Sunday, 25 September 2022
Ivan Vukovič in Dubrovnik Ivan Vukovič in Dubrovnik Ivan Vuković

INTERVIEW – Ivan Vuković – Dubrovnik’s tourism from the front line – the Euro, Ukraine, cruise ships and how we can learn from Disney!

Written by  Mar 17, 2022

If you really want to find out the situation in tourism in Dubrovnik, then you'll need to speak to somebody in the front line. And Ivan Vuković (or Vuka) is right at the sharp end of the front line. One of the leading guides in the city (and beyond) is just one of the arrows in his over packed quiver. And as he has visited more than 120 countries his perspective of the real tourist situation is priceless. So we caught up with Vuka (yes, we're going with Vuka) before the main tourist season to pick his brains. After two years of a global pandemic and with the worrying situation in Ukraine the fragilities of tourism have never been so evident. Vuka has featured on CNN, the BBC, CBS and is even a National Geographic co-host, but what we love about him is that he’s also brutally honest. Over to you Vuka.

So let's start with the question everyone seems to be asking – how will the tourist season in Dubrovnik be this year?

Generally, the season look solid. As far as I’m concerned bookings started at the end of last year and they started very strongly. However, the situation in Ukraine did have an effect and the bookings slowed down somewhat. I would say that travellers are a little more cautious than before. Last year was great from the beginning of July, when the travel restrictions were lifted, until the beginning of November. However, the season in Dubrovnik normally finished then as the planes stop coming. We are hoping that from Easter this year the season could start in earnest. The problem that we had last year was due to the late lifting of travel sanctions travellers were booking last minute, in fact ultra-last minute. This made to challenging to plan anything. I already have around 200 confirmed bookings for this year so it looks like being a busy year.

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On the front line of tourism in Dubrovnik - Photo Ivan Vuković

Just how much do you think the situation in Ukraine will have a negative effect on our tourism?

Yes, last year we had quite a few Russian tourists in the city, and even a few colleagues were telling me that in some ways the influx of Russians last year saved the season to a certain extent. Quite a few of these Russian, and indeed Ukrainian tourists, were “high-end” and they stayed at some of the most exclusive villas in the region. Yes, I predict that it will have an influence, we’ll just have to see how much.

So you are one of the rare companies in the city that accept cyber currency. Do you have many people actually paying in Bitcoin?

Yes, I started accepting cyber currency, along with the wine bar D’Vino, two years ago. We basically got together and decided to do something new for the tourism offer. In some ways the publicity we both got from the whole cyber currency world helped to promote both us and Dubrovnik as a digital destination. Quite a few digital nomads actually came to us and were interested in the whole story. You’ve got to keep thinking of news ideas and new creative solutions, you can’t stand still in this business. We often get the problem that people don’t know what to do with their Kunas after they’ve left Croatia, so this was just one new idea.

That leads into my next question. Do you think that Croatia’s adoption of the Euro from next year will be a help or a hindrance in your business? What feedback do you get on the front line?

Without a doubt the introduction of the Euro will be a huge boost for tourism. The problem that we have with the Kuna now is that tourists just don’t know what to do with them when they go home. With the introduction of the Euro it will be much easier for visitors to understand what they are spending and they’ll also be able to spend their Euros in other countries in Europe. They will also probably spend more. Travelling through the EU will be so much easier when the Euro comes. I have had situations in the past, in fact quite a few times, where American guests have read that Croatia is part of the European Union and therefore presumed that the currency is Euro. So they exchanged their dollars in the States for Euros and then had to exchange those Euros again for Kunas when they got here. These confusing days, and expensive days, will soon be a thing of the past. You also have the psychological question of the currency, 100 Euros is roughly 750 Kuna, so the actual banknotes look smaller and easier to understand. I know when I’ve travelled around Asia and all the different currencies that I’m always aware of the fact that I have to keep exchanging and of course paying fees, so of course you try to keep the actual amounts to a minimum.

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Independent travel is on the rise - Photo Ivan Vuković 

What are the current trends in tourism at the moment? What have you seen on your travels?

Small groups, solo travel and high-end. Basically not tourists but travellers. Independent travellers are certainly on the rise, as well as digital nomads who can work anywhere in the world. For certain the pandemic had a great influence on how, where and why people travel, and these trends will stay with us. From my travels I’ve seen that many travellers are now organising a lot of things themselves, from private accommodation to rent-a-car and trips. Independent, tailor-made and freedom, those would be the top three keywords. You can see in airports around the world that travellers today are more about capturing the moment and living in that moment.

So do you think that the days of mass tourism and indeed cruise tourism are slowly but surely reaching their sunsets?

Dubrovnik certainly got stigmatised with cruise tourism. Believe it or not, two years ago when the pandemic first hit and the city was empty I was still hearing from people that Dubrovnik was over crowded with cruise tourists. The reality was that in 2020 we had zero cruise ships, but once you get that label it’s hard to lose. From 2015 when the cruise ship boom really started we had headlines, from CNN to the BBC, glaring that Dubrovnik is “sinking” under the weight of cruise ships. People read and remember these headlines. To reverse that negative publicity will take a long time, you need to communicate that the number of ships has dropped and that a long-term plan is in place. But unfortunately, those facts aren’t juicy headlines. I’m guessing that they’ll be half as many cruise ships and indeed passengers as in previous years, which is just about right, everything should be in manageable size and quantity.

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Croatia is a beautiful, beautiful country - Photo Ivan Vuković 

Tourism comes in many shapes and sites, from education to sport and holiday, but one of the branches that has really had a massive effect on our tourism business is film tourism, thanks mainly to the Game of Thrones. Have you seen a drop-off in interest in Game of Thrones tours as the serial finished a few years ago?

A few years ago I went to New Zealand. Now, they finished filming The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbits 15 years ago, but still the interest for the tours was incredible. I actually went on one to gauge the feedback and maybe to get some ideas for my Game of Thrones tours. As long as people are still speaking about the Game of Thrones, and they are, there will be interest. HBO has very much branded Dubrovnik as King’s Landing, and that brand has circled the globe ten times. Just last year, when we had the tourism bounce back, I had much more enquires about the Game of Thrones tours than the regular history tours, or in fact any other tours. So to show the interest I’ve had guests on my Game of Thrones tours who never seen the show, but just want to show their friends and in some cases children, that they’ve been to King’s Landing and have a photo from the set. Film tourism is a business. All of the other films and serials combined, from Star Wars to Robin Hood, haven’t had half the impact of Game of Thrones. In fact, in second place is probably Mama Mia Here We Go Again which was filmed on the island of Vis. We could probably do much more to promote our tourism through these films and shows. Just the VAT on all the merchandise, tours and ticket prices would be a massive boost for the Croatian economy, not to mention all the employment opportunities. Trend is your friend.

What does Dubrovnik’s tourism need to move forward? We’ve had a two-year refresh so in which direction should we be heading?

Quality and content. That’s the Disney business slogan and we should adopt this mentality. Manage your social media. Listen to young people, allow start-ups to breathe and flourish. Creativity, creativity and creativity. I recently saw a great example of this from the Faroe Islands. So during the lockdown they handed out GoPro cameras to people and asked them to film whilst they were hiking, biking, camping or whatever. And then they edited all these videos into an incredible social media campaign, like meet the local people, off the beaten track and back to nature. This is a beautiful, beautiful country and needs to be presented as it really is. You don’t need a filter here. Tell stories. Tourism is about experiences and storytelling. Keep tourists informed on the real and current situation, be active.

You can follow Ivan Vuković on his website or via his social media – Twitter and Instagram

The Voice of Dubrovnik

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