November 13, 2020 – TCN is delighted to welcome Dubrovnik native and tour guide par excellence Bozidar Jukic. Here is his first piece on rethinking Dubrovnik tourism.
My number one favourite mundane item is a blank sheet of paper. Ever since I was a child I loved drawing and sketching. Later on this turned into a passion for graphic design and writing. To this day written word is something I find to be incredibly important in my life. All of these creative activities have one thing in common – they each start off with you staring at a blank sheet of paper. This pristine white rectangle has the potential of being turned into an important piece of art or text with enough power to change the world.
It doesn’t take much imagination for a tourism professional to translate this metaphor to currently empty streets of Dubrovnik’s historical centre. It is the start of November and I can’t help feeling sad looking back at what should have been a successful 2020 tourism season. For well-known reasons, most people decided against travelling internationally this year and Dubrovnik’s tourism, based mostly on guests flying into the destination, took a big hit. Usually, early autumn is my favourite time of the year. Those who visit Dubrovnik during this time usually leave feeling very happy they’ve decided to skip summer months which have recently been offering too few benefits to efficiently counter the downside of crowded streets and beaches. In 2020 October saw Dubrovnik streets almost completely empty and many local businesses closing for the year in anticipation of a very uncertain 2021. These empty, stone-cobbled streets are a blank piece of paper of sorts as well. They may represent emptiness at the moment, but they also provide endless opportunity.
I’ve had a chance to talk to Mr. Ryan Pyle who’s filming what promises to be a very cool travel series for Amazon Prime called “Nomad”. He was visiting Dubrovnik last week and we did a short interview. One of the questions he asked me was about the opportunity of rebranding Dubrovnik post Covid-19 induced disruption in business. It got me thinking about what we should do and more importantly, whether we will have the will to do it.
I’ve written a few times about sustainability in Dubrovnik’s tourism or lack-there-of. It would be too repetitive for me to once again lament over what overtourism is doing to this city in the long run. Let’s just boil it down to four major problems: pollution, overcrowded city, degradation of tourism offer as it panders to short visit guests, loss of local culture as the costs of running a small business in the city skyrocket. It seems like such a simple problem to define, but somehow we make it seem impossible to solve, year after year.
Summer of 2020 brought no problems with overcrowding, traffic jams, or overcrowded city streets. Instead, we’ve lived through what seems to have been the eye of the storm in a global pandemic whose real effects we are still to discover, but are already dreading. For most local business owners thinking about the positive side to this crisis is difficult. Still, it is imperative to look forward and try to imagine what comes next and how to make the most out of this difficult situation.
Truth is, Dubrovnik can be anything we make it out to be. Main thing to understand is that a choice needs to be made. So far, we’ve been pumping up numbers and exploring all the avenues that ensured money coming in. Good, we’ve made it. Money is coming in. Now, we need to see how not to destroy what makes this place so wonderful to live in and visit. I hope we steer our city in the direction of a new breed of tourism. One that is sustainable and will not only be less destructive, but one that will see local community wanting to be a part of it. For this, the key is to attract guests looking for longer stays. We need to strategically lessen the number of people coming to Dubrovnik for one day trips or for a single night stays. When guests are spending multiple days in Dubrovnik, it gets much easier to interest them in exploring the city’s offer in more depth. They get to see the other parts of Dubrovnik-Neretva County, most of which are grossly undervalued by travel businesses. They get to be introduced to the local culture and way of life. They also get to discover authentic products and services that often cannot be found in the main touristy areas. Longer stay means more immersion into “Dubrovnik the Community”, not just a brief visit to “Theme Park Dubrovnik”. It means creating stronger ties between the guest and local community and this in turn creates less market for tourist traps and more demand for quality.
Every crisis is an opportunity. It is time for re-shuffling of cards and re-evaluating our positions. With a long winter and perhaps even a new lockdown upon us, it is a perfect time to have this conversation. What do we do next, my neighbours from the “Pearl of the Adriatic”? What is the Dubrovnik our kids will know?
You can learn more about Bozidar’s tours on his official website, Insider Holidays – Wine & Food Tours to Discover Croatia.
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