Last week I got to see a very interesting documentary film about the problems facing three European historical cities and important travel destinations of the Mediterranean – Dubrovnik, Barcelona and Venice. The film was concentrating mainly on cruise ships and the effects they have on these cities and their historical centres. The size of the ships keeps going up which in turns leads to more and more congestion in historical centres of these cities. In some districts of Barcelona, as well as in Venice, local people are rebelling, leaving messages for tourists to "go home" on public streets and squares or blocking the passage of the enormous ships as they enter the port.
We are not leaving messages like that to our cruise ship guests in Dubrovnik. Probably because we are relying on tourism revenue as a community much more than people of Barcelona and Venice.
If we started writing “Tourists Go Home!” on the streets of Dubrovnik, we would probably change this to “Tourists Please Come Back...Pretty Please!” in a few years’ time when the numbers would drop significantly enough.
However, even Dubrovnik citizens are raising their voices more and more motivated by a lowering of the quality of life within the city, especially during the summer. We often get 5000, 6000, or more cruise ships passengers in one day. All of them need to go to the historical centre as soon as they arrive to the port because the ships are here for a very short amount of time. This causes havoc on the roads and the most beautiful parts of our city get drowned in masses of people.
"It’s ok to sometimes say “no” to profits"
As a tourism professional I sometimes get mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I hate crowds and the negative effect of too many people on my city. It’s a situation that needs to change, without a doubt. On the other hand, I want people to visit Dubrovnik. I find pride in the fact they want to do so. These people are here because they like our city and want to spend some time enjoying it. They are also here because of hard work and persistency of Dubrovnik tourism workers and organisations who made the city go from being an empty, war-torn shell of its former self during the 1990's back to being a vibrant, world famous travel destination. It took us just 20 years to do so.
This is one thing I will often hold against people who are most vocal against tourism-related crowds: all of them deny one inevitable fact – Dubrovnik's tourism is a real success story. It has been under various regimes in the past and it certainly is today when we realistically enjoy a high standard of living when compared to many other Croatian regions. Dubrovnik is a victim of its success and I dislike it very much when people deny any of the two things in that sentence – Dubrovnik being a success, or Dubrovnik being a victim. It's up to us to work with both of these things in mind.
By being overcrowded, Dubrovnik loses the best and most seductive thing about it – the feeling of utter peace and serenity one can find on so many corners of our city. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Come to the Old City's harbour during a quite autumn evening, walk the Walls as soon as they open in the morning, or hike up to the top of Mount Srd to watch the sunrise. In these moments, and countless others, you will be able to understand what makes this city special and what we are losing by drowning it in crowds of people.
Cruise ships are not the only, but are the most obvious cause of overcrowding in the city. It's high time we start limiting the number of people that can visit the city in a short amount of time, but unlike the ridiculous suggestion of simply counting people at the gates and not allowing any more in after certain number, the effort needs to be much better thought out and planned. It needs to be a part of the strategy, not a hastily put together damage control measure most of our policies end up being.
It’s not up to the tourists to go home. It’s up to us to lay the foundations to enable our guests to enjoy the city for the special and magical place we know it to be. It’s ok to sometimes say “no” to profits, especially if by doing so, we get to preserve something much more valuable than money.
Bozidar Jukic, AKA The Restless Native, is a Dubrovnik local with too many interests to name them all, with writing being at the very top of the list. He is a lover of good food, music and film, and a firm believer in the healing power of laughter. His professional orientation is towards tourism and travel so it comes as no surprise he spends most of his time alongside Mrs. Jukic running their own local tour company. Their goal is helping travellers from all over the world get a more intimate experience of Dubrovnik and what it has to offer. To find out more about their work, visit their website or Facebook page.