News for the Hospitality Executive
A Three-fold Strategy; Croatia-based Laguna-Novigrad d.d.
Operates Two Hotels and Campsites
by Barry Napier, September 2009
The restaurant manager was on the move continually and he seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. The dining room of the four-star Maestral hotel in Novigrad, Istria, is large, yet he saw everything! And if a member of his staff was not nearby he dealt with the matter himself, whether it meant picking up a paper napkin from the floor, cleaning a minor spill, attending to a customer query, or re-arranging food in appetising order.
I am telling you this because I was impressed. Most restaurant managers never dirty their hands, and just float around like ethereal beings! But this one was on the job, for the sake of his restaurant, because he took real pride in his profession. Each hotel I stay in has a memorable person who can colour my stay, for good or for ill. In this case, it was the restaurant manager, who left me very impressed indeed. The rest of the hotel worked in similar seamless fashion, with many friendly personnel. This can only be the result of excellent higher management with a nose for what works well.
The Maestral is sited on the edge of Novigrad proper, a lovely old town
hugging the sea, with a working fishing harbour, plus separate luxury yacht
moorings owned by the Nautica hotel. The walk from and to the town is very
pleasant and natural; it only takes ten minutes. And the town in the heat
of summer is a lovely place to be, with many restaurants, ice-cream venues,
and shady nooks, but no trashy tourist attractions. Farther on around the
cove is a long walk taking in fields, trees, sea and greenery. There is
even a fitness facility trail… with fitness equipment dotted along the
walk, freely available. So, the hotel is in a fine position.
Novigrad, 52466, Croatia
What I also like about the Maestral is its three-fold approach to local tourism. The company owns the three-star Laguna next door, and next door to that is a top quality camping site in the forest. Along the front of all three is the pebbled beach with sparkling azure-blue sea. The choice of land was superb and abounds with flowers and fruit-bearing trees. This kind of cover-all approach is typical of Istrian business mentality: every entrepreneur and manager I meet has two or more jobs. They are hard-working people, and it is what they are used to, which helps enormously when they enter the tourism business. Laguna d.d. is a home-grown company with its finger on the tourism pulse, mastering its local hotel industry, unobstrusively yet with great vigour.
The Maestral has 318 rooms, most with seaside balcony. My room had a great view of the sea, and, to the right, a panoramic view of Novigrad. There was a bathroom with adjoining shower cabin, fully stocked drinks fridge, large safe, heating/air conditioning, TV, plus room service.
The spacious restaurant is buffet-style, nicely set out, and there are more than enough meal offerings with several distinct sections, well staffed. From what I could see and experience, all the food is top quality and cooked well. There is unlimited free beer and wine at meal times, plus the usual soft drinks, etc. And all the staff are ultra-friendly and helpful, following the style of their manager. I watched him as he kept an eagle-eye on what was happening; as he helped staff with their work, and even treated a little girl like a grown-up whilst surprising her with a birthday cake, waiting upon her with great sophistication, cutting her cake with a delightful flourish! If I owned an hotel he could work for me anytime!
The restaurant holds themed evenings and has an aperitif bar and pool bar next to it, the outdoor pool being just a few feet away. Even out here staff are friendly, helpful and on the ball. There is also an a la carte restaurant attached.
Like all Istrian hotels, wellness is a strong feature, with an indoor heated pool, whirlpool, plus gym, massage salon, a variety of sauna, with hairdressing, etc., all in an attractive suite. And, as my wife commented: “I always look at cleanliness; the Maestral was super-clean!”
The hotel is big enough to cater for large meetings, with a 180-seater hall, a smaller hall for 80, both air conditioned, and several rooms for smaller meetings. The usual equipment is available.
Outside, are plenty of established trees, grass and greenery, with sports centre. Typically of Croatia, even the trees are superb – not the usual single species, but widely varied. There is the hire of bikes, kayaks and other equipment. From my room alone I counted 13 hard-sand tennis courts, though there are actually 17! Some diehards were up at 6 am to play before the sun started to scorch! There is also beach volley, football (with a nearby football stadium and pitch, floodlit for evenings), mini golf and more. Entertainment is on offer in the evenings, a children’s playground… really, far more facilities than most larger hotels can muster. But, what makes it special is the atmosphere, which has to be the result of good management and board decisions.
A few hundred yards away is a food supermarket, and more than enough parking. A small souvenir and newspaper shop is on-site. The pebbled beach is extensive and of ‘Blue Flag’ standard. And even the trash bins are environmentally friendly… a young man on a cycle empties each bin regularly, separating the contents into glass, plastic, etc. What amazed me was how he managed to cycle and carry several full trash bags at the same time! I am not sure if hotel or council are in charge of these collections, but a trailer attached to the young man’s bike might help a lot!
I loved the whole atmosphere of the hotel, which spilled out onto the green parts and down to the sea. There was a prevailing mood of old-fashioned family happiness, a very rare commodity nowadays.
The Laguna is the company’s clean-lined three-star hotel, with 220 rooms. Though close to the Maestral, it does not invade its space, and is separated by grass and trees. Paths adjoin the two and some facilities are shared. The Laguna has its own pool. Like the Maestral, most rooms have sea-view balconies, and room facilities are similar.
Laguna d.d. is one of the leading tourism companies in Istria, Croatia, and has been the biggest in Novigrad for the past 30 years. It separated from HTP Novigrad Inc. in 1989, and the Laguna company is listed on the Zagreb stock exchange. 80% of its income comes from foreign business activities and 20% comes from domestic partners. Its aim is to strengthen its global reach and keep on top of emerging trends. From what I saw, it does so admirably; its overall atmosphere being a vibrant evidence of good judgment. At the moment, too, it seems to have Novigrad sewn-up!
Often, when we visit a supermarket at home, we think we are choosing between different foods, but we are not. They are just different brands sold by the same company! The reason for the brands is simple – if you have a choice you will probably buy at least one. But if there is only one brand, you may reject it totally.
Laguna-Novigrad appears to work on this principle… if a client does not want four-star then he might prefer three-star, and if he doesn’t want an hotel, he might prefer camping in very pleasant surroundings. This makes perfect business sense. And, as all three facilities are of top standard, no-one is dissatisfied! Also, with each facility close to hand, the same client might choose one of them to try at a later date, such is the ease with which you can stroll around all three. And because there is such an atmosphere of friendliness, the possibility of choosing again is strong.
In 1996, Laguna d.d. began extensive renovations of all properties at
a cost of approx. $202,000. Though this may not sound much to an American
investor, in Croatia at that time it was a vast sum. Last year the company
achieved just under half a million overnight stays. In total, Laguna d.d.
offers 5,000 places, with a very high take-up ratio to number of rooms.
There are 250 staff in high season, 115 of them being permanent; essential
to maintain quality and experience.
© Barry Napier
|Also See:||Konoba and Boutique Hotels, in Istria, Croatia: Different Styles, Same Aims / Barry Napier / May 2009|