As the director of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Romana Vlašić, is truly in the front line of the city’s tourism industry. And as another successful summer season draws to an end we caught up for a coffee with Vlašić to find her conclusions for this season and suggestions for next year. We discovered what the international press is writing, where our next travel market is opening up and what is happening to winter tourism.
How would you best describe this past season?
This season, if we look at the statistics, was certainly better than last year. The total figures that we have show that the number of tourist arrivals in Dubrovnik was 7 percent more than last year. However, what I really have to emphasize, and what really makes us satisfied, is that we achieved great results in the pre-season. One of our main aims is the extension of the main tourist season from the summer months, which is why I think we can all be proud of the results from the beginning of the year. As far as the tourist market in the city is concerned there isn’t any real great changes, once again guests from the UK are the most numerous. However, it is interesting to note that in second place are tourists from the USA.
Yes, the fact that American tourists are the second most numerous is interesting. We don’t have any direct flights from the US to Croatia, at least not this year. How have we managed to attract so many American tourists?
We have been working intensively on the US market for years and it seems that this work is starting to bear fruit. There have been a whole series of promotional events that we have carried out in the US, from the New York Times Travel show to specialised travel fairs in Las Vegas. Secondly we are connected with a luxury tour operator in the US who have proved to be very professional and have brought many guests to Dubrovnik over the past few years. Then we have used a range of advertising possibilities, from classic to newsletters, and I have participated in a webinar in front of hundreds of American tour operators. Evidently all of this work has paid off. And now after 28 years we will finally have direct flights from the US again, with American Airlines announcing flights from Philadelphia.
I am sure that this “pilot” project from American Airlines will grow over the coming years to include more American cities as well as new airlines.
Is the Dubrovnik Tourist Board already in contact with American Airlines?
Of course, through our representative office in New York we have made contact with the airline and the travel company that represents them. We have already arranged joint marketing opportunities and co-operation. We are only too happy to help fill these flights and make sure that this new link is successful.
Has Dubrovnik as a destination found a solution for the overcrowding problem?
I think we can see from this season that the beginning of a solution and the beginning of our work on this problem has started to work. With the project “Respect the City” which has its long-term and short-term goals, we have started on the right foot and this year has seen a much better flow of tourists. One thing that has certainly helped this year is the changes made to coaches bringing cruise ship passengers to the Old City. By rescheduling their departure from the Port of Dubrovnik we have managed to ease the pressure slightly on the infrastructure. And this rescheduling of cruise ship passengers has helped with the number of people trying to enter the Old City. The City of Dubrovnik is in contact with Cruise Lines International Association, who have been co-operative with the plan to reschedule the arrival and departure times of cruise ships. This measure has also largely worked. The aim of the city isn’t to cram more and more tourists inside the Old City, quite the contrary, our goal is to make sure that the tourists who arrive have a pleasant and memorable stay. When a satisfied cruise passenger later returns to the city on a vacation then we have done our job.
The tourist board is in constant contact with international media outlets and I can say that this year we have seen a shift in their opinions about overcrowding in Dubrovnik. The positive vibration about Dubrovnik is slowly spreading across the globe again.
How will our winter season be? Are we working on further extending our main tourist season in to the winter months?
Dubrovnik has the longest season of any destination on the Adriatic. We are intensively working on extending the season even more, as you can see from the slogan of the tourist board “Dubrovnik – a city for all season.” We have been working closely with Dubrovnik Airport to ensure that we have more flights for this winter. In fact, this year we have never made more flights into Dubrovnik through the winter, we will be directly connected to seven major European cities, from Warsaw to Istanbul. We are also interested in having connections with European hubs that have connections to Asia and the US. One new market that has proved interesting is Australia. The Croatian National Tourist Board will, for the first time, carry out an educational presentation in Sydney next year as this new market continues to grow. Also this post season we can look forward to a number of events that should prove interesting for guests, such as the Good Food Festival and the Dubrovnik Winter Festival. In fact, we have joined with British Airways to market and promote the winter festival and Dubrovnik through the winter months.
What changes to the tourist season can we expect for next year?
Next year we can certainly expect an even better organisation and flow of cruise ship passengers through the city as our project kick in. Of course it takes time for such a project to work, but I’m sure that we will feel even more advantages for next year. We will see American Airlines coming, an increase in tourists from Asia, as well as more tourists deciding to come to the city in the pre and post seasons. And of course our main goal is to concentrate on sustainable tourism for the whole city.