Ssshh, can’t you see that Dubrovnik is sleeping. “It felt a little depressing to be honest, just me and a small group of South Koreans on the Stradun and literally nobody else,” explained a tour guide to me the other day as she came face to face with the reality of Dubrovnik in the winter. “I guess they though that they had entered a museum, maybe even thought they had to pay for entry, but it was all a little sad,” she continued.
I am not surprised. Every year we see the same picture. Nobody was found a solution because either a) they don’t want to find one or b) they don’t know where to look. Of course the city is empty, especially the old City. The waiters have gone back to Donji Miholjac or Trebinje, the cooks have gone to work for two months in Zagreb, the shop assistants are back at university in Mostar and the restaurant owners are sipping Martinis in a Jacuzzi on the slopes of Madonna di Campiglio.
There are more people who migrate to work in the historic core than live inside it, so take these people away and you are left with a handful. There might be 800 citizens registered but the real number is probably less than 500, when you take away the people who registered for free parking. Ssshh, Dubrovnik is sleeping!
The Old City is a summer attraction, has been for years and years. I can remember when it was a living and breathing city, but, and it is painful to say, those days are far behind us. Years of mismanagement, mediocre political decisions and greed have brought us where we are today. Rome wasn’t built in one day, and Dubrovnik wasn’t made silent in one day either. For as the city empties over the winter period the only thing that can resuscitate it is tourists. From the time that the last firework echoes over the stone walls at New Year until the blast of musket fire for St. Vlaho the city is a ghost town. And then from day of the patron saint almost up to Easter it is next to empty. Ssshh, Dubrovnik is sleeping!
Ssshhh...Dubrovnik is sleeping!
For years and years, the discussion on how to bring tourists to the city has been rolling on, with no answer. And we still haven’t realised that we aren’t in control of our own destiny, we are slaves to foreign masters, we have been all these years. For it isn’t anyone in Dubrovnik who makes our tourism plan, no it is directors in London, Berlin, Madrid and quite possibly Dublin. International airlines decide when we will earn, how much we will earn and how long we will earn, we are all simply pawns in a larger game of chess. And until we find someone with a spine, or a pair of balls, nothing will change.
I have probably written about this theme a hundred times before, but it is one that annoys me, it’s as annoying as toothache. All these major airlines fill their bank accounts with packed flights to Dubrovnik in the summer and then wave goodbye as the darker nights draw in, patting their wallets in satisfaction. Naively we welcome each new flight connection as if we’re receiving a blood transfusion. And incredibly we still don’t realise our strength, our position on the market. “Yes, of course you can fly every day to Dubrovnik in the summer, but you must fly twice a week in the winter as well,” is what we should be saying to three of four of the airlines that frequently land in the summer. But that takes a) balls and b) a clear winter tourism plan. Both of these are missing. And it also takes a change of mentality. Too many people in positions of power believe wrongly that Dubrovnik is a summer only destination, either that or they are lazy and want winter at home. Sshh, Dubrovnik is sleeping.
If some bright spark ever breaks the winter hibernation and brings tourists then he or she shall be king or indeed queen. If an agency brings 100 tourists to Dubrovnik in the winter then that agency are heroes, if they bring 100 tourists in the summer then they are a pain in the backside. So we will continue to watch the city through our windows, thinking that we are in control and that nothing can be changed. Image an emu with his head firmly buried in the sand and you get the picture. Sshhh, Dubrovnik is sleeping!