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Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik's tourism dilemma - you reap what you sow

By  Aug 25, 2018

“Has Tourism Killed Dubrovnik?” was the headline that caught not just my attention but the attention of most the city this week. It seems in recent years that we can’t go through a tourist season without reading in some international publication that we are dying, or drowning or suffocating under tourists.

Dubrovnik, along with Barcelona and Venice, is struggling to cope with the interest from foreign tourists. They arrive on massive cruise ships, by plane and on day-trips and every day the Old City is a magnet for thousands upon thousands of visitors. Finding the correct balance, in a city that lives from the tourist dollar, has been challenging for the city’s authorities for years. Many would say that Dubrovnik is a victim of its own success, but the truth would be the it is a victim of terrible planning and short-sightedness. Short term gains have impacted the long term strategy.

And living from tourism of course has its challenges. For far too long we have judged our “success” simply in terms of numbers. Rather like a child collecting Pokemon cards, “I’ve got more than you have.” Can you name a bank in the world that accepts numbers as currency? There seems to have a been a mad rush to beat last year. This year we had 2 million next year we want 3 million. A policy that has never made any sense. 

So this latest unwanted headline featured in a leading UK newspaper, it seems they take turns in sending journalists in the summer, and the reporter asked “Today the tourists have returned by now the city faces a new challenge, how to keep that magic alive under the footsteps of thousands of daily visitors?” I kind of have mixed emotions about this subject.

Let’s face it many of the people in Dubrovnik would be happy if tourists just sent money in an envelope and didn’t actually arrive! Far too many of us, probably me included, are so used being able to park where we want, walk unhindered and find our favourite spot on the beach/café/restaurant without being bothered by anyone. Unless we can park right outside of our local café we are frustrated. Although we live, and yes we all live, from tourism we don’t want the inconvenience of having to deal with the tourist crowds. We are happy to take your money but please don’t disturb us.

Every day I hear people complaining about bad guests in private apartments, low spending visitors to restaurants and demanding guests in hotels. The irony makes me chuckle. This is just the market finding the best solution. This isn’t brain surgery. Offer the right product at the right price and with a high level of service and you’ll have happy guests. Miss any of those steps and you’re in for trouble. I don’t believe in bad guests only bad hosts.

Many, many people have made an absolute fortune selling, well for want of a better word, rubbish to tourists. And now when that rubbish just isn’t selling anymore they are moaning that the guests are bad or cheap. You get want you deserve.

And in this race to earn as much as possible from as little work as possible the whole idea of strategy has been flushed down the toilet. To be honest I can’t even remember reading a strategy, tourism just happened to Dubrovnik, the city was completely passive. Things have changed, or maybe I should say are changing. And this year seems either less crowded or better organised than years gone by. But it will take time. It’s rather like turning around an oil tanker in the middle of the Atlantic. Key words, such as sustainability, social benefits, quality of experience and environmental impact, have to be on everyone’s lips. Mass tourism died in the 1980s.

A modern experience means offering a memory making experience in a few days. Game of Thrones tours have a “best before” date but the history and culture of these ancient walls is timeless. Far from making Dubrovnik into a Disney Land it should be preserved as “Neverland.” A place that captures escapism, immortality and eternal childhood as in the land that Peter Pan live. So is Dubrovnik dying? Has tourism really killed Dubrovnik? No. Has it been badly wounded and in need of treatment and care. Yes.