the segment of creating the necessary policies for tourism development and in terms of co-financing projects in the field of tourism, which is a great opportunity but also the responsibility of the Zagreb County Tourist Board.

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Social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability of tourism activities is a key component of quality in tourism, and is also a guarantee of long-term survival. In addition to the price, the composition and the ratio of harmfulness and advantages of each product and service are now important to tourists, and the price itself is less and less a decisive criterion for selection. Earlier generations did not take into account all the mentioned factors as Millennials do, but the ratio of price and product preference was a key factor in buying and consuming tourist products. The peculiarity of today's era of the rule of the Millennials is that they explore the market every day in search of the optimal tourist offer for them, sharing their experiences and opinions both on a personal immediate level and on social networks. Therefore, someone's (non) recommendation is considered to be the best advertisement or discrediting of a tourist destination, product and / or service.

Another specificity of the millennial tourist market is the need for personalization. The tourist wishes and needs of Millennials are no longer all the same and similar to each other, but require the personalization of the tourist offer according to certain preferences. These features are slowly being taken over by other generations, and they already reflect the long-term characteristics of the market and tourist demand around the world. In this sense, tourism is a very complex system that is multidisciplinary and multisectoral connected, which is why it is not easy to manage.

Ecotourism is a sustainable form of tourism based on natural resources, which focuses primarily on experiencing and learning about nature, which does not consume natural resources and is locally oriented in terms of control, determining benefits and scale of development. It is a form of tourism that contributes to the preservation of the natural environment. 

Sustainable tourism is tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, meeting the needs of visitors, industry, the environment and the local host community. One of the most widespread and influential ways of explaining sustainable development is to present it as the integration of the three areas of economic, social and environmental concern, while some add a fourth - the political dimension. 

During the pandemic, the ZG County Tourist Board also had several campaigns to attract domestic tourists. How successful were those campaigns?

We have to brag that despite the pandemic we have kept most of our campaigns because the crisis is always an opportunity if you know how to take advantage of it. We promoted our outdoor facilities to the local audience and met with a good response. We are a destination with numerous promenades, educational trails, bicycle and hiking trails, and the Žumberak Nature Park was a hit destination during the pandemic when the Croats rediscovered Lijepa naša and returned to nature. Of course, it was extremely difficult for the tourist workers, but we believe that the year of recovery is ahead of us. The campaigns we conducted during the pandemic were targeted at the domestic market and we can assess them as successful, as confirmed by numerous indicators.

Zagreb County is a green ring in which you will find picturesque places and natural oases that are ideal for lovers of outdoors and escape from stress, all within easy reach of the metropolis. The emphasis is on the combination of local gastronomy, by which this area is recognized by excellent wines and wine roads. It is good to eat here, hedonistically enjoys the local specialties of our grandmothers and top quality wine drops, but also those such as the unique bermet, gin or brandy.

At the end of the summer, through the Via Vino event, we will once again enjoy the top wines of the Zagreb region, and in addition to developing tourist products and promoting all the uniqueness of this beautiful region, we place emphasis on education. The novelty is certainly the education center for smart tourism because our primary direction is sustainable tourism, which we have been working on for a couple of years and we are recording excellent results. We plan to continue our festivals as well as some new projects with an emphasis on local cuisine and strengthening the capacity of young people in tourism. 

Holiday homes on the continent have experienced a "boom", what is the situation in the Zagreb parish?

The trend of interest in holiday homes on the continent is constantly growing. These 'rural refuges' provide an authentic, safe and sustainable stay for each of our guests with an emphasis on staying in nature and in the open in general, but let's not forget the other trump cards of Zagreb County, excellent gastronomic offer, famous wine roads, numerous promenades and cycling trails and the rich natural and cultural heritage of Zagreb County.

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Holiday house in Zagreb County from the platform "Vacation never closer"

We also have a rich tradition in gastronomy because Zagreb County has a large number of products with a mark of authenticity. Although it is the destiny of every good dish to disappear soon after it has been prepared, our dishes have the status of a cultural asset precisely because of carefully preserved recipes and a skill passed down from generation to generation as part of a unique local heritage. Even the simplest dishes cooked by our grandmothers are real gastronomic specialties because they are prepared from authentic ingredients from family farms. This unique story "from the field to the table" is very important. The most important thing is sustainable tourism, ie that together with small producers of food and wine, our restaurants remain dedicated to the food and dishes of their region, ie quality and authentic offer. And then we combine this offer with guests who are located in luxury holiday homes.

Our tourist direction is confirmed by new luxury holiday homes, the number of which is growing every year. Raising standards and quality in all segments is a priority and this has been recognized by all stakeholders in the tourism sector of our county, as well as the county itself, which through its tenders has enabled the raising of the quality of accommodation facilities.

Finally, Alilović points out that the vision of Zagreb County tourism is to be sustainable, safe, smart, innovative and inclusive tourist destination - the most desirable and unforgettable continental Croatian destination  to which visitors are always happy to return. Thus, the Zagreb County Tourist Board becomes a leader in destination marketing and management, contributing to a sustainable national economy. 

 

Author  Goran Rihelj

1. June 2022.