“We’re a little rusty after two years of inactivity, but it’s nice to be able to speak English for most of the day again,” commented a waiter at a popular Dubrovnik restaurant.
I have to say it has taken me a little by surprise. Now, this could be due to the fact that we’ve all got used to, over the past years, of being able to park where we like, sit in a front row of a café bar and roll out our beach towels wherever we like. But the town is busy, really busy, surprisingly busy.
In many ways it feels like the start of a new era. Tourists are flooding back, almost all the Covid regulations have been dropped and facemasks now fill litter baskets, only the crazy Russian is somewhat spoiling the party. “Sorry, you’ll have to wait for a few minutes until a spare table opens,” said the same waiter.
It’s a pre-Easter week and the tables are full of short-wearing tourists. “I don’t mind waiting at all,” I replied. And I didn’t.
It’s great to see the city alive again. Dubrovnik without the influx of international guests just isn’t the same. Yes, we all love to have the city for ourselves in the colder months, but in the summer it’s a time to share.
Although tourism is an extremely fragile business, it is also a resilient and flexible one. However, the sight of cruise ships in the port was a reminder of the darker chapters when we sunk under the sheer weight of guests. Even though the pandemic is melting into the past I’m still not sure that I’d go for a cruise. Would you? But clearly people are.
And three giant cruise ships in one day is testimony to the fact that cruise passengers are loyal.
Hotels are open, with many reporting 70 percent bookings for the rest of April. If it continues in this vein what will July and August look like?
It’s that time of the year when the summer wardrobes of guests and the hesitant winter wardrobes of locals clash on the Stradun. As soon as the bura whistles then the locals wrap up in coats and boots, whereas the “hardened” guests are skidding over the stone streets in flip-flops carrying ice-creams.
So what are the realistic hopes for the season? All the indicators show that tourism will be up 20 percent on last year. That’s fine by me. I see absolutely no need to compare figures with the record breaking year of 2019. I also can’t see any need to try to emulate those numbers. There should be a balance. And 2019 passed that balance by quite so distance. Bigger isn’t always better.
Yes, the vast majority of the city’s budget comes from tourism, but at the same time don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
This Easter weekend is the traditional start to the tourist season, and over this weekend exactly 58 planes will land at the airport from all over Europe. If every plane is relatively full that’s around 8,500 tourists arriving in two days just by plane.
“I haven’t had booking in April for years, even before the pandemic started. So after an unwanted and extended hibernation it looks like we are back in business, and thank God for that,” smiled one apartment owner in Lapad as she showed me her bookings on her mobile phone.
I haven’t felt this much positivity for a long time. I, however, will be going in the opposite direction, and heading north to the capital. No, I’m not already escaping the crowds, I’m spending time with the family to see how Easter is celebrated in Zagreb.
Hopefully in June I’ll be able to do this journey via the new bridge and save myself a few minutes, and more importantly a stop at the borders. And not only me, but also hopefully a new branch of tourists. Whether the bridge is too expensive, short-term thinking or a political campaign winner is somewhat irrelevant now. It’s here so let’s use it. Croatia was described as “car destination” recently by the director of the Croatian Tourism Association. And thankfully he said Croatia, and not Dubrovnik, for we certainly aren’t.
But maybe, and yes it’s a big maybe, the new bridge might motivate some campers to push further south. And this could, and again it’s a big could, extend the season away from the July and August crush. Yes. I know I’m being optimistic but hope dies last.
So enjoy your Easter break and the lull before the storm and when you’re waiting in a traffic jam just remember the summer of 2020.
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to