Denis Lončar from Otočac is one of the pioneers of tourism in the region. Apart from offering his guests a wide array of sports and entertainment activities, he has been providing accommodation in his family house where he lives with his wife Sandra and children Kevin and Melani.
After finishing high school, Denis wanted to study tourism. He felt that this field would be able to recover quickly after the war and enable good living conditions in the area. He finished the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality Management in Opatija, and he was additionally motivated by where he lived – a house by the river Gacka where many foreigners competed in trout fishing.
How long have you been in the hospitality business and how did it all start?
I started renting in 2007, it was a joint effort with my father and mother. Our motto has always been „guests first“, so even back then when competition was very low, we were 100% there for each guest. Many of our regular guests, fishermen, still talk about how my late father used to bring them domestic plum schnaps and drink with them for every trout caught.
The whole story, which began 12 years ago and is still going strong, is deeply bound by friendships with guests and spending time with them. Each winter we spend time with our guests in their territory – Wolfgang in Vienna, Corrado in Italy, and other guests who are our friends, we spend the weekend together and have a good time. If I were to tell you all the nice memories and anecdotes with our friends, you’d probably have to dedicate one whole issue of the Plitvice Times just for that.
In addition to interior decoration, how important is it to decorate the surrounding landscape? You have a children’s playground, barbecue, sandbox… do guests acknowledge those things?
It’s true that when you decide what direction to go in, that you have to dedicate yourself to it. In addition to fishermen, our most loyal guests are families with children. When the kids are happy, so are the parents. I’m also a parent of two, we often travel and I know what it feels like to sleep in a room that’s only 20 metres square, it’s literally a prison.
Kids need to be free and to play, so we made a playground next to the apartments. It has a slide with a house, sandbox, swing, trampoline and a bunch of toys, equipment and deck chairs for parents, all of that on 400 metres squared. While the kids are playing, the parents can keep an eye on them while reading a book or sunbathing. And then in the evening, when the kids go to bed, the parents can relax with a glass of wine on the terrace that also features a barbecue, all set in a silent rural mood, with a gentle, fresh breeze coming from the forest.
Your place has been given the Blue & Green Homestay label. How important is that for you?
We are delighted that the Lika-Senj County Tourist Board recognized us as a valuable touristic subject and gave us the label. When you do something for over ten years, and you put in a lot of effort for every single guest, the Blue & Green label is definitely something we’re proud of. We will continue to be at the service of all our guests, and the guests will also be able to see that institutions have acknowledged our efforts. However, this label also provides a feeling of security for the guests. They know that if they come to us by motorcycle or by bike that they will have a place to safely park in our garage, that there’s a wrench if they need one, and lubricant if something is creaking. When a hiker comes, they know that they can get good information which trail to go on in line with their abilities.
What has been your best experience in the business?
I could mention two incredible experiences. The first one was when we threw a birthday party for our fishermen guests who came for the second time. The whole group was a grandfather, son, daughter-in-law and grandson. All of them went fishing together and they had no idea we were preparing a surprise. When they came back, we were ready to celebrate the grandfather’s 74th birthday, we made cake, balloons, barbecue, and we spent time together all evening, drinking a few shots of plum schnaps in the process. That was the night when we made a permanent bond with our friend Wolfgang I’ve mentioned before. The second experience was when Wolfgang and Corrado threw me an unforgettable birthday party. I won’t talk about it any further, the readers can imagine how much fun the three of us had that day…
What do the guests like the most when they come to you and to Lika?
All hosts will tell you the same two things – hospitality and natural beauty. According to some research, we are the most hospitable hosts in the world, and this is something that our guests from around the world notice and they are always impressed. Even though most guests come to see the Plitvice Lakes, they are surprised and enchanted by the entire scenery. They can’t believe that there is a beautiful and special river like Gacka, clear and fresh over all of its 11 kilometres of length, so when they’re enjoying a walk, cycling or rowing, they can drink directly from the river.
Is tourism on the rise in Otočac and the Gacka valley?
Tourism in Otočac and the Gacka valley has definitely woken up. There are many lovely hosts putting in a lot of effort for their guests, there are many historical and natural sites, attractions and activities to see, visit and do as a tourist. These days, when a guest comes to Otočac, you don’t have to worry what to offer them. We can offer our guests several days of quality vacation time. Sure, there’s always room for improvement, but we’re catching up to global trends, and in my opinion, we are already above Croatian and worldwide competition, at least when it comes to hospitality and equipment, especially in new and refurbished apartments.
What would you recommend to hosts, even those who are only thinking about entering the business?
Dedicating yourselfs to each individual guest is the only key to long-term success and personal satisfaction in the job.
What are the top three qualities each host should have?
Smile, smile, smile.
And finally, what would you say to guests planning to come to Lika?
Dear guests, when you come to Lika, be prepared that your host will always greet you with a smile on their face, welcome drink in hand, advice for a pleasant stay and gratitude for coming here. Your stay in Lika will be a pleasant memory you will cherish for a long time. You will experience and see so much more than you expect.
PHOTO: Josip Durdov