While the term ‘Winter is Coming’ is certainly associated with the fictional world and characters of George R.R. Martin’s hit HBO show Game of Thrones, the same cannot be said for Dubrovnik (King’s Landing), capital of Westeros which serves as a central film shoot site for the famed series. In fact, thanks to Game of Thrones, an increased interest in Dubrovnik and Croatia among foreign film productions and tourists alike has many believing it may be summer all year long as far as Croatian tourism data is concerned.
This of course raises the question many in the country are increasingly asking, ‘when will it end?’ The answer is probably not any time soon. Part of the issue stems from the fact that while Game of Thrones and other well-known productions have definitely increased the state’s coffers, they are also indirectly responsible for quadrupling tourism numbers in a country with less than four million people which is already bursting at the infrastructure seams.
2017 has been an impressive year for Croatian tourism with the country out-ranking Portugal and neck-in-neck with Greece as Europe’s third most popular holiday destination by choice.
This image was further cemented by The New York Times naming Croatia the destination of the year for 2017, thereby ensuring that Americans, the most difficult tourist market to break into would flock to the Dalmatian shore in droves, and if early numbers are any indicators, this is exactly what has happened. This in turn drives demand and hype and has many in the country pondering (and capitalizing) a phenomenon the likes of which they have never seen before. Thus, like Daenerys’ dragons, Game of Thrones tourism has acquired a cult-like Mecca persona that is almost impossible to control, let alone predict.
Filming in the city centre has its own challenges
While it can be said that the series has single-handedly done for Croatian tourism what the Lord of the Rings franchise did for New Zealand, the positive and negative aspects of this are mostly being felt by the locals. I’ve been reporting on Game of Thrones for the past few years and can genuinely state that the summer of 2017 has been the most spectacular tourism year thus far and has surpassed anything that those of my generation can recall.
The Game of Thrones effect
Anyone you speak to will tell you it’s as if the entire universe has converged on Croatia this year, along with their grandmother, sister, aunt and postman. If I had a dime for every tourist I’ve met at Dubrovnik airport, ferry terminal, bus station or the main strip who tells me they are visiting the city primarily because of Game of Thrones, I’d surely be a millionaire by now, possibly even one in the double digits. It’s gone so far that the effects have spilled beyond the city’s limits and are now being felt in Split (film site for scenes shot depicting Valyria, Essos, Mereen) and further up the coast in the city of Šibenik which is the main stand in for Bravos.
I can only imagine what this type of mass fan-franchise-following tourism is doing for the city coffers as well as the states. We’ll know those numbers when the tourism season officially ends the first week of October, but the figures for April and May of 2017 alone already outpaced the entire tourist season of 2015. If the estimates of the Croatian National Tourist Board are to be believed, the country will experience an unprecedented 21 million tourists this year, which is unbelievable considering the entire population of Croatia is smaller than that of Kentucky.
The downside to all of this is that the city of Dubrovnik, indeed the country itself, is literally bursting at the seams. This summer will be noted for standing out in terms of record shortages of workers in the tourism and service sectors, which are vital if Croatia is to meet the sort of month over month demand foreign guests and visitors are creating.
Has Dubrovnik handled the extar attention correctly? - Photo Niksa Duper
I can recall certain days in the past few weeks when leaving my house in Dubrovnik was out of the question. Friends would text to tell me that Pile Gate was over-crowded with tourists lining up to enter the old town at the exact same moment that 2 to 3 cruise ships were about to disembark, dumping another 25,000 people into a city whose medieval cobble-stoned streets were built for half that foot traffic. Add to this scenario some of the hottest temperatures in South-East Europe on record, and you can well imagine the local frustration at what mass tourism, bolstered by crazed fans has done to the city and its surroundings. August 2017 numbers have ballooned to the point that the newly elected Mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Franković, recently told city council that plans are underway to cap the number of visitors scaling the city’s medieval walls to just 4,000 a day (half the number suggested by UNESCO). All of this is being done to prevent overcrowding and congestion which has become a massive problem in recent years.
Cruise ship boom goes hand in hand with film tourism - Photo Tonci Plazibat
It wasn’t always like this. Although Dubrovnik has always been a popular tourist destination among our neighbours and fellow Europeans, it’s popularity has soared ten-fold since HBO launched Game of Thrones in 2011. With Dubrovnik acting as the doppelgänger for King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros, the city has become one of the key stops for Americans, Aussies, Canadians and others engaging in the ‘GOT’ tour (next in popularity on this path is Iceland which is experiencing all the same issues as Croatia).
Walk of Shame in Game of Thrones T-shirt
As a result, Game of Thrones tours which were all but unheard of a mere five years ago, are now popping up all over the place, as are Game of Thrones themed gift stores (including the official HBO endorsed one right off the Stradun), and a visit to the Iron Throne situated on Lokrum island (considered another ‘must’). Social media alone has played its part in amplifying the likes, shares and visits, ensuring that the capital of Westeros has become THE place to visit in 2017, and I have met plenty of folks who have proudly stopped me on the streets of Stradun begging for their photo to be taken in the heart of King’s Landing (that’s right, I had to actually remind them it’s called Dubrovnik…sigh) or at the top of the Jesuit Stairs while they engage in their own Walk of Shame (some even armed with a toll bell in hand).
All of this will hopefully change next year following City Council’s plans to exercise some control over a situation which, if left untreated, locals fear could turn out to be worse than the Doom of Valyria (no pun intended!). Mayor Franković, who was elected in June, recently stated that his two-year plan will undoubtedly hurt the local economy in the short term, but will offer long-term protection for Dubrovnik and the surrounding area. Previous estimates have shown that Game of Thrones was responsible for around half of the 10% annual growth in tourists that Dubrovnik has seen in recent years. I’d be surprised if that number hasn’t surpassed 30% as of this summer.
Of course, the benefits of this tourism boom shouldn’t be discounted because this influx came at a very difficult time for the Croatian economy. While the country and its citizens are certainly grateful for the boomerang effect the GOT series has created, not only in enticing tourists from countries whose citizens may not have previously visited, but also for luring production crews of other well-known film and TV franchises to shoot on its premises – what we all want is more accountability and balance.
Thus, what tourists and locals can all agree on is that Dubrovnik - and Croatia, require a long-term strategy to deal with the increased demand before the situation spirals out of control faster than Cersei Lannister on the Iron Throne. And here’s hoping that our private Westeros gains as much insight from this tourist season as it can so that it’s well prepared for the next one.
Text - Mirella-Marie Katarina Radman
It appears 2017 could be a record breaking year for filming in Croatia following the last few record years in which the country has consistently attracted foreign TV and film production companies. Thanks to ground-breaking tourist numbers flocking to the country to see the sights displayed in popular series such as HBO’s Game of Thrones, the Star Wars franchise, and now confirmation of the upcoming James Bond sequel, Croatia is becoming more and more popular as a first-in-class choice and director’s paradise.
Game of Thrones filming in Dubrovnik
A special tax incentive programme introduced five years ago has helped the country attract a number of major productions, including the two most famous thus far -- Game of Thrones and Star Wars, which were filmed in the cities of Šibenik, Split and Dubrovnik.
The Croatian Audiovisual Centre recently unveiled 2016 figures which highlighted seven international projects that made use of the financial incentive programme for film and TV production, and included four feature films and three TV shows. Two of the feature films shot in Croatia in 2016 already had cinematic distribution and both were Danish productions including a comedy called Three Heists and a Hamster and a drama entitled, Pound for Pound. Recent reports suggest that distribution of the Swedish comedy All Inclusive, will also soon start filming in Croatia.
This news follows on the heels that James Bond, the last in the franchise starring Daniel Craig and Mamma Mia (with Meryl Streep) will also be shot in Croatia, and which was greeted with enthusiasm by locals and fans. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the latest in the popular sci-fi series, which was filmed in Dubrovnik back in spring of 2016, is expected to hit global cinemas in December 2017 and is sure to amplify Croatia’s position as a popular choice for film shoots and production.
The city of Dubrovnik is becoming more and more popular, proof of which was seen this past winter when it hosted A-list Hollywood stars who arrived for the upcoming version of Robin Hood Origins, starring Taron Egeron and Jamie Foxx.
Knightfall using the Old City of Dubrovnik as a backdrop - Photo Zeljko Tutnjevic
Other notable TV shows that were shot on Croatian soil include Netflix’ The Borgia’s, History’s Knightfall, the BBC’s McMafia and Year Million by National Geographic. Current figures show that while filming in Croatia, these productions spent a total of 69.1 million Kunas on local products and services. As if things couldn’t get better, 2017 looks set to eclipse that figure with a high number of international productions confirmed to start shooting in Croatia. In the first half of 2017 six international productions applied for the financial incentives programme, according to the Croatian Audiovisual Centre which went on to state that this year could surpass the old record set in 2015 when 10 global productions generated 22 million Euros in local spend.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi filmed under heavy security - Photo Niksa Duper
For a small country, Croatia has a myriad landscapes and exceptionally stunning medieval towns, cities, islands and castles. Much of its coastline and interior provides a dramatic and almost mythical backdrop for fictional, sci-fi, drama and historic films and television series. It provides a perfect stand in for Italy, Spain and France at almost half the cost and can hold its own against large film-making centres such as Vienna and Berlin. Croatia can also boast a vibrant film industry of its own which is backed up with exceptional talent and production companies that hold impressive records both at home and abroad. All of this has led to a steady rise in the number of international production companies arriving to shoot television series and major film franchises and this is sure to continue in 2018 given recent successes.
Taron Egerton and Jamie Foxx filming Robin Hood in Dubrovnik - Photo Niksa Duper
The height of the summer, and tourist season, is upon us in Dubrovnik and the historic city centre was as busy as you would expect it to be.
New tourists arrived, cruise ship passengers toured the cobbled streets and marvelled at the stone landmarks and locals enjoyed a coffee on a pavement cafe, just another summer’s weekend in Dubrovnik. Temperatures soared to 34 degrees in the city and in the shade was the place to be.
Check out our photo gallery from Saturday morning in Dubrovnik
Some people will go to any lengths to get the perfect view of Dubrovnik; even it is means putting their own lives in dangers. These two male tourists were spotted today on the walls of the Lovrijenac Fortress taking in the view of the Old City of Dubrovnik whilst dangling 80 metres above rocky cliffs.
The fortress, popular to fans of the Game of Thrones as it was the location of the Red Keep, is the only part of the Dubrovnik defensive system that is separated from the walls. It stands high on a rocky cliff overlooking the city and the views are spectacular, so there is no need to climb onto the stone walls to get a better one.
This behaviour is strictly forbidden and warning signs advise visitors of the rules. However these two thrill seekers decided to take matters into their own hands and risk everything for the view.
After a long period of extreme heat and dry weather Dubrovnik could be in for a refreshing couple of days. According to weather forecasters the predict that a northerly wind will blow tonight in the region and bring in cooler evening temperatures, around 23 degrees, and then tomorrow there is the chance of thunder storms and rain with temperatures to drop to around 29 degrees.
Since the beginning of August temperatures in Dubrovnik haven't dropped below 30 degrees and rain has yet to rain in the city this month. However a short period of unstable weather is expected with the beginning of next week to be a mixture of sunshine and scattered clouds with highs around 28 degrees. The “cooler” period should last to around Friday when once again the summer will return in full force and mid-thirty temperatures will again be the norm.
The mid morning traffic in Dubrovnik was slower than normal today as a multiple car accident temporarily blocked the main coastal road. At around 11.00am this morning on the main road that leads to the airport an accident involving four cars stopped traffic.
According to police reports there were no injuries. This section of the road has been particularly dangerous this summer season as more and more cars have been using the small side road up to the top of the Srd Mountain.
Quite clearly this traffic junction needs drastic alterations as the sheer number of cars turning up towards Bosanka is causing tail backs. The cause of the accident is not yet known but the turning to Bosanka and a lack of braking space could well be the culprits.
Over the past few years, an eco-lifestyle has become massively popular all around the world. It is mainly related to food; however, some store shelves are full of products that are anything but ''eco''.
The same situation has been happening in Croatia as well. There are many products with ''the original Croatian'' and ''Croatian quality'' labels, but unfortunately, currently there is no adequate laboratory in the country to determine whether these products are really of Croatian origin.
However, things may change after all in the near future. A kind of CSI for food will be established in the country to determine whether Croatian citizens are buying food from Croatia or not.
The Institute of Public Health ''Dr Andrija Stampar'' and the Faculty of Agriculture are expected to build and equip the Centre for Food Safety and Quality with European money next year. Thus, for the first time in Croatia and by using isotopic analysis, the centre will determine whether the product is really of Croatian origin and from which part of the country it originates.
''Each region, each area has a unique natural barcode, i.e. a characteristic ratio of isotopes of characteristic elements such as oxygen, hydrogen and carbon from the organic component which then undoubtedly demonstrates that the product is grown in that area'', explained Sandra Sikic, the deputy director of the Institute of Public Health ''Dr Andrija Stampar''.
This product testing is mainly related to 80 products bearing the ''original Croatian'' label. The labels are designated by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK), whilst the Centre will have a double role.
''The testing will improve the quality control of food for the benefit of consumers, whilst on the other hand, the producers will be protected against possible counterfeit products'', commented Martina Sokac Saraga from the Croatian Chamber of Commerce.
The result of the tender for the project within the EU funds is expected by the end of this year. If approved, the construction of the Centre would start at the beginning of next year.
I think we all need a break from this summer heat! Is it me or has this year seen temperatures higher than normal? I seem to be in a constant pool of my own sweat. Are these the effects of global warming or just a freak year? I have forgotten what rain looks like, and that sounds crazy coming from the mouth of an Englishman. How the hell are these tourists from Northern Europe coping walking around the walls or along the Stradun in thirty (nearly forty) degrees.
August is by far the worst month to be in Dubrovnik! I can’t see anything positive about this month. Can we cancel August and go straight onto September?
The Stradun resembles the queues to enter Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge on a match day at 14.30. And by the way whatever happened to the “bikini law.” This law, or regulation, could down in history as the shortest ever law in Dubrovnik’s history. If I am not mistaken it was launched on the 24th of August last year and lasted for roughly two weeks. Huge fines were promised. Signs were installed on the entrances. Press conferences promised a new dress code regime. Security guards roamed the streets looking for offenders. This was a story that made all the international press, I remember giving an interview for Swedish TV. And then, hardly two weeks later, the fire died down and everything was forgotten. This year absolutely zero! No checks, no fines and no press conferences. It has been swept under the carpet.
Ironically this week a photo of a group of young tourists appeared showing them sitting with a sign advertising “Free Sex.” I had to laugh. Not because of the sign, we are a free country with free speech, but because of the fact that this group were sitting directly under the sign that was put up last year to announce the regulations for behaviour in the Old City core. Irony!
Now you can argue was the law a good idea or a bad one, was it doomed to failure before it even started. That’s a story for another day. What I don’t understand is the complete waste of public money and the complete lack of accountability. You can make all the laws you like but if you don’t enforce them you are basically whistling in the wind. Would this law have been brought in if the members of the city council at the time had to spend their own money to launch it? No! But yet they are more than happy to waste our money and see no reason to explain or even apologise for doing so. Just walk down the Stradun on any day of the week and you will see literally hundreds of people half naked. At the time, and even today, I was against the law and it seemed to be draconian and ill though through. But once you’ve made it and spent our money at least try to make it work, don’t give up after two weeks. If it proves unfeasible after a year then try to change it to make it work. Don’t just give up.
This total lack of accountability is a disease that runs through Croatian politics and institutions. It is a culture of passing responsibility onto a third party in order to avoid making a decision. We’ve all seen it when we start the “hunt” for a licence or important paper. We run like headless chickens from office to office only to be told “you’ll have to go to the third floor room number 5.” Of course when we get to that floor we are told “no, you’ll need to go to the fifth floor room number 89.” A never ending story of incompetence. The Croatian bureaucracy merry-go-round!
And now the new mayor has promised stricter measures for cruise ships by halving the limit from 8,000 to 4,000 passengers allowed in the city at any one time. Whilst this is a much needed measure I feel another “bikini law” on the way. Talk is cheap. I think we have all adopted an “I’ll believe it when I see it,” approach. How he actually plans to limit the cruise ship numbers is still a mystery. So many similar plans have come and gone, drifted away on an Adriatic current, that you’ll forgive me for being a little sceptical. As it stands now the 8,000 limit doesn’t work, in fact we could have 10,000 passengers all dressed in bikinis and nothing would get done. Maybe we need to find our own Margaret Thatcher. Of course she had her faults but she got things done. And as she once famously said “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
The popular Microsoft browser Bing.com always posts a photo on its front page, and yesterday the honour went to the beautiful beach Zlatni Rat on the island of Brac. However it appears that the search engine forgot to check the photo for details.
Zlatni Rat is one of the most unique beaches in the whole of Croatia and an iconic landmark, however in this Bing photo there is another interesting feature – a giant penis!
Someone seems to have sketched the penis in the sand while on the beach. A closer look reveals that it is a drawing of the male genitals, however, how it got there, remains unknown.
In any case, we believe that this drawing will not spoil the image of one of the most attractive beaches in the world.