“Why the hell would anyone what to come here in August?” commented the seasoned traveller in front of me. My ears pricked up immediately as like him my least favourite month by some distance in Dubrovnik is August. “It’s more expensive, it’s way too hot and there are queues for queues for queues to get into any attraction, I really don’t understand why people don’t visit Dubrovnik in the off-season,” he added with a smile.
I have always believed that one of the biggest advantages of being in journalism is the fact that I get to meet such a wide spectrum of people. I am lucky that I love my job, I can’t remember who said it but it’s true, if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. And the man over the coffee from me was one of the most travelled people on this planet. Peter Greenberg is a travel guru, apart from being the American TV channel CBS travel editor he has written countless books, guides and articles. Out of the 195 countries in the world he has been to 151. And the chance to share a coffee with him in Dubrovnik was priceless.
He is direct, maybe a little too direct for a few people, he says what he sees and rustles feathers with his views. Now our summer season is over, our tourists have flown home, it was the ideal time to pick his brains to discover what he thinks we are doing right and where we are falling short. Question after question but the one thing that he kept coming back to was our absolute inability to attract tourists to the city in the winter.
Reading between the lines I could see he was stunned at why Dubrovnik wasn’t an all-year round destination.
“Your city is basically a hostage to the airlines, they decide and plan when you will earn money and when you don’t. That has to change,” he said in answer to airlines only flying in the warmer months. I broke the news to him that for the first time in 28 years Dubrovnik will have direct flights with the US with American Airlines. “That’s great, but I bet that will be flying in the summer,” he added with a smile. He was right. “Do you really need more American tourists in the summer?” he concluded. This was music to my ears. I have never understood why we have this complete inability to have tourism 365 days a year. “I didn’t come to Dubrovnik to get a suntan; the weather you are having now is just a bonus. I came here to immerse myself in the culture and the history. And I’ve seen so many new and exciting things here because I had the time to do so,” said Greenberg.
And the argument that people won’t come because there is nothing to do in the winter is utter nonsense. The Old City is all we need! We are living off the fruits that our past generations sowed. And if more people came in the winter then there would automatically be more things to do. More hotels would open, more restaurants would open, a winter festival like the summer one would spring up, bring the people and the destination would look after itself.
There are millions of people who don’t travel just for sun and sea, me included, they travel to experience different cultures. The airlines have our balls in a vice and its time we started fighting back. One of the low cost airlines that flies into Dubrovnik through the summer makes millions and millions from these flights. Put pressure back on them to introduce regular flights in the winter. It will take time. “If you just introduce summer flights without building all year round flights all you are doing is perpetuating the problem, this is not a long-term strategy, it fact it is a strategy for disaster,” commented my CBS colleague. He had actually taken four flights to get from New York to Dubrovnik.
“Are you listening to the airlines or are the airlines listening to you. Because it seems to me that they aren’t listening to you at all,” summed up Greenberg. Somebody, someday will realise that the actual power is with us and not with the airlines, and in fact not with the cruise ship companies.