Please can we now have our Dubrovnik back! We have lent it to the world all summer long and now we think it is high time that you have it back to us. At least for the colder months, and then when it gets warm again we’ll give it back to you, no questions asked. As the nights draw in, the clocks are on the edge of being spun back an hour and the last of the swallows wonders where all his friends went it’s time to look back at yet another crazy summer.
“What’s your favourite month of the year in Dubrovnik,” asked a tourist from Liverpool recently. Without hesitation “February,” I answered. I could have honestly answered “any month apart from August.”
I recently have an interview for the UK publication The Financial Times about tourism in Dubrovnik, well to be more precise over tourism in Dubrovnik. Yes, that old favourite. And told them that surely over tourism was better than under tourism. Yes. We have a problem but it is a sweet problem. We would have a much more serious problem if we had under tourism. And then I gave the cliché that tourism is a double-edged sword. It is in more ways than one. Apart from having to live in a city that is packed to the rafters for half the year and a ghost town the rest of the year the real social problem has much more to do with the effects of what I call the lost generation.
At the last count I think there were around 17,000 beds in private accommodation in the city. Almost half of the population has rooms for rent, there are nearly as many beds for rent as there are cars on the city’s roads. Now if these rooms, villas and apartments were a second source of income that would be normal. But in many, many cases they aren’t.
I understand the thinking. For every apartment you rent you’ll get a healthy 10,000 Euros a year coming in to the piggy bank, give or take a few thousand Euros. So if you have a couple, or even more, why would you work. This gives rise to the lost generation.
There is a whole generation, children of apartment owners, who have never worked. Yes, maybe they have greeted apartment guests or even cleaned up after guests have gone, but they haven’t learned a trade, or even more importantly learned how to work. They are skating on extremely thin ice. At some point, sooner or later, the AirBnb bubble will burst. Well if not entirely burst then certainly considerably deflate.
Every year brings more competition, more apartments and competition drives prices down. It is the same in any industry, and to be expected. This season has already seen a twenty percent drop in rental prices. In other words, a twenty percent “salary” drop for many people. If these rental earnings were a second source of income, as they really should be, then no real drama. Yes, your earnings will drop a little but they were a bonus in the first place. But when these earnings are your main, in fact your only source of earnings, then you are left in a boat without paddles.
With no profession, or experience of work to fall back on, and no habit of actually working for a living the road ahead will be tough. All of a sudden you go from having an easy life, drinking coffee all morning, swimming all afternoon and waiting for your mum to cook dinner in the evening before heading off to the nightclub, to actually having to look after yourself. This lost generation will not be able to cope.
We import over 3,000 workers every year to cover the shortfall of employment. But these are workers! Not coffee drinkers! We have been spoilt. The lost generation has been spoilt. They have been living in a fantasy world. And when the shit hits the fan, and believe me it will, they will have nowhere to go. In itself tourism is a sensitive and fluctuating business. In always runs goes in peaks and troughs. Our rise has been impressive, but that doesn’t mean to say that the fall will be equally impressive.
And the lost generation has no plan B, no back-up plan, when the fall comes their fragile world will shatter like a glass on the Stradun. The social ramifications could be catastrophic and long-lasting. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The problem with our lost generation is that they have no tricks to start off with.