innovative tourism product

Digital Tourism Product with an Innovative Touch

Reading Time: 10 minutes

This 2020 has brought new challenges in developing a tourism product. This year the world has stopped, and most of the reservation has been cancelled. It was necessary to find new solutions. Those that will bring innovation in tourism product development and that will make sense on a global scale. One of the most common questions was and still is how to create a digital innovative tourism product. And how a personal initiative can bring value to the whole community. 

Tourism stories with a value for the community

Here I’m bringing you four stories about individuals in Croatia. Those who embraced responsibility and took massive action to provide value to the community. All the stories have had and will have a significant impact on future tourism development. Communication of each of four (4) stories started in May 2020. And I interviewed all the mentioned people for this purpose. 

Croatian tourism through numbers

Let’s first put things into the context. And there is no better way than to show numbers. Back in 2019 in Croatia, everything looked perfect with numbers in tourism. 2019 was the record year for Croatian tourism.

Croatia tourism 2019
Source: Croatiaweek, Ministry of Tourism and Sport

When most people were getting ready to welcome the first guests, the world had stopped. And the most common emotions were shock, panic and fear. 

Below you can see how the situation looked like in Croatia at the end of October 2020 and in the same period of 2019.

Arrivals and overnights in Croatia 2020 - 2019
Source: e-Visitor OCT 2020
Arrivals and overnights - types of accommodations 2020 - 2019
Source: e-Visitor OCT 2020

Let’s go now back, in May 2020, in time when the Croatian borders opened for the EU travelers.  And here starts our first story. 

Digital Tourism Product – Viber Community Total Croatia Travel INFO

After the initial shock and after almost two months of closed borders, people could travel again. But more and more people were getting confused by the lack of information officially. People wanted to know simple questions such as:

Magic4Club_bulletwho can cross the border,

Magic4Club_bulletwhat is the procedure,

Magic4Club_bulletwhere to find information about bus travel etc. 

Actually, there were a million questions and only poor answers.

There still is an excellent official Viber community called Koronvirus.hr which has been informing people about the latest news for months. Nothing similar existed regarding tourism. With very little official information, a small group of people decided to create the community as a way of informing people planning to come to Croatia of the latest situation, and what paperwork was necessary to get here. 

It started with one journalist and one PR specialist, and 2 interns. 

They created the digital tourism product – Viber community called Total Croatia Travel INFO. They shared it on Facebook, then produced an infographic of the key info. Thanks to the great Viber instant translation function, within an hour they were answering tourist questions in Hungarian. By the end of the first day, the community had translated the infographic into 12 languages. They then had a daily update page which became the master sheet of information, and they asked people to read that first before asking questions.

Viber Community - Total Croatia Travel Info as innovative digital tourism product

After seeing that many of the questions were repetitive and that they had a lot of the information on their Total Croatia News website, the next step was to create a chatbot within the community to answer those questions. 

How did Viber Community gained followers

Gaining followers was a usual procedure with a power of social media sharing and word of mouth. As there was no other information outlet giving the information, the community had quite a lot of media coverage, and international media such as CNN, as well as sites like TripAdvisor started linking to the daily update. ABC News found them via the Viber community. They organised a week-long filming, which resulted in 6 prime time features, with one on Good Morning America watched by 12.5 million people. 

Croatia at good morning America ABC News
Source: ABCNews.go.com

Viber Croatia then produced some very cool stickers with a Croatian travel theme which you could download if you joined. That helped a lot.

When I asked Paul, the co-founder of the community what is for him the biggest accomplishment. He said he is proud of being able to help literally hundreds if not thousands of tourists to come to Croatia this summer, guiding them through the paperwork and procedures required.

It’s important to say they all had excellent cooperation with the Croatian Border Police, who according to everyone did a truly outstanding job.

The fact that they had feedback from the community on their real-time travel experiences helped them to:

Magic4Club_bullethave the freshest information from the field

 Magic4Club_bulletupdate tourists in real time.

Real value for the travel community

When I asked Paul, the community co-founder, what is the most meaningful feedback from community members, he said that the most useful for them was the feedback from people crossing borders and reporting back their experiences. At one point there was great concern about transiting through EU airports. The feedback they got was enough to advise people on the best routes. Similarly with testing stations, border crossings. 

Paul Bradbury about Viber community Total Croatia Travel Info as a innovative digital tourism product

What is the next step? For now, they have enquiries from other countries to establish a similar service. Meaning,  a new business opportunity.

Initiative for Digital Nomad Visa in Croatia

At the same time, to be more precise May 2020, there was one online conference Tourism 5.0. One of the panellists was Jan – a Dutch who now lives for more than 20 years in Croatia.  And yes, Jan has no professional or personal experience or interest in tourism. He was asked how we can turn Croatia into a year-round destination. His answer was straight forward – “Digital Nomad Tourism”. 

He said that he sees a great opportunity for Croatia to become among the first countries in the World to start welcoming digital nomads. One of the role models was Estonia who has already transformed the way a country serves people beyond its borders through programmes such as e-Residency. And they already implemented a Digital Nomad Visa in summer 2020. 

To be honest, most of the time in Croatia from idea to realization is a bit of a long way. But, as our Jan is an individual who speaks his thoughts, after mentioning this idea at the virtual conference “Tourism 5.0.” he started promoting Croatia as a great destination for digital nomads on his LinkedIn.

digital nomads in croatia
Source: Jan de Jong Linkedin profile

Those posts got lots of traction and have had over 1,2 million views

One morning he wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister – Plenkovic. He got invited to further discuss this idea. Then he met with the Prime Minister, who gave this idea full support.

Jan de Jong and Prime Ministar Plenkovic about Digital nomads croatia
Source: Jan de Jong Linkedin profile

Positive impact of Digital Nomad Initiative

The most meaningful moment so far regarding the Digital Nomad Visa initiative is support from the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Interior. At the moment when I interviewed Jan they were actively working on developing a complete legal framework that would allow Croatia to start welcoming digital nomads.

He also mentioned that the goal is to have the legal framework implemented by the end of this year. Croatia hopes to start welcoming the first digital nomads beginning of next year.
The year still has not finished and Croatia already introduced a visa for digital nomads. So the big goal is already fulfilled.

As this initiative had a positive impact, and it started to move like an avalanche they decided to start the Digital Nomad Association Croatia with the goal to unite and serve digital nomads in Croatia.

When I asked Jan what is the most meaningful feedbacks from society he said:

Jan de Jong about digital nomad's visa

Smart tourism for innovative digital tourism product

In Croatia, we have many travel technology companies with vast experience. And most of them work for international clients.  Innovation in technology is happening on a daily basis and institutions quite often cannot keep track.

This year made things more chaotic, and two owners of travel tech companies said “It’s painful to see our country now stop investing in smart solutions or make irrational or short-term ideas. Let’s offer the best of what we have and help Croatian tourism boost its potential.  And we will do all of that with smart ideas and solutions, a proven track record!”

The same two guys, Goran Mrvos and Ivan Ilijasic, said they wanted to have an efficient initiative and create a collaboration that will be business-focused and in-sync. So the idea is to start something that:

Magic4Club_bulletwill start slow, 

Magic4Club_bulletwith fewer companies involved but companies that want to make a change in our ecosystem. 

Smart tourism as innovative tourism product

Travel & tourism technology solution

They all started talking about possible collaboration in May. Today Smart tourism initiative has:

Magic4Club_bulletseveral travel tech companies involved in different domains (hotel and hospitality solutions, tour and activity management solutions, sales distribution, augmented and virtual reality, e-commerce, portal and destination web projects)

Magic4Club_bulletexperts in the business domain (marketing, branding, strategy, PR, media) and 

Magic4Club_bulletpartners that can help destinations with financing their projects and implementing processes like online payment and payment automation. 

In a nutshell, Smart tourism is a network of tourism experts who, united through innovative IT solutions, help tourist destinations to manage their resources and local offers as easily and efficiently as possible.

The big idea is – all companies are complementary companies that can build up any destination digital infrastructure and on the other hand, they can boost each other’s collaboration to gain more clients.

Ivan Ilijasic about smart tourism innitiative as one of the ways of innovative tourism product

And as a next step the initiative is sharpening its goals and creating strategic and operational plans on how to keep the initiative active constantly and provide consistency.

Augmented reality as a tool for innovative digital tourism product

At the same time (again May 2020) we have tourism boards struggling with plans, possibilities, solutions, budgets and we have an AR startup starting communicating its platform that enriches the world with virtual content, information and interactivity. 

Equinox augmented reality platform connects clients location with a location of branded and personalized virtual content

At that time people still didn’t understand well the Equinox story. Until then people were more engaged with their everyday activities. They did not have time to go deeper into AR and its possibilities.

Communication strategy for augmented reality startup

And then again –  May was the right time to start to communicate the Equinox story. Everyone was all the time in front of  their screens, and the strategy was quite simple:

Magic4Club_bulletEducate the audience what is AR

Magic4Club_bulletTeach them how it can be used with a focus on travel and tourism.

Communication strategy included social media activities as well as word of mouth. There were 5 AR talks in form of the live webinar. In 4 weeks there were more than 300 active participants from Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia. And a newsletter list got around 100 subscribers with open rate 30 – 50%.

Data from researches shows that:

Magic4Club_bullet88% of guests want a mobile app which allows for a personalized experience (Oracle Research)

Magic4Club_bullet61% say they’d use AR/VR as a part of their consumption (engagement) experience by 2025 (Futurum research).

And Equinox is an AR  tool for many purposes. It connects clients location with a location of branded or personalized virtual content. It’s a solution for creating new and innovative tourism products.

Zagreb Tourism Board and Augmented Reality (AR)

All that encouraged tourism boards, even more, to start thinking about their augmented reality (AR) strategies. They started to see AR as one of the solutions that can help them in this still weird time. AR can be one of the ways to create a digital tourism product.

Zagreb created a campaign – Feel the light. As a part of its campaign, they decided to use Equinox to spread their message around the city. In more than 40 locations around Zagreb and Croatia, Slovenia and Germany people will be able to enjoy digital branded content.

How the virtual experience looks like, you can see in the video below.

When I asked Equinox’s founder what is the most meaningful feedback from the community, I’ve got the following answer:

Ivan Voras about Equinoy and augmented reality as a tool for innovative digital tourism product

We can only add that this is a nice beginning of the global AR story that started in Croatia.

From chaos to solutions with a huge influence

This year we saw that in Croatia we have ALL THE “human infrastructure” to create amazing and innovative digital tourism products. And this is only a beginning. In the year of complete chaos, we developed several new stories that have a huge potential to upscale the destination on another level. 

In the end, I’d like to share my insights or key takeaways. I think it’s good to have it in mind when developing a new tourism product, especially digital tourism product suitable for the coming period. 

key takeaways for innovative digital tourism product

I’m really excited about the future!

Martina Lucic Canak is Travel and Tourism PR Consultant

Photo credits: Romain Tordo on Unsplash



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