Stanica Nikolić and her family own the Plitvice Retreat object in the town of Rudanovac, just 12 kilometers from the Plitvice Lakes National Park.
They are able to accommodate 14 people in their three apartments, and after an excellent first season we’ve sat down with them to talk about the business they’d just started and already found themselves in.
How did you decide to start working in tourism at Plitvice?
Actually, my first work experience was in tourism, and ever since then I’ve been directly or indirectly involved in providing services in the industry. I love interacting with people, as much as it is demanding, but I always give my best. This encouraged me to use the space I have available, so with the help of my family I opened the doors to our apartments last year.
When decorating, my principal idea was to combine traditional and contemporary, but also to keep it simple. The goal is that our guests feel comfortable and welcome and that they enjoy themselves like they were home. I know that that phrase sounds like a cliché, but I truly believe that tourism is primarily a cultural exchange and that by providing accommodation services we also participate in the exchange in our own way.
This is your second tourist season, are you satisfied with how it’s going?
This is our second season and we’re happy with the amount of visitors in our apartments. We do our best to make sure that the guests feel good and that they depart happy and full of nice memories, which has so far always been the case.
What has been your favorite experience so far and is tourism and hospitality something that the whole family should be dedicated to?
My favorite memory is probably about our first guests. It was a young family from Australia with a 1-year-old son. Our communication was very pleasant from the start. They left happy, left us fantastic reviews, and they shared their positive experiences which is a great feeling, that’s why we put in all this effort. We are all together in the business as a family because we have the opportunity. The entire family dedicating themselves to it is not required, but it is easier with everyone’s support.
How important is it to decorate the exterior in addition to the interior? You have swings for kids, a barbecue, gazebo, and you really love flower… do the guests recognize that?
It is incredibly important and guests absolutely recognize it. It stopped being possible a long time ago to just do this job to grab money from the guests. Our policy is to put maximum effort in everything, that is how we approached this story we call the Plitvice Retreat. Everyone works as they feel is best for themselves, but I think that in tourism, as well as any other service, quality has to be consistent and at a very high level, and that one has to constantly invest.
What do the guests like the most when they come to Plitvice and Lika?
The nature! And not just the national park. People come from all over the world, often from urban centers, and they find it odd how everything is calm and quiet, how you can see the stars at night and how the water is pure.
Your reviews on Booking are truly flawless. How important are reviews in this work?
They are very important because, in addition to pricing, that is the first factor people use to eliminate options. If you have poor reviews, even with reasonable prices, nobody is going to book, unless they’re staying for a very short time and really don’t care where they sleep. Guests are, however, interested in other people’s experiences, which is the point of Booking and/or Airbnb, to present others’ experiences so that someone new can see and hear them and then create their own. That only works if they like what they see.
I know there is a practice where people pay to get good reviews, but that only works for large-scale renters where both the fluctuation and capacity are higher. That is not the case for small renters such as ourselves. We don’t do that.
What would you recommend to renters and those who are only considering entering this line of work?
This job is a long-term commitment. Anyone can grab some quick cash if they wanted to, but it’s not worth it when you consider the time investment, and people sometimes forget to count that factor in their investments. Additionally, this is first and foremost a job that involves working with people, so it’s important to learn to communicate. No matter how much you try and anticipate, things won’t always go smoothly. Guests come in all shapes and sizes, which is both positive and negative. Patience is paramount.
What are the top three qualities anyone in the hospitality business should possess?
Be cordial, kind and patient.
PHOTO: Josip Durdov