Felicity Long
Felicity Long

To call Wanda Radetti, the founder and president of Tasteful Croatian Journeys, a Croatia travel expert is a bit of an understatement.

Not only is she an award-winning travel advisor who has been specializing in Croatia before it  was anything like the A-list destination it has become, she's also a key consultant to inbound providers, helping them adapt to changing trends in the travel industry.

When I heard conflicting accounts of whether Croatia is allowing entry to U.S. visitors -- Croatia is a member of the European Union but is not part of the Schengen border-free area -- I knew Radetti would know the real story. Her answer was so timely and vivid, that I present it here more or less verbatim:

"Just this past Saturday morning [Aug. 22],  our clients, armed with a valid U.S. passport and the required, 48-hours-before-entry negative-Covid-19 certificate, were told by the clerk at the United Airlines check-in counter that they would not be allowed to travel to Croatia because the country was closed to Americans," she began.

"At 7 on Saturday morning is when I heard my client's voice over the phone. Although I am getting accustomed to feeling as if I am standing in a quicksand of information, I was surprised.

I had checked travel conditions the night before, ... and said I would get back to them ASAP.

"The first call I made was to my Croatia concierge in Rijeka. We continued with calls to the U.S.  Embassy in Zagreb, the minister of health of Croatia, the Croatia Tourist Board, the head office and duty station manager of Dubrovnik Airport, the state secretary of the ministry of tourism. I spoke with the general manager of the hotel in Dubrovnik (a good GM is always well connected and can move mountains).

"The information that United provided at the Miami Airport was incorrect. When travelers meet the established requirements, Croatia is ready to welcome Americans.

"Just to be sure, I also called our driver in Dubrovnik. He confirmed that two hours before our call, he welcomed a couple of Americans from New York City [who had] arrived in Dubrovnik from Heathrow without a problem.

"I called my clients back to offer comfort and the correct information.  I had them hear the news directly from the driver.

"I was satisfied, they were satisfied, and together we agreed that it was OK for them to continue on their journey to Croatia."

Because of all the back and forth, the clients missed their original departure and had to be booked onto a new flight. The plane arrived in Dubrovnik just one hour before the 48-hour window on their Covid tests expired.

After hearing Radetti's dramatic story, I asked her if or when she anticipated Croatia might rebound to some sort of normalcy.

"Some of the really special places where our small business partners have been able to keep their doors open are an indication that they will be ready to welcome guests in 2021," she said.

In addition, Radetti said her company has been able to convince some owners of motor and sail boats, yachts, and villas to be flexible and charter and/or lease for fewer days than the usual Saturday-to-Saturday period.

Hotel properties are increasingly available for exclusive use, she said, adding: "We know of some American families looking to bring their children to Croatia, where they can [act] virtually as a quarantine cohort of mutual support  an exclusive hotel or villa and a yacht is perfect for groups traveling together."

It's also worth noting that Croatia Airlines, which served 37 destinations as of August, has eased rebooking and refund policies in response to the pandemic.  

As to how Radetti's clients are feeling: "Since the beginning of this year, working closely with our partners, we ... have been successful in granting refunds, rebooking/postponing existing itineraries, and ensuring that deposits held on behalf of the clients are secure as we attained matching rates for the trips confirmed for 2020 that have been postponed to 2021."

Finally, I asked Radetti about Rijeka, which had been poised to be a Capital of Culture this year but never got its day in the sun.

"The honor might not be lost yet," she said. She added that the title might be extended to 2021. The final decision will be made in November.

In the meantime, Radetti will keep on doing what great travel advisors do every day: working miracles.

"From the point of view of a travel professional, travel is never simple; we just make sure that our travelers feel as if it is," she said.  "Making travel feel simple these days is a challenge." 

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