Hotel Online  Special Report


Right Man, Right Time: Denis Ivosevic - 
the Head of Tourism for Istria, Croatia
Istria’s No Pushover!
by Barry Napier, May 2006

Right Man, Right Time

Denis Ivoševic is a trendy bachelor living in Novigrad, Croatia, and Head of Tourism for Istria, the most developed tourist area in Croatia. He is also Istria’s man of vision.

Denis is very confident and yet displays a disarming humility. Though an advocate of living life well without stress, he ardently rejects the Croatian notion of ‘polako’. “We don’t take it easy here,” he insists with good humour, ”We work very hard to make Istria a success.” The look in his eyes tells me he is genuine!

His attitude and manner emit drive and ambition. Denis says he “Thinks more like an Italian” and looks the part, in a casually-smart Italian-style suit, open-neck shirt, styled black, waved hair. In his mid-thirties, He epitomises the serious intention of Croatia to be truly international!

As he confidently explains Istria’s Ten Year Plan, his determination to take his country to the top of the league is very evident. 

Easy Money Shunned

Spain made the mistake of wanting to bring in fast money from anyone willing to pay. Now, aware of higher public demands, the country is desperately trying to get rid of the rowdies and bad influences that make many of its resorts no-go areas for sensible tourists. 
Denis wants to avoid this approach to quick income and decided it would not happen in Istria. He does not see the point in bringing in cheap money only to make the image of his country even cheaper.

Croatia is extensive, consisting mainly of beautiful mountains, variegated green valleys and countless forests. There are fantastic historic villages and constantly changing landscapes.  With the enthusiasm of someone who loves his country, Denis promises that Istria will not become a cheap copy of everywhere else in the world. Nor would it endanger its ecological and agricultural heritage.

Istria is Istria!

When I suggested Istria should drop the coveted title, ‘The new Tuscany’, in favour of its own identity, he agreed…there is no need for Istria to play poor cousin to Tuscany! 

Tuscany is lovely, but in a different way, so Istria is not really a ‘second Tuscany’ at all. Tuscany is like a professional model, but Istria is like a stunning beauty who has never seen a fashion magazine! It is different, because its landscape is vibrantly natural, with a visual impact to die for. The earth is a rich, deep red-brown. The fields are luxuriously green. The sky is bright blue.

Small medieval villages hide high in the mountains, lost in trees, with mist swirling below in the valley! The warm stone of old houses set against the deep blue of the sky and the deep green of foliage is breathtaking. Or, in winter, you might get a snowy fairyland. Vineyard are everywhere, reached by loose-stone or narrow tarmac roads. The people are friendly and trusting. Istria can do without second-hand comparisons! Istria is its own place. 

And that’s how it will stay. Until mid-20th century Croatia was extremely poor. Its people scratched a bare living from the earth. Many emigrated in sheer exhaustion, leaving everything behind. Now, Denis, in Istria at least, is going to literally crash through the usual economic stages of most countries, to reach financial security and national wealth, by 2012. 

Porec Harbour 

Porec Town Centre 
Daring Strategy

Croatia is going from an almost feudal agricultural system straight to a modern services stage, mainly based on tourism. It is a daring strategy. 

Denis’ department employed Spanish consultants THR Tourism, headed by Eulogio Bordas, to prepare reports, and Istria chose the most radical, to start in 2002 and to finish in 2012. Very few countries use the same model, because it is so way ahead of everything else.
 Istria is determined to go from poverty to riches by 2008. It’s all in the Plan, led by Denis. It has major implications for tourists, hoteliers and travel operators, as well as for property investors. Without doubt the Plan will make Istria a new star in the tourism heavens.

What It Will Mean

Denis wants Istria to be a ‘boutique’ country, so that it competes with places like the south of France and Tuscany. By ‘boutique’ Denis means specially developed to cater for a variety of tastes without cheapening the ‘product’, Istria. So, special areas have been designated for particular uses. But,  Istria will not get rid of its ancient features and personality. If it did, Istria would become second rate. The Plan will make Istria its own boss, a world leader without any real competition, including Tuscany!

The Plan immediately positions Istria as a high-earner, blending chic with ruggedness supported by ancient history. Nothing will be downmarket. The vision for growth is one of the most expansive anywhere in the world. 

From the Bottom Up

Task force bodies, each with 20 - 25 members with local knowledge, have been initiated in Istria: Hoteliers, tourism officers, agencies, those in food and entertainment, etc. “I want the Plan to work from the bottom up,” explains Denis, “rather than be forced on people from above.” 

Another part of the Plan includes local mayors and other political stake-holders, who form working parties called ‘clusters’. Each cluster consists of two mayors as joint-president, town councils, tourist companies, directors of marketing and development, so that private and public sectors merge for the benefit of the country…and good financial profits.

The Ten Year Plan aims to greatly increase bed occupancy by 2012,  and yet still allow local builders and seasonal workers to earn good money.  ‘Wellness’ is incorporated in the Plan, so that everyone will earn reasonable incomes and yet enjoy a good quality of life free of stress. I have not heard this kind of genuine care at a government level before.

House at night, Porec Harbour

Hidden mountain medeival village near Motovun 

The Growth Factor

Denis went on to say “60 villages were abandoned after the Second World War. The people felt the country had nothing to offer, so they left.” Croatians emigrated to find work. Now, they are starting to return, because there is hope.”

“Along came the Austrians, followed by the Irish. These were amongst the first to recognise the worth of Istria as an up-and-coming new investment country. But, Istrians had no vision at that time. Then, very quickly, 2,600 homes were refurbished, 50% of them by foreigners.”

When asked if Istria would keep selling land to foreigners, who might change the character of Istria, Denis promised this would not occur. Villages, towns and homes will stay the same. 

Foreigners help Istria to retain its uniqueness by using reclaimed stone and wood, to keep villages and homes authentic. “This,” says Denis, “encourages nationals to build and refurbish to the same high standards without losing the essential character of their locality.”  “There will be no cap put on numbers of foreign investors.”

He adds that the very limited number of asphalt roads will more or less remain unaltered. So will the narrow country roads and the large number of stone/gravel roads.  This is because they are part of old Croatia, so loved by tourists. As I listened to his plans I enthused with him! Genuine tourists want to see a country as it really is, not a concrete jungle.

Istria’s in Charge!

Denis firmly tells me, “The real-estate lobby on the coast have too much power!” He won’t let big developers make the Istrian coastline like any other high-rise resort.  “We want Istria to remain Istrian.”  He confirmed that hotel groups who want to invest must follow the Plan’s guidelines. 

I am left in no doubt that Denis is passionate about Istria and its future. He is also passionate about its people. “We want real prosperity, not cheap incomes. I want Istria to enjoy sustainable growth.”

This will alarm big operators but not real tourists, but without reason, for the Ten Year Plan sees the disappearance of one, two and three star hotels. It only wants four and five star in future. The country is ready for good hotels if they fit the Plan!

Caravan parks will go. There will eventually be no cheap hotels, no campsites, and no caravan parks. It sounds amazing, if not scary, but only because it is brand new and different. Istria will no longer be cheap, but those who like quality would rather save up for a great holiday than put up with poor standards. 

The Work Begins

A number of top-class golf courses and marinas are in the pipeline. All will be integrated with the environment, like the newly-signed Nicklaus course to be built north of Pula.

At the moment Istria has 138 major projects and 195 big investments on the go, including the rebuilding promenades and coastal parks. All for a capital figure of about E2.90 billion.

Denis tells me that Istria has completed 22% of the Plan in only two years. He says the rest should follow rapidly. It took E240 million to prepare for the 2005 season, which counted-in 2.6 million visitors, with a total stay of 17.5 million nights.  In competitive spirit Denis says: “The Plan is not just a proposal – it is real-time and actual.” 

Vineyard in Mirna Valley, prime winegrowing area 


Roman amphitheatre in Pula. One of three
best examples in the world. 

Hot Tips

Investors should take note of the eastern coast and the island of Cres, for these will be yet more excellent property investment gems. Look especially at Lovran, Rabac, and Barban.  “The prices of real estate in the first quarter of 2006…increased by 2-3%…maximum prices have not yet been reached.” (Source: Infonekretnine, reported in Croatia Today).

Three coastal towns will have new marinas within the next three years:  Rabac is one of them. There’s also Rovinj and Pula. Take note of coming golf-courses, too. Like Jack Nicklaus’ be built between Rovinj and Pula. For investing businesses and hotel groups with eyes to see, the clues are staring them in the face!

Denis’ ideas mean that his Ten Year Plan will have a profound effect on international inward investment, so watch like a hawk! And listen to what he says. He has intense vision, pride in his country, enormous drive, and determination to raise Istria to pole-position as a top tourist area. It stands to reason that astute investors will ride the wave of success Denis has already started. Those with serious capital must get to grips with the Ten Year Plan. Then, Denis’ vision will become their own! (Note: An analysis/summary of the Plan will be available from Barry Napier soon).

© May 2006 Barry Napier


Barry Napier

Also See: Jack Nicklaus Begins Work on a Signature Golf Course in Istria, Croatia / May 2006
Istria's Housekeeper; The Property Rental Market in Istria, Croatia Has Grown Markedly, Now often Referred to as the New Tuscany / Barry Napier / May 2006
Rustic Cuisine of Istria, Croatia; Family Owned Restaurant Hotel Provides Immense Pleasure / May 2006


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