Q and A with Martina Bienenfeld, head of the Zagreb Tourist Board

Questions by Brian Gallagher

The wonderful Advent Zagreb is upon us, which is an excellent time to speak to Martina Bienenfeld, head of the Zagreb Tourist Board

Martina Bienenfeld
Photo: Dražen Lapić

Martina has been head of the Zagreb Tourist Board since 2014. Previously she had been the head of the Tourism department at the City of Zagreb Office for Economy, Labour and Enterprises. In 2019 she completed her the postgraduate doctoral studies at the Faculty of Economics in Osijek, earning a Ph.D.

How has Zagreb tourism fared over the last year in light of Covid-19?

I would say last year has been the most challenging for everyone, especially in the travel industry. At times, for all of us living in Zagreb with Covid-19 and, unfortunately, two earthquakes, it seemed like we were in the middle of an American blockbuster movie, one I certainly wouldn’t like to watch again. But we have not surrendered, so the challenges resulted in new projects, in adapting to the situation and creating a new quality. I am especially glad to see that most of our tourism service providers adjusted to the new circumstances as much as possible, and that they came up with various innovations and services that followed the “new normal” routine very closely. The focus was put on sustainable tourism through an adequate strategy for the development of safe and health aspects of the stay in the destination, and more than ever, on cooperation, support and mutual trust of all tourism stakeholders.

The 26th International Cartoon Exhibition is took place in Zagreb. Are such popular culture events something you’d like Zagreb do more of?

Of course, actually Zagreb Tourist Board already supports various projects that include popular culture, street art, affirmation of young artists, etc. For example, this year we’ve organized events called Street Triptych and Little Zagreb which are all about popular culture. The first one deals with graffiti in a way that it shows that they can beautify city views, and the latter reflects the living space of our big world in miniature proportions. Also, there’s a project called Pimp my pump which has decorated old water pumps that can be seen throughout the city. It’s an original Zagreb Street art project which adds to the uniqueness of the city. Zagreb Tourist Board will continue to support such projects because they create new outdoor content with emphasis on sustainable, green and non-invasive offer.

I was interested to see that you’ve promoted the Flashback ’91 exhibition, which has opened at the Meštrović Pavilion to commemorate 30 years of the Homeland War. I’ve always thought visitors are interested in knowing more about the war. Are we likely to see more such exhibitions promoted to tourists, which of course has a very serious information purpose?

The Homeland War brought to us our independence and freedom, so it’s an integral part of our history and national heritage. Exhibitions like the one you’ve mentioned are a channel of information for visitors that are interested in knowing more about the war, and we also promote the two museums that are specialized in that subject – Image of War – Museum of War Photography and Memorial center of the Shelling Attack on Zagreb 1991-1995.

Advent Zagreb courtesy of Zagreb Tourist Board
Photo: J. Duval

Digital Nomads is a popular subject at the moment. According to the Nomad List platform, Zagreb is in the top five desirable cities for digital nomads. How do you encourage them to come to Zagreb?

At the beginning of this year, the new Law on Foreigners came into force in Croatia, according to which digital nomads can be granted temporary residence for up to a year. Zagreb as the Croatian capital didn’t want to miss this growing opportunity and therefore, we organized, with our partners, Zagreb Digital Nomad Week and Zagreb Nomad Ambassador Project. With the Ambassador Project, Zagreb Tourist Board invites digital nomads from all around the world to seize the unique opportunity and turn Zagreb into their temporary office and home for free. The project has started in July and ends in December and for each month we have elected the ambassadors from the US, South Africa, Israel and Singapore, along with their partners, family or pets. They get a month of free accommodation in Zagreb and become part of the program that includes free coworking, tourist activities and promotion of their digital nomad experience in Zagreb.

The Ambassador Project has been receiving numerous applications from all over the world, which shows just how fast the word about Zagreb being the ideal destination for digital nomads is spreading. To conclude the year, we also plan Zagreb Digital Nomad Jolly Wrap Up gathering which will provide a summary of what has been done and discuss future tasks and plans. Our projects were already recognized by the experts and they received at the International convention trade show Conventa two awards – one for its originality and the other for its ecological, economic and social sustainability aspect. 

Christmas is nearly upon us, and that means Advent Zagreb. This is a fairly recent event in Zagreb, it has become not only popular, but has won awards for the best Christmas Market from European Best Destinations. I have certainly enjoyed it myself. What is the secret of its success, and what can we expect this year?

Thank you for saying that! Yes, Advent Zagreb is definitely our “crown jewel” and we’re very proud of it. The secret of its success is the cooperation of all the stakeholders in Zagreb’s tourism industry and the fact that we’ve managed to preserve that true Zagreb’s spirit. It’s simply the magic of Christmas that only Zagreb can offer during Advent.

This year, Advent Zagreb Christmas Market takes you back to your childhood with oversized toys scattered all over the city, warm lights, smiling faces and, hopefully, some snowflakes dancing with the notes of Christmas carols. For three years in a row, the best Christmas market in Europe, this festive season reveals to us the secret locations where our favorite childhood friends – toys are hidden. We have also prepared a rich cultural and musical program dotted all over the city and a lot of merry atmosphere awaits you in Zagreb’s hotels and restaurants which prepared Jingle Mingles program. More about Advent Zagreb you can find at the official Advent Zagreb website: www.adventzagreb.hr

Advent Zagreb courtesy of Zagreb Tourist Board
Photo: Boška i Krešo

What are the Covid-19 restrictions visitors must be aware of whilst visiting Zagreb and the above events?

All of the events will, of course, be held in accordance with the latest official advice and measures, so I suggest you keep an eye on the official Advent Zagreb website.

Finally, for anyone who intends to visit Zagreb for the first time in the next year, what do you recommend they absolutely must see?

Today, Zagreb, as a Central European tourist destination, due to its charm and beauty, a number of interesting tourist facilities, cultural events worldwide throughout the year, beautiful green oases and tidiness of the city, is recognized as a city of pleasant and intimate atmosphere, unique charm, open and cordial people. Our guests are especially pleased with this combination of multiculturalism, Mediterranean and Central European influence and their permeation, which is reflected in the urbanism, history and atmosphere of the youngest, and, again, one of the oldest European capitals.

I would definitely single out the beauties of the Upper Town, which has a special charm and preserves the spirit of old Zagreb. Then, the Lower Town with numerous events and the beautiful Lenuci’s horseshoe, and our two ‘Zagreb seas’ – Jarun and Bundek. You can start your sightseeing by walking through the lively streets and squares of the Lower Town, and on the central Ban Jelačić Square, be sure to stop at the Manduševac well and toss a coin to make your wish come true. In Bogovićeva Street, find the sculpture Grounded Sun and then take the funicular to the Upper Town to enter the world of old Zagreb. Climb to the top of the Lotrščak tower to admire the view and you can welcome the sunset in the Botanical Garden, a green oasis in the middle of the city bustle.

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