Losinj – the Island of Vitality. This is a big claim for a small place. Yet despite its size, this 74sq km island off the west coast of Croatia packs a punch when it comes to health and wellness.
With a 120-year tradition of health tourism, the island is renowned for its therapeutic climate and as an aromatherapy destination. Add to this its many wellness centres and programmes, walking/diving activities and healthy Mediterranean gastronomy, it’s easy to see where this confidence in specialising in restorative holidays stems from. It’s an island that invites you to “breath in, take a look, taste, touch, listen and feel Losinj”.
Rarely does a destination fully live up to its brand promise. However, on this Island of Vitality the community and the private sector are coming together – under the strategic guidance of a proactive tourism office – to deliver the message. It’s a genuine experience of exceptional quality. And its on this foundation that it’s planning to grow its tourism industry.
Losinj’s climate is critical to its feel good factor. It has fresh sea air with mild temperatures (ranging from 12?C in winter to 24?C in summer) and an average 207 days of sunshine a year.
It was in the late 19th century when the main town of Mali Losinj became known as a centre for tourism when aristocracy from Austria and Hungary came to sample its healthy air. In 1982 research on Losinj’s microclimate, by biologist Ambroz Haracic, led to its proclamation as a climatic health resort for bronchial diseases. From then on, its reputation as a place to patch up the body, de-stress and rediscover oneself was sealed.
Today, many spas and wellness centres still focus on respiratory wellness. The latest research from the Croatian Meteorological and Hydrological Service confirms that holiday makers tested on arrival and departure experienced significant improvement in lung function from their stay, irrespective of age, gender or habits.
Director of the research, Dr Anamarija Margan Sulc says: “A sojourn in Losinj, especially in the autumn and spring months, could help people suffering from respiratory diseases and lead to long-term, prolonged remission by reducing expectoration, coughs and chronic lung disease, as well as the need for medication.”
Figures from the Losinj Tourist Office show that the island attracted 263,000 tourists in 2014, staying for a total of 2.1 million nights. The majority (87 per cent) of these were made by international tourists mostly from Germany, Italy, Slovenia and Austria. Collectively, the community, residents and local businesses have agreed on a future goal of reaching a maximum capacity of 3 million tourist nights by 2020.
It’s this joined-up thinking which is one of the most praiseworthy aspects of the island’s approach to tourism development. The Tourist Office is a not-for-profit destination management and marketing organisation and, impressively, a member of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). Its president, Gari Cappelli, is also the mayor of Losinj and the eight board members represent key sectors of the industry. Twice a year the island’s 120 small tourism businesses, 80 larger tourism companies as well as the community and other business representatives are invited to put forward their ideas too.
Cappelli, clearly a natural leader who knows his community well, says: “Our job at the municipality is to create the right environment for enterprise and the infrastructure to allow investors to stand a better chance of being successful. We are, therefore, all in this together. Sustainable tourism means that the community works hand in hand with the investor. It’s all about people. What’s good for the resident is good for the investor and vice versa.”
Its annual budget of €1m, derived primarily from bedroom taxes, is reinvested in infrastructure, supporting the works of the national tourist board and funds regional promotions. And while the scale of the funds is limiting, tourism office director Durdica Simicic remains positive, saying this means there’s “a greater need for partnerships and alliances, more creativity in ways of delivering projects and a real focus on ROI.”
Losinj’s tourism strategy A Plan for Tomorrow 2013-2020 emphasises a sustainable approach to development with vitality branding serving as the primary means of delivering this goal.
Cappelli explains: “We want a health story for us, not just the tourists. It’s our story. Everyone needs to buy into this overall approach and our branding. Our local population must live it to ‘sell it’. We’ve now even introduced aromatherapy sessions in our primary schools.”
On this latter point, Cappelli is referring to another important strand of Losinj’s wellness offering – aromatherapy. Over the centuries, sailors from this seafaring community have returned from their travels with up to 80 exotic plants – such as myrtle, magnolia, orange, eucalyptus and tamaris. This has enhanced the wide array of 1,100 species of native flora and fauna, including more than 230 herbs.
There are a many of examples of how this is feeding into tourism. Each year the Tourism Office organises a programme of events reinforcing the message of vitality. The signature Apsyrtides aromatherapy festival runs throughout June and includes special offers on products and produce, open days at wellness centres and various lectures, workshops and promotions.
In early 2015, the Tourism Office received recognition from the UNWTO for its Fragrances and Tastes of Losinj project. The initiative involves local businesses championing seasonal ingredients – lemon, orange and tangerine in January and February – in their offerings from floral displays and potpourri to juices, cakes and treatments.
There’s also innovation in developing natural cosmetics based on ingredients on the island. Three active local companies include Apoxyomenos, Mirta Natural Cosmetics and Spa Sense and they supply spas and beauty centres and sell their wares across the island.
On top of this, the tourism team encourages businesses to develop vitality programmes for visitors (see p77).
Cappelli concludes: “The wellness concept that we’ve established on Losinj is the key to achieving our [tourism] targets. It’s an approach agreed by all stakeholders – community and investors. It’s an approach which respects our natural environment and which also harnesses our cultural assets.
“By working together we can become one of the most sought after wellness destinations in the Mediterranean.”