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.
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal,” once wrote Paulo Coelho. I am always drawn towards proactive people; I love to feed off their energy and ideas. The idea of sitting and waiting for something to fall out of the sky into my lap has never been my style. Passivity is fatal to all of us.
I can judge within a few minutes if a person is “switched on” or “switched off.” Just the other weekend I had a coffee with a very rare breed, an extremely switched on person. Ideas are like uncut diamonds, creativity is the wheel that turns ideas into a 24 carat diamond ring. My coffee partner was a well-known Dubrovnik guide. I half expected to meet another tourist worker who was full of complaints about having not enough work, or even too much work…how wrong I was.
“I am always trying to think of new ideas for tours and excursions, from Game of Thrones to classical tours,” he started. OK, nothing new there I thought, every man, women and dog in Dubrovnik is running some kind of Game of Thrones themed business. “We also have some Star Wars tours starting,” he added. Now my ears pricked up. Star Wars hadn’t even confirmed that they would be coming and already this enterprising young man had dreamed up Star Wars tours. “And one of our biggest hits outside of the summer season are shopping tours,” he continued.
I looked at him with a blank expression, the kind of look that Donald Trump permanently seems to wear. “Sorry I thought you said shopping tours in Dubrovnik,” I confirmed. “That’s right, shopping tours in Dubrovnik,” came the reply. Was I going mad! Where? Who? Why? New York, London, Paris, Milan these are shopping magnets, Dubrovnik is, well, not! I pushed forward, he looked serious, this guide was running shopping tours to Dubrovnik.
“We bring coach loads of tourists from Albania throughout the winter months to go on shopping tours in SUB City,” he added. BOOM! WTF! I can’t actually write what I replied as it would be censored. So he wasn’t talking about shopping tours to Dubrovnik, what he really meant was shopping tours to Zupa. If someone had told me that Dubrovnik would have shopping tours when I first landed on these shores I would have said they were slightly deranged. If they had said the shopping tours would be in Zupa I would have strapped them into a straight jacket and wheeled them down the asylum. “We gave one agency in Albania the idea and they loved it, as soon as they heard there was a H&M and New Yorker in the centre they started organising tours,” he continued. I remembered to close my mouth which had been open, as if catching flies, for the past few minutes.
It turned out that not only Albanians hungry for Muller products were included in these tours, buses from Montenegro and BIH were also flooding here. “We get three or four bus loads of people who spend a day in SUB City, sleep in a Dubrovnik hotel overnight, and then go on a sightseeing tour of the Old City,” said the guide. My mouth dropped open again. I had images of this guide leading groups of Albanians through SUB City. My mind was spinning. Then came one of the daftest questions I have ever asked anyone, “Do you guide these tourists through SUB City.”
As soon as it came out of my mouth I knew it was moronic. My mouth was working faster than my brain. Images of him holding up one of those paddles and pointing out, “and on your left you can see Yamamay, and on the right is Mass shoes, and just round the corner is Tom Tailor.” Of course he greeted my dumb question with a laugh.
“These guests aren’t really interested in the historic tours, if we have 500 people maybe 30 will actually go on the tour of the Old City,” came my answer. I couldn’t help but think of all the local people that had moaned that SUB City was too small, too big, too close to the road, not close enough to the road…passive minds. Whilst this man had seen a business opportunity, had created that 24 carat diamond from an idea. If you approached the average person in the street and said “I want to run shopping tours in Dubrovnik,” I guarantee you that 99 percent would look at you as if you had just suggested putting a man on Mars. But one would have the foresight to stop and think. If we can have shopping tours in Zupa then surely anything is possible. What will you think of next?
Darth Vader with two of his Storm Troopers strode through the streets of Dubrovnik this morning, and no, it was not the beginning of filming of the eighth episode of Star Wars in the city.
It has to happen, the temptation was just too much to avoid. Croatian fans of the Star Wars franchise took advantage of the freedom to walk around on the set on the main street to have a little fun. Members of the Croatian Star Wars Fan Club dressed up and filmed themselves “on set” on the Stradun. Darth Vader, with two Storm Troopers to tow, strolled through the cobbled streets on Dubrovnik at 6 o’clock in the morning today. They pretty much has the Old City of Dubrovnik to themselves and made the most of the empty streets by acting out scenes from Star Wars with just a few early birds looking on.
However it didn’t take long for Darth Vader to cause a crowd, tourists and locals surrounded the “Dark Lord” and pressed for selfies, maybe even a few thought that recording had begun.
According to a report on starwarsdubrovnik.com the trio made a hasty escape from the main street and the fans and darted up a side street before finding refuge in a house. This is quite possibly the first time that Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers have run from tourists!
Darth Vader escapes from the crowds - Photo starwarsdubrovnik.com
Winter tourism, or rather the lack of winter tourism, in Dubrovnik has been an unsolvable problem for the city’s tourism experts for years. The latest move to address this conundrum comes from the Mayor of Dubrovnik, Andro Vlahusic, who has approached all the hotels in the region to cooperate in strengthening Dubrovnik as a year-round destination.
The core of the problem has been the lack of flights during the winter months. Although British Airways used to fly four times a week through the winter months this has now dropped to once a week, with no flights at all at the beginning of this year. Apart from British Airways no other international airline operates to the city through the winter. Tourists have been forced to fly through Podgorica Airport in Montenegro with Ryanair, or catch a connecting flight from Zagreb, to reach the “city for all seasons.”
In the mayor’s letter to the hotels in Dubrovnik he points out the importance of creating new programs outside of the summer season, he says that the intention is to change potential tourist’s perception of Dubrovnik as a summer holiday destination.
The first proposal is to offer subsidies to British Airways to fly outside of the main summer season. The mayor has sent a letter to BA offering to subsidise all empty seats on planes flying to Dubrovnik through the winter. In December the mayor met with representatives from the British national airline and presumably this move is in response to their conditions. For all empty seats, up to the average capacity, the City of Dubrovnik will pay BA £100 for flights from London and €100 for flights from Frankfurt and Istanbul. Britain’s favourite airline is yet to reply to the proposal, but an answer is expected in the coming weeks.
As a correct solution highlights the joint proposal for this purpose assembled a working group, which refers to the correction of residence tax season.
The idea is to raise finances through the summer months, with a slight increase in accommodation taxes, and for these extra funds to be dedicated to help fund winter tourism activities.
The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall are set to pay an official visit to Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo in March. From the 14th to the 19th of March the Royal couple will tour the region and, according to a statement on the British Embassy in Croatia’s website, they will undertake a broad range of engagements to celebrate peace, reconciliation, youth empowerment and restoration.
On the 14th of March Charles and Camilla will begin their tour in Zagreb where they will be welcomed by the President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. They also plan to visit the historic upper town of the Croatian capital and the Croatian National Theatre where the Royal couple will attend a performance by children celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.
On the following day, the 15th of March, Charles and Camilla will travel to Osijek the largest city in eastern Croatia. This region was very much on the front line of the Homeland War between 1991 and 1995 and the Prince of Wales will attended a meeting with religious and community leaders.
The Duchess of Cornwall will also visit the State Stud Farm in Đakovo, one of the oldest horse farms in Europe, which was visited by Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh in 1972.
“Is this one of the sets for Star Wars...how cool,” shouted a group of Korean tourists today on the Stradun in Dubrovnik. Filming of the eighth episode of Star Wars begins on the 9th of March but already the set on the main street in the Old City is taking shape. Souvenir shops, bakeries and jewellery boutiques along the historic street now have a sci-fi facade. Shoppers were also seen entering the shops and trying to press the fake buttons that have been installed in the fibreglass sets.
Although the production company stated that the set would be under high security today there were only a few security guards present. Whilst the filming is taking place security levels will raise, as one waiter on the Stradun explained to The Dubrovnik Times today, “they have asked us to close the cafe bar at 2 o’clock in the afternoon so that they can film in peace.” In fact the Stradun will be closed during recording dates and pedestrians will be diverted onto a parallel street. The filming of the VIII episode of Star Wars in Dubrovnik begins on the 9th of March and continues until the 16th of March.
Check out our photo gallery from the set today.
It was a day of preparation and pruning for employees of the Dubrovnik parks department today. They had their hands completely full getting things ready for the summer season. With the help of the Dubrovnik fire brigade branches were trimmed on the plane trees on the Pile area in order to eliminate the danger of falling branches, as was the case last summer.
The director of the parks department commented that today’s action was part of the annual overhaul and that the palm trees on Pile would also be treated for red palm weevil, a species of beetle that has been attacking palm trees in the Dubrovnik region.
High up in the trees on Pile
The travel section of the popular UK daily newspaper “The Daily Mail” featured Dubrovnik on its front page today with the headline, “Adventures waiting to be discovered...”
The Daily Mail is one of the most popular newspapers in the UK with a daily circulation of around 1.7 million copies; it is also one of the oldest being founded in 1896. In fact after The Sun newspaper it is Britain’s second biggest selling newspaper.
The travel section highlighted the destinations that are popular for 2016 and Dubrovnik and Croatia were included. The UK is the top marker for Dubrovnik’s tourism industry with the most numerous guests to the city over the past five years coming from Great Britain.
Zagreb will be connected with direct flights from Seoul this summer season. Korean Air has announced that they will resume operations on the link between the South Korean capital and Zagreb.
Korean Air is the largest airline in South Korea. Korean Air operates flights to a range of European destinations including Prague, Frankfurt, Milan, Rome, Vienna, Paris, Moscow, Madrid and London.
Flights will start on the 20th of May and in total eleven planes from Korean Air will land at Zagreb Airport, from May to October. Around 350,000 Korean tourists visited Croatia in 2015, according to information from the Korean Embassy in Zagreb, and this direct air link will help to make those numbers even larger this year.