There have been times over the past year that I have almost felt like the only foreigner, if indeed I can describe myself as a foreigner anymore, in Dubrovnik. And to be honest it has been refreshing. At first I enjoyed strolling through the city feeling like I had it all to myself. Not having to avoid the crush of crowds as I sipped my cappuccino or fight over a parking space or to find a space on the beach to roll out my towel.
I know I’m being selfish, but in many ways the pandemic delivered me to the times when I first “washed up” in this stone city. Back at the end of the 1990’s Dubrovnik had that empty and yet truly local feel.
But whilst it was fun for some time the excitement soon wore off. I started to feel lonely. I even started to miss the traffic jams, that’s how much I missed the tourists. I remember many years ago a local said to me “I don’t have to travel, because in the summer the world comes to me.”
But early last year the world stopped going anywhere. The normal summer flow of tourists along the Stradun dried up.
Last weekend, in a still empty Dubrovnik, my touch with the world returned. And it was so nice to hear so many accents and to interact with people from all over the world. Yes, interact and not over a Zoom call, but with real people standing in front of me. Without doubt one of the hottest topics in recent times has been digital nomads.
And last weekend I found myself surrounded by nomads from every corner of the world. And what made it even more fun was that these wanderers had been living and indeed working in the city for some time. It was like reliving my early steps, and strangely many of their thoughts were exactly the same as mine all those years ago.
“Is there one place I can go to get all the info and papers I need,” joked one English lady. And added “The most common phrase I’ve heard is – you are missing one more paper!” Yes, in twenty years the number of stamps and papers hasn’t changed much. Humans are adaptable, and I’ve got used to life here, both the good and the bad.
And it was a breath of fresh air to be reintroduced to the positive side of life here again. And they all had a desire to learn, at least a little, Croatian. Part of the event was Croatian lessons. To this day I really have no idea how I managed to conquer such a tongue twisting language. I tried to encourage the nomads “No matter how much you learn, even if it’s just to say hello and thank you, nobody will ever think badly of you, quite the opposite.” Watching their faces as the Croatian professor introduced them to the language was probably like watching students listening to a lecture by Einstein. Eyes wide open and I’m guessing mouths as well but the masks hid that. But to their credit they jumped in at the deep end and by the end were even coaxed to the front of the hall to act a short conversation with each other, which of course was greeted with applause.
And as all this was going on in front of me I suddenly had my “lightbulb” moment. As I looked around the room the dozen nomads were all sharing their experiences live and direct on their social media channels. There might have only been eleven nomads in the room, but in reality this event was being seen by eleven million people.
I almost whispered to myself, “so that’s the key to digital nomads.” Their voice is much louder than mine! This was soon confirmed as I was bombarded with likes, shares, follows and mentions on all forms of social media.
Now the key is how we, I mean we as a destination, handle this extra publicity. Surely it would make much more sense to use these nomads to present to the world the traditional and unique attractions that Dubrovnik offers.
Let’s not think generic, let’s think specific. These nomads hadn’t just turned up, they’d all been here long enough to learn and indeed pass on priceless advice. Just as we could learn from them they need to be navigated in the right direction. They need a skipper who knows the right course. And this is something that we can control, unlike the Game of Thrones story in which we were pretty much passive. Whilst there can be no doubt that that serial brought unheard of publicity we were basically acting somewhere else. Now it’s time to act ourselves.
These nomads reignited both my love for Dubrovnik and my passion to promote what I had probably taken for granted. After a year of forced hibernation I saw the light again.
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to