Daniela Kos graduated at Faculty of Business and Economics in Zagreb. She started her career as marketing specialist at Cisco Systems, where she gained her first experiences organizing business events, including Cisco Expo annual conference. She also worked as a cultural and marketing manager at theatre Mala Scena. From 2010 she has been an entrepreneur, developing first Croatian media in meetings industry.

Can you please briefly introduce www.croatiameetings.com? (introduce the content of the portal, when was it opened etc.)

Well, it all started with PoslovniTurizam.com which was launched in late October 2010. It is the first specialized web portal for Croatian meetings industry, aimed at domestic market and neighbouring countries. Six months after that we launched CroatiaMeetings.com which is a similar project but adopted for and aimed at the international market.

Both websites are, so to say, information one-stop-shops that give comprehensive overview of Croatian meeting venues, specialized MICE agencies and related services, like catering or translation services. Meeting planners can also use tools such as advanced search options, or Event Assistant which enables simple and fast RFP sending. All of this, of course, saves time and helps them find appropriate partners and business solutions in Croatia.

Besides detailed congress offer, one can also find information about popular Croatian tourist destinations, read tourism related news and articles see upcoming business events, etc. Whether you are planning your next business event in Croatia or you just want to learn more about MICE in Croatia, PoslovniTurizam.com/CroatiaMeetings.com are the best places to start your search!

What was the reason for creating such a portal? Who is behind it (introduce the people, companies, governmental institutions, who are partners and owners of the portal)?

As you know, Croatia is a very popular destination when it comes to leisure tourism, and most of the effort (both from government and from companies) is focused on that part of our tourist offer. On the other hand, there is a huge potential in the meetings industry, but also a lack of its promotion in general, and especially through online tools. So, the conclusion was quite simple: let’s do something about it, let’s do something that will help all meetings industry members present their offers in a simple and effective way.

We are proud to say that our initiative was quickly recognized and supported by all the leading tourism authorities: Ministry of tourism, Croatian Convention and Incentive Bureau and Zagreb Convention Bureau. Today, less than a year since the portal was officially launched, we work with over 300 various venues, 20 agencies and 100 suppliers.

On your web site you write you would like to include all of SE Europe on your portal. Could you highlight your plans for the future?

The first step, of course, is to fully establish and strengthen the position in the Croatian market, as a valuable partner/media that brings benefits to all the members of Croatian meetings industry. Our purpose is not only to promote and connect, but also to educate and inform people because there is a great need for education in the tourism sector.

The idea of expanding activities to SE Europe is certainly intriguing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean using the same business model as in the domestic market. We will, of course, support all initiatives whose goal is to connect and cooperate on a regional level.

Are you satisfied with number of visitors per month? Can you give us some statistics? (I believe numbers are important, please just let us know realistic number. I had some bad experience with unbelievable numbers)

In first the six months of 2011, we had over 75,000 visits, and we find that number very satisfying, especially having in mind that we are focused on a relatively small market niche. We expect to see further rise in number of visitors in the second half of the year, due to better search engine positions, more intense marketing actions, and new content, such as overview of upcoming business events.

More important than total number of visitors is the number of RFPs that are sent by meeting planners via our system. I am happy to say that it did not take them long to discover all the benefits of our system and start using it regularly.

Who are your visitors? Are they mainly from Croatia? Do they send many RFPs?

As I said, there are two websites, and two stories: PoslovniTurizam.com is aimed at the domestic market and the majority of visitors are from Croatia and neighbouring regions (Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina). CroatiaMeetings.com, on the other hand, is mostly visited by foreigners, from the most important incoming markets – Germany, Austria, Italy or UK and USA.

The RFPs are sent from both corporate and association meeting planners. They are very satisfied and they see us not just as an effective online tool that helps find venues/suppliers and get proposals, but also as a valuable partner that will recommend best local meetings solutions according to their needs and preferences.

What do think about Croatian meeting industry? Do you believe it is developing in the right direction?

Croatia is one of the most popular tourist destination in SEE, but also an attractive destination for business meetings and incentives.

We have a good hotel infrastructure and experienced people in tourism, but Croatia lacks a few polyvalent venues (conference centres) with capacity of few thousand seats to be able to host larger events and become a truly competitive MICE destination in the wider region. With present meeting facilities Croatia is the ideal destination for medium-sized meetings, up to 500 delegates.  We could also benefit from better traffic infrastructure such as more direct flights to major European cities throughout the whole year, not just during the summer.

Besides the above mentioned infrastructure issues, Croatian tourism is still trying to build its identity on the global market. Creating unique and distinctive identity is an absolute priority. I hope this problem will be solved by new national tourism development strategy that is currently being created by the Croatian Institute for tourism.

In Croatian meetings industry we need to work on better cooperation, communication and education at all levels. There are some new initiatives, such as newly founded Croatian Meeting Professionals Association so I believe that better times are coming, despite the economic crisis that is still ongoing.

What are the unique selling points (USPs) of Croatian meeting industry?

Most of the advantages Croatia has in that sector come from its long tradition and experience in leisure tourism.  Ideal geographic position, great nature, beautiful coast, rich historical and cultural heritage, exciting gastronomy and wines… all of that makes our country appealing to foreign tourists. Besides that there are some new trends like summer music festivals that open up new markets and bring new, young guests. Also, many world known celebrities have discovered Croatia over the past 2–3 years which has had a great impact in the media, and brings free publicity.

When it comes to MICE offer, Croatia is a very attractive destination for medium-sized events and for incentives. Unfortunately, we still have not found a way to fully exploit these advantages. Therefore we have a situation where some individual destinations are more recognized in the MICE world than Croatia as a country. At this moment we have a few strong, internationally known MICE destinations such as Dubrovnik, Opatija and Zagreb, but new interesting meeting destinations are developing their offer (Split, Rovinj or Zadar) and that is encouraging. All we have to do now is to put it all together and develop mindful and effective branding on the national level.

What do you think about SE Europe’s meetings industry? (if you compare it with the rest of W Europe)

SE Europe’s meetings industry is still looking for its place under the sun. But being a fresh and new meeting destination is also an advantage. People like to discover new, charming places and meeting professionals and buyers are not an exception.

SE Europe meetings industry cannot compete in terms of infrastructure with more developed regions in Europe, such as Germany or UK, but we do have people who are excellent and innovative, who want to learn and improve. Stronger institutional support is certainly desirable because most countries in the region fight with a lot of political and economic issues, which then deeply reflect on business opportunities.

Do you believe in the concept of SE Europe – do you believe it is good marketing brand? Do you believe Croatia should do marketing as one of SE European countries? If so please explain?

I believe in branding in general. Today it is not enough to have a great product or service. If you do not have a story about it, a story that people will talk about, you are not competitive in a global market.

All countries in SE Europe have their stories, people and customs. We are all different, but also very similar at the same time. But each and every one of us is too small to perform alone in the global market. So why not build a common marketing brand in a way where all of us will keep our uniqueness, our stories? I believe it is possible, but only with better cooperation. Look for example at IMEX or other trade shows: thousands of exhibitors, but Slovenian, Croatian or Serbian stands are not even side by side…