In the past, people associated Novalja with Zrće beach and its widely known parties. However, as Novalja develops its outdoor tourism, many travelers recognize its greatness for cycling, hiking, kayaking and other outdoor activities.
In this interview, Marina Šćiran Rizner, the director of Novalja Tourist Board and Pag Outdoor, told us all about Novalja, Pag Outdoors and what’s her favorite location in the new Bikademy Novalja Study.
When and how did you recognize the potential for the development of outdoor activities in Novalja and the rest of the island of Pag?
Novalja is recognized as a phenomenon on the world tourist map and strongly relies on a tourist product known as party tourism. We are aware of the benefits it brings, but also of the negative connotations associated with it, and there is also the challenge of the destination’s seasonality. In order to complete our range of tourism, to extend the pre- and post-season, we started a larger number of organized outdoor events in the pre- and post-season period.
In a relatively short time, Life on Mars Trail was recognized as one of the most successful international trail races in which more than 1,300 competitors took part, located in the unique stone space of the Metajna canyon, leaving behind a year-round infrastructure, i.e. a signalized and routed footpath. At the same time, we organize half-marathons, cycling and trail races, we include an increasing number of local residents as well as other tourism stakeholders in the product, and in the end, we jointly launch the Pag Outdoor project at the island level.
What does Pag Outdoor include and what were the challenges in starting it up?
The success of the Pag Outdoor project is the result of the joint association of the island’s tourism boards TZG Novalja, TZG Pag, TZO Kolana, TZO Povljana and TZM Stara Novalja.
In such projects, the synergy of all tourism stakeholders is extremely important. The Pag Outdoor project is proof of that thesis, because we have created a recognizable tourist product that responds to the problem of seasonality. The results are already visible and this is the direction we are continuing in. Our project includes and connects a number of stakeholders, both from the tourism sector and from city institutions with the advice and help of numerous external partners, where we should especially highlight top outdoor professionals like Martin Čotar. A formed product, travel agencies that sell it via outdoor platforms, and trained guides are just some of the crucial elements of the development process and marketing of a tourist product. I emphasize again that synergy is key and is really not a platitude. Without all the aforementioned stakeholders, this project would not have been completed today, so it is a textbook example of outdoor development.
During the preparation of the new Bikademy Study in Novalja, we noticed an extremely large number of cyclists. Are you satisfied with the number of active tourists this year or do you see more room for growth?
I believe that we have only just begun to capitalize on the years of investment in active tourism. This would not have been possible without the shy beginnings, desire, and faith, but also the support of the City Administration and all bodies of the Tourist Board. Synergy and support of all institutions is really the most important thing for the project to come to life and get a strong wind at its back. And we knew that we needed the force of “bura” (wind) so that Novalja, in addition to being a party destination, is also perceived as an ideal destination for active tourism. With excellent traffic connections and excellent climatic conditions, it is not unusual to see buses of mountaineers who come to hike on the Life on Mars trail or several dozen cyclists in September, while in the summer season kayaking around the bay of Pag is definitely the most popular. Of course, to complete the story, there is our local DMC specialized receptive tourist agency Sunturist, which has been with us since the very beginning, in addition to participating in the creation and placing the product on the market.
What are the experiences of cyclists so far? Which locations attract cyclists the most?
There is certainly room for improvement and there will be as long as there is a desire for continuous improvement, following trends and adapting to the wishes and needs of guests. The pandemic has completely changed the habits and desires of consumers, and today’s guests want safety, above all, a new experience, and originality. Therefore, the locations must be breathtaking in order to become their reason for coming, to keep their attention or to cause interaction and communication on social networks. Novalja and the island of Pag do not lack beautiful motifs, therefore it is difficult to distinguish whether it is the Svetojanj trail, the Embrace of the Stone and the Wind, the Kolan Field or the Lune olive gardens.
Bikademy Study Novalja will bring the northern part of the island closer to all cycling enthusiasts and reward them for it. Of the seven Exams, which one is your favorite?
My vote goes to Svetojanj 😊! It’s because of the story… The old Byzantine fort built during the reign of Emperor Justinian was actually a military observation post for observing ships passing through the Velebit Canal. Beautiful hidden coves, the Svetojašnica pond that almost never dries up, wonderful viewpoints and panoramas, the Boškinac hotel and Novalja Field are part of this beautiful trail that is worth cycling at least once in your life.