Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
The Dubrovnik Times caught up with the director of Hennes and Mauritz, or H & M, for Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, Claudia Oszwald. Southern Croatia now has its first ever branch of this popular high-street brand with the opening of a shop inside the SUB City shopping centre in Zupa. In fact this is the 15th branch of H & M in Croatia, but the first in Dubrovnik. The opening of this new shop was attended by Oszwald who was impressed with the new store and shopping centre.
I can see from your CV that you are related to Dubrovnik. You were born on the 3rd of February which is the day that Dubrovnik celebrates its patron saint, St. Blaise.
I know that day was the celebration of Saint Blaise, but I did not know that he is the patron of Dubrovnik. That's great!
Is this your first time in Dubrovnik?
Thank God it's not! I've been here several times before. I'm speechless, it's incredibly beautiful, one of the most beautiful places that exists and it is a great privilege to be here for the opening of this branch. This also means that I will be able to visit the city more often. It's fantastic!
Many Austrian come to Croatia on vacation. What this the case for you as well?
I have been to Croatia twice on holiday. But since I have started working in the country I have had the opportunity to experience some fantastic places. Before I did not come so often, but since 2011 I am a regular guest here and I am thrilled with the country and its people. When we stopped in front of the shop I said: Finally we are in Dubrovnik!
As "Country Manager" for H & M you enjoy great autonomy. What drove you to open a branch in the south of Croatia?
We have been present in Croatia since 2011. That was the year that we opened our first branch in Zagreb. H & M is very well received by our customers in the country. As you know, we then go step by step towards the expansion and have now expanded throughout all of Croatia. What we always lacked was the south of Croatia. Now we are naturally very happy that we have finally got the chance to be in the Dubrovnik area.
So you were already planning to open a store in Dubrovnik but just lacked the right space?
Exactly. For us it is very important to always have the best location. Regardless of whether it is in the city centre or in a mall, this can sometimes take a while, but you need to have patience.
What customers can expect from the Dubrovnik area?
I'm happy here; we can offer almost all our product range. So, there is fashion for men, women, teenagers and children. We offer clothing for the whole family, and there is a supply of jewellery. The local offer is almost complete.
Customers are given the opportunity to leave their old clothes in your branches and then get a discount for a new piece of clothing. Will this model of recycling be on offer here?
Of course. We are very proud because sustainability is a very important issue for H & M. The ability to offer our customers the opportunity that they can bring their old clothes and then receive a voucher for a discount is one aspect. Another aspect is that the question of what we do with that collected old goods? Recycle old clothes all over the world and make new products from recycled materials. Our aspiration is that of old clothes we can produce entirely new pieces of clothing. In our department we have a Jeans-department "Denim-Reborn", and there are products created from recycled products.
Is it important to quantify how much of the old goods people can bring? Are there any benchmarks?
No, all you can fit in a plastic bag which can be inserted into the appropriate box. Of course, if it comes with a whole container then it will be difficult, but as I said, all that can fit in a plastic bag. The customer can do this five or fifteen times, it does not matter.
How many fashion conscious are Croatians?
Croats are very fashionable. Croatian customers are great customers who have fashion preferences that are clearly oriented to what is new in fashion, but they are also conscious when it comes to quality and materials.
Most employees at H & M are women. What is the relationship of employees here in Croatia?
We don’t see any difference between the sexes; we are an equal opportunities employer. In Croatia we have around 400 employees.
Your career with H & M started as a shop assistant. Does the H & M employment ladder operate this successfully?
It's easy and it's always possible. If you're engaged, passionate in your work, if the work place acts properly then anything is possible. We are constantly looking for resources. We open hundreds of branches each year all over the world. In the fall we will open a new branch office in South Africa, the phones are constantly "hot".
What is your recipe for success for the future and current employees?
The recipe is hard to put my finger on.
Is it more a matter of luck or ability?
I think it is based on merit. It depends on how long someone has been employed and sometimes also depends on how brave you are. In H & M we sometimes get such challenges where you think, "Hmm...maybe it will not succeed," But, if you have the courage to make the first steps then you can succeed if you have the skills for it. Flexibility is of course also an important factor. I have always accepted the challenges that I have encountered.
Pop icon Justin Bieber will play a concert in Zagreb this year! The globally popular singer will perform in the Arena Zagreb in the capital on the 9th of November as part of his world tour to promote his current album “Purpose.”
This will be the first time that Justin Bieber has held a concert in Croatia and there is sure to be a rush for tickets. And you will have to book your seats early to see Beiber in Zagreb, with tickets ranging from 265 to 565 Kunas and are already available online. When news broke that Beiber would be playing in Zagreb this year fans from all over the region started snapping up tickets.
Beiber’s albums sell by the millions worldwide, and his hits remain on the global music charts for weeks. In early December, as many as 17 of his songs were among the top 100, which is three more songs than the Beatles once had – thus breaking a record which stood for 51 years.
Economic sentiment markedly improved in Croatia in December 2015, reaching a record level thanks to confidence in the services and industry sectors, and the European Union as a whole also recorded an improvement, the European Commission said on Thursday.
The Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) for Croatia last month reached 127.2 points, its highest level since the Commission started monitoring it for Croatia. It was up 2.7 points from November and surpassed the previous record of 124.6 points, recorded in October.
The improvement was mainly due to stronger services confidence, which reached 19.7 points (+3.3 points from November). Industry confidence increased by 2.7 points to 6.5, construction confidence increased by 2.2 points to -13.2, and retail trade confidence increased by 2 points to 12 points.
Only consumer confidence deteriorated in December, decreasing by 1.3 points to -18.
In the EU28, ESI improved by 1.4 points to 108.9.
The popular duo the 2Celoos, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, will perform on the 11th of January at the FIFA Ballon d'Or award ceremony, the most prestigious individual award presented to a football player for success in the past year. The award ceremony will be held in Switzerland.
Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic time will continue a series of meetings and cooperation with well-known people and at the ceremony will have the chance to rub shoulders with Ronaldo, Neymar and Messi. In addition the 2Cellos will once again contribute to the promotion of Croatia.
Last year they released the acclaimed album "Celloverse", as well as a successful world tour. At the gala ceremony in Switzerland the British singer Leona Lewis will also perform.
The New York Times has recommended the island of Korcula as a top destination to visit in 2016. In an article on The New York Times travel section entitled “52 Places to Go in 2016,” the island of Korcula near Dubrovnik finished in seventeenth position on the list.
“It’s a big world out there, so we’ve narrowed it down for you. From ancient temples to crystalline waters, here are our top destinations to visit this year,” opens the article. Publicity in such a renowned publication is certain to increase interest with potential tourists to Croatia this summer season. In 2015 American tourists were the second most numerous in Dubrovnik and the indicators are that this year could be even better.
“Beyoncé and Jay Z called this one. The couple’s 2011 visit to Hvar Island seemed to open the tourist floodgates to Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. Korcula is Hvar’s more modest neighbour,” adds the article proving that celebrity visits are great PR.
Read the full article here
2015 was a bumper year for the Croatian tourism industry. According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Tourism over 14 million tourists visited Croatia last year. In total 14 million and 150 thousand tourists decided to spend their holidays in Croatia in 2015 which is 8.3 percent more than 2014. A massive 78.5 million overnight stays were achieved in 2015, an increase of 6.8 percent over 2014. Of the 14 million tourists in Croatia in 2015 12.7 million were foreign visitors.
“The great results from last year are certainly an outcome of good performance of the private as well as public sector, the synergy in our activities, the increase in investment, and good marketing activities,” commented the Minister of Tourism, Darko Lorencin.
The leading Croatian region in terms of overnight stays was Istria with a total of 23 million and 600 thousand overnight stays, followed by Split with 14.6 million and Kvarner with 13.2 million. The Dubrovnik-Neretva County realised 6.7 million overnight stays in 2015 with 1.5 million tourists visiting the region.
The most numerous guests to Croatia, in terms of nationality, were from Germany, Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Hungary.
“The excellent results that were achieved in 2015 make us very proud, because they are, amongst other things, a result of our activities,” said the director of the Croatian National Tourist Board, Ratomir Ivicic. “From these results it is clear that the advertising and PR that we carried out was justified,” he concluded.
Get to know more about Dubrovnik quickly with this A to Z guide
Adriatic – Dubrovnik has one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world with the crystal, clear Adriatic Sea sparkling
Banje – the most famous beach in the city is the Banje beach located just outside of the historic old city walls
Cable car – take a ride to the top of the Srđ Mountain and experience breathtaking views over the Old City
Dubrovnik Summer Festival – formed in 1950 the festival fills the streets and squares of the old city from the 10th of July to the 25th of August
Elaphite – Dubrovnik’s islands in the sun, the Elaphite islands are an archipelago of three larger islands and ten smaller ones
Folklore – the Linđo folklore ensemble are one of the most famous in Croatia and perform twice a week in Lazareti through the summer months
Gir – really this should be spelt Đir, but anyway one of the pastimes of the locals is to gir up and down the Stradun. A gir is basically a promenade or stroll taking the times to meet and greet friends.
Hotels – with its long traditional and history of tourism Dubrovnik has a wide array of hotels from two-star to luxury five-star
Ivo Vojnović – born in Dubrovnik in 1857, Vojnović is one of Croatia’s most popular and respected authors
Jug – Dubrovnik’s waterpolo club “Jug” was formed in 1923 and have won the Croatian league ten times and the Croatian cup ten times as well as the European Championship three times
Klapa – is a form of traditional Croatian a capella singing, The word klapa translates as “a group of people” and traces its roots to littoral church singing.
Lokrum – located just 600 metres from the old city walls the island of Lokrum is an oasis of Mediterranean flora and fauna
Marin Držić – the bard of Dubrovnik, Držić is often compared to William Shakespeare and his works are regularly performed in the Dubrovnik Summer Festival
Napoleon – the entry of Napoleon’s army in 1806 signalled the end of the Dubrovnik Republic. The Imperial fortress overlooking the old city on the Srđ Mountain was built in honour of Napoleon
Ombla – the river Ombla, unofficially the shortest river in the world, has been Dubrovnik’s source of fresh water for centuries
Picigin – originally from Split this summer sport is played in the sea shallows and the aim of the game is to keep a small ball in the air
Queen Elizabeth 2 – Dubrovnik is a magnet for cruise ships and the luxurious Cunard ship Queen Elizabeth 2 is a regular guest to the city’s waters (it was tough finding a Q)
Rector – during the time of the Dubrovnik Republic the Rector ruled and run the city with a mandate of only six months. The Rector’s Palace is one of the landmarks of the old city today
Stradun – the main street through the centre of the old city of Dubrovnik, the Stradun is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful streets in the world
Tramway – for sixty years, from 1910 to 1970, Dubrovnik had a public tramway system that operated from the old city to Gruž harbour and Lapad
University – Dubrovnik is a university city with both private and public institutions including courses in tourism, media, diplomacy and nautical studies
Vlaho – St. Vlaho, or St. Blaise, is the patron saint of Dubrovnik and a the St. Vlaho Church dominates the centre of the old city
Walls – the Dubrovnik City Walls encompass the entire city and are a symbol of Dubrovnik. They stretch for 1,941 metres and include various fortresses, bastions and towers.
Yacht – Dubrovnik is a popular destination for the yachting world and the ACI marina is always busy through the summer months
Last year was a record breaking one for Dubrovnik Airport, with more flights than ever before and more passengers passing through the airport, and one of the most important airlines was the UK low cost easyJet. The popular airline has just released figures showing that they handled over 600,000 passengers on their flights to Croatia in 2015, with Dubrovnik one of their most frequent destinations. In fact in 2015 easyJet was the second busiest carrier operating out of Dubrovnik, behind only the national carrier Croatia Airlines.
“More than 600.000 passengers travelled to and from Croatia with easyJet,” commented the airline's spokesperson, Matteo Taddei. Adding that in 2015 the airline launched eight new routes including their first ever flights to Istria. And easyJet is planning an even bigger presence in the Croatian market for 2016. Four new routes have been announced for this year, Pula to Hamburg and Paris and Dubrovnik to Bristol and Toulouse. The introduction of the seasonal Bristol to Dubrovnik flights now means that easyJet operate to four different airports in Great Britain. “At last we can fly to Dubrovnik without having to drive up to London,” commented a regular guest to Dubrovnik from the South-West of England.
As yet easyJet is still only flying to Dubrovnik throughout the summer period. However the airline is seeing positive results from Croatia and might yet introduce winter flights. “easyJet currently offers as many as 32 destinations to and from Croatia confirming the airline’s commitment to the country and to making travel easy and affordable for local passengers to connect to Europe," said Ali Gayward, easyJet’s UK Commercial Manager.
During the peak travel month of August, easyJet offers almost as many seats as Croatia Airlines from the country, with 21.960 seats offered in August 2015, compared to the Croatian carrier's 23.192. In addition, during the year, easyJet was the second busiest carrier operating out of Dubrovnik, behind only Croatia Airlines.