Episode 15

Living in Croatia with Mark Whitfield - Part 2

Published on: 6th August, 2023

Welcome to this edition of "An Englishman in the Balkans," where I am continuing a micro-series about life in Croatia through the eyes of another Englishman, Mark Whitfield.

This is the second instalment of a three-part series, where I’ll be finding out about . how difficult it is, or maybe not so, a business in Croatia.

Mark gives some valuable insights and practical tips, of setting up a business in Croatia as well as anecdotes from his first two years as a business owner.

You can find out more about Mark's Glamping business in Štrigova Croatia HERE.

I hope that this micro-series will give let you experience another aspect of life for “foreigners” who choose to make this region their home.

Thank you for being a part of our podcasting community, and we look forward to bringing you more exciting content in the future.

You can support my work, by maybe leaving a Tip or by becoming a member of our podcast family at:


Get full access to 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 An Englishman in the Balkans Blog 🇧🇦 at www.anenglishmaninthebalkans.com/subscribe



oday? It's supposed to get to:


But you can handle this because you've spent many years in the Arabic world, right? It helps. I think also we are lucky. We live on a hill and so we get this breeze and at the moment every now and again I do feel that nice breeze that comes through which helps. Last Thursday morning we had more than a breeze. I don't know whether you had a storm with you David but we had what felt like a hurricane come through. I've never seen weather like it and thankfully that extreme has passed and now we're into some extreme heat. Yeah, we had one. Yeah, the new banana tree that...


we planted in the front is looking quite sad. It is. Yeah. Roasting hot here. So when we finish this first job for you, for me, big favour down to the post office, big packet of fresh air and send it down because we are actually dying. OK, this second part of our three part mini series is about starting a business in Croatia. I don't know how many Brits have done it, are doing it.


how many have been successful or unsuccessful. But I know that you've taken the courageous leap to do that with your glamping business. I wondered why it was called Villa Triology. I thought, why would the word Villa be with glamping? And I realized it's a fairy. It's a folktale in Croatia. Tell me a little bit more about that before we start the business of starting a business.


We digress, yes. Yeah, we knew we were starting this business and we were looking for a name which we felt, I suppose, encapsulated what we love about this area. And so we were doing some research and I don't know, I think I stumbled on it. The vial, which of course in English isn't a very nice word, but vial means fairy and vela is the plural, so fairies. And the fairies, the vela in Croatian folklore, they are found in...


either in water, in the land and forest, or in the air. Typical kind of fairy mythology. They are represented through these areas and they've got a dark side, but also a beautiful side and all the usual, I think, quite interesting aspects of that kind of mythology. But the idea that they are represented in the air, in the land and in the water, I think, for us was really quite important. And this area is really all about the water. We are in Moria is...


It's got the river Mora and the river Drava at the top and the bottom. And obviously the land is massively important. There's a wine growing region. And then when we think about the air, the cloudscapes here and it's a big sky here. And so we just felt that was a nice representation. So what motivated you to start a business in Croatia as an expat? I think some of this was answered in the last, in the podcast that we recorded last week. We...


As I've said before, we knew we'd always want to settle in Europe. And we probably were trying to make sure that what we didn't do was do that kind of expat thing. I use the word expat all the time. I feel like I should call myself an immigrant. Actually, we've had this conversation, David, but we didn't want to be the kind of people who lived in the house on the hill, which literally we do live in the house on the hill, and I think literally people down in the village probably know us more than we know them to some extent, because we are the people who bought the house on the hill.


But we didn't want to be separate from the community in that sort of sense. How you get involved in a community like this, there are a number of ways. And if we'd moved to, I don't know, Benidorm or the Dordogne or somewhere with a bigger British immigrant community, the way you involve yourself in those communities is by joining some of the local societies that the expats run in those communities. Here, there isn't that. Here, you're very much, it's a Croatian village. It's a Croat, Međimurje has some.


some of the Brits that we know and some other people from other parts of the world, but very much it's a local community. So you have to ask yourself, how do you connect with that community? And for us, choosing to run a business here was a way to connect us with that community, which we feel like it's done. We've got some lovely Dutch guests here at the moment, a lovely family from The Hague. And we also get a chance to connect them with the local community through recommendations. They've gone down into Cakavec today to visit the castle and


our recommendations in terms of restaurants, the kind of things you do, David. So we have that connection. The business gives us that connection. And when we moved here, we didn't want to just disappear and live in a little isolated bubble. We wanted to have that connection with the community. Last week, I was in Travnik. I was invited to go and explore that town, the former capital of Bosnia for 180 years. And I was thinking about putting questions together for this particular episode.


I said to Ben, the young man that invited me down, this is a new business. He said yes. I said Bosnia and Herzegovina is notorious for its bureaucracy. In fact, sometimes I have the feeling that I want people to set up new businesses. It's like climbing the north face of the Iga with no climbing equipment. He said it's not so bad. It's getting better all the time. What is it like? Could you share some of your insights into the process of setting up a business?


in Croatia, one or two of the challenges that you might have faced and what you had to do to overcome those challenges? Yeah, I think first of all, I think we should put a disclaimer on and say that I'm not an expert in Croatian regulatory or legal contexts. So all my, this is anecdotal and other people will be better qualified to support people who might think about starting a business here. I think that maybe like Bosnia and plenty of other countries in what is the kind of was


described as the new Europe to some extent. I think they have regulatory, legal, and administrative challenges in relation to their kind of in the structures and frameworks around operating businesses. I don't know where that comes from historically. I can make lots of assumptions about why it's so bureaucratic, but it's definitely there. And if I don't, if I take, put us to one side for a moment, and I'll come back to us, but if I talk to local people about starting businesses,


They very much feel like there are barriers, but there are so many hoops to jump through, let's call it that, that you wonder whether it's worth starting. I think that's the biggest pressure for people is whether they can be bothered to start because they know there's going to be lots of hoops that they need to jump through. I think it's quite restrictive. In the UK, I think you can register a company with Companies House, get yourself started and basically more or less do what you want within some certain health and safety regulations and so on. Here, it's much more controlled.


in starting a business. As it was described to me the other day, you could get a business a license to sell beer, but if you want to sell the peanuts with the beer, then you probably need to get a different license for the peanuts than you do with the beer. It's a trivial example of what feels like really heavy licensing and things you have to jump through. So that's how people feel here. It's prohibitive and I think it kills some of the entrepreneurialism that this country probably needs and deserves. From our perspective,


I've described it to Croatians as like, in the UK, I would say if you hit a brick wall, we have that saying, don't we? You hit a brick wall and there isn't anything more to say about that. In Croatia, I think you'd hit a brick wall, but then you find, ah, there's a little bit of the wall you can climb over. There's usually a way through, but you have to be patient and persistent, I think, in order to get to the end of the process. And I think you can go through.


go on a journey where there are times where you feel like you need to give up but you just keep going and there's a saying in Croatia one more piece of paper it's like everything is just one more piece of paper so you basically are always completing one more piece of paper or finishing something to give somebody a piece of paper in order to get to the end of it so I think you have to be ready to be belligerent and to be focused and persistent to get through what is quite a


my experience anyway, they're more of a one-to-one communication culture still rather than telephones and emails and SMS’s and everything. It's still very much queuing up, going into the office, sitting down and discussing and discussing. So that brings me on to navigating the language barrier. Me, I have exceedingly good restaurant Bosnian, if I can put it that way.


I can talk to the family I've become integrated in and maybe talk to a low level about politics, but put me out in public to talk about anything that I'm out of my depth on. I close up and it's just like a massive mountain for me. It shouldn't be and I'm a little bit ashamed of it, but it is what it is. So for you arriving in Croatia, having been set up now for you're in your second season now, how difficult or otherwise has it been?


to navigate that language barrier. And what was it like when you hit those first cultural differences? What was the feeling like back then? I think, first of all, you're absolutely right about the face-to-face. And insurance is a great example. We were talking to our daughter in the UK whose car insurance seems to go up by about 400 pounds every year, and then she has to negotiate them back by 200. It looks like a scam to me, but anyway, that's how things are in the UK at the moment.


but she goes on compare the market or something and then she gets in a queue on a telephone line and things like that. Here you just walk into the insurance office and you talk to the person in the insurance office, she's absolutely lovely. You don't feel like you're getting ripped off and then she gives you some free honey from her bees as well. She gives you a gift. So it's a much more human experience and definitely it's very much a face to face experience. Our lack of the Croatian language is probably, I would describe it as our greatest shame in the...


We've got a very poor grip of Croatian. I can understand more than I can speak, but it is a big problem for us. It's a big problem for me personally, I don't think it's a big problem for us in life, but it's a challenge for me that I haven't learned Croatian as much as I should. I just haven't given it the time that it needs, if I'm honest. I learned very quickly to say,


In other words, I'm sorry, I don't understand Croatian, I'm English. And I say the, I'm English in that ironic English people don't speak other languages kind of way to try them. And I'm, I basically just try and make light of it and hope that people are okay with that. In terms of starting a business. I would say my advice to people is find somebody you trust and then you have to fully trust them. You can't find somebody you trust and then doubt them in the language context. We have a, I think I mentioned Jasmina and Daniel in our, in my


In our previous podcast, Jasmina is an architect. She's done this kind of, she's into the kind of renewable tourism, sustainable tourism, renewable, all that kind of stuff. So she's really into what we are trying to do here, but also she became a, she's become a friend who we trust. And we trusted her right from the beginning in terms of her understanding of the kind of frameworks that we had to work around. And also she then attended meetings with us as well, where she was able to represent us and I was sat there, but I could pick up that there was a


to and fro going on, but she was the one we absolutely trusted. So my advice on the language side is find somebody you trust and then trust them. If you get to the point where you doubt them, then I think that would be a very difficult place to be. That's, yeah, that sounds sensible. Here's a fastball question. And you said about find somebody who you trust. What sort of exercises, what sort of barriers did you put up? What sort of...


I don't know, system did you construct where you could possibly have found somebody falling you didn't go into the first office and say, are you an architect? Yeah, great. Would you represent me? You said it's about building trust and is in this region. It's all about trust. But how did you work out who to trust and who not to trust? After all, the cultures between us and people from the Western Balkans are pretty huge. We first of all


Jasmina is an example. She was a recommendation from somebody who'd had experience of working with her before and had found her to be somebody they could trust. So we trusted their trust, if you will, that was the starting point. And then I think, again, this is a little bit about, there's a little bit weaving in here about the process of starting the business. We, we came here two years ago on Sunday, yesterday, the day before, 16th of July. Anyway, so we're at, it's our two year anniversary, but we didn't start our relationship with Jasmina right at that point. We.


In terms of starting the business, when we exchanged contracts and we owned this business, where we owned this property, already then we were meeting with Jasmina via, we were living in Bahrain, but we were meeting via through email, through telephone conversations and through, if we were here, seeing her. And she was already doing everything we needed to have in terms of those one more papers that would help us later. And I suppose the trust came from the things that she did seemed sensible.


she was right. And then to be honest with you later on, that pre-planning she did paid off massively. For example, she wrote a letter to Urbanism, she's one of the government departments in the local town in the county office, and said, she wrote a very formal letter saying, we want to do this with this property, the kind of indicator wanted to run a glamping business. And they have 30 days, I think it is to reply. And so they replied within 30 days. And they said, okay, we acknowledge that, blah, blah, blah.


And then actually around when we came in the July two years ago and by about the September, it was time for the area to review its spatial plan, which is the plan of how the land is used in this area, which of course, lots of its rural and lots of its woodland and lots of it, there is no debate about, but she said that, and I wouldn't have known the spatial plan was up for renewal. So she knew this and she said, let's get your parcel of land. There's about four parcels, but it all small pieces, typical of this area. Let's get them designated as camping ground.


in the spatial plan. If we do that, it will really help us later on. So she did that. And so our on a spatial plan of Strigova, there's this kind of hatched red bit right in the middle, which is us. Everything else is either agricultural, industrial, residential. And then there's this weird cold, coloured bit that's the bit that's our camping ground. So, again, we hadn't even engaged anybody locally. We weren't even living here, really. We'd only just arrived for that at that point. And she'd already been doing the pre work.


And I think there were some people who thought we got this business up and running quite quickly. And they wondered how we managed to do that here because, you know, Croatians would say there's so much bureaucracy, it takes such a long time. But actually, we've been working on this for quite a while and it was JasminA who really helped us with that. And she was the person we trusted. And then I suppose if you count forward a little bit in amongst the craziness of trying to get the business approved, which is another story, which we might come on to, it was proven then that Jasmin's...


The work that Jasmina did earlier had really paid off. It was then that all the kind of chickens came home to roost. When we were trying to get the business started here, everything she'd done previously was really paying off at that point. And I think probably just the final point about trust and about her as an example of the trust we placed in her. At the same time, we had someone else who was supposed to be helping us. And they, to some extent, I would say, I won't name anybody, but they broke our trust. So we had somebody else who we were putting some trust in. And there's a saying here.


there's a word here called yarl which they call it Međimurje yarl which is the and yarl means envy and my understanding of that situation was the person who was supposed to be helping us was actually became envious of the fact that we were going to get licensed and we were going to be successful or at least successfully licensed and they weren't getting that and so then they started to work against us that was the one negative we had in our whole experience here and I don't really talk about it because it doesn't it doesn't define the people around here or our experience but that was just one example


It's about the only example we've got of somebody we had to deal with negatively. But it's a nice counterbalance to that. Why do you trust one person and not another? It's in their actions. By their actions, you will know them type thing. There's a, and Jasmina has definitely been our Croatian angel as we've, we've navigated the structures and systems here. I follow some people that blog about their experiences of moving from the United States to Portugal. And


Yeah, the Portuguese culture and the United States culture, that just doesn't jive. Portuguese are very laid back. The Americans won everything done in the second. And it strikes me now that the Americans are the least polite people because they keep writing about why is it that you have to say obrigad and then about 20,000 words afterwards before you start a conversation. But I don't want to talk about that. But one of the things that came up was suppliers, people are getting their houses built.


maybe starting a business in Portugal and of course you need suppliers. And they're just moaning all the time about how they have to deal with suppliers in Portugal for their projects. Now you and I quite a long distance away from Portugal in a completely different culture from Portugal. How? And I haven't started a business so it's going to be interesting for me to find out about this. Although I suspect I know what you're going to say. But how has it been?


for you to find good suppliers and to get what you feel, it seems to me, what you feel like is so important, that trust between you and suppliers. So how easy or maybe not so easy is it when it comes to using suppliers to start your business? Because obviously you can't do everything yourself. Yeah, it's a good question. First of all, you can't do everything yourself, but we have done


an incredible amount of the groundwork here ourselves. So I'm a really, I would say a pretty scruffy DIY guy, but it means I can do some of the scruffy work if I don't, I can do quite a bit myself and I do that. And I think that's been really helpful because it's meant that we could move certain things forward. The one thing I never want to feel, maybe this is because I'm a Yorkshireman, but I never want to feel like I've been ripped off. And we've paid, I think we've paid pretty competitively.


We may have paid 15, 20% more than I should have paid in some occasions or whatever. I really couldn't care less. For me, one of the things we did with suppliers is we built relationships with them again. We took their advice. I basically pretty much paid them what they asked for. But I don't think I'm stupid. So I don't think we paid over. And I did sense check some of those amounts with other people and they would tell me, yeah, that sounds about what you would pay here, blah, blah, blah.


I think we always engage very positively with people, plumbers, electricians, whoever. We help, we had good local support. I had a young guy here who's a university student and he was very handy and he helped me a lot. He came to building materials, yards and things like that and spoke to them and got me some nice discounts and everything like that. So we had, again, using other people who had the language which was really helpful. So that was helpful.


building relationships with people, listening to their advice, being glad of them, being here, turning up on time. Generally speaking, we've had no problem with that. Paying people on time, we don't like leaving money out there waiting. We like to pay people to the point where actually we almost feel like we're annoying them by saying we want to pay you. We've got a painter and decorator actually lives just behind me here, down the hill. Absolutely beautiful family.


did loads of the painting of the outside of the house which wasn't to do with the business. And I can't get him to give me a bill. Oh, it's okay, it'll be all right by the end of summer. And he will, he'll give me a bill. We've agreed prices and everything, but we are really keen to pay people on time and give them, and we don't take the mickey out of people in that way, listen to their advice, as I said. And there's a real problem in this area with a lot of the skilled labor.


has tended to go to Austria and to Germany and away. So it's really difficult to get people. But I have to say we've done okay. We've people have come, done what they were supposed to do, helped and supported us. And I think people genuinely, they're so enamoured by the fact that a British couple have come to live in Međimurje and we love Međimurje as much as they do. And I think that makes people say, we want these people to be a success. So let's really work with them. So that's how it's felt for us. You're in the tourism business. Tourism does need


as before the conflict of the:


that how easy has it been for you to say to Croatia and by Croatia, the municipality or the county or whatever, hey, I'm a Brit, I'm here, what can I do for you? And what can you do for me? Has a relationship building been easy? Or do they just look at you and a little bit of a handoff sort of attitude?


I think generally speaking, we've been warmly welcomed. I think we said in the last, I'm sorry about the bells, it's 12 o'clock, this is what happens. I think in the last episode, we talked about the relationship we built with the local mayor and with the local tourist information and so on. So they were always very supportive of what we've done. I think the biggest challenge, again, going back to this podcast is about opening a business. Probably the biggest challenge for us was, as we hit another hurdle, we had to like another piece of paper or another.


You have to ask yourself, right, how do I get over this? How do I get around this? How do I get through this? So for example, with glamping as a good example, the regulations for opening and licensing a glamping business and getting three stars or four stars or whatever, it's all there set out, but it's ridiculous. Now it's Croatian regulations, but I imagine it's fairly similar to other countries in, in the EU. I don't know, but for example, you can get.


business to license a glamping site, but only 30 or 40% or something of your pitches can be glamping. The rest has to be open camping, which we don't, that's like mixing two businesses really, because they kind of, you get a group of hairy bikers come and want to just chuck up a tent compared to a kind of luxury glamping that we're trying to offer. Not that I've got anything against a hairy bike or I need to chuck up a tent, but the two don't.


Necessarily sit side by side. So we had to work with our local tourism in the Zupanja to really help us understand what was the best way to get the license for this place. So actually whilst it's a glamping business, we'll never get glamping stars or anything because we're not licensed as a glamping business, we're licensed as a Robinson tourism business. Now Robinson tourism, I think is a fairly particular Croatian thing where it's like tourism that means that you can almost live.


under a tree in a sleeping bag with a compost toilet and running water from a standpipe and you get a license for it. So it's very low level tourism. And so therefore the licensing is really simple. The places that you have for people to live in have to be natural material, which I was a canvas, so they're a natural material. So we had, it's one of those brick wall or climb around in order for us to do what we wanted to do here, which we've only got four tents. We've got other land down here to my left, but we don't really want to have people pitching


tents on it. So instead of going for a glamping business, we had to go for a Robinson tourism license, but then we offer everything that our glamping offers and we don't mention that we're Robinson tourism because we're not really, but local tourism office and everybody had to really help us work through that. And they did, they were battling to try and find the way for us to do what we wanted to do and to get around some of the bureaucracy and the hurdles to allow us to do that. So yeah, we were really supported in that. And I think another example would be


In terms of registering the business, because this is a very, it's a business that's not high income and it's, it's only for a certain number of months in the year. It's a fairly low income business. We never came here, like I said, I think in the last podcast to make our millions. So there is a type of business here, which is an agricultural business called an OPG. So OPG and it's like a farm business and it's for people who grow a bit of honey and, or maybe.


sell eggs or whatever, small businesses, small farm businesses, which are there a lot in this region. And it's a fairly low, a simple tax, a simple way of managing your finances and a simple taxation system for small businesses. And they do another version of the OPIGA called a household, the Croatian word, I'm not sure, but they describe it to us as a household business. So we found that the best way for us to license this because of the levels of income that we're getting is that as is this household business, which means that we


The taxation is very simple actually, it's pretty low tax, but also you don't have to have an accountant. We do have an accountant by the way because we are navigating a system we don't understand, but you actually don't need to have an accountant. And again, it was the local zupanja and so on who really helped us understand which was the best way through, which was good of them because of course they could have just said, oh, you need to do it this way and if you can't do it this way, then don't do it at all. But they really helped us. Actually in the end, we are here as British citizens under


Article 50 rights. So post-Brexit, we got pre-Brexit transition rights. But actually to have a household business, you have to be an EU citizen. So it was a bit of a problem for us. But actually, about three years ago, when the UK voted to come out of Brexit, come out of Europe, we,


the fact that her grandfather was from the island of Ireland. She has an Irish passport. So the business is actually registered in her Irish passport name, rather than as a British citizens, because that was the way as season, EU citizen with her Irish passport. So she was able to register that household business. And we were in, I can still remember it. We're in the zupanja in the town hall office with the tourism people. And it was like, Oh no, this isn't going to work. You're British, aren't you? You're not a US citizen. And then we just brought out Julie's Irish passport. What about, oh yeah, no problem.


There was no second thinking. It was just like, yep, that's all we need. Fine. So they really helped us. And I think we are positive people. We are optimistic people. We celebrate this area. We are very effusive about how much we love it here. We're always very grateful to people who help us and grateful to people. We go to social events in the village and we're always very keen that the mayor, we're always very keen to make sure he realizes how grateful we are for all his support and the support of others in the village. So we get...


I think you get back what you gave to some extent. And so we've, we try and maintain a good relationship with all these people. And we just seem to get good back. Yeah. Being part of a local community is very important. Would you say from your experience at the moment, and we'll just go onto about some of the key lessons learned and some tips from you, but just to jump forward a little bit, how important is it to integrate with the local


community, even if there are things that might irritate you? First of all, the language barrier means that we don't integrate as freely or as easily as we might. So let's just be clear about that. Secondly, I think the level to which you can integrate in any community or society that you are not fundamentally from historically is questionable. So I think integration for you being with Tamra, it gives you a kind of in.


to the community in a way that as two immigrants, we don't have that same in. And I think if you try too hard, it probably looks a bit naff actually. We respectfully seek to integrate, but we don't go over the top. So we'll go to events down in the local Dom kultur or the local town hall, village hall here. We'll go to wine tasting events. We make friends with people. We're always very polite. We always tell people who we are. They've often heard of us.


in the newspaper and so on, so it's nice for them to meet us. But we never really force ourselves into a level of integration that, one, our language limits our integration, but two, it's a bit presumptuous on a community to think that two Brits should be absolutely fully integrated. Why? We are visitors in this place. We've been given a very warm welcome.


but we're not Croatian, we're not Međimurje, and we are grateful to be integrated as much as we are, and we could be integrated more if our language was better, but I think it's a little bit bad taste to force yourself too much on the local community. You mentioned something there. Does that make sense? Yeah, it does, absolutely. And I got a smile just now. You said, we're not Croatian, we're not Međimurje. Now, does that infer, like it does in Bosnia-Herzegovina, that being Međimurje,


is different in some aspects for your local community than being Croatian? David, I'm a Yorkshireman and if you know where you're going you'll know that we believe... Being from Yorkshire means that we are, it's God's country, we are the most blessed. Of course I come from a culture where I just believe that I'm lucky enough to have been born in Yorkshire and so I probably, sounds really arrogant and everything, so I think I understand that sense of being from somewhere that isn't necessarily your national identity. So yeah,


The people of Međimurje speak their own dialect. If people from Zagreb will come to Strigova where we live and they will say, I can't understand these people if they speak their local dialect, that's how it is in the Balkans, isn't it? There's local dialects all over the place. Yeah, no, I think being Međimurje is important to these people. I think they're proud of that. In the same way that I think Dalmatians are or people from Istria or wherever, I think there is that sense of local identity in Croatia that as a Yorkshireman, I can identify with. That's cool to hear.


Listen, businesses need marketing and awareness to get going and then to sustain their business mission. I know that you've mentioned in the past podcast and offline when we've been chatting about the super interaction that you've had from the creation media, especially television and magazines, etc. How easy or otherwise has it been to get the creation media onside?


And how otherwise has it been to promote the business to clients that you might like to attract from, let's say, Northern Europe, for example? We've had incredible coverage in Croatia, national television at least three times, I think, prime time Saturday travel show last year, a couple of other shows. We've had loads of we had one last week, actually. It's just out now. If you go on there.


If you go on our Facebook page, there's a link there to the Varazdin newspaper. It came and did a lovely piece. So we've had lots of coverage in Croatia. And actually, I think I said in the last podcast, we were going to a wedding. We were at the wedding this last week of a Croatian couple that are very good friends of ours. And a guy who I met three or four years ago, I said to him, he's a Croatian guy. And I said, oh yeah, we've been here around two years. He said, yeah, I saw him on the TV.


So he'd actually seen us on, he met me a few years ago, but then he'd seen us on the TV. So I knew all about what we were doing here. So there has been that really, there's been a lot of really good exposure, positive exposure. And locally, the local tourism have been great. If somebody's come in and said, have you got any interesting stories for us? They'll usually tell the person about us and then we get contacted. So we've had some good connections and some really good support. I think...


Your second part is actually interesting. We spent quite a chunk of our marketing budget. We don't, I do all our website and all our social media, but we threw some money at the idea of putting ourselves in this glamping European glamping magazine that went to all the Dutch and the Belgians and so on, which are the kind of people you want to attract to this area. Cause when they come, they spend good money and they buy the wine and everything. So that's part of what we feel we want to do. And if you drive around here, you don't see many Dutch or Belgian cars. So it's not like there's a massive number of them come here, but


We went for that and it really hasn't really created any kind of energy or any bookings. And I think what we are thinking this year, having had a season last year, a half a season last year and then a full season this year, I think what we're realizing is you can live in an absolutely beautiful part of the world. You can think it's amazing. All of the guests who come can tell you it's amazing, whether it be your glamping, the swimming pool, the sauna, the walks, the vineyards, the ambiance, they can tell you it's amazing.


but it still is a very underdeveloped area in terms of mass tourism and tourism in general. I look down on this village now and honestly, I haven't seen a car for the last 10 minutes. It's a very quiet area. So I think we maybe overestimated the idea that all these people will come because they'll read about us. Actually, Croatia is all about the coast, as we said last podcast. So we're at the early stages of trying to break that.


and give continental Croatia, which by the way, the tourism here is growing each year by significant double digit percentages, but it still couldn't be described as mass tourism. So getting people from elsewhere is a challenge, although like I say, we've got a Dutch family and at the moment they're an absolute delight. They're loving spending time in the pool and they're enjoying the facilities here. They've gone off today down to cakovec to visit the castle and to walk through the park and to have an ice cream and eat at restaurants that


we've recommended. So when they come, they love it, but getting them to come, that's the challenge. Yeah, we have that here with the small apartment that we have in the village, very similar thought pattern to what you've just described. My view for the 10 cents it's worth is, when somebody really is having a blast here, then I tried without going over the top, just to make them brand ambassadors. I think that's a current phrase. I'm not a marketeer, but


a brand ambassador in the hope that when they go back, they'll refer somebody else. Mark, important time now for you. What are some of the key lessons that you've learned along your entrepreneurial journey in Croatia? There must be quite a few. And is there anything you wish you had known before you started the journey that you're on now?


The first lesson I think, and I think this is the same for any entrepreneurial journey in any country anywhere in the world, but I think for us here, there is so much you can know and so much you can understand and then you just have to jump in. You can't ever get everything in such a place that you can say, you could say, oh, let's do a feasibility study and you could even pay somebody to do the feasibility study and you could get all the data in the world that could tell you that Međimurje's


I know all the data at the Međimurje, the number of beds required to meet the tourism expectations, needs to rise, we need another 700 beds in the next three years, all those kinds of things. I can hear all that, but at the end of the day, does any of that all tell you whether you're going to be successful or not? It doesn't. So I think always, if you can get 70% of what you need and then go for it, I think you've got to do that. So never expect, especially somewhere like this, to be completely confident that you've covered all bases.


That would be one thing. I think the second thing is, I think you've got to be ready to go on a journey that feels like the just one more piece of paper thing that Croatians say is actually the same anywhere in the world. We've, you go and live in Abu Dhabi and you get your, you get your visa and then you have to get your Emirates ID and then you've got to go and get your driving license. Then you've got to go and get this. Then you've got to go and get that. Then you've got to rent an apartment. Then you've got to.


you always wherever you move to you always seem like you have to catch up on all those things that if you've lived somewhere in one place all your life you accumulated over many years. And it's just the same here really you have to be resilient and know it is going to take one more piece of paper is going to eventually we'll get through this and you do have to be. be ready just to keep persistently going through that and not give up, I think that the other thing is, I think you can you have to accept.


that you've never quite made full sense of whether, especially in a business like this, in a part of the world where there isn't mass tourism, you've got to accept, you've got to be really flexible about pricing, about where you think your guests are gonna come from, about how long your guests are gonna stay. So we definitely don't let people stay for one night. We don't think that's the right thing. We think this year we thought we got our pricing about right. We think now maybe we're a little bit high.


But then to be honest with you, the weather we've had this year, it's beautiful now, but we've had a really weird year of wet weather and things. I don't think people think about staying in tents when March and April was quite wet. And then we keep getting these kind of weird showers and things that have meant that it hasn't felt settled. You just have to rock and roll with it. You have to be flexible. And I think that persistence and flexibility is really important. And I think the other one, which we've talked about a lot, is find people you trust, but then build...


and build relationships. I think we did all those things, but we never really realized just how important they were, but they were really important. Finally, as we get to wrap this up, somebody's listening to this, who, let's say, is in the United Kingdom, because we're both Brits, we're both from there, or maybe elsewhere, but let's concentrate on the UK. If somebody is sat back in, I don't know, pick a place in Yorkshire. I don't know. Okay.


So there's somebody watching this or listening to this in Skipton and says, I want to do something new. I want to get out of the rut that I'm in and look at this guy. He's one of us. He's a Yorkshireman and he's gone. I want to go to Croatia and I want to do that. Are there opportunities still for people to start businesses in Croatia that aren't EU citizens? Because I know immediately when you said that your wife went bong.


there's my Irish passport, they went, Hey, no problem, no problem. When do you want to start? Not that easy. I know it's not that easy. But for others, are there still opportunities? Is it only tourism or are there other things that you've realised with your entrepreneurial vision that, wow, people could be doing that or people could be doing that? Are those things still available to people? I think to some extent, it is complex though. So if you becoming here as a third country national,


and starting a business, then there are all kinds of rules and regulations about the kind of businesses you can start, the kind of ownerships. I'm not saying I'm an expert in any of this, so I wouldn't want to give any advice. There are good people who can give advice. There's a website called Expat in Croatia. I think there's a lady there with a team who she seems to do a lot of really good work helping people. So there are places that you can find expert advice to help you. There are rules around how many Croatians you need to employ and things like that. And so there are all kinds of rules.


There's now a digital nomad visa, which seems quite popular with people. So that's a particular type of visa that allows people of certain, obviously, in that digital world to be able to come and live in Croatia. I think Croatia is still not an easy place to do business. I think if I needed to open a business and make a living, there are places I would go before I came to Croatia to do that. I'd start a business in the Middle East somewhere in the UAE where the tax is low and regulation is...


Probably more regulation than the UK, but it's more permissive. So I don't think Croatia is an easy place to come and do business. And I'm sounding really negative now and I don't like sounding negative, but for us, this business was a means of us staying in Croatia. It was here. It was a business that was for a lifestyle, lifestyle purposes works for us. We were lucky that we got article 50 transition rights. If we hadn't have got that, we'd have had to do it all on Jilly's Irish passport anyway, which would have given us the same outcome. But if you're a third country national.


from the UK and you want to come to Croatia, there are ways to come to Croatia with all kinds of issues of making sure that you've got income guarantees and so on, but it's not as easy as it used to be and it's the tragedy of Brexit. Anybody who knows me knows I think Brexit was a crazy thing and those who voted for Brexit can continue to say that they got what they wanted, which is fine, but one of the things they did was they stole from British people the opportunities that were presented by being part of the EU.


So I think it's still a really tough place for a third country national to come to and do business rather negatively. I apologize. I think that's the reality. No, the thing is, it's got to be said because too much of what is seen on the internet makes puts a silver lining on black clouds. Do you know what I mean? And I don't think that's fair. So at least if somebody's watching or listening to this, they can go, oops. So when they do come, if they want to try it and it's not that easy, at least the two of us can say, we didn't lie to you.


But at the end of the day, you got the truth. I would say that people should come and spend time here. It's what we did. We spent enough time here to find out where we wanted to live. As we've said in previous podcasts, we spent enough time here and getting engaged with local, the right local people to understand the context. So I think anybody who might be interested in coming to Croatia needs to spend time here and understand it before they actually did it. That leads nicely on to the next episode, which we're going to talk about.


lifestyle because that plays a significant part in your life. It's not all about being a business couple in a beautiful part of Southeast Europe. There is the lifestyle that goes behind it. I think that's exceedingly important, which I'm really hyped and stoked at the moment to talk about because that's where I think you and I, it's the lifestyle that makes us have more smiles without giving too much away for the next edition, which


You have to subscribe to the podcast wherever you find it to get that. It's been 23 years since I didn't have a day with a smile on my face. Since I came here through all the sort of nonsense that life throws at you. I've smiled every single day, which is something I can't say too much before. Would you agree with that? Yeah, look, I think if you make a, if you make a decision to do something that gives you a particular lifestyle.


then in a sense it's not inevitable that will be the thing that makes you smile. But in a sense, you are creating, I always, Gillian and I always say, we are responsible for creating our own future. Um, I'm not at the beck and call of anyone else. And I think if you're in the context where you are responsible for creating your own future, then to some extent you're creating the context in which you're creating your own smiles. And I think that's a really positive thing about making a decision to live somewhere based on lifestyle rather than on, we lived in the Middle East.


purely for financial reasons, though we had a great time and the lifestyle was wonderful in one sense, but we didn't come here for financial reasons or any other, it was absolutely lifestyle. So we've created the context in which we can smile. Yeah. So I agree with you. So Mark is a happy man. Today. Most definitely. Okay. I'm going to let you get on because I want you to get out of the sun because I know that you spent years in the Middle East and you most probably can handle it. I'm looking out of our window.


And it's just and when the cats start, when they keep jumping on the asphalt, that is we have to get them inside. It's telling me it's very hot. Yeah. Stay safe. Stay as cool as possible. And I'll catch you next week when we record the next podcast. Stay safe. And yeah, have a great week. And you David, all the very best to you and Tamara. And we'll speak soon.

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An Englishman in the Balkans
Find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina
Encouraging people to find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Welcome to "An Englishman in the Balkans" podcast, hosted by David Pejčinović-Bailey.
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at life in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, David shares his experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduces you to some of the interesting people he's met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.
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David Pejčinović-Bailey

I am a podcaster, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing my experiences of living in this often misunderstood country.