Has tourism killed Dubrovnik? We visited during the busiest month of the year to find out
Tourism has killed Dubrovnik. At least, you’d be forgiven for thinking that if you have been following the news in recent months.
There have been reports of unregulated cruise arrivals causing bottleneck overcrowding in the city, half-hour queues to leave the city and claims from locals that the old town has become “Disneyland”.
In a brand new Telegraph Travel documentary, which you can stream above, we travelled to Dubrovnik at peak season to find out if it has really been loved to death.
What we found were Game of Thrones tours, a traffic-clogged entrance to the city and locals who have been asked “what country am I in”, but – hidden from view – we also found some pockets of wonderful authenticity. This is what Dubrovnik looks like, from the inside.
Marc van Bloemen
Marc van Bloemen moved from the UK to Dubrovnik with his family in the Seventies. He is outspoken about the issues surrounding overtourism in Dubrovnik, and lobbies to improve life for locals.
“Everybody lives off tourism. Thirty years ago only 50 per cent of Dubrovnik’s income was tourism. There were factories, tailors, shoemakers and other things. Now I would say it’s close to 100% tourism.
“We’re living in a Disneyland. Every single square inch has to be used, has to be maximised. It’s very difficult for somebody to get a portion of that cake, and private accommodation has given that opportunity.
We’re living in a Disneyland. Every single square inch has to be used
“But tourism is out of proportion. I’ve been asked by a cruise passenger, ‘excuse me – what country are we in?’ Immediately I said, ‘what day is it? If it’s Tuesday you’re in Belgium’. It’s just ludicrous. Imagine not knowing what country you’re in.
“I don’t go out for a coffee anymore. No local ever goes to a restaurant any more. If you ask anybody when was the last time they ate out it was probably to go to a bakery to buy a sandwich.”
The tourism official
Romana is the director of Dubrovnik Tourist Board.
“If you have a lot of people coming together at the same time, you have a problem. In 2013 we had over one million cruise ship passengers, but things are starting to become better organised. This year we will have fewer than 800,000 cruise passengers. The point is they will be better organised through the week and throughout the year.
“If you don’t have enough shops which are useful for everyday living, and if you turn everything into souvenir and ice cream shops, then in the next generation you won’t have people living here. Tourists want to see how people actually live – the true life. You want to visit a real city and meet real people, and this must be the main strategic mission, to have a living city.
“Dubrovnik is sometimes mentioned as somewhere with overtourism. Amsterdam, Barcelona are big cities and they are under pressure all year round. Sometimes we are overcrowded, but it is not the same problem that Barcelona and Amsterdam have. Spring is beautiful in Dubrovnik. There are plenty of times when you can visit easily and when you can feel like a local. The whole of Europe goes on vacation during the summer season, and we’re not going to change that. We just need to manage it.”
Matea was born in Dubrovnik and now works as a waitress at Sesame, a restaurant just outside the city walls.
“My whole generation either studies tourism or works in tourism. We need to adapt. We need to change. We need to get used to more and more people from different cultures, different parts of the planet.
“I hate to say it, but we had better guests before were more appreciative of comfort, of quality – the level of tourism was higher. It went down a little bit with mass tourism but we are still trying really hard to keep these standards high.“
Nikolina was born in Dubrovnik and lives with her family in the old town.
“It was a process to get to his point. After the war everybody was happy to have tourists. We were letting the tourism happen to us but with no strategy, no vision, no management. We embraced everybody and we’ve got to the point where we can’t cope with it. We are now facing the consequences. It’s not about the nunber of tourists. We can’t blame the tourists; we have to blame ourselves for not trying to manage it in a better way.
“The biggest problem we face is one-day excursions that are coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Montenegro and the cruise ships. They all come at the same time. We need to reorganise the comings and goings to distribute during the daytime, somehow. But it can’t be done in a year because the contracts made with the cruise companies are made on a five year basis. We have to respect those contracts. This government is really trying to do something, but we’ve got a long way to go.
“You don’t want to take the car because you know you’ll have to wait another half an hour for your parking place. They are public parking places and you have to get lucky to find one. To get something from the grocery store we are paying the same expensive prices as tourists, because supermarkets raise their prices from May to October. In the high season you don’t have the normal way of life.”
The Game of Thrones tour guide
Ivan was born in Dubrovnik and now works as a tour guide, offering walking tours of the city’s top Game of Thrones sights.
“Me and my friends are organising 18 tours a day. Game of thrones is now the biggest tour you can do in Dubrovnik. There are thousands of people coming here for Game of Thrones. Three years ago I started offering fantasy and facts, mixing medieval history, Dubrovnik history and Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is actually very well connected to the city’s medieval history.
“We are happy to have HBO and Disney coming here and giving us some free marketing. I could see it lasting for the next ten years, at least. Fifteen years ago when I started working as a guide I was begging people to come to Dubrovnik. Now I’m begging them to go somewhere else [he laughs].
“The last time we locked the doors at Pile Gate were in the days of Napoleon. We then locked them during the war, and the only time after that was for a scene with Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones.”
Have you been to Dubrovnik? Do you think it has been ruined by tourism? We want to hear your thoughts. Comment below to join the conversation.