A voyage of discovery along the Dalmatian coast

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Greetings from the latest Moodie Davitt Interim Bureau, on the wondrous Dalmatian coast near Dubrovnik. As the images on this page suggest, there are worse places to spend time as a journalist in the duty free industry. The beauty of the region is one thing, but it has been matched by the welcome I have received on a whistlestop tour of Southern Croatia and Montenegro. That welcome has been as warm as the late August weather that continues to attract travellers from all around Europe, a smattering of Asian visitors who are beginning to discover this part of the world, plus the return of Russians, such a vital nationality for duty free.

Room with a view: The Adriatic glitters outside my hotel room window, close to Dubrovnik Airport and around 19km from the city
Last night’s sunset on the road between Split and Dubrovnik, one of the great coastal drives of the world
Stella Croatica, a brand built mainly in duty free, has created an ‘Ethno Village’, modelled on traditional Croatian design and culture, on its factory site, as it champions the country’s great natural ingredients, from almonds to sea salt

I’m making good on a long-standing promise to return to Dubrovnik in particular and the wider region in general, to see the latest developments in the airport and duty free industry. Now that I’m here, I’m wondering why it’s a good decade since I last came.

My host and guide here is one of the great figures of this region’s duty free business, Niksa Milanovic, who ran the business at Dubrovnik Airport for close to 40 years, and who retired nearly two years ago. Together, in just 36 hours, we’ve taken one of the great coastal drives of the world, between Dubrovnik and Split, to see first-hand the progress of the new terminal at Split Airport. We branched off to pay a visit to a fast-growing, classy regional brand, Stella Croatica, which has essentially been built through Croatian duty free – and which is making a name for itself for its use of natural ingredients and hand-crafted and finished packaging. Its designs represent Croatia in a bottle, jar or pack – and it is championing tourism to the region in other ways, as we’ll report in our Cannes edition.

Tivat Airport and its small duty free shop struggle with the volume of Russian visitors, with a planned new terminal badly needed, at least to cope with the heavy peak periods

We have also been to Montenegro – a new country for this visitor – and wow is it a country and a coastline every bit as stunning as its northern neighbour. We travelled to Tivat Airport, not far from the border, to see first-hand the rise and rise of tourism, especially at the high end. Tivat, the town served by the airport, is a buzzing place with a heavy Russian accent through the summer. A new terminal is eventually planned too and given the crowds we saw landside and airside at Tivat, it won’t come a moment too soon. We’ll tell you more about duty free in Montenegro in our October edition.

Magnificent Montenegro: The elegance of Tivat’s waterfront has attracted investment and visitors from Russia and increasingly from the Gulf states

Danko, Anna and Niksa: The Regal-GH joint venture team that runs duty free at Tivat and Podgorica airports host me and my guide Niksa Milanovic (right) at lunch by the water on Monday

And all that is before we even get to Dubrovnik Airport, with its new terminal opened last year. I’m passing through on my way home, and will meet with the leadership team there to hear how this new facility has changed the consumer proposition. We’ll be talking too, as we have with other Croatian companies, about the impact of EU accession four years ago and today, about pricing and currency, about young, emerging consumers and their demands, and about the future of the industry in this exciting country and region.

The shape of things to come: Split Airport’s new terminal under construction

First, I’m joining Niksa and some of his colleagues to sample some of Croatia’s great food and wine at a restaurant nearby, overlooking the Adriatic coast. I may be some time…

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