We spoke with Paul Bradbury, a man who doesn't need too much introduction. Owner and editor-in-chief of Total Croatia News gave us an interview on the occasion of Days of Croatian Tourism, or as he likes to call it - Days of Croatian Self-Congratulation. Paul told us his story about life in Croatia, it's potential for Digital Nomads and much more.
Paul has been living in Croatia for some time now. We were curious about how he chose Croatia as a place to live. – It was actually thanks to the niche targeting of fat Brits in northern Somalia by the Croatian National Tourist Board. I was working in Somaliland and Puntland as a humanitarian worker and had just sold my house in the UK and decided to move my base to somewhere near the water far from the UK. There was an advert on CNN later that day – Croatia, the Mediterranean as It Once Was. And I decided to buy spontaneously – explains Paul how he ended up in Croatia. – After 18 years of living in Croatia, I actually love everything about life here, including dealing with your wonderful bureaucracy. It gives me incredibly rich blogging material. But lifestyle, nature, freshness of food, climate, safety, the richest dictionary of swear words in the world, and the dark humour are some of the big draws.
Before arriving to Croatia, Paul had been working in different places around the world. – I have never had a steady job or location. I have been a male chambermaid in Munich, a laser crystals salesman in Moscow, German teacher in Hiroshima, aid worker in the Ural Mountains, Tbilisi, Rwanda and Somalia, as well as working in the family wine business in the UK – says Paul, explaining how he felt when he first came to Croatia: – The main first impression that sticks with me was when I drove over my things from the UK after I bought my house in Jelsa in 2002. It was winter and the motorway was not yet open. I fought my way through the snow in Europe, then started the descent to Split. The snow was replaced by greenery, palm trees, sun and the stunning Adriatic. I felt I was entering Paradise. And I was.
In our little Mediterranean paradise, Paul had the experience of living in different places around the country. – I loved living on Hvar for 13 years, but it was a little limiting as a local in many ways. In summer, we are all busy trying to make money in the season, and then in the winter there was nothing open. Dalmatia is a very special place and culture, but I loved the mindset in Varaždin – based on hard work and not waiting for tourism to just happen. – explains, adding what is it that he found most appealing in the continental region: – I have a lot of respect for the people of continental Croatia and their ability to survive with low wages and less of the tourism cushion to rely on. But I have to say that I am absolutely loving life in Zagreb. This city is becoming a superstar after being very boring 10 years ago. Not only the best place for year-round living, but fast becoming the best place I have ever lived in – says.
Many digital nomads are considering moving to Croatia, especially after the DN stay permit was introduced. – And digital nomads are loving not only Croatia, but also Zagreb. They can't believe they have found this hidden jewel on the nomad trail. Zagreb was recently named in the top 5 most liked cities in the world based on real data from a major survey on Nomad List. This will be a huge growth area for Zagreb in the coming years, and it is exciting to be working with Zagreb Tourist Board developing that strategy – says Paul about the growing potential of Zagreb.
Not only is Paul living here, but he is also running a very successful business in Croatia. We were wondering how TCN worked in its beginnings: – Haha, am not sure my accountant would agree that we are successful, but we love what we do. Best job in the world. I started with a blog called Total Hvar back in 2011, trying to promote Hvar beyond the beach with daily stories. The project was a success and grew steadily, and suddenly here we are with the largest English-language news portal about Croatia, bringing New York Times to Hvar and ABC News to Dubrovnik, for example. Not sure how it all happened, but it has been a fun ride – laughs Paul.
TCN has a wide audience and it is used to promote positive stories of Croatian people and Croatian companies’ success, which is something we don’t find often in media. Paul told us why negativity doesn't bother him: – Negativity gets clicks, positivity doesn't. I have never been overly bothered by clicks. I have two basic philosophies – celebrate the little guy, and give people what they want. If you give them interesting content which is not sensationalised, they will come back. If you are a clickbait site, they will click once, maybe twice, then know for the next time – explains.
I gave this presentation at LEAP last year – Injecting Positivity into the Default Negative Croatian Mindset, which explores this topic in more depth – adds Paul.Paul had a couple of attempts of collaboration with Croatian National Tourist Board, offering free promotion. After inert or no response, he decided to promote Croatian tourism regardless of CNTB. We wanted to know more about their relations. – To be clear, I have had limited collaboration with the Croatian National Tourist Board over the years (and perhaps one day I will publish the story of how that collaboration started and what happened with the content I produced), but nothing meaningful apart from writing some articles for them – says Paul about his situationship with CNTB.
– Fundamentally, I have formed the opinion that a lot of tourism promotion money in this country is not used to promote tourism, but to perpetuate the status quo. As I am not politically affiliated, there is little point giving people like me money, as there is no political benefit. All I would do is use the resources to promote tourism. You can see examples of this all over the country – the position of local tourist board director is often a political appointment to reward a supporter of the local mayor, rather than being based on ability – explains adding there is more to it.
– There are many exceptions to this trend, however, and I would like to point out the outstanding work and collaboration I have had with local and regional progressive tourist boards. These include Zagreb and Dubrovnik, who are becoming global innovators in the digital nomad story, Zagreb County, Hvar, Stari Grad, Sinj, and Ludbreg. There is excellence all over this country if you look hard enough. TCN is slowly connecting with them. But the national tourist board is beyond irrelevant – concludes Paul.The situationship resulted in a lawsuit. Paul explained what exactly happened: –Actually two lawsuits. One was for an article I didn't write on a portal I don't own in which I was quoted. It was a lawsuit for defamation, and yet they apparently did not request the article to be taken down (you can still read it here). They didn't sue the journalist who wrote the article, or the portal that published it. Just me – Paul highlights the inconsistency. – The second lawsuit was also for sharing a meme on my private FB page for 3 days, where the slogan Croatia, Full of Life was changed to Croatia, Full of Uhljebs. It was totally forgotten until the lawsuit was made public. Then it was national news and all over the Internet, with an Index poll showing the engagement in the story – says Paul, explaining how Croatian people are on his side (95% of them).
– My case was raised in Parliament by MP Marijana Puljak, who called for the dismissal of the national tourist board director, as well as the introduction of anti-SLAPP legislation to stop the use of strategic lawsuits as a weapon of intimidation against journalists. Several journalists commented that it was the biggest PR own goal in the history of the Croatian National Tourist Board. I couldn't possibly comment. Both lawsuits are in process, and I will fight them all the way to the European courts if necessary, with all the accompanying PR. I am grateful for the solid support of the best media lawyer in the region, the legendica that is Vanja Juric. The hearings keen on getting delayed, as their lawyer double books hearings and has to postpone, or files an additional motion. It is a spectacular use of public money, and we are documenting the whole experience in our series Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit – explains Paul, announcing his documentary project. – A colleague from one of Croatia's biggest portals has offered to video and cover all future hearings, if the court allows. Next instalment is November 22, I think.
Paul highlighted he got plenty of recognition elsewhere, but none from the CNTB: – I don't claim to be a great writer or tourism expert, but it is interesting to note that while lawsuits are the only recognition from the Croatian National Tourist Board, there has been significant recognition from elsewhere. This includes being named International Medical Travel Journalist of the Year in Malaysia; being invited to keynote speech at Digital Nomad World out of Bali in December; 4 international awards together with Saltwater Nomads, Zagreb Tourist Board, City of Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik Tourist Board for our digital nomad projects for Zagreb Digital Nomad Week and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence; 7 international awards for the Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community with Manjgura and Mediocor, including 3 Polaris PR awards in London; the 2014 Marco Polo FIJET Grand Prix for the best international promotion of Croatia at the Croatian Society of Journalists, and another Marco Polo award in 2017 for promotion of Advent in Zagreb – says, concluding: – I don't think I am the problem here.
What do these lawsuits say about our democratic achievements here in Croatia, we asked Paul: – Let's just say I have learned a lot about media control this year. I am not sure it would be wise to publish my findings at this stage, but I will make your hair curl over a beer when we meet – he explains.
Nonetheless, Paul sees a bright future for Croatia: – I am incredibly positive about the future of Croatia. The Mighty State of Uhljebistan is starting to wobble, and the twin viruses of technology and transparency will win the day – concludes. – Things are already changing a lot, and the more positive stories, the more nomads with their ideas and positivity, the quicker we will change the mindset. We are building a fantastic nomad story in Croatia, mostly done by the private sector. We don't need permission, and we don't need help. Simply bypass the system and build your own eco-system. There are some extraordinary people buying into this vision, and the results will be extraordinary – says Paul.
To all those who might be discouraged by Croatian bureaucracy and corrupt systems, but want to move to Croatia, Paul says the following: – Pay your uhljeb tax and do your own thing. Read The 3 Stages of Learning for Foreigners in Croatia: Love, Hate & Nirvana. And one more advice for all those living in Dalmatia: – Regarding what I wish I knew, it is more Dalmatia-specific. The advice is one sentence but it took me 15 years to figure it out. If you can accept and implement the meaning of the sentence, you will enter Paradise. If, like me, it takes 15 years to accept it, you will have years of frustration on the road to paradise. The sentence is... Do not try and change Dalmatia, but expect Dalmatia to change you – adds Paul, explaining his 15 years of experience of Dalmatia in a sentence. – Croatia is a fabulous place, and more and more fabulous people are seeing that and building an outstanding eco-system. The biggest challenge is to change the mindset, but we are on the road to do that also. Join us!