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.
At the Holiday World exhibition in Prague the Tourist Board of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County are presenting the tourist attractions of the county to potential partners and guests. The county tourist board have teamed up with the Croatian National Tourist Board and have a joint stand over the period of the fair, from the 18th to the 21st of February.
This exhibition is one of the most important tourist fairs in the Czech Republic and has a long 25 year tradition. It attracts travel agents and guests from all over central Europe and fifty different countries are present at this year’s fair. Over 30,000 visitors are expected to attend daily and thousands of journalists and tourism professionals will also be present.
In 2015 more than 36,000 Czech tourists visited the Dubrovnik County and achieved 280,000 overnight stays. In fact tourists from the Czech Republic were the seventh most numerous in the county last year. By attending this fair the Dubrovnik-Neretva Tourist Board hope to attract even more guests in 2016.
Finding a UK based company that has invested into Croatia is relatively rare, coming across one that has invested and been successful in a non-tourism based venture is almost impossible. Whereas German, French and Austrian companies have entered the Croatian market, especially since the country became a full member of the EU in July 2013, UK businesses have been slow on the uptake. From electronics to banking and in particular the tourism industry, in total around 15,000 foreign companies have chosen Croatia as the right place to expand their market.
In Dubrovnik, where tourism dominates almost all forms of business, hotels and travel agencies have been snapped up by foreign buyers. There is however one UK company that has almost completely flown under the radar in Dubrovnik. A company not directly involved in tourism, nor particularly interested in the real estate business and it is a company that is growing and employing more staff, a UK success story in Dubrovnik.
“Consilio 3D UK decided to expand their operations in England and as Croatia was a new member of the European Union we recognised the largely untapped talent pool and countless possibilities here, this was the beginning of Consilio 3D Croatia,” explained Craig Derrick the managing director of Consilio 3D Croatia.
Consilio 3D opened a Dubrovnik sister company in April 2015, the first year anniversary is on the horizon, and are progressing in making leaps and bounds. Consilio 3D Croatia is a CAD bureau service that provides 2D, and as the name would suggest, 3D services to a wide range of clients. Having strong links to the automotive, healthcare and defence sectors the Croatian company acts as a support office for the UK whilst also generating local business. From relatively humble beginnings Consilio 3D Croatia now employs twelve staff, both CAD programmers and managers, and is looking to expand to Zagreb with the opening of a second office in Croatia.
“Finding staff was a little challenge, you have to bear in mind that the universities in Croatia that deal with the computer skills we need are in the capital Zagreb. However we are extremely pleased with the staff we found, with their level of knowledge, professional approach and dedication to the work,” said Derrick. Adding that, although the company is in a niche market, business opportunities have already been targeted in Zagreb. Plans to expand into animation technology and augmented reality are just some of the future steps.
The UK and Croatia office work in close co-operation, regular training courses are organised and there is a constant flow of staff to and from the two countries. In a city, and it could be argued country, that is dominated by tourism the success of a UK tech company in Croatia is a ray of sunlight.
Staff numbers growing all the time
Nautical tourism in Croatia was one of the most competitive segments of tourism last year reported the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. There was a 4.5 percent increase in the number of vessels rented and a 4 percent increase in the number of overnight stays on boats in Croatia last year according to recently released figures.
"The past year has once again proved that nautical tourism in Croatia is developing and growing, because the number of yachts and boats leased for charter rose by 4.5 percent to almost 64,000 leases,” commented the director of tourism for the chamber of commerce, Leila Kresic-Juric.
She added that Croatia is recognized as a unique nautical destination because of the large number of islands as well as the exceptional beauty of the national parks and nature reserves.
According to the information given by yacht companies that are members of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce 362,600 nautical tourists arrived in the country in 2015, an increase of 4.5 percent over 2014, and almost 2.5 million overnight stays were achieved.
The Chamber added that in 2015 just over 54,600 foreign boats and yachts entered Croatian waters.
The cast for the eighth episode of Star Wars has been announced, but the question on everybody lips in Dubrovnik is who will be filming here.
Dubrovnik will be used as a location for the eighth episode of Star Wars with filming beginning on the 9th of March and continuing until the 16th of March. The locations are already known with five locations around the historic Old City of Dubrovnik as well as the Banje Beach just outside the city walls.
So we know the dates and the locations, the missing piece in the Dubrovnik Star Wars jigsaw is which actors will come to Dubrovnik. Shooting began in London on Monday of this week and Mark Hamill, or Luke Skywalker, has already been spotted at Heathrow Airport. According to official information the cast for the eighth episode will be very similar to the seventh episode, The Force Awakens, with a few minor additions.
Episode VIII is written and directed by Rian Johnson, and his cast features Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Andy Serkis and a new member Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro.
The eighth episode of Star Wars will hit cinemas on the 15th of December 2017.
The Port of Dubrovnik is one the verge of a new passenger terminal in a 94 million Euro investment after preliminary contracts were signed this week. Construction on the new terminal is planned to start in the autumn of this year and should be completed by 2018.
Dubrovnik International Cruise Port Investment and the Dubrovnik Port Authority signed a contract on Monday the 15th of February for the project. Dubrovnik International Cruise Port Investment is a joint venture with the Turkish company Global Ports Holding and the French Bouygues Batiment International.
Apart from a new passenger terminal in Dubrovnik busiest port the new project includes a shopping centre as well as a new international bus terminal.
The Dubrovnik Port Authority began looking for a strategic partner for the terminal in September 2014 and last autumn accepted the only offer, submitted by Dubrovnik International Cruise Port Investment. This consortium offered almost 94 million Euros and was granted a 40-year concession on the port for which they will spend 25 million Euros in concession fees.
William Simpson has drawn Dubrovnik thousands of times, in infinitesimal detail and from every possible angle, as the main storyboard artist for the HBO Game of Thrones serial. And yet, until a few days ago, he had never stepped foot in the city. Born and raised in Northern Ireland Simpson is a highly regarded comic artist who has worked on such hits as Batman, Judge Dredd, Transformers and Hellblazer. He has been involved with the Game of Thrones serial since day one, well maybe even before day one, and has worked diligently on all six serials to date. And as Dubrovnik features as King’s Landing in the popular serial he has been creating Dubrovnik based scenes since the second series when the city first appeared. During his first ever visit to “King’s Landing” The Dubrovnik Times caught up with Simpson in the popular Dubrovnik restaurant “Mimoza” to see his reactions as for the first time he laid eyes on reality. It was an emotional meeting.
William Simpson sees Dubrovnik for the first time
How difficult was it to draw Dubrovnik and create King’s Landing if you had never been to the city before?
The directors of Game of Thrones supplied with a lot of photo reference and said, “You can work from these can’t you?” I answered, yes of course I could. As I live in Northern Ireland and sections of the series are filmed there of course I have visited these locations, and for sure this helps me imagine the scenes. I remember having to create the Red Keep and I received some great photos of the Lovrijenac Fortress so it wasn’t too hard to imagine. What Game of Thrones does so well with Dubrovnik is they use the beauty of the city and then just add onto that with computer generated graphics. When you see Dubrovnik in the series it seems like you are looking at a whole different place, and yet at the same time Dubrovnik is clearly recognizable.
When you first saw the photos of Dubrovnik who difficult was it to imagine King’s Landing?
I should be there! You have to remember that my job is to break down the story; I don’t have to get too concerned over the details. Of course there are some details that need to be absolutely correct so that actors know where to stand on a scene, but I am not visual effects who really need to have things laid out accurately. I drew comic strips for years and all that imagination required to make those came in handy when I started to generate Game of Thrones environments. I must say that the directors of the series have been in this business for years and have a wealth of experience. So some scenes I am asked to storyboard and some not. For example the Red Wedding scene that was shot in Dubrovnik wasn’t storyboarded at all. This was a very elaborate scene, the director asked me to storyboard scenes before and after the Red Wedding, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do and didn’t ask me for a storyboard. And in comparison to that the drawing of the Black Water Bay battle scene took up a solid month of my life. It was a very complicated scene with lots of characters, and of course was filmed here in Dubrovnik.
What emotions do you go through when you first see a new season of Game of Thrones and the fruits of all your labour?
It is amazing! The very first scene that we see in the very first episode of Game of Thrones was recorded in a forest. I actually went to the forest with the director and followed his instructions, his visions. In fact this scene was a major pitch to the executives of HBO so we really pulled out all the stops. I can still remember to this day the director, Timothy Van Patten, going into see the executives whilst I waited outside. After only ten minutes he opened the door and shouted “Will, we got it!” That was the birth of the Game of Thrones as we know it. I didn’t really think anything more of it until I saw the trailer for the first series, I was blown away. I can remember a friend commenting to me “Oh my God that is exactly what you have drawn.” And it was. Seeing it on screen shows you that you actually have an effect to the overall project.
Comic genius at work
Have you ever meet some of the actors on the set, and who left the biggest impression on you?
Yeah, I've met a lot of the actors. I guess Peter Dinklage, Tyrion made the biggest impression, as he's a truly brilliant actor...but then Lena Heady would always make a major impression, as I'd met her just after I'd watched the Sarah Conor series. We had a very long conversation about that! Charles Dance was very humorous when he popped his head over my drawing board and said, “you do all this? Very good, carry on!”
There are rumours flying around that the seventh season will be the last for the Game of Thrones?
The simple answer is that I don’t know if the seventh season will be the last season. Season six will be broadcast in April on this year and I will start working on the storyboards of season seven in June or July. Although I start with my drawings at that time of the year the production starts much earlier, sometime in March. I guess the two producers, David Benioff and Daniel Brett Weiss, know what way they want the series to end, they are in constant contact with the author George RR Martin. There are so many rumours floating around, but I will only find out when they tell me. I have heard rumours of seasons nine and seasons ten and even two films, but until HBO come out and state that officially we will have to wait.
Did George Martin ever interfere and maybe ban any of your ideas?
George has very little to do with the TV series. He's much more of an advisor. The series is definitely David and Dan's work. My ideas are usually dictated by the directors of the episodes, except when I've been asked to conceptualise something. Then it goes through the producers or the production designer. Nothing's been banned yet!
What are the biggest "pitfalls" of your work, and what would be your advice to people just starting out in the business?
Basically, my job requires you to be a bit of a psychologist, a hypnotist and a clairvoyant, with a great ability to listen and also generate ideas out of the craziest of scenarios! When you deal with five directors at a time on Game of Thrones, and then the directors on the other films I do, it's a full time enthusiastic diplomacy job, with a large capacity for coffee, and that's all before I need to start drawing! Listen and be patient, because most of the directors you work with, probably have a bigger CV in film than you, so it's likely they do know more about what they need....but there's always the exception!
The Herceg Novi comic strip festival celebrated its tenth anniversary this year and brought William Simpson, the storyboard artist from the Game of Thrones, as their special guest. In fact the organisers can be proud of the fact that they, and not HBO, brought Simpson to Dubrovnik, his King’s Landing, for the very first time.
William Simpson with the organisers of the Herceg Novi Comic Strip Festival in Mimoza Restaurant in Dubrovnik
Croatians spent around 6 billion Euros on their Visa credit cards in 2015. Accoding to Visa Europe spending on Croatian credit cards was up 22 percent on 2014, this figure includes spending online, POS tranactions and cash withdraws from ATMs.
The regional manager of Visa Europe, Davor Krsul, said that the number of Visa cards issued in Croatia in 2015 increased by 12 percent on 2014. Interestingly Visa has issued 4.66 million credit cards in the country, which is more than the total population.
Krsul said cash payments remained the main competition to credit card payments and that globally 70 percent of all payments were made in cash. Visa's general manager for Croatia, Malta, Romania and Slovenia, Catalin Cretu, said that in 2015 Visa Europe posted record profits of EUR 2.31 billion, up 25% on the year.
The all English sport of rugby is coming to Dubrovnik. Rugby Club “Gladiator” Dubrovnik is a newly formed club and is on the lookout for new players. The club will hold training for new members this Saturday the 20th of February in Cavtat at 10 o’clock and everyone is welcome.
The founder of the Gladiator Rugby Club is Ante Stojan, who has played the game at a high level since he was 13 years old. Speaking to The Dubrovnik Times he said that “I first saw the game when I was living in Zagreb and fell in love with it.” He then went on to play for clubs in Croatia, including the Croatian National Rugby Team, before spending a year in New Zealand, one of the powerhouses of modern rugby, where he learnt even more about the sport.
“There is plenty of interest in Croatia, with clubs up and down the country. As we are only just starting out we need to judge the interest in Dubrovnik,” added Stojan.
This isn’t the first time that rugby has been played in the Dubrovnik region. A few years ago an exhibition match was organised at the Lapad sports stadium between a team from Croatia and a lower league club from England.
“Rugby is a new Olympic sport, a team sport that has room for everyone, we welcome all those interested, and of course no previous experience is necessary,” concluded Stojan. The first ever training will be held at 10 o’clock in Cavtat this Saturday and anyone interested can contact the club through their Facebook site.
Gladiator Rugby Club has plans to bring international coaches from other Croatian clubs and professional trainers with international experience. Although the first training will be held in Cavtat the club intend to find suitable conditions to move the club to a ground in Dubrovnik in the near future.