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A summation of the Croatian diaspora conference held in Split last week

The Croatian diaspora conference took place in Split last week

23 May 2019 – Last week in Split, members of the Croatian diaspora gathered for the 2nd International Conference on Diaspora Tourism. Mate Paškanović Pavković, one of the organisers of the conference, sums up the panels over the three-day event and draws some conclusions from the conference.

The diaspora conference is now finished and the organisers would like to give an overview of the panels, and also highlight the people that were key in relaying information to the diaspora.

I would like to congratulate my fellow organisers in making this conference a success; Marin Sopta, Saša Mrduljaš, Tanja Trošelj Miočević, Ognjen Bagatin, Domagoj Dan Maček, Vlatka Lemić, Katica Jurčević, Marija Benić Penava, Suzana Jurković, Dan Markušić, Dijana Katica, Natasha Levak, Ivana Rora, and Danijel Dujmić.

David Močilac, our web designer and film producer was the main link to the diaspora. Without David, we would not have been able to archive the conference on YouTube. He is also the owner of the crodiaspora.com website.  

Domagoj Dan Maček was the glue that brought everyone together and the main power behind making the conference happen. Literally working day and night, he made it possible to bring everyone together. Without these two people, there would be no conference.

The overarching goal and the scope of the conference was to find ways to integrate Croatians as one nation regardless of their location, and to forge the future of the Croatian identity both in Croatia and abroad through social, economic and political solutions. As was exemplified by the many amazing discussions and similar themes that were repeated, the conference brought many issues and concerns of returnees and how they achieved success in the homeland.

Successful stories of Croatian Returnees who have invested in Tourism 

The keynote speakers were Joe Bašić, CEO of MPG southeastern Europe, Marion Duzich owner of SVPERVS Brač and the State Secretary of Tourism Tonči Glavina.

Here are some quotes keynote panel:

”In my short experience in working, most successful business people follow their instincts. And I had a deep feeling within me, after graduating and after achieving things I did in Canada…. I felt incomplete.“ – Joe Bašić

”If you want to accomplish something in life, no matter where you are, you can’t just put money into it. You have to put your soul and your heart, and you have to surround yourself with people with the same vision as you have.” – Marion Duzich

You can watch the panel below

The Croatian Dream

The people on the panel were Patrick Franolić (Spiller Farms), Joe Kustra (Villa Kustra), Dragica Jagunić (Hotel Princess) and George Zebić (Ellure Luxury Suites). Hrvoje Čuvalo, the CEO of the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development talked about the different options returnees have for financing their projects and the new options HBOR is offering to the diaspora. Then Patrick Franolić described the different kinds of real estate in Croatia and how to access it. Then there were examples of 3 different kinds of accommodations that one can build in Croatia; a Villa (Joe Kustra) a boutique hotel (George Zebić) and a hotel (Dragica Jagunić).

Here are some quotes from the Croatian Dream panel:

“My dad coming to the States from Yugoslavia always said this: anybody can take anything away from you but nobody can take away what is in your head“ – Domogoj Dan Maček

“There are many who have come back [to Croatia] and leave because they have a dream that was placed in them by their parents. That means that their parents tell them that Croatia is great, Croatia is not the country that their parents left in the 60s, and it is not the country that their parents may have left in the 40s. So definitely check it out before you really think about coming back“ – Patrick Franolić

“Having my wife as an architect, we were talking about investment and real estate the difficulties and struggles, good and bad, if you only offer honesty, professionalism and integrity your phone is going to ring off the hook.“ – Joe Kustra

“Dan mentioned don’t be negative but my Grandmother passed away and now my cousin builds half of the house on my house. You could of given it a couple of days after the funeral but you know OK…. but my most effective strategy here is avoidance and associating with good people.“ – Joe Kustra

Also in this panel, there was a comparison of different size hotels from a villa, to boutique hotel to a grand hotel in Jastrebarsko.

You can watch the panel below

The Past and Future of Croatian Returnees

This was an Australian Panel. Tanja Polegobić (owner of Saltwater Co-working Space), Sarah Jane Begonja (Chasing the Donkey Blog), Branka Ćubelić (CEO of Dreamtime Events) and Mate Begonja (Owner of Octopus Transfers) are all successful in their respective businesses. Kreso Gotovac is known to many in Canada for his appearance on Dragon’s Den and pitching his idea to Robert Herjavec. The main outcome of this panel was talking about the reasons they came back, as well as showcasing the different kinds of returnees. Some came alone but Sarah Jane and Mate came back together and are raising, as Sarah-Jane would put it, their two little Hrvati.

Some quotes from the Past and the Future of the Croatian Returnee panel:

“I was driving an hour and 45 minutes to work and an hour and 45 minutes back home. So when the opportunity came to move back to Europe, I took it right away. And I think quality of life is how much time you spend in the car and so forth and today I walk 5 minutes to work or take a 2 minute bike ride…. so quality of life is how much time you spend with your family and so forth.“ – Kreso Gotovac

“I was very fortunate, in one way, that I was brought up in Australia to have to work ethics and I brought those work ethics here with me. And the girls that work in the company have the same work ethics so I am very fortunate here.“- Branka Cubelic

You can watch the panel below

Diaspora Tourism and Investment- the Opportunities and Perspectives 

This panel was intended to clarify the misunderstanding about the opportunities in Croatia and what are the steps one needs to take when acquiring land and attempting to build in Croatia. This panel included the legal perspective of 3 lawyers: Don Markušić (a Croatian returnee and lawyer from Australia), Damir Pokupec ( lawyer from Zagreb) and Josip Mrklić (lawyer from Split). Also the administrative side included a mayor who is open to foreign direct investment, mayor of Krapinske Toplice, Ernest Svažić.

Then the process of building and the development of projects were discussed by 2 architects: Martina Marinčić Kustra and Tomislav Čop. At the end of the panel, Ivan Gotovac presented Terra Adriatica, a AI solution to land in Croatia. 

To watch the Terra Adriatica presentation click here

“People fear that they do not know what is going on, if they are not here and supervising it everyday.“ Her solution was to put all the documents online which the client can have access to and that she can be available to them whenever the client is worried about something. „they have the chance to supervise us from any continent that they live on, and that is something that the client appreciates very much.“

“Probably where people get stuck a bit is in land ownership and that is where the majority of problem I think most of building projects are. They don’t have clear ownership. Zoning is less of a problem because zones are quite clearly defined in Croatia and even if you look at tourism zones most of those T1, T2 zones that are in existence have been existence for a good 10-20 years, at least 15… but the problem comes when you try to take it from that T2 zone to a further level of planning and when you need to get permits and with building you need to have clear ownership.“ – Tomislav Čop

“The laws in Croatia are not not that bad, but application of those laws are where the problem lies.“ He goes on, „that the biggest problem in constructing something in Croatia may lie with planning and calculating costs and seeing where one can not spend money.” Damir Pokupec

You can watch the full panel below

Health and Wellness tourism

This panel outlines the newest wave of tourism: health and wealth tourism. On this panel Nikica Gabrić (Klinika Svjetlost), Alfred Franković (Kvarner Klaster), Ognjen Bagatin (Poliklinika Bagatin) and Ivana Babić and Marijana Babić (Lawyer) discuss the issues in privatizing healthcare in Croatia and some of the challenges that they have overcome in the private healthcare sector.

A quote from the Health and Wellness Tourism Panel:

“Part of our plan was always to start with the diaspora because they are our best ambassadors. They come and invest and they come for treatment in Croatia.“ – Ognjen Bagatin. Ognjen goes on to say that when you want to market Croatian tourism outside of Croatia and then one can talk about the different clinics and the treatments available.

You can watch the panel below

Croatia as a Brand

Croatia currently is branded by the fame brought to the country by winning 2nd place at the World Cup, our famous pattern of red and white checkers, and our reputation of being the tourism capital of Europe. On this panel Adrian Beljo (Edward Bernays School of Communication and Tourism), Lucijana Natalija Jerković (Croatian Tourism Board), Croatiana Orešković (Office for Croats Abroad) and Tomislava Ravlić (Croatian Chamber of Economy) talk about the importance of branding Croatia, and the important role diaspora play in marketing Croatia. Mladen Mrvelj (CTO of HPB) also presents the Croatian Diaspora card. 

To watch Mladen present the card click here

Some Quotes from the Croatia as a Brand Panel:

“There are several branding indices in the world. One is organised by Simon Anholt which actually coined the term nation-brand, unfortunately in the top 20 Croatia is nowhere to be found and to be honest I have not seen Croatia on any of the lists… Why aren’t we there, can we move up? I think we can. Croatia is well developed as a tourist destination, I think we are doing a great job, but we are missing some other elements…. it is not just about bringing people to the country but we want them to see the country as somewhere that they can live and work in.“ – Adrian Beljo

Lucijana Natalija Jerković spoke specifically about using the diaspora for marketing Croatia, „We use the diaspora [The Croatian National Tourism Board] as an amplification tool. So when Adrian was talking, he was talking about word of mouth.“ Also she goes on to talk about the success of the Tourism board and through the statistics collected from target markets is what how they determine what they advertise to that specific target market. 

You can watch the panel below

Culture Shock 

This panel included people who recently returned to Croatia as well as those that have been back since the 1990s. Jadranka Matešič Belfranin is a returnee from Australia and has a real estate agency in Zadar, Dan Maček is a returnee from New York and is working at the Croatian Chamber of Economy, Angela Madjer is a returnee from Chicago and is working at RIT Croatia and a digital marketing firm, and I (Mate Pavković) work at the Chamber of Economy and I manage a co-working space at the Zagreb Student Center in Zagreb. Marija Matek was the representative from the Office of Croats Abroad and added her advice to how people can move back to Croatia.

For Jadranka Belfranin’s story click here.

For Stjepo Bartulica’s story and explaination of the political situation in Croatia click here.

For Dan Macek’s story click here.

For Angel Madjer’s story click here.

For Mate Pavković’s story click here.

To find out how the Office for Croats Abroad can help you, click here.

Surprise guest: Successful businessman from Canada Ivica Zdunic

Ivica Zdunić, came to the conference and he expressed that he wanted to present to the diaspora directly. Ivica Zdunić is one of the most successful Croatian Canadian entrepreneurs and he had a message for the diaspora.

Some of the highlights of his message:

“We Croatians are very well educated and very productive. The many people that I work with, and associate with… We Croatians stand out as individuals but once we are put into a group we are not all that strong.“

Ivica Zdunic also said the quote of the whole conference: “When people start talking to you they ask you, are you a Partisan or are you an Ustasa? Well let me tell you this: I want to be someone who is making history not someone who is talking about history.“

You can watch the panel below 

Integration into Croatian Businesses 

Dennis Rukavina, Tanja Polegubić, Eugene Brčić Jones, Michael Murgić, Domagoj Šain and Darrel Šarić explained the leap from coming from their respective countries and how they learned to conduct themselves in Croatian businesses. 

Eugene gave a presentation which compared the Croatian and Australian business mindset which can be summed up by the following: “Now the definition for entrepreneur in an English dictionary, it says ‘ its the backbone for a free market economy, innovations, improving standards of living, creating wealth etc….. and if you look at an entrepreneur in a Croatian dictionary it is already very complicated [in Croatian] an entrepreneur is an owner of a business and a person who manages resources (people and material) and they take the risk in order to create a profit.“

You can watch the full panel below

Tourism Start-ups

Ever thought of an idea that you thought would work in Croatia? Something that was lacking that would be a great money maker? This panel presented potential start-ups in tourism by Croatian returnees who took advantage of the gap in the market. 

I presented my idea for connecting Croatian entrepreneurs and business people with student startups at the student center. 

To find out more about the project you can watch the #OneCroatia promo video here.

Marija Mustapic talks about her company Brasserie, Mate Begonja talks about Octopus transfers, Paul Spehar talks about Murter Kayak and Leo Rezan talks about Classic Adria in this video below:

Pitch Session

5 Croatian Start-ups pitched their ideas. The Pitch Session, run by Ante Lučić, Cronnect.me, which is an online platform which connects Croatian investors with Croatian Start-ups.

Ante Lucic, the owner of A-link and the founder of cronnect.me was the organizer of the pitch session.  A-link is a company that is concerned about human capital which is an issue in Croatia. As he perfectly says it, “This means that the wrong people are in the wrong spots at the wrong times doing the wrong things. This is an HR problem, bad policies get generated… So I would like to believe that I am at least contributing in solving what I believe to be the problem in Croatia.“

The startup pitch session had startups from a wide range of places in Croatia and from different industries from tourism to digital printing.

If you want to watch the pitches, click on the links below:






Goya 3d printers

The diaspora tourism conference has been a success. There are things that we need to improve on for future conferences but we believe that this has been a great first step towards the right direction. Even though that there are issue that Croatians are facing when coming back to Croatia, everyone who came back believes in the future of this country. The scope of the conference was from the diaspora to the diaspora and we hope that we showed how capable the diaspora is and how the diaspora can be the key to success for Croatia’s future.

We will be announcing more about the next conference that will be this upcoming October.

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