Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
The extreme heat wave that hit the whole of Croatia last year will not return to the country this year, at least according to the long-range weather forecast from AccuWeather. One of the most popular weather forecasters in the world have just released their Europe 2018 summer forecast and it would seem to be an unsettled summer for Croatia.
Temperatures in Croatia reached record breaking highs last year with most of the Adriatic seeing temperatures in the 40’s for most of the summer. But 2018 in Croatia the summer could be much more unsettled with plenty of rainy and overcast days. Although there will be periods of extended heat the storms will also mean a general cooling effect and the heat wave from last year is unlikely to return this year.
The Dubrovnik Times we caught up with the Mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Franković, to discover how prepared the city is for 2018 and what we can look forward to in the coming years. Franković has a history of working in the tourism industry and this experience will help him to guide Dubrovnik through the peaks and troughs of the city’s tourism industry. Franković talked cruise ships, movies and fancy French streets.
Dubrovnik is an extremely popular tourist destination and is well known all over the world. In which direction would you like to see the city’s tourism industry go in the future?
The goal of the City of Dubrovnik is to have sustainable tourism. We have to have an eye on the citizens of the city when we talk about tourism in the city. At the same time, we have to improve the tourist offer for the international tourists that visit Dubrovnik. Basically quality is much more important to us than quantity.
Is all round tourism an option? And if so what is being done to attract more flights in the winter months?
365-day tourism was one of the main themes that the city has been discussing over the past few year, however my personal opinion is that all year round tourism is not a good option. Every destination must have a month to two months to relax, to renovate and time to prepare for the next season. Dubrovnik still hasn’t reached the stage where it has the ideal length of tourist season, we still need to extend our season by another month or so. To answer your other question, we have very good announcements for this winter period, with a number of international flights arriving. Frankfurt, Istanbul and London will all have direct connections throughout the winter months. We are most interested in attracting short break holidays and for this winter we can announce direct flights from Brussels.
Frankovic in conversation with Mark Thomas from The Dubrovnik Times - Photo Tonci Plazibat
What steps have been made to control the cruise ship arrivals this year and to bring a better flow of passengers in the city?
Firstly, I need to point out that it was very hard to make any major changes for this year as all of the cruise companies already have contracts. However, with did manage to make a deal with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) to adjust the arrival and departure times of their members, the cruise companies. Will can see that Dubrovnik will have around nine critical days this season when we will have more than three cruise ships in the city, in fact eight as we have already passed one critical day. By agreeing with cruise companies to move their departure and arrival times we have made helped reduce the large crowds that we have seen in the past. If two cruise ships arrive at the same time then we have a problem, with this new regime this will not happen. For next year we have already agreed many new arrangements with companies, which will again help the flow of cruise ship passengers. In fact, Dubrovnik could receive even more cruise ship passengers, but the organisation must be seriously improved. CLIA wants to be a partner of Dubrovnik and together we can find a better solution.
Is Dubrovnik actively seeking more movie productions after the success of Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Robin Hood?
As a city we are very open to the film industry coming to Dubrovnik in the pre and post season. We are currently working on a new set of regulations, we are making this in partnership with many of the people who have been involved in the previous movie production in the city, which will lay out all the regulations on filming in the city. We want the film industry to come to Dubrovnik, but we would like future films to feature more Dubrovnik. If you take Star Wars and Robin Hood as examples it is difficult to see Dubrovnik in these films. Of course these productions are welcome as well but films that highlight more of Dubrovnik would be ideal. We are currently in discussions with a film producer from Hollywood about the possibility of making one serial in Dubrovnik. And in this serial Dubrovnik would be shown in its full beauty. We hope the new James Bond will also film in Dubrovnik but we have no news on that project yet.
How would you like to see the tourism offer of Dubrovnik improved?
What I believe, and I think 90 percent of citizens would agree with me, is that the Stradun should be like the Champs-Élysées. High quality boutique, a high quality offer, souvenirs yes, but off the Stradun. The City Council will look at all future tenders for properties on the Stradun with the criteria of quality over price. If a high end brand is interested in opening a store on the Stradun then we will look favourably towards them.
The Croatian wine, Traminac 2015, from Iločki Podrumi is reported to have been chosen by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as one of the wine to mark their special day today, the 19th of May. This very same wine was served at Queen Elizabeth II coronation 65 years ago.
According to the company Traminac 2015 is the superior quality dry white wine with a very unique and distinctive taste and smell. The grape produces aromatic and very floral wines, which makes it easily recognizable right from the moment when you pour the wine in a glass: it announces itself with sensual aromas of roses, honey and raisins. This noble wine has a rich, complex, harmonious and sweet taste.
And the British Embassy in Zagreb have produced a rather special video of the wine being sent to the Royal Wedding.
Check out this Croatian Royal Wedding wine video
Radoslav Didović (29) from Zrnovo on the island of Korcula has placed 40 bottles of wine at a depth of 33 metres and some 450 metres from the shore and he will leave them there for two years. But before you were thinking of squeezing into your diving suit and helping yourself to a few bottles of vino he has protected them with metal cage.
Radoslav is a long-time lover of scuba diving as well as coming from a family of wine makers, like many families from the Peljesac Peninsular, however he isn’t a fan of wine. So why did he decide to trap 40 bottles in a watery Adriatic grave.
"I do not drink wine, but I love diving and the underwater and I love sea decorations and that was the main motive for creating a submarine winery. The dive, during which I placed bottles at a sea depth of 33 metres, lasted 90 minutes. The bottles are currently tied to each other, and over the winter I will move them to a special cage due to the strong sea currents. The bottles are glass, a protective wax over the cap is stops the penetration of sea water, and the winery has to be inspected once a month. They say that red wine is best stored at a constant temperature of 15 degrees, which is basically at a depth of 30 meters, so I will leave it down for two years, " explained Radoslav.
Over their two-year storage underwater the bottles are expected to take on “sea decorations” and will certainly be rather unique. He chose the location after consulting experts to look for the ideal combination of sand, stone and submarine vegetation.
Yesterday the Croatian Foreign Minister, Marija Pejcinovic-Buric, officially accepted the six-month chairmanship of the Council of Europe from Denmark. This marks the first time that Croatia has led the Council of Europe.
Speaking at the ceremony the Foreign Minister stated that “The chairmanship will be an opportunity to prepare the country for a much more demanding presidency of the EU in the first half of 2020.”
The plans for the Croatian leadership were presented and they included the fight against corruption, protection of ethnic minorities, protection of cultural heritage and decentralisation. Many have argued that these exact points should be first combated in Croatia.
Croatia will hand over the chairmanship to Finland on November 21 in Strasbourg, and the next meeting of the Committee of Ministers will be held on May 16-17, 2019, in Helsinki.
According to latest figures 35 percent of children in Croatia are severely overweight. Research by the Croatian Institute of Public Health the country is in the top five European members in regard to obese children.
Boys, at 39 percent, have more of a problem with controlling their weight, whilst young girls, at 31 percent, are far from at their ideal weight. There are many reasons for this unprecedented growth in obesity in young children, however experts state that modern diets, including high levels of sugar, and a general lack of exercise are the two main reasons. A massive 87 percent of children spend two hours or more in front of the TV or on their computers or mobile phones playing games at the weekend in Croatia.
The research included 5,664 second- and third-graders in 164 schools throughout the country, and their parents.
The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) survey was organised in 2006 by the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe, along with 13 member states, and Croatia first joined the survey in 2015/16.
“It is driving me crazy,” said the café bar owner opposite me whose face was slowly turning as red as a lobster. “I found two new waiters and then just didn’t turn up, I’d even arranged accommodation for them,” he flustered. I almost answered that “It is driving me crazy as well, listening to all you café bar owners moan about not being able to find workers,” however I held my tongue and nodded. If I had a Kuna for every time I heard this “we can’t find workers” story I would clear the Croatian national debt.
It is nothing new and sorry to say this but it is going to get much worse. Hotels, cafes, restaurants, agencies, pretty much every company in Dubrovnik that work in the tourism sector is desperate to find employees. Every summer season Dubrovnik “imports” around 2,000 workers from neighbouring countries to fill the hole in the lack of local workers. It is basic mathematics. If 40,000 live in the city, and when you take away all the people who work for the state, are pensioners, are children or have apartments and have no need to work then you are left with only around 5,000 workers are available to service the 2 million guests every year, in other words not enough.
So we scoop up workers from all over the place. You’ll hear accents from Vinkovci, Mostar and Skopje serving drinks on the Stradun. So if someone says that can’t find work in Dubrovnik then they are not being completely honest. Are people from Dubrovnik just lazy?
Just the other day one particular restaurant owner was telling me a horror story. He was looking for a host or hostess to work part time in his restaurant. The job involved basically standing in front of a restaurant and welcoming guests as they arrived or answering any questions they might have. So not the “grab the guests by the sleeve” kind of hostess that plague the Stradun. A few hours in the morning and then again a few hours in the early evening, nothing too strenuous.
He was offering free lunch in the deal and a monthly salary of 8,000 Kunas! Not too bad.
After a week of advertising the job five people applied…yes, only five. But that was just the start. The first one arrived, ten minutes late and blaming the buses, “I just have one question will I have to stand all day or will you give me a chair to rest my legs.” Not the best start to an interview and this man was 23 years-old! This was just the beginning. The next candidate was worried that she would be all day in the sun. The third candidate didn’t like the idea of talking to foreign people. The fourth didn’t want to work two shifts because he had to come from Mokošica by bus. And the last was my absolute favourite, “When will I have time to swim?” So he gave up.
Well he gave up with local people. He gave the same advert to a recruitment agency in Slavonia and instead of taking one host he ended up employing two younger ladies, one worked in the morning and the other in the evening, and paid them 4,000 Kuna each. I have heard a similar story from many other restaurant owners.
Now you could argue, and you would be correct, that if the owner paid their staff enough then they wouldn’t need to find new workers every season. Or even if they employed them on a full-time basis. Of course that makes sense and in fact many employers follow these golden rules today. But the truth is that there are more job vacancies than actual people to fill them in Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik has a specific problem that requires a specific solution.
Recently a report showed that Croatia has the lowest rate of unemployment since 2003. The government were quick to pat themselves on the back and issue statements that their employment policy was working. Of course the truth is slightly different. The biggest problem that Croatia faces today is the mass exodus, the demographic disaster that now means that there are more Croatians living in Germany than in Split. Yes, over 380,000 Croats now call Germany home, or should I say “haus.” And yes this is the very reason why the rate of employment has dropped like a pebble in the Adriatic. In the future not only will we be importing cheap souvenirs from China but also Chinese workers to sell them.
The tourist season in Dubrovnik is well and truly underway and the historic Old City was a hive of activity today. Numerous cruise ships were docked around the city and the city’s hotels are already running at full capacity.
However, in spite of the crowds the flow of visitors into the city today seemed to be relatively seamless today and the traffic measures that the city have introduced look to be working.