To say that Peter Greenberg is well travelled would be like saying the Artic is fairly chilly. From the 193 countries in the world his feet have trod on 151. He arrived in Dubrovnik as part of a congress of travel and tourism and was a guest speaker. Greenberg is a multiple Emmy-winning investigative reporter and producer, probably America’s most recognized, honored and respected front-line travel news journalist.
Known in the travel industry as “The Travel Detective,” he is the Travel Editor for CBS News, appearing on CBS This Morning. The Dubrovnik Times caught up with him and discovered his views on our tourism industry, overcrowding and why the airlines are controlling how and when we actually work.
Since you have been reporting on the cruise ship business what major changes have you seen over that time?
There have been radical changes including the age of passengers, the demographics and the audience expectations. In the old days the average age of cruise passengers used to be 60 plus, now that has lowered to around 50 years-old, so you are dealing with an audience that is much more physically demanding than before. And from the other side the number of ports around the world has increased massively. Cruise ship passengers are now looking for new and exciting destinations, such as the Antarctic.
Dubrovnik has faced lots of international press in connection to the problems of tourism overcrowding. Are you aware of this and what are your feelings?
I am totally aware of it and that is one of the reasons why I have decided to visit Dubrovnik. It is a continuing problem but it is also one that can be managed. If all the stake holders are in the same room at the same time I’m sure that a solution can be found. Unless everyone starts to talk and stop protecting their own territory things are actually going to get worse. I understand the problem in Venice and I saw the same problem here in Dubrovnik four years ago, it isn’t a surprise to me really. People need to realise that you need to change the schedule of the cruise ships to ease the crowds. Cruise ships need to be arriving in Dubrovnik in the winter. I didn’t come to Dubrovnik to get a suntan; the sun is a bonus. I came to Dubrovnik to immerse myself in the culture, the history and to really experience the city. I’ve seen so many different things here that other people don’t see simply because I turned left when everyone else was turning right. You need to convince people to do more left turns.
Americans are the second most numerous tourists in Dubrovnik, and new flights from American Airlines from Philadelphia will start next year which will attract even more US tourists. Why do you think Dubrovnik is so interesting for American tourists? And in this time of more inward looking politics in America are we likely to see less interest for these new flights?
Firstly, on the flights. It’s great to hear that they have been introduced but I bet these flights will only be through the summer months. Do you really need more flights in the summer? Do you need more guests in the summer? It’s a big mistake to introduce only seasonal flights. The airlines are just following the numbers and not looking to develop the destination. Airlines must be directed to fly all year round and build up the winter tourism. Otherwise all you are doing is perpetuating the problem of overcrowding. You have to figure out – are you listening to the airlines or are the airlines listening to you. Right now it would seem that the airlines aren’t listening to you at all.
It’s nice that American Airlines are flying again to Dubrovnik after all those years but its problematic that they are only flying seasonally. What they are actually saying is “We don’t have enough faith to fly all year round.” The problem comes from Dubrovnik and not from the airlines because you haven’t educated them on the possibilities in the winter.
Secondly, on the inward looking question. In fact, the answer is the exact opposite. Without getting into politics what we have seen is a dramatic decrease in the number of tourist coming to America. They perceive my country as being unwelcoming and closed thanks to the Trump administration policies. Any time you talk about building a wall, even though it might only apply to one part of the population, everyone starts to think that America isn’t open to foreigners.
Do Americans still think Dubrovnik is an exotic destination?
I remember coming on the first cruise ship after the war in 1998 and I remember going into the Old City and seeing rubble. For me Dubrovnik will always be an exotic destination, but it’s not really. Travellers are looking for an authentic experience, and they can find it in Dubrovnik especially if they come in the winter.
Were you born with itchy feet? Where does your love of travel come from?
My love of travel, or at least that’s what I’m told, comes from about the age of six. My parents took me on my first flight from New York to Los Angeles and when we landed the flight attendants all signed a certificate for me, which I still have, making me the first member of the American Airlines “Sky Cradle Club.” I grew up with a family that was really into travelling. When I went to college, I was a student of journalism, at a time when there were lots of anti-war demonstrations. I was lucky enough to get hired by Newsweek at a very young age. And I was travelling everywhere with that first job. Then it dawned on me when I was around 19 that nobody was covering travel like news. They were all covering travel with shots of swimming pools, bikinis and happy couples walking along the beach. That to me isn’t travelling. That to me is fluff. I wanted to focus on the process. So that’s what I’ve done over my career.
In a modern world dominated by social media, hashtags and influencers how relevant is a travel journalist? Is Instagram positive or negative for promotion?
I see it as a negative step, I see it as fluff and even worse. It isn’t properly vetted. There is no gate-keeper there to say “That’s garbage” or “You were sponsored.” Just because someone has a smart phone it doesn’t make then smart. To me when someone tells me they have a blog the question you need to ask is other than your mother who else reads it. Where is the experience? What are the brining to the table? Taking nice photos of food isn’t a qualification. I am not a spokesperson for anybody. I accept no money to promote products.
Finally, what are your favourite destinations and why?
I don’t have a list of favourite destinations but I do have a concept. My definition of my favourite places is where I sleep the best. Because where you sleep the best, is also where you create the best, where you eat the best, where you love the best and you feel the best. I probably have twenty places around the world where I sleep the best and interestingly all of them are by bodies of water. So Dubrovnik could well be on that list.