Mladen Falconi, the Director of the Moscow Department in the Republic of Croatia’s National Tourist Office, spoke with the World Economic Journal regarding the beauty of the sea, the kindness of the Slavic people, and faith in God. Falconi also discussed the intricacies of the tourist business in Croatia and the 13 million Russian tourists the country attracts every year.
Mladen Falconi, you probably come into contact with customers who have very different levels of income in your profession. How do you make yourself equally useful to both categories of customers? Many businessmen, for example, always struggle with this problem.
My mother used to say that people must always learn throughout life – it is better to make a mistake now so that you can avoid it tomorrow. When I was the CEO of a tourist complex in Croatia, I was in charge of 900 people, and during the war, we had no tourists for four years straight. I had to find money to pay my employees’ salaries, because I was responsible for each and every one of them. When I retire, I would definitely like to write a book about how to manage business in wartime. But the point is if you have power, you need to be responsible. The current crisis in Western Europe was essentially caused by the fact that people started spending more than they earned. The golden rule here is that people need to live within their means; after all, a modest life can become much more luxurious all of a sudden and vice versa. Personally, I can afford a lot, but I try to keep myself within certain limits because I do not want money to change the person that I am. And I choose people with similar principles to be my friends.
About seven years ago, we witnessed a boom in Croatian real estate: many Eastern Europeans purchased beach housing in the country at a very reasonable price. In your opinion today, is it better to buy property in Croatia, or just visit as a tourist?
Well, it has become significantly more expensive to buy real estate today. Wealthy citizens previously bought property from the poor, and Russians used to buy luxury buildings in Croatia for 10 million dollars. Local Europeans in those days did not have that kind of money. This is good for the country, because it doesn’t really make a difference whether or not the owner of a certain property is European or Croatian – the important thing is that we have everything done at the highest level. I think it is better to travel to Croatia to completely relax. It is an ideal place for those who love high-quality vacations, and that is what makes our country so different from Turkey or Thailand, for example, both of which I love. In Croatia, tourists can experience a more sophisticated vacation. Dubrovnik, for example, is one of the most cultural cities in Europe – its citizens were never enslaved, even during the time of Napoleon, when they allowed the French arm through their gates to prevent war. The unique architecture was somewhat damaged by the Serbs, but if you visit the city now, you will not be able to find a trace of destruction. Everything is as beautiful as it was before. Croatia is interested in Russian tourists, but it will never become a mass trend. Our agents in Russia, however, have listed Croatia as the 6th country in tourism rankings, which is excellent for our country.
It is said that going on vacation to Croatia is best with children. Is this true?
Our typical tourists are usually between the ages of 30-50 who are looking for clean ocean water and a calm and quiet atmosphere. If you want to go to discos or night clubs, you should go to Ibiza – Croatia is not the place for you. But if you want to enjoy beautiful landscapes and take a mental rest, Croatia is your destination. Younger people in Croatia spend their time on yachts visiting some of our 1,200 islands, very much like the Maldives which so many Americans go visit. Croatia has no “conditions” for mass tourism, which gives us certain advantages.
Can you tell us how you first started working with Moscow tourists?
There was actually competition for the post of National Tour Operator Office Director, but I chose to pass over it and decided to go to Moscow out a selection of cities, including London. When I arrived in Russia, my friends felt sorry for me, as if I had gone in exile. And half the people back then had no idea where Croatia was – all they remembered was the former Yugoslavia. But now I thank God for this opportunity, because most of my happiest years are from my time in Moscow. Even the Russian and Croatian languages are very similar, which helped me feel right at home. I’m also a fan of theater – my first job in Dubrovnik was in the theater business – and I was overjoyed to learn about the 170 theaters in Moscow, which show a wide variety of shows from musicals, tragedies, comedies, and ballets! I would even go so far as to compare Russia with America; after school, I went to study in Washington after receiving a grant, where I studied for my doctorate. I was offered a contract to work in California, where I worked at California State University in Fullerton, and I then went to New York for another two years.
You are one of the few people that truly deserves the name of “Cosmopolitan!”
Well, I am a citizen of Croatia, the United States, and Russia all at once. Europe, Russia, and the USA have the strongest global bond, and I think that it is wonderful that Vladmir Putin understands this. Now is the time to unify our civilizations.