Travel And Tour World: How has been the journey since Zagreb’s emergence as tourist destination in 2013?
Martina Bienenfeld: By joining the European Union in 2013, we were able to gain even more recognition on a European scale, but also beyond. Our guests are delighted with Zagreb, especially those coming for the first time.Today, Zagreb, as a Central European tourist destination, due to its charm and beauty, a number of interesting tourist facilities, cultural events worldwide throughout the year, beautiful green oases and tidiness of the city, is recognized as a city of pleasant and intimate atmosphere, unique charm, open and cordial people. Our guests are especially pleased with this combination of multiculturalism, Mediterranean and Central European influence and their permeation, which is reflected in the urbanism, history and atmosphere of the youngest, and, again, one of the oldest European capitals.Now, with entering the Schengen and Eurozone – Zagreb is closer than ever and I invite all your readers to come and visit it!
Travel And Tour World: Croatia has joined the EU and Schengen Areas in January 2023. How do you think these two big happenings will impact Zagreb’s tourism scene?
Martina Bienenfeld: After 2 very challenging years, I hope that 2023 will finally bring a more normal tourist year. Although it is difficult to predict what the future holds – with Croatia’s entry into the Eurozone in 2023 and Croatia’s Schengen membership, we should definitely see the positive aspects of Croatia’s deeper integration into the EU. Both events should strengthen the Croatian economy and enable the free movement of people and goods, which will certainly stimulate tourism in the whole of Croatia, including Zagreb.
We can already see the benefits according to statistics of tourist arrivals and overnights for the beginning of 2023, where we’ve marked an increase of 8% in overnights in relation to 2019 which was the best tourist year ever in Croatia and Zagreb.
Travel And Tour World: Zagreb has success fully emerged one of the world’s top digital nomad destinations in the last 2 years. Tell us more about this.
Martina Bienenfeld: There are always several factors that affect the choice of digital nomads for a particular destination. First of all, digital nomads stay in a certain destination as long as they can and want, and, because of their work, reliable and fast internet, i.e., high-quality telecommunications infrastructure is their number one priority that the destination must have. Then, the value for money and the availability of workspaces, the so-called coworking spaces, as well as the favorable weather factor are certainly high on the list. Also, the proximity or, at least, easy accessibility of the destination is one of the priorities, and Zagreb ticks all these boxes. In this sense, the attractiveness of Zagreb is great and I believe that it has the potential for further growth, especially since we are one of the first countries in the world to regulate digital nomad workstyle by law.
In last 2 years Zagreb has reached a new milestone regarding digital nomads. With various workshops and programs such asZagreb Digital Nomad Week, then Digital Nomad Ambassador program which lasted six months or Digital Nomad gatherings in December, Croatian capital comprehensively presented itself as a digital nomad place to be. The dynamic fusion of workshops, presentations, social and tourism activities focusing on the key themes, provided a comprehensive and stimulating content for anyone engaged in the digital nomad lifestyle. All these activities helped to make Zagreb a digital nomad hub and the results of the Nomad List survey, where Zagreb is in top 5 destinations, proved that we’re doing a good job.
Travel And Tour World: With the opening of budget airlines, many new destinations have opened up for tourists visiting Zagreb. Tell us something about the contribution of the aviation sector in Zagreb’s tourism.
Martina Bienenfeld: According to various visitor surveys Zagreb Tourist Board conducted, half of our guests come to our city by plane, and a large number of them come from long haul destinations such as the USA or Asian market. For example, Zagreb International Airport handled 3,124,605 passengers in 2022, which is 1.7 million more than in 2021. With more than 3.1 million passengers, Zagreb’s Franjo Tuđman Aiport ranked first among Croatian airports in the number of passengers last year.The presence of budget airlines is certainly important for the development of the city break segment, but today even scheduled airlines offer special tariff classes, which is very competitive in price. We have the long-term cooperation with our national carrier Croatia Airlines and our partner Turkish Airlines and we are especially happy about the opening of new air connections between Zagreb and European destinations.The significance of direct flights is unmeasurable because they help to foster tourism, establish real economic connections and enable flows of people and ideas between cities, countries and continents.
Travel And Tour World: After the last two turbulent years, the world has changed and so has tourism across the world. At this point of time, what are the positives you are reflecting on?
Martina Bienenfeld: The global pandemic has highlighted even more the lifestyle and opportunities for digital nomads around the world, and Zagreb has been one of the first cities in Croatia to seize the opportunity. Also, the pandemic created the unique opportunity to reshape the tourism sector in a way that it reduces the focus on the growth imperative and places more emphasis on inclusiveness, sustainability and accountability, as priorities. Tourism has shown that it is extremely resistant and that it has a great power of regeneration and I’m very happy that current figures show complete recovery.
Travel And Tour World: What are the top attractions and regions in Zagreb you would like to promote to global tourists?
Martina Bienenfeld: Zagreb is a city made to measure. Our visitors give high marks for many aspects of their visit to the capital of Croatia, and at the very top is a good value for money that guests often point out as one of the most significant advantages of Zagreb.I would definitely single out the beauties of the Upper Town, which has a special charm and preserves the spirit of old Zagreb. Then, the Lower Town with numerous events and the beautiful Lenuci’s horseshoe, and our two “Zagreb seas” – Jarun and Bundek. You can start your sightseeing by walking through the lively streets and squares of the Lower Town, and on the central Ban Jelačić Square, be sure to stop at the Manduševac well and toss a coin to make your wish come true. In Bogovićeva Street, find the sculpture Grounded Sun and then take the funicular to the Upper Town to enter the world of old Zagreb. Climb to the top of the Lotrščak tower to admire the view and you can welcome the sunset in the Botanical Garden, a green oasis in the middle of the city bustle. Additionally, Zagreb’s surroundings, i.e., its green ring is spacious enough, geographically diverse and – most importantly – full of pure nature. It’s locations with beautiful environment, history and cultural heritage are as created to become the terrain for countless outdoor activities.
Zagreb is compact city; we have that cozy atmosphere and warmth living on our streets and squares. With the emphasis on cultural offer, heritage and local traditions, but also on modern design and eclectic urban scene – Zagreb is a hive of activity throughout the year. The spring and the summer months offer a plethora of activities, events and festivals to suit all tastes. Autumn is reserved for various cultural, gastro festivals and some hip indoor events, and winter is marked by Zagreb’s Advent, which has been awarded Best Christmas Market in Europe already 3 times in a row.
Travel And Tour World: Tell us something about Zagreb’s meetings and incentive industry after the pandemic years.
Martina Bienenfeld: Owing to its accessibility, infrastructure, activities and recognizable atmosphere, Zagreb’s MICE industry is recovering very successfully after the pandemics. During 2020 and 2021, the whole world faced an extremely strong impact of the pandemic on business in general and thus on the meetings industry. In addition to the pandemic, Zagreb was struck by two devastating earthquakes, leaving some of its most important meeting venues, in attractive historic buildings in the city center, closed. However, despite all the circumstances, thanks to the joint efforts of all stakeholders in the tourism and meetings industry, Zagreb has maintained the quality level of its business and events industry. Zagreb Tourist Board investsexceptional efforts in the congress-business segment, which achieves very good dynamics and implementation in terms of planned and held meetings, as well as the interest of clients in the destination in the future period.
Travel And Tour World: Where do you see Zagreb in the next five years both in leisure and MICE tourisms?
Martina Bienenfeld: Zagreb has certainly transformed itself, today it really has something to show and offer and is the only city in Croatia’s mainland that has been in the very top of most popular destinations for several years!We develop Zagreb as a year-round destination and we intend to continue building our offer in that direction. Likewise, Zagreb tourism has the potential to develop specific forms of tourism, such as health or cultural tourism and the business tourism has also its own space for growth. We’ll strive to put focus on sustainable tourism through cooperation, support and mutual trust of all stakeholders in our tourism sector. Only through coordinated action we can expect a higher quality and more competitive tourist product, as well as its greater sustainable and positive social effects.