I am just as guilty as the rest of you. It’s that well-known complex of “it’s there and I see it every day, so I’ll visit it someday.” You’ll probably find the same in Paris, where locals don’t visit the Eiffel Tower, or in London for sure, where you’ll hear people say “oh, I’ve never visited Buckingham Palace.”
And this leads onto my three questions for Dubrovnik locals, and answer them honestly. When was the last time you walked the city walls? When did you last visit the Rector’s palace? And when did you last step foot on Lokrum? Normally the answers are, after a scratch of the head, “oh, let me think, maybe when I was in high school.” I have actually met quite a few people, and you might be surprised, you have lived here all their lives and never climbed the walls or seen the peacocks on Dubrovnik’s favourite island. And, as I have said before I am just as guilty as everyone else.
So, and as I normally the case, when work took me to Lokrum last weekend I found myself sitting on Skala crawling into my memory banks to try and remember the last time I was on Lokrum. I guessed it was at least five years ago. Shame on me.
On Skala with an international group - Photo Mark Thomas
I was with a group of foreigners, from the four corners of the world, but rather unusually, most from South America. I just love seeing Dubrovnik through the eyes of a first time visitor. It always brings back so many fond memories of my early steps here, it feels like I am reliving them. And the bonus of being with people who have no preconceptions is that everything is an adventure. And whilst most things are met with a large “wow” there are of course a whole bunch of “unclear” situations.
Lokrum was just as charming and peaceful as I remember. The orchestra of nature accompanies the spirit of freedom and tranquillity. Why don’t I come here more often? Life just sometimes gets in the way.
Dubrovnik's back garden, the island of Lokrum
If this last year has taught us anything then getting back to nature, and respecting the nature that provides for us all, must be somewhere at the top of the list. And you can’t get deeper into Mother Nature in this region than the green oasis of Lokrum.
“I don’t suppose much has ever happened here?” asked my new friend from Montevideo. Yes, from Uruguay to Lokrum. “I think you’re going to be surprised as to just how much history and indeed legends this tiny island holds,” I answered.
Whilst on the island we all took part in an adventure game, clues led us from one location to the next whilst at the same time educating us about the island’s mysteries.
I have found a lot of these projects recently, and I wholeheartedly support them. Mostly younger local people who maybe have had a year to plan and think about a new idea, and are slowly seeing the fruits of their hard work as the season begins. And indeed this is the future. Small groups getting up close and personal with Dubrovnik through home-grown experts with a creative idea.
The days of large travel agents bringing masses of people to a standard, and indeed boring, excursion should be behind us. Travel agents are the last dinosaurs of the tourism industry, and the majority of the tours they offer no local would be seen dead on.
But with new social media marketing channels offering the possibility to cut out the middle man these new projects are blooming like an olive tree on Lokrum. Needless to say the feedback after the game was extremely positive and the promotion of Dubrovnik, through the countless Instagram photos and Facebook posts brought a win/win situation for the city.
Small and indeed local tours and experiences like this one are flexible enough to make every tour seem tailor-made. Wil they get the support of state money or state promotion, probably not, but do they really need it, again probably not. Whilst the dinosaurs are still slowly plodding around wondering where it all went wrong these Airbnb experience and Instagram stars are driving ahead and creating their own markets.
And I for one wish them good luck, although I don’t think they’ll need it, for these are the new tourism leaders that have rapidly become the tourism influencers.
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to