Goran Ivanisevic Article

Magical appeal of gorgeous Goran - 2001
BY ANNABELLE THORPE

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Ivanisevic’s passion, pride and personal charm have put Croatia firmly back on the tourist map

BEARD or no beard, Good Goran or Nasty Goran, ambassadors for their country don’t come much better than the new Wimbledon champion, Goran Ivanisevic.
His fairytale victory will go down in the sporting history books, but his contribution to his country is much, much greater. Ivanisevic’s passion, pride and personal charm have put his home country, Croatia, firmly back on the tourist map it has been struggling to rejoin since surfacing from a civil war in 1995.

“He is a great advertisement for Croatia,” says Peter Milcinovic of the Croatian Tourist Office. “The whole world watched him win; after three defeats as a Wimbledon finalist, and wanting to win so badly, everybody became involved. Already we are feeling the effect of this — the phone is ringing and people want to know more about our country. People who didn’t know about Croatia before now want to come here on holiday.”

They’ll have to join the queue. “Three years ago you couldn’t give away a holiday to Croatia,” says Julia Berg, who worked with the Croatian Tourist Board for five years. “This summer, the entire city of Dubrovnik is full. But further north, around Split, things haven’t taken off quite as much and the fact that this is where Goran comes from is bound to be a help.”

The numbers are up — an expected increase of 35,000 visitors from the UK this year will take the number of British tourists to 85,000 — but some people still aren’t convinced about Croatia. Anxiety about lack of infrastructure, lingering problems from the conflict and even a lack of knowledge about where Croatia actually is are recurring reservations, although they are gradually being dispelled.

“People might not know much about Croatia, but when they get out there they have a ball,” says Howard Cohen, general manager of Solo’s Holidays. “The Croats are real party people, and according to the group out there at the moment, this week has been amazing — just constant celebrations. We definitely intend to expand our programme to Croatia next year.”

Perhaps one reason for the success of Solo’s Holidays, which caters exclusively to singletons, is the romantic image of Croatian men: brooding and beautiful, they’re a new spin on the Latin lover. “Perhaps we are the new Italy,” says Peter Milcinovic, mischievously. “Certainly Goran has been great in this way — girls will always visit a country where the men are attractive.”

It’s a theory that’s perfectly supported by another well-known Croatian, Goran Visnjic, who plays Dr Luka Kovac in the TV drama ER and who was recently voted one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world by People magazine.

It might sound sexist, but research has proved that the majority of holidays are booked by women — and these are the kind of factors that count. And it’s not just the men: Elite has recently opened a branch of its model agency in Croatia.

If that all sounds a little superficial, Croatia is equally good for family holidays, with unspoilt beaches, child-friendly hotels and plenty of activities — including cycling, watersports and hiking — on offer.

“People are slowly realising that Croatia is close, safe, unspoilt and great value for money,” says Jonathan Oakes, chairman of Holiday Options. “We introduced Croatia three years ago and some people thought we were mad. It’s now our biggest seller — if you’re visiting the Med this summer, Croatia is the place to be.”