If you have ever had a guided tour of Dubrovnik there is a good chance that you have bumped into Ivan Vukovic. For the past decade Ivan has been leading visitors around Dubrovnik, thousands and thousands of guests have been captivated by his local insight and wealth of knowledge. From Game of Thrones to walking tours and even Star Wars tours Vukovic is always thinking ahead of the game. Believe it or not, and we find it hard to believe, he has also organised shopping tours to SUB City in Dubrovnik! The Dubrovnik Times caught up with Vukovic and he opened our minds to another side of life in the front line of tourism in the city.
Being a guide in Dubrovnik is like being in the front line of tourism, what were your motivations for following this profession? Firstly I love my city, that is extremely important, and to be able to introduce Dubrovnik to visitors is always a thrill. I have always been a communicative person and had an ear for languages. I started working as a guide exactly ten years ago, before that I was in the corporative travel business. Although many people say that working with people is the hardest job I enjoy meeting people from all over the world on a daily basis.
We are sure that you have thousands of questions from visitors every day, what are some of the most common questions? To be honest it depends on the nationality, for example the most common question from American tourists is the Homeland War in Dubrovnik and the effects on the city. They also ask on what it was like to live in Croatia, or Yugoslavia, when Tito was in power. Mostly people ask about legends, history and everyday life in the city. I have to empathize to visitors that life in Dubrovnik is completely different to other parts of Croatia.
Always ready with an answer
How realistic is it that in an hour a half tour of the Old City guests can understand the “Dubrovnik Experience.” In many ways I am a teacher, a professor, in a short period of time I try to explain the basic facts and help visitors to at least get a feel of Dubrovnik. There are many, many sights in the Old City but in an hour and a half I concentrate on the main landmarks. I also add that it is interesting to see the city in the spring and the autumn.
We keep hearing that Dubrovnik needs to extend its tourist season into the winter, what are your opinions? The season is relatively long already, but of course there is room to have all year round tourism. I start with my tours at around the middle of March each year and the effective season is around eight months.
If you are so busy in the middle of the summer would you want to have winter tourism? Dubrovnik has a name and a brand as a summer destination, but absolutely I would love to see the city busy all year. When you have a reputation as a “sun, sea and swimming” destination it is hard to shake that off. The city can offer so much more than that, but opening potential tourist’s eyes to those beauties is hard. People like to travel, if you give them the opportunity to come here in the winter they would. But the biggest problem is that Dubrovnik just isn’t connected with flights through the winter. We need direct flights to Dubrovnik, end of story. Tourists don’t want to make two or three stops to get here, make it easier and they will come. I can see that winter tourism is picking up, it is a slow process but there have been some positive steps. Of course it is a shame when guests do come in the winter that many of the restaurants are closed.
Opening the city to young eyes
Maybe one of the biggest problems with our lack of winter guests is a lack of creativity? I would agree. There are so many options and possibilities all you need is an idea. When I realized that there were very few flights in the winter period I then turned my attention to neighboring countries. Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are winter target markets. For example I brought six coach loads of tourists from Montenegro here for Valentine’s Day.
What other tours do you organize out of the summer season? Believe it or not we have shopping tours to Dubrovnik. Through January and February we have organized shopping tours to the new shopping centre in Zupa, SUB City. Coaches from Albania and Montenegro come to shop in the SUB City centre and then sleep overnight in Dubrovnik before having a tour of the Old City the next morning. As soon as the Albania travel agencies heard that the shopping centre had H&M and other brand names they loved the idea. Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia are three countries that have great interest for shopping tours in SUB City.
You are one of the only guides in Dubrovnik who has a dedicated website, a website that features many themed tours. Yes I have Game of Thrones tours, Star Wars tours, walking tours, plus many others. These film productions have brought Dubrovnik to a whole new level. This is the kind of marketing that we could never afford in a million years. And the exposure on the screens has also opened the city to another age group. In the past few years the number of younger people visiting Dubrovnik has doubled, we can say that this is thanks to Game of Thrones, what Star Wars will bring us is still unknown.
During the summer we are sure that you find it hard to have a day off, so how do you spend your winters? I travel! Last year Japan, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Korea. As you can see I love to travel. When I am travelling I always like to take a guide to explain me the highlights. Without a guide a destination often remains undiscovered.
Making friends in the Sahara
In these days when everyone has a Smartphone or tablet how important do you believe it is to use a local guide, isn’t it easier just to search online? The biggest difference between “guiding yourself” using online travel sites and using a local guide is interaction. With a local guide you will get to dig under the surface of a destination, get to understand what makes it tick, whereas with a digital service you remain passive.