I hate attending conferences in Cavtat! The place is so damn beautiful that it's hard to concentrate on anything else. “How do you get anything done?” asked a tourism expert from Spain as we drank coffee together.
So tourism comes in many shapes and sizes. There are around 64 difference types of tourism, from sporting to education and day-tripping. And one of these branches was the theme of the congress that I was attending, rural tourism.
Now this is a branch that is often overlooked, or forgotten completely. Our eyes are drawn towards the glinting Adriatic, and so is the vast majority of our tourism industry. If only we turned our heads 180 degrees and looked towards the green mountains sometimes.
“Does Dubrovnik have a rural tourism offer?” asked a Serbian journalist to me live on TV. Now, I’ve been on TV quite a few times, but never have I been asked to talk about rural tourism. “The whole county has so much to offer, from the vineyards of Peljesac to the unspoilt countryside of Dubrovačko Primorje and Konavle to the stunning and diverse river basin of Neretva,” I answered.
“So why aren’t these locations more popular with tourists?” he continued. “The problem is with us, not the tourists. We lead, they follow. If we promoted these rural destinations more they would visit them,” I came back. He then tried to ask questions about agriculture, not my field at all, unless you count the small vegetable plot in my back garden.
Now I am not going to get many tourists to my back garden, but the rolling countryside of the county certainly should. I remember years ago when Boris Johnson came to the region. He was the Mayor of London at the time, and came with his family for a break. Instead of staying along the coast, he chose a villa deep in the countryside with views over the islands and mountains.
We are so blinded by the Old City that we don’t see the beauty around us. We complain that the city is busy and overcrowded, and yet keep bringing more and more people to it. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” said Albert Einstein.
We are blessed with some stunning natural resources and yet we turn our backs on them.
And as it was a rural tourism congress we soon got to the question of agriculture and food. “Today everyone is pushing for organic food like it is something new and innovative, but organic food is what we used to eat 30 years ago, it’s nothing new,” smiled the agriculture expert from Barcelona. And she was right.
“Due to our eating demands farmers have been forced away from the “old school” methods and into one that involves artificial ingredients and single crop farming which ruins the land,” she added.
That got me thinking. The things that we take for granted here are in fact not the norm in the modern world. We all have an olive oil dealer, many of us are buying fruit and veg from the green market or directly from the growers and a good deal of us are eating fish from the sea right in front of us.
“Foodies today want to eat a plate of food with ingredients that have been grown locally and not frozen or mass produced ingredients,” said another culinary expert from the UK.
I told him a story of how I once went to a small restaurant on Mljet and the waiter asked me if we wanted a salad, when we said yes he then disappeared into the garden and shouted up “How many tomatoes and cucumbers?” Now, that’s fresh salad. Something quite normal for this waiter, but extraordinary for guests.
What I’m talking about is nothing new. We don’t have to invent anything. We basically have, or had, all these things. But we have over time either ignored them or forgotten them.
When you don’t have a clear strategy, when you are passive and when you are uncreative, then this is what happens. Tourism in many ways happens to us, we aren’t the active component. We are reactive and not proactive. The rural destinations could, and indeed should, already be a jewel in our tourism crown. Not only would it help to disperse the crowds from the city, but would also shine a light on something that really deserves it.
Again, tourists aren’t to blame, we are.
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to