Since the very beginning of the pandemic, we did not waste any time on adapting to new circumstances: the natural way was to digitalise our services, our events. We were not alone in following that trend, of course, all major actors did the same and particularly our sister-Chambers from the network of CCI France International, 125 of them in more than 90 countries worldwide says Višnja Ježić Sorić President of the Franco-Croatian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
- The past year, since we have lived in the age of the COVID19 pandemic, has brought many novelties in both thinking and in business. How did French-Croatian Chamber adapt to the new circumstances?
We did that instantaneously; the transformation process was done very rapidly by our Office and we acquired new software solutions, started to be more present on the web, the social networks, in one word – we have significantly increased our online presence.
I think the most important thing that we reconfirmed to ourselves is the importance of all communication channels, and we are still updating that part of our activities – by creating a new web portal of the Chamber which will be online in three languages during July, by actively feeding social networks profiles, some of which jointly with other Franco-bilateral Chambers in the SEE region, even by visually creating a newer, more modern image of our communication.
Concerning the events, for example, they all became digital, overnight, I may say. As well as some services we provide for our non-member companies – we often organize prospecting missions for both French and Croatian companies on both markets: well, those live missions transformed into online meetings with their future partners. We like to call it e-mission 🙂
- According to the information available to Franco-Croatian Chamber, how big is the crisis, how big is the decline in investment, production and business operations in general in both France and Croatia? What do the numbers say?
There certainly has been a decline in the bilateral commerce between Croatia and France, both economies suffered as well as all of Europe and the rest of the world. But, what we shouldn’t do is blindly trust and be guided by numbers. Business operations in general depended largely on the sector of activities, there are some that suffered greatly, like the transport or automotive industry, there are some that prospered from the pandemic situation, like IT industry or some services for example.
Speaking from the feedback from the terrain, from our member-companies, I think I can generally say in the name of the Chamber and in their own name: “congratulations on the crisis well survived”. And – I’m coming back to the necessary adaptations in business operations, a change in routine, some necessary investments in order to continue, to survive on the market, etc. We had some great examples for that in our “Learn from our members” series of webinars…
On the other hand, the investments are luckily long-term projects and the Učka tunnel is still going to be bored, the roads are going to continue to be constructed in Istria, Decathlon opened a few more stores in Croatia and in the neighbouring countries, our member Nebesa (Little green bay) is investing in a new tourist project on one of the most popular Adriatic islands… There has not been a decline in our member’s services and products, moreover, it was a time for some new concepts and offers!
We can confirm the same with the fact that we did not have a single member who withdrew from the membership, but on the contrary, we even witnessed the opening of a couple of new French affiliates in Croatia, becoming our members, of course… It was the survival of the fittest – and it seems a lot of our companies, if not all of them, are quite fit!
- There has been a significant decline in business activity, but in what ways have you, as an institution, helped the businesspeople?
I can say that the support to our member-companies was even larger than in usual periods without the pandemic.
We have put large efforts to follow all the relevant information, whether it be concerning the Government measures or subventions, the practical way to deal with the crisis, even how to cross the national borders and prepare for a business trip, in one word we have become a COVID19 info point.
I already mentioned our webinars, with all sorts of information, more specific industry-related, or more general. That info-support, the in-depth familiarity Chamber had with certain topics and the availability to share it with member-companies and to update them, was highly appreciated and acknowledged.
- What are the most common issues and what are the needs of the businesspeople when they address you? How is the communication with decision makers?
Our members mostly contact us for direct contact persons within other companies or the administration. Often they also seek legal or institutional support. We are there for exactly that sort of intermediation and are always very glad to be of assistance, whether for matching them with possible business partners, in Croatia and abroad, whether for organizing meetings to address certain issues to local or central governments.
I cannot say that we, or they, if you like, have been confronted with some major issues that are unsolvable, blocking for their business. Very often the solution is found even on lower levels of administration, sometimes it just takes a good explanation, a presentation of a project, a clarification of a certain disposition of the law. Sometimes, all they need is for the institutions to be aware of their existence, their projects, knowledge and added value they can bring to local community, a sort of a “we are here, you can count on us”.
It is essential for an institution such as ours to have a good dialogue with decision makers, which, I am proud to say, we have so far successfully maintained. We have never had any problems addressing even the highest-ranking public servants and communicating with them. The interesting fact is that the pandemic has also changed the way the administration operates – what used to be live meetings, turned into emails exchange or a Zoom session, for which I can say I am quite satisfied.
The Government and all major institutions were really very clear with the messages in this time of crisis. There simply was a little too much of them in a certain period and that is where the Chamber stepped in and summarized and in a way simply explained all to our companies.
- We all switched to digital platforms, online events. How long will that remain a way of communication and business and what do you prefer – online or communication in person?
I said that we switched to digital the moment the crisis erupted and I am saying that we did not hesitate to go back to the “old normal” once we had the first opportunity and were allowed to do so. We seized the opportunity to gather our members and to finally be able to have a live socializing event(s).
For how long? I do not know, like nobody else can with certainty. There are some aspects of communication and doing business that are certainly going to stay digital. The companies have realized that it too can bring budget cuts and is a way of making the colleagues more productive if they are not going to travel for meetings or participate at a live conference somewhere. It will depend greatly on the company management, on the aspirations of employees and on the development of the health situation. The trend is more and more to opt for the mixture of the two, the “phygital”.
Myself, I am more of a live-meeting person and most of the times it was (it still is) difficult to accept that we are not able to see each other live. All your readers know about our biggest informal event of the year – the traditional celebration of young Beaujolais Nouveau French wine. Well, we could not break that tradition in 2020, and since it was impossible to gather our usual 300 invitees, our members and their business partners, we sent them each a bottle of that wine and some French cheese (a camembert) and invited them to an online replay of a theatre piece. We texted each other, we talked on the phone, but it just wasn’t the same… Personal live communication and socializing remains, for me, the best way.
- The year 2021 was supposed to be a year of recovery. When is the recovery expected to begin and what are Franco-Croatian Chamber’s plans for the upcoming period?
The recovery already started, we noticed a huge increase in activities both from our member- and non-member companies. The communication with the members is increasing, the demands are more frequent and punctual, and the feedback of the situation is getting better and better every day. Of course, the results of the summer season are eagerly expected, since so many economic activities in Croatia depend on tourist arrival.
Other French and Croatian companies were equally fast to awake from 2020 and realizing that there is no progress in waiting and doing nothing. The Chamber witnessed a record number of commercial demands since the beginning of this year.
So, in treating all those files, we must not put aside the core of our business, our members and their needs. We will continue to closely cooperate with each end everyone, we will continue our usual activities of support, promotion, animation, matchmaking, with business and informal events, by adapting to newly developed situations, proactively as we always did. With a short-term planning for our events, at least until the end of this year. The difficulties are not yet behind us, there are still big challenges and uncertainties. The most important thing is to adapt and survive this period.