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Tourism and Conferencing Sectors Check into Croatia with Help from Cisco Technologies

February 11, 2008

By Jason Deign, News@Cisco

Join us on a holiday to Croatia. Experience up to 5835 kilometers of un-spoilt islands and marina-punctuated coastline; an un-spoilt interior to rival Tuscany in Italy; a benign climate; and luxurious hotels with the latest in hi-tech services.

If it sounds good, then the hotel bit at least is in part thanks to networking technology from Cisco Systems, Inc.

After a stormy 20th Century, there is a wholehearted desire to embrace network technologies and bring Croatia, a state which has yet to join the European Union, fully into the 21st Century.

"Since the 1990s the Croatian government has started backing important business sectors such as holiday and conference tourism and very speedily building physical infrastructure such as roads and airports," says Igor Meles, Cisco country manager in Croatia.

As a result, the latter have attracted low-cost airlines and national carriers alike. Meanwhile, hotels on the coast offer the kinds of amenities one would expect from the best in the west. Even three-star hostels offer wireless Internet access as standard.

Two Croatian hotel chains, Importanne Resorts in Dubrovnik and Valamar hotels in Porec, use service provider-based managed services over converged IP networks to get round-the-clock IT support and quality-of-service guarantees.

Meanwhile the Adriatic Luxury Hotels Group, one of the country's main privately-owned chains, has establishments which are as technically advanced as anywhere else in Europe, equipped with Cisco Connected Hotel infrastructure.

The ease of connectivity at hotels such as Adriatic's Dubrovnik Palace, Excelsior or Bellevue allows guests to get away from it all yet remain connected to families, friends or employers. They can access news, communications and entertainment, or upload photos or write travel blogs.

In the Bellevue, all guest rooms have Cisco Unified IP phones connected to an IP telephony system which is integrated with the hotel's billing and customer relationship management systems.

Cleaning and maintenance staff also use the system, so, with a press of a button on the IP phones, they are able to notify reception that a room is free for incoming guests as soon as they have finished repairs or cleaning.

"There are three reasons why this area of the Balkans is becoming a leading region for high-tech hotels," Viktor Kovacs, Cisco general manager for the Adriatic region and Hungary, says.

The first is that many of the hotels being constructed are on green or brown-field sites where there is minimal existing technology, making it easy for operators to leapfrog their competitors in other countries where there is more pre-existing networking equipment in place.

Second, the modern Croatian hospitality industry has been born in a world where converged networks are the norm, and the idea of having separate networks for voice and data simply does not make operational sense.

And third, Croatian hotel operators recognize that IP can help them create services that will set them apart.

"People are considering ideas such as sending your room number and door code to your mobile phone, in a text message, when you arrive at the hotel so you do not have to queue at the reception desk," says Meles.

Access to network technologies in the hotel sector is being mirrored in Croatia by a rapidly growing online population.

According to the country's Ministry of the Sea, Tourism, Transport and Development, Croatia had more than 1.5 million Internet users at the end of 2006, almost a 35 percent penetration rate.

This population is supported by approximately 40 Internet service providers and a similar number of voice-over-IP companies.

Broadband is booming, with 500,000 users, or 12 percent of the penetration, expected by the end of 2008-roughly the current level of countries such as Portugal or New Zealand.

All this is helping to create an aura of a thoroughly modern European country, which is good news for tourism. Croatia is among the top 25 tourist destinations in the world, with more than 8.9 million visitors and revenues of EUR€7 billion in 2006.

Ministry of the Sea, Tourism, Transport and Development data shows approximately €500 million was invested in 2006 in hotels, campsites and holiday resorts. Looking ahead, the goal is to achieve 11 million arrivals and 66 million overnight stays by 2010.

The Croatian tourism authority's strategic aims include positioning the country as one of the leading tourist destinations in the Mediterranean and encouraging tourism in harmony with sustainable development.

Having some of Europe's most modern hotels certainly will not hurt.

Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.

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