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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.

Maestral Hotel
Skverska bb
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.

There are two buffet restaurants and a pastry shop, which the Maestral does not have. And there is an aperitif bar. The Laguna shares the Maestral exterior sports centre and the huge number of tennis courts, etc, and has its own playground and night-time entertainment. Neither hotel seems to attract rowdy or loutish clientele, perhaps because the hotels are family-orientated. 

Auto Camp Sirena is the third venture, next door to the Laguna. The various camping vans and tents are placed in idyllic forestry with linking paths and surprising facilities seemed to pop-up everywhere, all housed in tents… such as an outdoor massage tent, soft drinks, modern sanitation, and so on. For those who want food cooked for them there is a large wood-built restaurant and kiosk for drinks and ice-cream, snacks, etc. The smell of pines and herbs wafts everywhere, and cicadas chirrup as dusk approaches. Truly lovely! The company also has a second 800-place camp, Auto Camp Mareda, four kilometres away, again with beach. From what I could see, guests are well-behaved and happy, and as both camps have 1400 places between them, there are a lot of guests!

Laguna Hotel Novigrad
Skverska Bb
Novigrad 52466, Croatia
There is also a guest-house, the Emonia, and the Restaurant Aquarius, which was the first hotel built in Novigrad (then the Hotel Trst).

The Company

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. 

Adriano Voric
Maestral’s General Manager
The company has won several prestigious awards, some of them coming from professional bodies. It has been awarded ‘Blue Flag’ status for the past seven years and has won a number of European accolades for its camp sites, which are both visually and practically very attractive. The last award was from Novigrad itself, for services to tourism.

CEO of Laguna d.d. is Ms Zrinka Bokulic, who has ten years tourism experience in high-level positions. She has been with Laguna for two years. Previously, she held management and Board positions in other Croatian hotels and groups, and before that was with a fund management company in Zagreb, so has important financial expertise.

Maestral’s General Manager is Adriano Voric, with 30 years experience, starting as a bar-tender… so he literally knows his industry from the bottom up. It is satisfying to see a company employing Croatian talent, rather than bringing in professionals from outside. No doubt foreign managers bring a wealth of experience with them, but only Croatians can know the Croatian mind and ways of business, selling their own country with immense ease, pride and confidence.

Laguna Novigrad dd operates two hotels and two campsites located in a tourist resort of Novigrad, in the Istria region of Croatia: Hotel Maestral (four-star hotel with 318 rooms), Hotel Laguna (three-star hotel with 220 rooms), campsite Sirena with 600 pitches and campsite Mareda with 800 pitches. The main shareholder of the Company is Auctor Kapital doo.

© Barry Napier


Barry Napier,
Hotel/Travel Journalist 
& Tourism Consultant

HR-52466 Novigrad, Istria, Skverska 8
Sales: +385 52 757 463
Fax: +385 52 757 314

Also See: Konoba and Boutique Hotels, in Istria, Croatia: Different Styles, Same Aims / Barry Napier / May 2009



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