KONGRES IMPRESSIONS FROM THE HEART OF DALMACIJA   

“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 western civilization. It’s a book full of folksy anecdotes, smells, turbulent history, architecture, natural phenomena and tradition. Everything, in fact, that makes me unintentionally reflect on Split, a city that has actually and spiritually been with me throughout my life and represents for me the heart of the Mediterranean.

Split is full of stories and myths. First of all, the classic clash between the north and south, between Zagreb and Split, Dinamo and Hajduk.  Split reproaches Zagreb with claims of centralism and exploitation of the south. The story is similar to the eternal 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 with them even in times of 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 built his palace and urban plan to be a part of the world’s history as the new capital of the Roman province Dalmatia. The monumental architecture of the city and a number of important individuals give it a specific cosmopolitan character, occasionally blended with the rebellious spirit of its inhabitants.  Maybe this explains the attachment of the inhabitants to their football club and the Split state of mind, wittily characterised 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 tourists the most is the Mediterranean ambiance of the city with its street life and the famous riva, which functions as a public square, concert venue, night gathering place and the spot for all of Split’s important events.

This rivalry between the capital and the provincial capital exists in all other European congress countries. Split was virtually non-existent in the meetings industry until a few years ago. In the battle with Opatija, Dubrovnik and other 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 gained momentum, as 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 the port of Split, on the site of the Dalmacijavino factory, with a 1,500 capacity plenary hall.  Unfortunately the economic crisis put a halt to all of the projects.

Yet, everything changed completely with the arrival of large hotel chains a few years ago. The first was Hotel Le Meridien Lav in Podstrana near Split, which is the largest congress hotel in the city. Excellent service, international connections and know-how of the Starwood chain drew numerous international events to Split. The hotel is the flagship of the Dalmatian meetings industry and has received several prizes. It’s among the best in the Adriatic for functionality, and very appropriate for incentive groups and product launches due to its excellent additional services.

Hotel Lav Meridien 

Last year Split saw the opening of the Radisson Blu Split Resort. The four star hotel with 240 rooms has a smaller congress centre, the largest hall accommodating 350 people and six smaller halls with ancillary services.

Radisson Blu Split Resort

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 of 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 a number of delays. It will boast excellent congress facilities (the largest hall will seat 1,000) in an elite location.

Hilton Marjan Project Render

The newest acquisition of the town, the Spaladium sports arena, can also potentially serve as a congress hall.

The city is also full of special venues for receptions and accompanying events.  Among the traditional venues there is 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 being the party metropolis of the Adriatic and not just a transit destination on the way to the Dalmatian islands.

Prokurative square

The development of the meetings industry has encouraged the development of the agency segment. This occurred firstly through numerous DMC agencies and has been  followed by a number of specialised incentive and team building service providers. Split offers a lot in a concentrated area, in terms of both the seaside and its inland area, that is not recognisable 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 organisation and thus lacks international recognition. Split urgently needs a well organised and branded convention bureau.

The major disadvantage of the destination is air traffic access, although infrastructure has been improved with the renovation of the airport platform and will further gain from the planned construction of a new terminal, equipping the airport to 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 one preventing Split from becoming an excellent congress destination. Split is the diamond amongst the coal.

Destination mark: 3,96 – quality meetings destination

Marks:
5 excellent meetings destination
4 quality meetings destination
3 recommendable meetings destination
2 average meetings destination
1 passable

Individual marks:

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 leisure offers. Split is the cultural centre of Dalmatia. The progress of the hotel scene is making great strides.

D.        Congress infrastructure                                 3.8

Congress hotels, professional services, ongoing development and a variety of congress products are a strong part of the offer. On the downside are its congress history and references as well as the number of hotel rooms appropriate for congresses, the weakest link being the lack of a convention centre in Split.

E.         Subjective assessment                                     3.4

Political stability, safety, ratio of quality to 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 the image of Split as a congress destination.

Comparison to the Region:
Among the Adriatic congress destinations Split has become serious competition to Dubrovnik in the last years. The main disadvantages of the destination are bad cooperation between the service providers, lack of air traffic 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, all bolster this proposition. Split is one of the most unexploited congress destinations in the Mediterranean.