“Mediteranski brevijar” by Zagreb author and scholar Predrag Matvejević is an award winning work I recommend to all lovers of the Mediterranean, the cradle of civilizations. It’s a book full of folksy anecdotes, smells, turbulent history, architecture, natural phenomena and tradition. Everything where I unintentionally find myself every time I think of Split, a city which has been surrealistically and actually accompanying me throughout my life and represents the hearth of the Mediterranean to me.
Split is full of stories and myths. First of all, the classic clash between north and south, between Zagreb and Split, Dinamo and Hajduk. Split reproaches Zagreb with centralism and exploitation of the south. The story is similar to the ever present clash between Štajerska and Ljubljana, which takes advantage of Maribor politically, economically and culturally.
The fact that Hajduk is more than just a football club with numerous fans, who stick to it even in times of the drought, speaks volumes of the character of Split and its inhabitants.
The city was formed as part of the ambition of one of the most important Roman emperors Diocletian, born in nearby Salona. It can be compared to a sort of Dubai of its period, since Diocletian forged his palace and urban plan to become a part of the world’s history and build the new capital of the Roman province Dalmatia. The monumental architecture of the city and a number of important individuals have formed a specific cosmopolitan character of the city occasionally intertwined with the rebellious spirit of its inhabitants. Maybe this explains the attachment of the inhabitants to their football club and the Split state of minds, which was wittily epitomized by the late Dino Dvornik, “You may speak ill of me or of the whole world, but I never want to hear you speak ill of Split…”. The Split spirit and energy are a fertile ground for excellent musicians, sportsmen and scientists.
What thrills most of the tourist is the Mediterranean ambiance of the city with street life and the famous riva, which functions as a public square, concert venue, night gathering place and the place for all important events in Split.
The rivalry between the capital and the capital of the province is present in all other European congress countries. Split was virtually non-existent in the meetings industry until a few years ago. In the fight with Opatija, Dubrovnik and tourist places in Istria it got the short end of the stick. It was deemed as a more or less transit meetings destination. There were numerous plans and ideas to build a congress centre. In 2007 there was talk of a project called ABC, which would combine an exhibition, business and congress centre. In 2008 the idea of a congress centre became very serious since the government supported investment analyses for four new congress centres in Zagreb, Opatija, Dubrovnik and Split. The centre would be located at the eastern part of Split port where the factory Dalmacijavino stands, with a 1,500 capacity of the plenary hall. Unfortunately the economic crisis put a halt to all the projects.
Yet, everything changed thoroughly with the arrival of large hotel chains a few years back. The first was Hotel Le Meridien Lav in Podstrana near Split, which is the largest congress hotel in Split. Excellent service, international connections and knowhow of the Starwood chain brought numerous international events to Split. The hotel is the flagship of the meetings industry in Dalmatia and has received several prizes. It’s among the best in the Adriatic in functionality, and very appropriate for incentive groups and product launches due to its excellent additional services.
Last year Split saw the opening of the Radisson Blu Split Resort. The four star hotel with 240 rooms has a smaller congress centre with the largest hall for 350 people and six smaller halls along with additional services. Atrium followed the foreign hotel chains and opened a hotel in 2007. The maximum capacity of the halls is 300 and additional services of the hotel are at a very high level. Smaller congress capacities are also available at Katarina, Park, Dalmina, Globo and President.
Hilton Marjan Split owned by Split’s mayor Željko Kerum, should be opened at the beginning of the next year after numerous delays. It will boast excellent congress facilities (the largest hall can seat 1,000) at an elite location. The newest acquisition of the town, the sports arena Spaladium can potentially serve as a congress hall.
The city is also full of special venues for receptions and accompanying events. Among traditional venues we can find the Diocletian palace, receptions can also be held at Prokurative square, the Croatian national theatre, Villa Dalmatia and numerous picturesque outdoor locations just waiting to host events. The restaurant scene is lively, as is the nightlife. In the last two years Split gained the reputation of party metropolis of the Adriatic and not only a transit destination on the way to the Dalmatian islands.
The development of the meetings industry encouraged the development of the agency segment. First through numerous DMC agencies, followed by a number of specialized incentive and teambuilding service providers. Split offers a lot in a concentrated area, both from the seaside as well as inland, not recognizable enough on the international market. Split is faced with the classic issue of many destinations, where the convention bureau is formally a part of the city tourist organization and thus lacks international recognisability. Split desperately needs a well organized and branded convention bureau.
The biggest disadvantage of the destination is air access. The infrastructure improved with the renovation of the airport platform and a planned construction of a new terminal. The airport will soon be able to receive up to 2 million passengers annually.
Air transport is mostly an issue in the low tourist season, which is at the same time high congress season. This element of an attractive destination is the main element preventing Split from becoming an excellent congress destination. Split is a diamond in the rough.
Destination mark: 3,96 – quality convention destination
5 excellent convention destination
4 quality convention destination
3 recommendable convention destination
2 average convention destination
A. Natural and cultural factors 4.2
The mild climate, lively atmosphere, historical attractions and architecture are the main advantages of destination Split. Its disadvantage is the attitude towards the environment and sustainable development.
B. General and transport infrastructure 3.8
With the completion of the motorway Split has an excellent connection to the continent, air and rail accessibility is steadily improving. The downside is local traffic infrastructure with public transportation as well as communal infrastructure.
C. Tourism infrastructure 4.3
Tourism infrastructure has improved immensely in the last few years. Even before that Split was well equipped with sports venues and offer. Split is the cultural centre of Dalmatia. The hotel scene is progressing with great strides.
D. Congress infrastructure 3.8
Congress hotels, professional offer, development and variety of congress products are a strong part of the offer. Somewhat worse are the congress history and references as well as the number of hotel rooms appropriate for congresses. The weakest link is the lack of a convention centre in Split.
E. Subjective assessment 3.4
Political stability, safety, ratio of quality and price and general competitiveness of the destination are the main attributes of Split’s offer. Split does somewhat worse in the area of meetings industry support, e-services and image of Split as congress destination.
Comparison to the Region:
Among the Adriatic congress destinations Split became serious competition to Dubrovnik in the last years. The main disadvantage of the destination is bad cooperation among service providers, lack of air connections to key markets and not enough destination marketing. If Split gets a real convention centre in the future it could become one of the leading congress destinations in the Mediterranean. New and excellent hotel capacities, good road connections to Europe and wonderful surroundings with islands offering numerous incentive programme opportunities, speak in favour of this fact. Split is one of the most unexploited congress destinations in the Mediterranean.