Tourism is people

Published in Highlights

From the 1960s, package tourism was the mainstay of the trade on the Croatian coast (which was then part of now-defunct Yugoslavia).

Martin with his father Harry Martin with his father Harry Photo courtesy of Martin Gannon

The most important element in any tour operator's success was the human factor. Martin Gannon's whole life has been dedicated to caring for people, in diffferent ways and varying contexts. His experiences in the travel trade in the 1980s and 90s show the importance of the courteous human touch for providers and guests alike. The true measure of success in the travel trade was and is the satisfaction of all the people involved. 

Martin Gannon's tale:

I worked for several years in the travel trade, much of the time in former Yugoslavia. That was during the years of Socialism. Although then-Yugoslavia was liberal compared to the Soviet Bloc countries, contact with foreigners and foreign travel were not quite as straightforward for Yugoslav nationals as for their Western counterparts. Starting out as a foreigner working for UK travel firm Saga, there were certain rules and practices I had to get used to. One incident I remember was when I was working in Poreč before I came to Hvar. I was guiding tours to Trieste (Trst) and Venice by coach, then favourite shopping destinations for Yugoslavs. The local Police Inspector quietly warned me that the Yugoslav passport was valuable to smugglers, so I should be alert and careful that any Yugoslavs I took over the border did not have their personal things stolen; oh - and no smuggling of coffee ( there was a shortage then) because we will check!

In 1982/3 I was guiding Saga holiday coach tours from Vienna to Dubrovnik, via Lake Bled, Plitvice, Split, Makarska then Dubrovnik. I arrived in Dubrovnik and had a 6-day break before taking a group of Saga's American tourists back up to Vienna. At the time Saga was looking at buying Laker Holidays but it was all going wrong (Laker Airways had gone bankrupt on February 5th 1982). One day Maja, my contact in the Atlas tourist agency, said to me "do you fancy working on an island? We keep losing the holiday reps there". Well I was up for the challenge, and as I had time to go and see this place that had "lost" its reps, off I sailed on the Jadrolinja ferry to Hvar town. Atlas Dubrovnik informed the local office I was coming, but slightly wrongly. The wonders of the Croatian language meant that when it was teletexted, of the two similar titles Holiday Rep and Holiday Director, the second was transmitted. So on arrival at Hvar I see all of the Atlas staff lined up, waiting for someone Very Important. On getting off the ferry, I spoke to one of the men in the welcome group called Tonči, saying I was Martin, and who were they all waiting for? oops, ME! But it broke the ice, and was laughed about for years afterwards.

Harry with friends enjoying Jelsa. Photo courtesy of Martin Gannon

After seeing the island, I decided I liked it and within a couple of weeks I was back on Hvar working as the Rep for Pilgrim Holidays in Jelsa. I lived mainly in Starigrad and would catch the 5.30 am bus over to Jelsa from Starigrad square, where an old lady baked these incredible biscuits which I would buy (one extra for the driver of the bus) to sustain us in the morning. Then I'd walk up to the Mina hotel and hold my welcome meetings for the tourists who were from the UK. It was busy, not a single room spare, so I always made sure I was on good terms with the reception staff, which meant that my clients were never overbooked and shifted to another hotel, as used to happen in those days.

Working with Atlas we planned lots of trips, fish picnics, short island tours, and some lovely walking tours to learn about nature and life on Hvar. I would guide some of these trips as well, and achieved the best sales of the trips for the number of guests we had. Jelsa and Starigrad at that time attracted mainly families and older couples, the largest group being from the UK, followed by Scandinavians and Germans. People enjoyed the resorts and spent well, on trips, local cafes and ice creams. There was no hassle, and yet Jelsa actually had discos, which were well run and not any trouble at all.

To get our clients to Jelsa and Starigrad from Split airport we used Hydrofoils which were Russian, very noisy but so fast, on a calm sea day we could achieve the journey from Jelsa to Split Harbour in just 35 minutes.

So overall it was a well run operation transferring the clients quickly to Jelsa and Starigrad and getting them accommodated in the plain but comfortable hotels, where they had their breakfast and dinner (none of the fully inclusive packages which are commonplace nowadays). They would go out on excursions, they spent money in the local cafes and bars, and had a great time.

Martin with Eco-Hvar's Nada Kozulić, July 2018. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

This is why Jelsa won the award for the best resort in the whole of then-Yugoslavia in 1983, because it was delivering what people wanted for their holiday, somewhere to relax, enjoy good food, great customer service, and fun, delivered with a smile. In May and September I would even have the same customers taking holidays twice a year, and many others would be booking up for the following year. For me it was hard work, but enjoyable because I was delivering a service which was appreciated. That made the job well worth while and gave very good job satisfaction.

Living in Starigrad, I also had my down time. Once I'd finished doing my evening duties of looking after clients' needs, after dinner had been served in the Arkada Hotel, I would slip out with some of the waiters and row out into the bay of Starigrad to fish. Looking up to those star-lit skies was very humbling, while catching and landing fresh fish in the company of locals was a real honour, and having a glass or two of the local Plavac Mali made the hard work worth every moment.

Martin with Frank John Dubokovich in Jelsa, July 2018. Photo: Vivian Grisogono.

So Hvar planted itself in my heart. However, in 1984 I was head-hunted by Phoenix Holidays which was a division of Inex petroleum, a Yugoslav company, and Inex Adria Airways. I attended a joining meeting in London then another in Zagreb. The London meeting was very straightforward and just about resorts etc. In Zagreb they explained the self-management set-up of the company and its socialist beliefs, meaning being fair to its workers and to staff, and remembering this in delivering one's work. I was employed mainly by Phoenix, but also had to obey instructions from Inex Adria, as I was dealing with dispatch and loading passengers. I worked mainly in Vodica and Šibenik where I had an exciting time. In 1985 I returned to work on Hvar, this time for a bigger tour operator, Intasun, and I began my extended international travels.

In 1987 the then Yugoslav airline JAT bought Pilgrim Holidays, the company I had represented in Jelsa in 1983. I was head-hunted by them to work in London to run the operation. I became the company's Sales Manager, and the job involved coming over to Croatia to contract hotels and plan tours and operations, so I kept in close contact with what was going on in tourism there. I also launched Pilgrim Tours, which operated to Međugorje, with charter flights from London Heathrow to Mostar at tour operator rates. The planes going out every Friday were packed. To achieve this I had to go to Belgrade and meet with the workers' committee to present my plans to them. I was assisted by my London Director who was a Bosnian from Mostar, and put together my ideas based on my main holiday brochure for resorts. I would then take my ideas to Belgrade to present to the workers' committee. So I became well versed in the workings of a self-management company and its special ways of working. This job gave me an official work and residence permit. My previous work in holiday resorts involved attending to repeated detailed paperwork. So, for instance, on Hvar I would get a letter from the Hotel Director and the Atlas Agency, which I would take to the local police station in Hvar town to register that I was officially working and living on the island. I would receive a temporary work permit which was stamped into my passport, and on leaving I had to make sure it was stamped out. (Once it happened that a friendly policeman in Split overlooked doing that, which caused me problems later on in Belgrade!!)

Martin's mother Thomasina in Hvar. Photo courtesy of Martin Gannon

Just before all this happened in 1987 my parents Thomasina and Harry visited Jelsa. They decided it was just the place for their retirement, and lived very happily there for many years. They were both devout Catholics, and they took the trouble to learn Croatian, as they were determined to be part of the community, attending Mass, and taking part in the Maundy Thursday all-night Procession as well. They witnessed the birth of Croatia in 1990 and the changes the transition from then-Yugoslavia to the independent Republic of Croatia brought to their community. During the Homeland War (1991-1995) my mother volunteered to help in the defence activities, as she had been in the Land Army and one of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) organizations in London during the Second World War. Then in 1996, during a visit to Međugorje, my father had a heart attack and became the first Irishman to be buried there, not far from Apparition Hill.

While the war was still going on, in 1994 I was assisting a friend with Bond Tours in London, trying to get tourism to Croatia going again. We even had a weekly flight with a new Croatian Airlines Airbus out of Gatwick, but it struggled to achieve selling a lot of seats for Međugorje. We were slowly building up the holiday side, but the decree that forbade Bishops from organizing official group pilgrimages to Međugorje knocked the stuffing out of the operation and it collapsed. (The Bishops were officially allowed to organize group visits again in 2017 - link in Croatian). Luckily I had another job at the time as a cinema manager so I was ok.

Martin celebrated his birthday in Jelsa, July 2018.

In recent years I have been working in London and Cornwall with elderly people, mainly looking after diabetic patients in the community, helping them with their insulin, wound care and dietary needs, a job which I thoroughly enjoy. I still have wholehearted and rewarding contacts with Croatia, especially Jelsa. During a spell of ill-health, my treatment was certainly helped along by the special prayers for my recovery generously offered by Jelsa's Parish Priest don Stanko and my Jelsan friends. I always look forward to returning to Hvar on my regular visits, relaxing myself on this unique and very special island which lifts me with joy and happiness when I arrive and smell the herbs and lavender and pine, taste the wine, see my friends and relax with a wonderful coffee among old and new friends.

© Martin Gannon 2019.

We at Eco Hvar are deeply grateful to Martin for sharing his enlightening and moving story - thank you!

Media

Yugotours advert from 1986
You are here: Home highlights Tourism is people

Eco Environment News feeds

  • From power cuts to infrastructure failure, the impact of climate change on US cities will be huge – but many are already innovating to adapt

    Between record heat and rain, this summer’s weather patterns have indicated, once again, that the climate is changing.

    US cities, where more than 80% of the nation’s population lives, are disproportionately hit by these changes, not only because of their huge populations but because of their existing – often inadequate – infrastructure.

    Continue reading...

  • Conservation groups split on impact of move agreed at international wildlife summit

    South Africa has won permission to almost double the number of black rhinos that can be killed as trophies after arguing the money raised will support conservation of the critically endangered species.

    The decision was made at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) after receiving support from some African nations and opposition from others.

    Continue reading...

  • You sort your recycling, leave it to be collected – and then what? From councils burning the lot to foreign landfill sites overflowing with British rubbish, Oliver Franklin-Wallis reports on a global waste crisis

    An alarm sounds, the blockage is cleared, and the line at Green Recycling in Maldon, Essex, rumbles back into life. A momentous river of garbage rolls down the conveyor: cardboard boxes, splintered skirting board, plastic bottles, crisp packets, DVD cases, printer cartridges, countless newspapers, including this one. Odd bits of junk catch the eye, conjuring little vignettes: a single discarded glove. A crushed Tupperware container, the meal inside uneaten. A photograph of a smiling child on an adult’s shoulders. But they are gone in a moment. The line at Green Recycling handles up to 12 tonnes of waste an hour.

    “We produce 200 to 300 tonnes a day,” says Jamie Smith, Green Recycling’s general manager, above the din. We are standing three storeys up on the green health-and-safety gangway, looking down the line. On the tipping floor, an excavator is grabbing clawfuls of trash from heaps and piling it into a spinning drum, which spreads it evenly across the conveyor. Along the belt, human workers pick and channel what is valuable (bottles, cardboard, aluminium cans) into sorting chutes.

    Continue reading...

  • National Farmers’ Union says only farms in south-east England able to start harvest

    August’s wet weather has brought this year’s wheat harvest to a “shuddering halt”, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union has said.

    Guy Smith said farmers outside the south-east of England had been left unable start their harvest their crop because of heavy rainfall this month.

    Continue reading...

  • They destroy sweaters, carpets and even wall insulation – and their population has tripled in five years. But there are ways to quell these insatiable insects

    When Janine Christley moved into her new house, she thought buying woollen carpets would be the sustainable option. She had the stairs and two floors of her cottage carpeted, at a cost of thousands of pounds. Then the moths moved in. She first noticed them about four years ago, just a few at first. But then they started devouring the carpets, creating big bare patches. Gradually, Christley has had to rip them up and replace them with synthetic carpet. “I’ve still got woollen carpet in my room and the front room, but there are big holes where they’ve eaten it away,” she says. To a family of moths, it turns out, a wool-carpeted house is essentially an all-you-can-eat restaurant.

    “Of course, they’re into clothes as well,” she says. They have eaten woollen jackets and gorged on the bags of wool she keeps for felting projects – as well as the finished works themselves. She has avoided chemical controls, but clothes regularly go into the freezer in an attempt to kill the moths’ eggs. “I’m constantly checking where they might be,” says Christley. “I go into the wardrobe and shake all my clothes regularly because they like to be dark and undisturbed. I check under furniture, swat any I can find. I’m always jumping up to try to catch them; I see them flying around. I’m encouraging spiders in my house now; they’ve got lots of cobwebs and I’m trying to get them to catch the moths.” It has been frustrating – and expensive. “And it’s all been a waste of time.”

    Continue reading...

  • A beached fin whale being circled by sharks and eastern grey kangaroos in a snowstorm are among the standout images in the 2019 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year awards

    • The Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2019 is on at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney until 20 October 2019 and the South Australian Museum until 10 November

    The week in wildlife – in pictures

    Continue reading...

  • Giraffes, sharks, glass frogs - and the woolly mammoth - may get boosted protection at summit

    From giraffes to sharks, the world’s endangered species could gain better protection at an international wildlife conference.

    The triennial summit of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), that began on Saturday, will tackle disputes over the conservation of great beasts such as elephants and rhinos, as well as cracking down on the exploitation of unheralded but vital species such as sea cucumbers, which clean ocean floors.

    Continue reading...

  • With an international council now on the brink of declaring the species unsustainable – and Brexit looming – what is the future for one of the nation’s favourite meals?

    By 7.30am all the cod at Peterhead fish market had been sold, snapped up by competing buyers wearing thick fleeces, woolly hats and rubber boots against the chill of the vast indoor warehouse.

    A gaggle of middle-aged men clutching books of brightly coloured “tallies” followed the auctioneer alongside crates of glassy-eyed fish nestling in ice. With a curt nod or a swift hand gesture, the price was settled, tallies thrown down to indicate the fish’s new owner, and the group moved on. It took less than 10 minutes to dispose of the night’s catch.

    Continue reading...

  • Nation commemorates the once huge Okjokull glacier with plaque that warns action is needed to prevent climate change

    Iceland has marked its first-ever loss of a glacier to climate change as scientists warn that hundreds of other ice sheets on the subarctic island risk the same fate.

    As the world recently marked the warmest July ever on record, a bronze plaque was mounted on a bare rock in a ceremony on the barren terrain once covered by the Okjökull glacier in western Iceland.

    Continue reading...

  • The astronomer royal and risk specialist on cyber-attacks, pandemics, Brexit and life on Mars

    Martin Rees is a cosmologist and astrophysicist who has been the astronomer royal since1995. He is also a co-founder of theCentre for the Study of Existential Risk, Cambridge. His most recent book,Onthe Future: Prospects for Humanity, is published by Princeton.

    After Boris Johnson’s recent announcementof an increase in the number of special visas for scientists, Sir Andre Geim accused himof taking scientists “for fools”. Did you feel patronised by the announcement?
    I wouldn’t put it that way. Anything that makes it easier to get visas is welcome but won’t remove the serious downsides of Brexit.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds