Last night was the official opening dinner of the World Tourism Organization conference in Zagreb, and I found myself seated with a bevy of beauties representing the world. Next to me was Zivile Vaskyte, who is the one person who handles the media for the Republic of Lithuania’s state department of tourism. “When people tell me to have my staff call them, well, they mean me,” she explained.
Next to her was Marysya Gorobets, whose family owns a collection of tourism magazines and works as a TV presenter and actress in Ukraine. Her golden hair swept back in braids resembled that of the former prime minister of her country, Yulia V. Tymoshenko who is now in jail for contempt, in what many say are trumped up charges. One journalist kept calling her Tymoshenko which she didn’t really appreciate.
To my right was a party crasher named Rita who said she lived in Beijing now, but who had spent 22 years in the US, as a TV news anchor. She was there to present a gift to Croatia’s prime minister. She also wanted to cheer on her friend Ana who played the cello on stage to a backdrop video of a barely clad man chasing the lovely musician up the streets of Zagreb with her playing his chiseled back like an instrument. Weirdly inappropriate for such a stuffy venue, but good fun to watch.
Then there was Stefanie Muller, a German who lives in Spain and works for Business Today, reporting on business, banking and lifestyle for this radio program.
UN World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Taleb Rifai spoke passionately about tourism and the effect it has on the world’s quality of life. It’s the fourth largest industry in the world, and it’s the one that’s growing more than any other business. “Look at what one month of the World Cup did for South Africa!” Rifai was once tourism minister for Jordan, and admitted that he gets pretty passionate about the topic of how tourism can save the world.
Then Croatia’s Prime Minister, the distinguished silver maned Jadranka Kosor gave her speech, but I didn’t grab the headsets and it was all in Croatian. My tablemates explained that she has to give the speech in her native tongue because all of the local media were there, and they’ll want to quote her. Plus, her English isn’t that good so it would not help her to try it in English and do it poorly.
After the lavish dinner, we gathered a few of the tablemates and took a long walk into the city center to one of Zagreb’s famous outdoor cafes. The city was quiet at this hour, about 11:30 pm, a contrast to the boisterous volume I’d seen there over the weekend. But after all, it was a Monday night.